Borderline personality disorder and relationships don’t really go hand in hand, to say the least. The saccharine expression of love we see on the big screens doesn’t really show us the complex turn it can take when a mental illness is thrown into the mix. In such situations, knowing what’s in store can be of use.
Loving someone with a borderline personality disorder is a complex state of affairs, and the whirlwind of emotions can’t really be put into words. Imagine a push and pull of drastic proportions, toxicity, hostility, infatuation, obsession, empathy, and devaluation — all in a week.
Is there a calm before the storm? Just how drastic can the storm be? And once it comes, what do you need to do to navigate the rocky waters? With the help of psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, let’s take a look at all we need to know about the impact of borderline personality disorder on relationships.
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder And What Are The Symptoms?
Before we dive into the world of BPD and relationships, it’s important to take an objective look at exactly what it is. Since it’s also one of the most commonly misdiagnosed mental health conditions, landing on this article after self-diagnosing can be detrimental.
According to Healthline, BPD is a mental illness that features sudden mood shifts and an intense state of abandonment paranoia, along with impulsive behavior. Other symptoms include:
- Extreme emotional lability
- An unstable self-image
- Idealization and subsequent devaluation of interpersonal relationships
- Feelings of abandonment/paranoia of being left behind
- Impulsive risk-taking behavior
- Suicidal behavior
- Frequent mood swings that last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days
- A lingering feeling of emptiness
- Dissociation, a feeling of depersonalization and feeling detached from your body
“People with BPD feel trapped within their personality,” says Dr. Bhonsle. “They don’t understand that their personality has largely been caused by certain situations. They’re not able to reorganize how they think.
“People develop this mental illness because they’ve probably been emotionally or sexually abused in childhood. Sometimes, it’s also when you live with a parent who has it. Effectively, a learned behavior sets in depending on what you’ve seen in your house.
“Genetics play a role too, in some cases, the environment plays a bigger role. This condition is also modeled through behavior. That may not cause borderline personality disorder, but the behavior becomes rehearsed.
And it feeds into the innate personality disorder, which is probably just waiting to manifest. How your mental illness manifests with your partner may have a lot to do with how your mother’s or father’s anger manifests in similar situations. Our behavior is a function of all the raw material we have picked up,” he concludes.
It’s a mental illness that is so severely misdiagnosed and plagued with myths that the layman doesn’t usually have an idea of what it is. Let’s take a look at borderline personality disorder and relationships to figure out what effect this illness has on a person’s life.
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Borderline Personality Disorder And Relationships: A Rundown On How BPD Affects Relationships
“People who have borderline personality disorder are typically very hyper-sensitive. In extreme cases, they can also engage in self-harm or suicidal behavior. They may feel very empty, and it’s very easy for them to feel that nobody cares about them.
“They usually leave behind a trail of many unstable relationships, since their anger is extremely violent and sudden and they spend a lot of time feeling suspicious of everything. It ends up being a case of emotional dysregulation. Their emotions captain their behavior, rather than them captaining the emotions and behavior,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
BPD in relationships can manifest in multiple ways and isn’t always easy to empathize with. Let’s take a look at what it might look like if you’re in a relationship with someone with BPD.
1. Emotional lability leads to janky foundations
“If you’re going to have temper tantrums and threaten your partner, they’re not going to feel very comfortable being in your company. They’d either walk out or end up feeling trapped.
“And when people walk out, it plays right into the abandonment fear that people with BPD in relationships have. As a result, they may start doing something stupid like threatening suicidal self-harm or even harm to their partner,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
When you’re dating someone with borderline personality disorder, having a constructive dialogue with them may seem impossible. Both of you will be in a constant state of worry, essentially feeling trapped.
2. Unstable self-image leads to abandonment paranoia
The most common issue with borderline personality disorder and relationships is that their ever-changing perception of themselves leads to incompatibility with the people around them.
They may have an unclear idea of what their goals and values are, they may fluctuate from feeling confident to self-loathing, from being set in their ways to an utter state of confusion about their life.
“As a result, they become very clingy and needy,” says Dr. Bhonsle, adding, “They constantly need reassurance that something isn’t wrong with them. Unfortunately, not everyone may be emotionally willing to give a constant sense of assurance or security.
“If you need to be told that you’re loved and valued every ten minutes, it may fatigue your partner, and emotionally exhaust them.”
3. A relationship with someone with BPD features impulsive and reckless decision making
What does an unstable self-image lead to? Impulsive purchases, changes in life plans, and fleeting fads that disappear with the next self-image realization. In BPD and relationships, it is often difficult to establish a sense of comfort in the way that things are always susceptible to change.
“Impulsive behavior from one partner may make the other think that they can’t trust their partner’s judgment. How can you when they’re spending a considerable amount of money on things you don’t need? Financial stress in a relationship can spell doom for it.
“Rash and impulsive decision making can also lead to social embarrassment. This person may not be able to sustain other relationships owing to their mood swings, and they become a very insular individual,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
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4. Friendships tend to suffer as well
It’s no surprise that the difficulties with borderline personality disorder and relationships aren’t just limited to romantic connections. “It’s difficult to sustain a friendship with someone who one day wants to know everything about you, and wants to physically hurt you the other.
“People afflicted by this condition have difficulties sustaining any sort of relationships. As a result, they may get lonely, which further supplements the abandonment paranoia they have,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
When a person is unable to establish a clear image of themselves, when they’re unable to control their bouts of anger, it’s bound to manifest in all the relationships they have. BPD in relationships affects all sorts of dynamics, not just with the ones who are closest.
5. Other mental health issues pose their own problems
People who have BPD are susceptible to other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. A lingering feeling of emptiness often affects such individuals, which leads to never really feeling content in the relationship.
“When BPD in relationships features depression, you won’t be emotionally available for a lot of mundane activities. You’ll want to be left alone, mull over the past, you may even close yourself off to interesting opportunities.
“They may even develop substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, body image issues, etc. In effect, it leads to a resource allocation problem. When you don’t have the necessary resources to deal with your own mental challenges, you’re never going to be available for someone else,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
6. Trust issues never go away
Borderline personality disorder and relationships cannot be understood without factoring in the festering problem of trust issues. Trust issues in any dynamic can often spell doom, and when you’re with someone who cannot control their emotional bouts very well, it may just result in abuse. When a conversation about commitment leads to raised voices and threats of harm, figuring out what to do can feel debilitating.
“People with BPD are unable to see a middle ground, everything is very extreme to them. They either believe that their partner loves them to death, or that they’re conspiring to finish them. Since they’re unable to realize what they stand for and what their self-image is, they believe the person they’re with is always either in it for good or always looking for a way out,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
What Should You Do If You’re In A Relationship With Someone With BPD?
Reading about borderline personality disorder and its effect on relationships may have got you painting a very grim picture in your mind. Though it may seem like your relationship problems are not the easiest thing in the world to deal with, there’s always help available.
“If you love someone with borderline personality disorder, the first thing you need to do is to find a good psychotherapist and a psychiatrist for the person. It is absolutely imperative that some kind of rehabilitation effort is underway. Otherwise, you’ll be caught in a toxic loop between self-preservation and being there for the other person,” says Dr. Bhonsle.
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“How much can you take before it gets too much? A person in such a relationship needs to have superhuman patience. They need to be extremely forgiving, benevolent, and patient. Though it’s hard, immediate therapy can help make things a lot better,” he adds.
If you’re currently dating someone with borderline personality disorder and require professional help, or if you know someone struggling through something similar, we urge you to take a look at Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors, including Dr. Aman Bhonsle.
Traversing through borderline personality disorder and relationships isn’t easy. It may feel like all hope is lost, and that you feel trapped and left alone, but with perseverance and help from professionals, there’s no reason why things can’t get better.
Triggers for the onset of symptoms of BPD are usually shaped by interpersonal conflicts, though perceived beliefs of abandonment can trigger them too. Disagreements, separation anxiety, anger, and other inconveniences can trigger symptoms. It’s also entirely possible that a person struggling with BPD may not be aware of what triggers them.
A relationship with someone with BPD is going to be unsteady, for lack of a better term. The decision to “leave” someone with BPD rests on you, but there are always things you can do to help them. For instance, seeking CBT and medication for their mental illness can greatly subdue their symptoms.
Someone with BPD may struggle with severe mood swings and a perceived sense of separation that is cooked up in their minds. Such people usually tend to be extremely clingy, and perhaps constant reassurances are the best way to let them know they’re loved. When their unstable self-image comes into play, they may need reassurance that they’re not a burden.