Learning how to help someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be a challenge, but providing support is possible. This mental health disorder affects how someone sees themselves, other people and the world around them.
Untreated BPD can cause patterns of instability in relationships. It can also lead to problems with self-image, extreme emotions and emotional responses, and impulsive behavior.
Learning more about this condition is one of the first steps to learn how to help someone with borderline personality disorder.
Key characteristics of borderline personality disorder include:
- Rapid and drastic mood swings (e.g., quickly going from very happy and excited to feeling shame or anxiety)
- Feelings of emptiness
- Losing touch with reality
- A severe fear of abandonment and difficulty being alone
- Emotional outbursts that can cause problems in relationships
- Taking extreme measures to avoid being rejected or separated from someone
- Extreme shifts in relationship patterns (e.g., someone might idealize a romantic partner one day and then suddenly see them as evil or uncaring)
- Changes in self-image and self-identity that influence values and personal objectives
- Impulsive and risky behaviors, including unsafe sex, excessive spending or drug abuse
- Suicidal threats or actions, especially if there is a fear of rejection
The causes of BPD aren’t entirely known. There may be a link between genetics and personality disorders like BPD, as well as differences in the brain. Researchers also believe childhood experiences and trauma may increase the risk of developing a personality disorder later in life.
Learning how to help someone with borderline personality can be especially challenging because this personality disorder affects relationships so significantly. One of the primary challenges a person with BPD faces is an inability to form and maintain meaningful close relationships due to the symptoms of BPD.
Supporting a Friend with Borderline Personality Disorder
It is essential for someone with borderline personality disorder to feel loved and supported as they work through treatment and toward recovery. If you have a loved one with this condition, you can be a stabilizing force in their life, especially if their other relationships are defined by instability and ups and downs.
Sometimes, as you learn how to help someone with BPD, you’ll find that there are significant challenges. Your loved one with this personality disorder feels the intensity of the challenges of living with it as well.
Despite the challenges you may both face, from your friend’s point of view, the fact that you are interested in learning how to help them can significantly improve their quality of life and treatment outcomes.
10 Tips for Helping Someone with BPD
Is loving someone with borderline personality disorder easy? No. Is loving someone with BPD possible and can you help them move toward recovery? Yes.
The following are specific ways to help a friend with borderline personality disorder.
1. Learn More
When you have a friend with borderline personality disorder, or a loved one, learn as much as you can about the condition. There are many misconceptions about personality disorders. When you learn more about BPD, you’re empowering yourself. Learning about BPD will help you see more about what your friend or loved one experiences. You can learn to spot red flags or situations that might require outside help as well.
2. Create a Stable Environment
If you live with someone who has BPD, or you spend much time with them, work on creating a stable environment. The more stability you can create, the better it will be for the person with BPD. Try to keep calm and relaxed, even when it’s difficult. When someone with BPD is in the midst of a crisis, it’s most important to stay as calm as possible. The more reactive or emotional you become, the more they may mirror similar behaviors.
3. Don’t Take Their Mood Shifts Personally
Loving someone with borderline personality disorder can make you feel hurt. Your friend or loved one with BPD may often lash out and show anger, but it’s not necessarily personal. It’s coming from their mental health disorder and their extreme fear that you will leave them.
It’s very likely that someone with BPD will shift from loving and idealizing you to being extremely angry and hating you. These shifts can happen in a short period, sometimes within hours.
Ready yourself for these shifts, and don’t take them as a personal attack. If your friend or loved one is in a period where they are expressing anger or hatred toward them, remain calm and let them know that you understand that their feelings are difficult for them. Acknowledge their fear that you’ll leave, but dispel it and reassure them that you support them.
4. Be Responsive
If you have a friend with borderline personality disorder, you’ll see that their fear is you leaving or abandoning them. If they try to reach out and contact you and you aren’t responsive, they can take that as a sign that their fears are coming true.
It’s very easy for something as simple as an unanswered phone call to be internalized. The person with BPD may feel like not only are you abandoning or rejecting them, but that something is wrong with them, and that’s why.
Whenever it’s reasonably possible, be responsive to your friend or loved one with BPD. Even if you aren’t able to give them your full attention, a reassuring and supportive text can be helpful.
5. Know That BPD Is Not Your Loved One’s Fault
Just as much as you may feel frustrated with your loved one, they are feeling the effects of their disorder much more. Remember when you feel yourself starting to be angry or inpatient that this condition isn’t their fault. Loving someone with BPD is a challenge, and it can have ups and downs. Don’t blame the person for what they’re experiencing.
A person with BPD doesn’t have control over their symptoms including their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
6. Don’t Become Reactive
When someone with BPD is having a strong reaction to something, don’t respond with the same level of reactiveness. Don’t take this as a time to try and point out a flaw in the person or try and explain to them what they’ve done wrong. A heated or crisis situation is not a good time for that.
If the situation becomes too volatile, you may have to walk away and have a conversation after they have calmed down.
7. Appropriately Handle Self-Harm or Suicidal Situations
It can be frightening if someone you love threatens self-harm or suicide. Fortunately, you can respond with mental health first aid for suicide risk and behaviors. Let the person talk to you about what they’re feeling, and make sure you take threats of self-harm or suicide seriously. Even if someone is expressing these thoughts as a way to get attention, it can still be a dangerous or deadly situation.
If the situation is not life-threatening, ask your friend how they would like you to help. Maybe that involves calling their therapist or going with them to the emergency room.
8. Be an Active Listener
Just like anyone else, your friend with BPD wants to be heard. They want their thoughts to and feelings to be validated. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, nor do you have to try and share your thoughts, perspective or experiences.
Instead, be an active listener and acknowledge what they say. You can encourage your friend or loved one to share by asking open-ended questions. Active listening can also involve asking engaged questions and summarizing what the person has just said, so they know you’re listening, even if you aren’t offering input or opinions.
9. Take Care of Yourself
Loving someone with BPD can be exhausting and overwhelming for you at times. Part of supporting your friend or loved one relies on you feeling healthy as well. Take time to do activities that you enjoy and practice self-care.
If you live with someone who has BPD, you may benefit from therapy or participation in a support group to share your feelings and experiences.
10. Encourage Them to Seek Treatment
As a loved one of someone with BPD, you can’t force them to get treatment for BPD. What you can do is encourage them to receive treatment, help them explore program options and support them if they go to treatment. Effective treatments for BPD may include individual and group therapy, among other approaches.
Supporting a Friend During Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder
Once a loved one has started treatment for borderline personality disorder, it’s a great first step, however, they’ll still need your support. The following are ways you can continue to help empower and support your friend throughout their recovery.
Celebrate Small Milestones
If someone you love is currently in therapy for BPD, there are ways you can support them along the way. You can help them get to each of the appointments with their therapist, for example. Help them create a calendar reminding them of when they go. You may offer to drive them, or if they’re comfortable with that, perhaps you wait for them during their appointment. You can also support your friend or loved one by asking them about how their therapy is going, if they’re ready to share.
As your friend or loved one makes progress in their treatment and recovery, recognize and celebrate even small milestones.
Remind Them to Take their Medication
There’s no specifically approved medication for BPD currently. Sometimes medications are prescribed to treat specific symptoms, however. If someone has a co-occurring disorder such as anxiety or depression, medication can be helpful as well.
Medicines sometimes prescribed for BPD include antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medications. Mood stabilizers may be prescribed as well.
To support your friend in this part of their treatment, you could help them remember to take their medication. Again, much like the therapy appointments, maybe you can work with them to create a calendar to help with medication management.
Identity Self-Help Options
Along with professional treatment, there are self-help coping mechanisms and tools someone with BPD can use. You can help your friend identify which options might work well for them.
For example, learning healthy ways to deal with stress and emotions can be great. You could take a mindfulness (or meditation) or yoga class with your friend. Additionally, you could offer to exercise with them when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Encourage your friend or loved one to look for a support group in your area. Support groups are great for people with BPD to connect with other people who understand what they’re going through and develop an additional layer of social support.
Key Points: Helping a Friend with Borderline Personality Disorder
Helping a friend with borderline personality disorder can be a significant challenge, but with your support, they can receive treatment and experience a better quality of life. It’s not up to you to cure or fix the person you love, but you can learn more about their disorder, encourage them as they make progress and support them.
If you or your loved one is struggling with borderline personality disorder or another mental health concern in addition to a drug or alcohol addiction, contact The Recovery Village today to learn more about our evidence-based treatment programs.
The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. “Borderline Personality Disorder: Helping Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.” Accessed January 24, 2019.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Borderline Personality Disorder.” The Mayo Clinic. June 28, 2018. Accessed January 24, 2019.
Greenstein, Laura. “Supporting Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.” NAMI. June 23, 2017. Accessed January 24, 2019.
Churchill, AnnMarie, PH.D. MSW. ”9 Strategies for Supporting Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.” Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute. Accessed January 24, 2019.
Salters-Pedneault, Kristalyn. “Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment.” Verywell Mind. June 17, 2018. Accessed January 24, 2019.