Just hanging on can be exhausting.
Source: Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
Many individuals with symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) attach insecurely to those they are closest to. This causes instability in their relationships that strain and sometimes end them. Helping a loved one with symptoms of BPD feel more secure in your relationship can increase the stability and intimacy of the relationship.
Stable and Unstable Attachment
Close and intimate relationships can be described based on their level of stability. Very stable relationships are the most durable. They are built on a history of consistently cooperative and supportive attitudes towards one another. The stability of these relationships makes them tolerant of occasional errors or weaknesses. Individuals in stable relationships always give each other the benefit of the doubt. They always assume the best until shown otherwise. They consistently show each other respect.
Unstable relationships do not have a solid base. These are generally built on inconsistent behaviors between the parties that result in a lack of security. The relationship changes with each interaction. Errors or slights often lead to temporary or permanent withdrawals from the relationships. Individuals in unstable relationships do not fully trust each other or the relationship itself and they often don’t give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Symptoms of BPD Cause Unstable Attachment
Almost all symptoms of BPD cause attachments to be less stable. Some of them are listed below:
- Emotional dysregulation causes sufferers to react strongly to loved ones during emotional exchanges and is often associated with lashing out in frustration or anger, which is disruptive to relationships.
- Fear of abandonment contributes to the emotional dysregulation associated with chronic fear and worry about separation and lack of access to their loved ones.
- Transient paranoia causes sufferers to be suspicious of loved ones and causes frequent questioning, testing and allegationss, which increases conflict, which destabilizes the relationship.
- Impulsivity increases the intensity and frequency of the lashing out behavior, which drives away individuals they are close to. Other impulsive behaviors also add to the instability of their attachments when they make statements or actions that are intimidating or humiliating. This might include making threatening or sexual gestures in public in order to get attention.
The instability in almost all relationships that individuals with symptoms of BPD experience makes their fears of abandonment worse. It increases the intensity of the uncomfortable emotions they already experience and makes it harder for them to regulate their emotions. This leads to more lashing out and more instability. A pernicious cycle.
What You Can Do
If you are in an intimate relationship with a loved one with symptoms of BPD, you can improve the relationship by increasing stability and security. This will reduce the intensity of the emotions that your loved one is struggling to regulate and increase the chances that they will be successful. Here are some strategies that will add stability and security to any relationship.
- Direct reassurance, Frequent statements such as “I love you,” “I care about you,” and “I am here for you” should precede most statements and be peppered throughout all conversations; especially ones that are emotionally intense or involve conflict.
- Be reliable, Make sure that you can show up for your loved one when you say you will. Don’t overpromise. Be precise about what you are willing to do with them or for them and be consistent with distinction.
- Be consistent, Be available when you say you can be and not when you say that you can’t. Let your loved one know about any changes in plans in advance of those plans and make sure that your loved one understands. Help them prepare if you can.
- Do not escalate situations, If your loved one lashes out at you, draw a consistent boundary. Let them know that you will end the interaction if they don’t stop the aggressive behavior and then stop it if they don’t or cannot. You must stop it every time.
In the dialogue below, Pat, who suffers from symptoms of BPD, demands a ride from Mom, who has a preexisting medical appointment that conflicts with when Pat wants to be picked up. By using the above tools, mom is able to disappoint Pat and stop the lashing out as it starts.
Pat: I need you to pick me up at 4:30 this afternoon at work.
Mom: I have an appointment at 4. I will pick you up as soon as it is over.
Pat: As long as you pick me up by 4:30.
Mom: I don’t know if I can be there by 4:30. I will get there as soon as my appointment is over.
Pat: Can’t you change your appointment.
Mom: I love you very much but I cannot change this appointment.
Pat: Forget it. I will just walk home. You don’t care about me.
Mom: I am sure that I can be there by 4:45. Just wait for me. I will be there.
Pat: You are a disappointment and a loser.
Mom: I love you but I will not be spoken to that way.
Mom: I will be at your work by 4:45 to pick you up.
While mom was not able to create a loving transaction with Pat, she was able to minimize the lashing out, using the above tools. Having mom come at 4:45 instead of 4:30 is not ideal, but it is much more stable and secure than mom not coming at all.
Consistent use of the above described tools will increase the stability and security of all relationships. In relationships with individuals who have symptoms of BPD, these techniques will help regulation of emotion by reducing the person’s sense of being overwhelmed by intense emotions.