Long read (4-7 mins)
Until August 2015 when I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anything about personality disorders, forget BPD. But with a break-up gone horribly wrong and my coping mechanisms turning extremely unhealthy I knew something was amiss. I was so utterly lost and desperate to escape pain altogether. That’s how I first started therapy.
I’ll tell you a little about this particular personality disorder. The classic symptoms are extreme mood swings, a history of unstable relationships, uncertainty when it comes to sense of self. They’re terrified of abandonment and will do anything at all to preserve a relationship. Hence there is always a lack of self-esteem, they placate, accommodate and apologize at the slightest hint of what is perceived by them as rejection or possible abandonment, to maintain the emotional connection. As a result, they are often taken advantage of and dominated which just further damages whatever remains of their self-esteem and increases their insecurities.
They have intense mood swings that can alternate from euphoria to shame to self-criticism at the smallest triggers. They also are prone to impulsive aggression which may be inward or outward; inward leaning towards self-injury (primarily, cutting oneself especially on the wrist) or suicidal tendency and outward leaning towards verbal abuses. During this time their typical thoughts are like this “I hate you but don’t leave me”. In my understanding self-harm is for two reasons, to attract attention to the fact that they require help and support and are unable to convey through words or communicate otherwise and the other, the person may have developed an addiction to the endorphin rush that follows cutting oneself, it becomes their easy escape.
In most of their relationships, which are usually kept to a minimum at a time, the beginning involves a lot of idolization of their partner, to the extent where it may just seem as though they worship this person, overlooking any flaws and adjusting completely and effortlessly in order to fit the other person’s demands. This is also because of their lack of individual identity or distorted sense of self. Mostly they don’t even realize this but they start adopting behaviours or characteristics of those around them because they are unable to build their own character.
It is important to know that a person who suffers from borderline may not always have all of these symptoms. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml is a page with more information on BPD and a person with BPD typically exhibits 5 or more of the mentioned symptoms.
At this point I feel the need to mention that I’m not a certified psychologist or any kind of expert and this is based completely on my own experiences, therapy and intensive research.
And that if you feel these apply to you or a loved one, please seek help. Trust me, life gets a lot less complicated then.
Now to the crux of my piece, HOW to love a person with BPD. (Again purely my opinions based on my understanding)
- Understand that most borderline behaviour isn’t deliberate. They mostly do not understand that the way they react isn’t normal. They do not know of another way. Be patient with them.
- Understand that you cannot fix them. Only they can fix themselves. But they cannot do so alone and require support. Help them heal and grow stronger as a person. Help them understand that they are your equal in the relationship.
- Reassure them that you are here to stay (and mean it. Relationships that end badly are one of the causes of BPD.) Remind them that you love them, as many times as you can. It’ll matter to them, every single time.
- Understand that there is no real recovery as such from this personality disorder. Recovery in this case would essentially mean fewer threats of self-harm, reduction in frequency of emotional outbursts and decrease in intensity of their reactions.
- Borderline persons tend to be extremely open once they get attached and this leaves them vulnerable and hypervigilant for real or imagined signs of abandonment. Pay attention to how they react; it is easy to understand what triggers a mood swing if you just pay attention.
- Do not say things you don’t mean, at least not until they come to understand of how you are and get comfortable enough to the point where small things don’t trigger an outburst. Don’t joke about leaving them, even if you are perfectly stable and comfortable (I honestly do not get why people do that as a fun joke, it’s a terrible thing to say and a terrifying thought.)
- As much as possible, communicate. Communicate a lot, express your feelings. BPs need attention and constant reassurance. They will constantly express things and tell you how they feel about you and they require you to do the same.
- One of the possible causes of BPD is neglect, abandonment or trauma during childhood. Try to understand if any such event has occurred or contributed and try and help them get over it. The best way is therapy and borderline persons generally welcome therapy as it is yet another way of them being cared for.
- It all comes down to this. Borderline persons just want to be loved deeply and never left. If you can’t do that, gently remove yourself from their lives; they need something stable and steady.
- Finally, know that caring for someone with borderline can get tough and confusing and never shy away from seeking help for yourself and giving yourself importance. Also as I mentioned already, always remember that most borderline behaviours aren’t deliberate. They are also probably going to love you with every beat of their heart and every fibre of their being, and you are going to be their first and only priority. They are also instinctively tuned to reading your needs so you’re probably going to be satisfied and perfectly happy for almost all parts of your relationships. But there is always the chance of a breakdown or an emotional outburst, so to the best of your ability always be careful with how you treat them; they’re going to do the same for you.
I wrote this because after two years I finally feel in control of myself and I know that I’m definitely healing. A lot of things about my life, things that happened and things I did finally make sense. I wrote this because I finally know what I expect from a close partner, be it a best friend or someone I’m involved with. And BPD is unfortunately quite common but to a large extent goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. And I cannot stress on this enough, if you think you may be suffering from this, please seek help. It gets a lot easier to understand yourself and heal yourself once you do.
Artwork by Mark Spain