Helping a person with BPD: 7 tips

Personality disorders harbor a series of peculiarities that can contribute to the appearance of conflicts within social relationships, with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) being one of the most commonly associated with it.

Due to the daily frictions (some of them important) it is frequent that interest arises on how to help a person with BPD , pursuing in order to alleviate their own discomfort or that of the affected family member / friend.

In this article we will investigate the specific characteristics of this alteration in the very structure of the personality, since this knowledge is essential to understand how a person suffering from BPD feels and acts.

  • Related article: ” Borderline Personality Disorder: causes, symptoms and treatment

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

BPD is a clinical entity that is included in cluster B of personality disorders ; along with the antisocial, the histrionic and the narcissistic. Like the rest of those mentioned in the list, its core orbits around the difficulty in regulating emotions and behaviors. People who suffer from it are often overwhelmed by their emotional life, which leads to a marked instability in relationships with others and with themselves (their internal experience).

These are people who suffer from difficulties in controlling their impulses, which leads them to commit thoughtless acts that they may regret, feeling guilty and ashamed. They also often think that others are not really interested in their lives and that they could leave the relationship that unites them, a belief that ends up precipitating desperate acts to regain the love and company they fear losing.

The mechanisms through which they evaluate others are conditioned, like emotional experience itself, by instability and unpredictability. They tend to resort to the extremes of idealization and devaluation , ignoring the varied spectrum of gray shades that could exist between one and the other. For this reason they usually react with intense anger, becoming an emotional response that occasionally lasts for days.

The instability that characterizes the judgments they make about others also extends to the way they perceive themselves, a constant fluctuation in self-image and identity becoming evident. All this can be accentuated when, in addition, dissociative symptoms such as depersonalization (a feeling of inner emptiness that translates into the vivid feeling of being an automaton or a kind of hollow shell) concur on the same stage.

In addition to the above, which refers to a deep experience of suffering, those with the disorder tend to resort frequently to threats or coercion in an excessive attempt to take control of the external circumstances that cause them pain. The content of these threats may involve the production of harm to themselves, or the exacerbation of a harmful behavioral pattern in which they had previously been involved (substance use, risky sexuality, etc.).

All these circumstances, along with others such as self-harm or verbal aggression (insults, provocations, sarcasm, etc.), foster a context of extreme relational tension. Although there are currently empirically validated treatments to address this mental health problem (such as Linehan’s dialectical behavioral therapy), which should be prioritized over other approaches, it is also essential for those close to you to learn about how to help a person with TLP .

Why happens?

There are many studies that have been carried out with the purpose of determining the causes of this personality disorder, although currently we only know risk factors that contribute to its appearance in a given individual. Most of them contemplate circumstances that occurred during the childhood years, as this is the period in which the foundations on which their full clinical expression will be erected (in adulthood) begin to form.

One of the most important risk factors is the presence of psychopathology in parents , including mood disorders and BPD itself. Also the low warmth and the explicit rejection of the parents to the children has been consistently related to a greater probability of suffering it, as well as inconsistent care. Hostility and high negative emotional expressiveness (from parents to children) also have a role to consider.

The experience of long-term traumatic situations, generally in the form of childhood abuse (physical, emotional, verbal and sexual), is one of the risk factors on which there is currently the greatest consensus on the part of the scientific community. These situations of prolonged stress can also be associated with the presence of the dissociative symptoms of BPD.

Basic attachment styles have also been studied by researchers , drawing from empirical evidence that insecure (especially anxious) attachments decisively contribute to the formation of the disorder in adolescence and adulthood. Finally, basic dimensions of the structure of the personality; such as neuroticism, impulsiveness and experiential avoidance, may be part of the premorbid profile of those with BPD.

How to help a person with BPD

Here are some suggestions that can help you deal with the daily friction that comes from living with someone who suffers from this important mental health problem. Putting all these tips into practice can be an effort at first, and they are not a substitute for psychological or pharmacological treatment. Its purpose is solely to facilitate the moments of greatest difficulty .

1. Validate your emotional experience

People with BPD often feel that they are not understood by others, and that they are the receptacle of constant criticism for their way of thinking or feeling. It is necessary to remember that people with BPD can experience very intense and long-lasting emotions when they perceive that they are the subject of an offense.

It is therefore important to learn to validate the experience as it is related, showing support and listening ; in a context of acceptance, honesty and avoidance of judgment.

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2. Offer support

In a situation of emotional overflow, leave the person with BPD on record of your availability to spend time listening to what they should say.

The use of shouting, or other negative communication strategies (both verbal and non-verbal), can mean the abrupt interruption of an opportunity for connection and the consequent increase in difficult affections. The breakdown of the emotional expression pathways ends in a distancing of the two parts that may take time to resolve.

3. Communicate your needs and allow it to express itself

Convey to the person you understand how they are feeling, shifting the focus of attention to the emotional experience rather than accentuating the supposed relevance of the situation that preceded it.

If you find it difficult to connect with her speech, encourage her to continue delving into it with an explicit purpose of understanding it. Speak clearly about what you do not consider tolerable at this very moment , such as insults or disrespect, establishing a guideline for contact.

4. Get involved in treatment guidelines

Many of the therapeutic guidelines offered to BPD patients involve the family directly. Be interested in what happens in the context of the intervention, respecting the limits of confidentiality and avoiding attitudes of a paternalistic nature. It shows commitment to the improvement project in which it has embarked , contributing to the changes that must necessarily be articulated in the daily life of the person suffering from this disorder.

5. Shows understanding when symptoms flare up

Many people with BPD learn to manage their own difficulties and lead absolutely normal lives. However, it is very likely that at certain times (periods of intense stress, specific relational conflicts, etc.) there will be an increase in symptoms.

Show understanding and communicate hope that the emotion you experience will end up being resolved , as it has happened on other occasions in the past.

6. Learn strategies to regulate your own emotions

It is undeniable that living with a person who suffers from BPD can mean suffering for the whole family, since from a systemic perspective, the family is a mechanism in which all the gears are relevant for its optimal functioning.

Learning specific autonomic activation control techniques , such as diaphragmatic breathing or Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation (always guided by a specialist), can help make difficult times more bearable.

7. Seek professional help

If the situation you live with your family member generates in you a stress response that is difficult for you to manage (distress), it is important that you are able to take a breath and seek professional help.

Long-standing stress can cause a decline in our adaptation mechanisms (even physiological), producing exhaustion that increases the risk of many mental health problems (such as major depression or various anxiety disorders, among others).

What things should we avoid

There are a number of situations that we should avoid when we want to help a person with BPD. The first of them is to develop a behavior of excessive overprotection or condescension, as well as maintaining the belief that with our actions we will be able to solve all their problems. An important part of the improvement consists in learning to regulate the affections, and for this, those who suffer from BPD must assume their day-to-day life with maximum autonomy.

It is also necessary to make an effort not to personalize the harsh words that the person with BPD can utter during a moment of anger , since they are dealing not only with the conflict in which you are both, but also with the symptoms of their own disorder.


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