Living with a personality disorder can be difficult, but having the support of loved ones can be beneficial. These 8 steps can empower you to help someone with a personality disorder.

Someone with a personality disorder may have a difficult time coping with their condition. Personality disorders affect the way a person thinks about themselves and other people, how they respond emotionally, how they relate to other people and how they control their behaviors.

Personality disorders are challenging to treat, but there are effective treatments available. These conditions require professional treatment and ongoing support. There are ten types of personality disorders, each with different symptoms and each requiring specific treatment interventions.

Regardless of which personality disorder a loved one has, learning how to help a friend with a personality disorder can make a world of difference for the person with the condition. Here are specific actions you can take to show support and help someone manage a personality disorder.

1. Avoid focusing all conversations around their personality disorder.

Remember that not every aspect of a person’s life relates to their personality disorder. Instead of focusing on how a person is progressing in treatment, and compliment their other positive attributes and accomplishments. Continuing normal activities and conversations can promote a feeling of stability.

2. If an emotional crisis occurs, do not escalate the situation.

Simply remaining calm and avoiding arguing can help to diffuse a tense situation. If a loved one becomes verbally aggressive, do not take offense and avoid responding defensively. Suggest talking a problem over when tempers have cooled off rather than engaging in an argument.

Knowing how to act in a crisis can be helpful. When a loved one is feeling well, create a crisis plan to address what actions should be taken in an emotional crisis. Include information on preferred providers and treatments.

3. Maintain clear boundaries and expectations.

Many personality disorders influence the way a person connects with others and how they experience relationships. Set clear personal boundaries and expectations and enforce them. Someone with a personality disorder can benefit from having relationships with people who are consistent and rational.

4. Avoid being judgmental.

Avoid judgmental statements like, “You’re just overreacting.” While some personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, are characterized by difficulty regulating emotions and reactions, it is important for a person to have their feelings validated.

Most people with personality disorders deeply desire being understood. Acknowledging and validating their feelings can be beneficial. Personality disorders are surrounded by societal stigma, which may discourage someone from speaking up about their condition. It is important to provide a safe, non-judgmental environment for someone to share. Do not jump to conclusions about how a person thinks or feels, but instead try to understand their perspective. Ask questions, if necessary, to deepen understanding.

5. Be patient.

A personality disorder is a severe condition and setbacks are likely to occur during the course of treatment. Do not set unrealistic expectations or voice disappointment when setbacks occur. Criticizing someone when progress is slow or a setback occurs can cause further roadblocks to recovery.

6. Be present.

Simply being present and offering support to a loved one with a personality disorder can make a difference. Often people with personality disorders experience social isolation. Having a supportive person can help to alleviate feelings of isolation. To consistently be present in a loved one’s life, be reliable and trustworthy. The simple act of listening when a loved one wants to talk can increase feelings of support. Consistency helps provide a sense of security.

7. Research specific personality disorders and common symptoms.

Personality disorders are often misunderstood. Learn about the disorder, including symptoms and how a personality disorder impacts someone’s life. Understanding the obstacles a person with a personality disorder faces can increase empathy.

8. Avoid over-generalizing.

While all personality disorders influence how a person experiences the world around them, they are all different from one another. Understanding the specific personality disorder a loved one faces can help prevent over-generalizations. Be sure to understand what their specific symptoms are and do not assume that symptoms of other personality disorders are present.

Helping a Friend or Family Member Find Treatment for a Personality Disorder

It is common for people with certain personality disorders to seek treatment initially, but then drop out suddenly. One common attribute of all personalities disorders is the fact that improvement is unlikely without professional treatment. When a loved one’s willingness to engage wanes, continue to encourage ongoing treatment.

It may be helpful to recognize small improvements and initial successes to increase motivation to continue with treatment. For example, recognizing the effort put into attending an initial appointment can make it easier to attend the second appointment. If may also be helpful to provide support and assistance in scheduling and keeping appointments. While someone cannot be forced to continue therapy, reminding them of their appointments can increase the likelihood that they continue treatment.

If you or a loved one has a personality disorder, treatment is available. The Recovery Village provides effective treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders, such as personality disorders. Speak with a representative today to learn more about treatment options.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more

Dingfelder, S. F. “Treatment for the ‘untreatable.’” American Psychological Association, Published March 2004. Accessed February 23, 2019. “Personality Disorders.” (n.d.) Accessed February 23, 2019. “What are Personality Disorders?” American Psychiatric Association, Published November 2018. Accessed February 23, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.