I recently saw someone ask a similar question online. A woman posed the question, ‘I’ve just been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), what does my boyfriend need to know?’ I thought that this was a great question and a good question to write an article on. This article is for anyone, on any side of BPD that is asking this same question, which I think is a great one. Here are five of the most important things about BPD that I think that people need to know.
Emotional triggers – People with BPD have a set of emotional triggers that cause them to spin out, explode or meltdown. If you know someone with BPD then you probably identify with the phrase “walking on eggshells.” They probably seem like an emotional minefield and no matter how carefully you step, you can’t avoid setting off the land mines. People with BPD actually have very specific emotional triggers that spark fear of harm or abandonment. They usually lack awareness of their own triggers and so navigating the mindfield is just as perplexing to them. The irony is that the careful tiptoeing that people do around someone with BPD can actually be a big trigger and here’s why. The carefully planned and worded responses that people give to someone with BPD puts off a vibe to them that you’re hiding information from them. The BPD mind does terribly when it has to fill in blanks or make assumptions and the more they wonder what people aren’t telling them, the more triggered they are going to be.
It’s not your job to “fix” them or their problems – While people with BPD want someone to take care of them, this can, and usually does, have the opposite effect. As it turns out, fixing someone or their problems is extremely invalidating and takes away their personal power. It also prevents them from learning what they need in life so they can manage their own problems. People who are fixers literally have no idea how else to respond when someone with BPD is in crisis. So I know that when I say to a person “don’t fix them and don’t fix their problems,” they draw a huge blank. Your job is to provide support, validation and emotional comfort, not fix things.
Their behaviors don’t make sense – I constantly, and I mean constantly, hear people say that the behavior of their BPD loved one “doesn’t make sense.” Even though their behaviors are extremely confusing, the explanation for this is extremely simple. They don’t act, behave or make decisions based on logic or reason. Everything is emotionally based. They follow whatever their emotions are telling them to do in the moment. Because everyone’s emotions can change in a heartbeat and usually do, many times throughout every single day, the behavior of a BPD changes minute by minute and will be in direct contradiction of what they were doing just a little while ago. They will talk and act according to whatever strong emotion they are experiencing in the moment. Stop trying to use logic and reason to interpret the behaviors of someone with BPD; it will only make you feel crazy.
It seems like they are attacking you a lot more than they actually are – One of the more interesting things that I believe that I have learned about BPD is that they seem to be attacking people and jumping down their throats when most of the time they are just feeling distressed and trying to express how they feel. People who are around those with BPD often feel attacked, personally and feel like they are on the constant defense. People usually react to their tone more than their actual words. People usually react strongly to people with BPD because it seems like they are being attacked. Often, they aren’t intending to attack you though it can really seem that way. I think this is true because they aren’t being mindful of the tone, volume, speed, etc of what they are saying. It’s important to listen to the actual content of what a person with BPD is saying rather than the other aspects of communication.
They will have a constant crisis – People with BPD are in crisis almost daily. They may have short periods of stability but it rarely seems to last more than a week. When I work with individuals who want to make these relationships work, I often encourage them to let go of their expectation that their BPD loved one will become stable and stay that way. The only way that this happens is if they get treated for BPD and find recovery through building the badly needed emotional management tools. Being in crisis is just part of BPD. Most of the time, these situations are a matter of perception. People with BPD seem to have an overactive emotional brain and fight or flight response. Relatively small or normal everyday problems are perceived to be life threatening even when it is not. A bad day at work, a disagreement with a friend, a flat tire; all of these events can quickly and easily turn into a major crisis. People with BPD are often said to have low tolerance for distress; they just don’t know how to roll with the punches. There is no way to eliminate the regular bumps in the road that comes with being a human being and people with untreated BPD have never learned how to manage them.
They will always assume the worst – I said earlier that the BPD mind does terribly when it has to fill in blanks or make assumptions. I have yet to encounter a single scenario where the BPD mind didn’t do the worst thing possible when it had to make assumptions for fill in a blank. Cell phones and text messaging are a huge trigger for those with BPD. It’s such a limited interaction and the BPD mind has to put a lot of information in the blanks and it constantly turns into a crisis. Let me give an example. Let’s say that someone with BPD texts his/her partner while they are work but their partner is unable to reply because they are busy working, in an important meeting or whatever. The BPD mind interprets this lack of response in the worst ways possible. They start to assume that their partner has left them and is never coming back, is actively having an affair, etc. Their disorder basically tells them that the reason their partner isn’t responding is because he/she is probably in bed with another person and that’s when they go into crisis mode. Which leads me to my next point…
Feelings are facts – I learned this from a friend of mine who is a recovered borderline. I sought her out when I learned that she overcame her disorder and I had the opportunity to learn all about BPD and recovering from the disorder from her. I said before that people with BPD function from the emotional brain. They literally search their feelings at any given moment to help them make decisions or navigate life. But as we know, emotions can change as quickly as the weather and they aren’t fact based. But to a borderline, their feelings are facts. To them, if it feels true, it IS true. Feelings are facts. What can be frustrating about this is there are probably dozens of times that they followed their emotions and doubled down on how they were feeling and it turned out to be completely wrong and inaccurate and instead of learning from this and building their insight and placing less trust in their emotions, they continue to operate this way. But this just goes to show you how powerful their emotions are, their emotions hijack their logic and behavior; this is the true essence of BPD.
Unfortunately, part of Borderline Personality Disorder is that the people that suffer from it don’t understand that they won’t find relief until they learn to take control of it. They look to others to bring this badly needed relief but I also believe that this likely comes from a sense of desperation. There are many other important things to know about BPD but these are some of the most important things. Believe me when I say that those with BPD experience a high level of distress; they are in a lot of pain and many of their destructive behaviors come out of that sense of desperation