One of the most overlooked things about helping a friend, family member or loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder is the personal toll it takes.
As allies and support pillars for those struggling with BPD and high emotional sensitivity, we should never try to upstage or make their struggles about us. Your loved one needs your support – especially so if the person in question is your child. However, there’s no denying that it can be difficult to cope with things like rapid mood swings, angry outbursts, and lying.
Being on the receiving end of these things from someone coping with BPD who you are trying to care for and love can feel hurtful at the best of times. At worst it can feel like a joy-draining betrayal of your efforts.
What I’m here to tell you is that you can be that pillar of support without sacrificing your own joy and happiness in the process. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) coaching helps people who are suffering from BPD, but we also help those who have friends and family with BPD and are trying to help and be supportive without it creating more problems with their own lives.
Responding to Anger with BPD Family and Friends
Whether you have a loved one with BPD or not, chances are you’ve experienced being on the receiving end of an angry outburst out of the blue from someone you care about.
These moments can be bewildering and difficult, and may prompt you to respond to what may be them lashing out with anger from BPD. It is normal and natural to feel defensive and feel like you want to fight back, but in many cases, you are not the reason for their anger, you are only the target. To defuse the situation, your focus should not be on fighting back, but on listening and understanding.
Is your loved one overreacting to a situation because they are having BPD symptoms? Maybe, and maybe not. In most cases, it doesn’t matter, because telling them that they are overreacting is not going to help get them to stop, it’s only going to make them upset.
Often what will help calm an outburst like this is a sympathetic ear combined with DBT skills. Understand, first and foremost, that there is a reason for what they are feeling, even if it is one you do not understand or agree with.
Prompt them to tell you what it is that is upsetting them, and then restate what they tell you to show that you understand what they are feeling. Tell them you understand how they’re feeling – even if you don’t agree with them, you don’t want to make them feel wrong.
There are many ways to respond to angry outbursts from those suffering from BPD or high emotional sensitivity that can help make your life easier, but the most important for your own peace is to not elevate the outburst into a two-way argument. You have to keep your cool and remain in a listening role, unless the outburst becomes uncontrollable and dangerous, at which point removing yourself from the environment may be the best choice.
BPD and Lying
Most people lie, to some degree, every day. Even if it’s something as simple as saying “maybe” to be nice when you actually want to say “not in a million years,” it’s a typical human response to everyday social life.
Research has not shown a causal link between BPD and lying in the sense that dishonesty is not shown to be caused by BPD symptoms. However, there is no denying the anecdotal evidence that many people who have loved ones with BPD say that habitual lying is one of the most difficult things about caring for people with BPD.
Loved ones with BPD may have a number of different reasons for lying, but many of them come down to avoiding guilt, shame, or fear. They may be afraid that telling the truth will come with consequences that brand them as a failure or make them vulnerable, so they cover that up with something that they think sounds more favorable.
This is not exclusive to people with BPD or high emotional sensitivity, and it may not be an every-day thing. However, if it happens compulsively, or is repeatedly used to cover up damaging behavior like drug use, stealing, or fighting, it may be worth seeking professional help, as it may be a sign of other emerging mental health conditions.
In general though, when it comes to lying and most other negative BPD behaviors, there are two important things that can help. First off, DBT skills can help both you and your loved one find the root cause of the lying and determine methods to help.
The Mindset Trick
In a more immediate sense, there is a particular trick in your mindset that can help you cope and change the way you see people with BPD.
Always assume they have the best intentions, no matter what they did. It is difficult to give people the benefit of the doubt all the time, especially when they have hurt you in the past. But it is important to start from the assumption that even when people with BPD do something to wrong you in some way, they had reasons behind it that were not specifically malicious towards you. This will go a long way towards helping you become a better support and more understanding ally, which in turn will make your coexistence better for you both.
Ultimately, helping someone with BPD can be difficult and taxing, but there absolutely are skills to help you deal with some of the most negative effects of the mental illness while mitigating the negative effects it can have on your own life. Even with BPD symptoms, people are trying their best to get through their lives, and friends and family are trying their best to help where they can, but everyone can use a little help.