Hello friend, chances are you ended up on this page because you have a friend or loved one diagnosed with BPD, and you want to help and support them.
Or you may simply want to learn some hints and tips on how you can help the BPD community, good on you!
You may find it hard to understand their feelings or behaviour or how to help. Here are some simple, positive things you can do to help:
How to help when things are calmer
Don’t judge them – It’s so often our gut-reaction to tell people that they ‘shouldn’t feel that way’ and without understanding, you may tell them that they are over-reacting. However, it is important to remember that someone with BPD is highly sensitive to any perceived rejection or invalidation, and they may shut-off completely or become angry or upset at the first sign of this
Try to be patient, calm and consistent – When someone with BPD is experiencing distressing emotions they may have great difficulty in expressing them to someone else; and this may manifest as anger, sadness or self-destructive behaviour. Try not to get involved in the ‘heat’ of the moment, and suggest waiting until you are both calmer. Often they are feeling very out of control and unsafe, being calm and consistent could help them feel secure and safe
Validate – This is a big one. Guilt and shame are agonising to deal with and often crop up suddenly. Someone may feel like no one cares, or is not really listening, making them feel worthless and guilty for how they feel
Avoid ‘Buts’ – I know for myself, I am always on edge waiting for the inevitable ‘but’. The one tiny word that has the power to destroy. Simultaneously emotionally crushing yet reinforcing any negative thoughts I may have. Try to use the word, ‘however’ instead, or stop and really consider what it is you’re trying to say, and how the person with BPD may perceive it
Listen to them! – This is important! Checking in on your friend or loved one can really help to remind them that they are loved and cared about. Remind them of their positive traits, or talents, ask them how they are doing and what you can do to help. Step away from what you’re doing, focus on them entirely and listen to them without interrupting or interjecting with your opinion – they may be thankful someone has taken the time to truly try and understand them
Learn their triggers – Take the time to find out what may trigger negative feelings or emotions. Plan ways to help for when they are feeling unsafe
Educate yourself – Learning more about the complicated disorder and helping to challenge misconceptions and stigma will benefit anyone with BPD!
How to help when emotions are too overwhelming
Work on getting calm again – When emotions are running high it can be easy for both of you to get caught up and engage in a full-scale argument. Try the 4D response:
Delay: “Give me some time to think about what you’re saying” or “I’m feeling upset right now. Your feelings are important to me and I need some time to understand them.”
Distract: Suggest a new focus, running an errand or having a bath
Depersonalise: Remember that the other person is likely to say things they do not mean, as many people do when overwhelmed with their emotions
Detach: Remove yourself emotionally, this will help you to remain unbiased and help the other person to work towards feeling better or calmer
Feelings before facts – In an ordinary situation, people address facts and then attach feelings to them. However, someone with BPD is likely to reverse this process. When communicating with your loved one it can be useful to focus on and validate the feeling – before addressing the facts
For example: Address the feeling, “I understand you are feeling angry/upset.” Then validate and normalise the feeling, “I would be too if I was going through what you are.”
Ask questions or repeat back what they have said – Remember, we are not ‘monsters’ that need to be ‘dealt with’, we are human beings who struggle to communicate effectively. Asking questions and repeating things back is a way to show that you are really listening, and want to know more
Separate behaviour from person – Someone with BPD may find it hard to control their behaviour or reactions in distressing situations or conversations. It could be useful to verbalise that whilst you dislike the behaviour they are exhibiting, it does not mean that you dislike them
Do not treat them like a child – This is a big one for me personally. I struggle with feeling like I’m being talked down to. It may be your instinct to ‘mother’ your loved one, to appeal to their inner child. Remember to validate without being condescending.
Remember: You must not neglect your own emotions or basic human rights. It is important to be realistic; no amount of good communication will ‘cure’ a person with borderline personality disorder. Your goal is to simply communicate effectively in a way that respects both you and the other person. You have the option to leave at any time; you do not have to tolerate physical threats, verbal or emotional abuse.