Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships

Do You Love Someone With BPD?

It’s the “I hate you; don’t leave me” syndrome. Borderline personality disorder relationships are fraught with intensive highs and extreme lows. People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are on a rollercoaster of unpredictable mood shifts, engulfing feelings of insecurity and self-destructive behaviors — and all too often, they take loved ones along for the ride.

Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships – The Experience

Relationships affected by borderline personality disorder are taxing. Loved ones never know who will show up — the affable, affectionate individual they fell in love with or the insecure, sometimes rage-filled person waiting in the shadows. While borderline personality disorder differs from bipolar disorder in that “borderlines” don’t switch between extreme mania and deep depression, similar to bipolar disorder, people with BPD keep those they love on edge with hot-and-cold interactions and erratic moods.

Borderline personality disorder relationships can be rocky and intense and cause you to feel:

Invalidated – People with BPD often don’t see their behaviors as problematic. This is the nature of personality disorders and one of the characteristics that make them so difficult to treat. Your loved one may brush you off when you bring up concerns about their behavior. You might get responses like, “So, I got a little angry at you? That’s normal. Every couple fights.”

Trapped – Your loved one’s intense insecurity can drive them to desperate acts in an effort to keep you around, making you feel like a hostage in your relationship. It’s not uncommon for people with BPD to threaten or attempt suicide or other self-harm. Data shows that 60% to 70% of borderlines attempt suicide but only 8% to 10% succeed.

Anxious – Mood swings and impulsivity are common symptoms in people with BPD. Not knowing what to expect from your loved one can leave you feeling anxious. You may be nervous and antsy, trying to anticipate their next mood or move.

Villainized – It’s common for people with BPD to blame those closest to them for everything that goes wrong in their lives. You’re “all good” or “all bad.” There’s rarely room for anything in between.

Idolized – They hate you one day and love you the next. As quickly as you’re the villain, your loved one puts you on a pedestal. You can do no wrong — for the time being.

Misunderstood – Borderlines can be “crazymakers.” You may feel you’re constantly having to explain yourself and blamed for even the smallest grievances. Your BPD loved one has a knack for twisting your words around and recreating history. For them, all difficulties begin and end with you. Studies confirm that people with borderline personality disorder struggle with trustworthiness perception, and especially trusting their partner during challenging situations. This is the case even when the partner has proven themselves trustworthy.

Befuddled – Loved ones of people with BPD often find themselves running in circles trying to keep the peace. Perhaps you keep a mental checklist of circumstances that have set your partner off in the past and have become hypervigilant about making sure those situations don’t repeat themselves. The problem is, people with BPD keep upping the ante, constantly changing their preferences and dislikes so you’re always having to “prove” you love them. You may often feel you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

Like many personality disorders, psychologists believe that underlying causes lie at the intersection of environmental and biological factors. Research on borderline personality disorder is still new, but has pointed to the following contributors:

Brain differences – An imbalance of brain chemicals such as norepinephrine, acetylcholine and serotonin may play a role in BPD. Those chemicals help regulate emotions that people with BPD have trouble controlling such as sadness, irritability, anxiety and anger.

Emotional dysregulation – Along the same line as imbalanced neurotransmitters, brain scans of people with borderline personality disorder show overactive activity in areas associated with emotional responses. “Borderlines” feel emotions intensely and often have knee-jerk reactions to them.

Trauma – People with borderline personality disorder sometimes have past trauma stemming from emotional abuse or neglect and attachment issues. A history of sexual abuse is also common. Some studies show around 40 to 71% of BPD patients have experienced sexual abuse. Stress and neglect have also been shown to contribute to the onset of BPD, especially in young adults.

Parenting styles – Research shows that certain parenting styles can contribute to the onset of borderline personality disorder. This may include a hostile environment, over-controlling parents or aloof parents. Children of mothers with BPD are at a higher risk for developing the disorder.

Hope for Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships

Understanding the causes of borderline personality disorder can give you more empathy for your loved one, but it’s important you don’t take responsibility for their behaviors. There are effective treatments for borderline personality disorder that can help your loved one, and in turn, your relationship. These include:

  • Inpatient borderline personality disorder treatment – A recent study showed inpatient borderline personality disorder treatment helps decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in BPD patients and improve their ability to function in a healthy manner.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – A therapeutic approach that focuses on emotional regulation and distress tolerance and draws heavily on mindfulness, DBT can help BPD patients manage their behaviors and emotions. In fact, one study found that 77% of participants with borderline personality disorder no longer met BPD diagnosis criteria after 12 months of DBT.
  • Trauma therapies – Because people with borderline personality disorder sometimes have a history of trauma, it’s not surprising that specialized trauma therapies show promise. Trauma therapies like EMDR can help people with BPD address the root causes of some of their symptoms.
  • Medications – Traditional antidepressants have shown limited success in borderline personality disorder treatment with monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOIs) and fluvoxamines yielding the most benefits. Research has shown promising results in decreasing BPD symptoms with atypical antipsychotics and anticonvulsants.

Borderline personality disorder relationships are exhausting. It’s tempting to let loved ones “off the hook” for their behaviors in order to keep the peace. That’s why it’s a good idea to seek treatment for yourself. A mental health professional can help you develop resiliency, learn not to enable your loved one’s behaviors, and determine if the relationship is salvageable should your loved one refuse to get help.

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