teyhou smyth psychology

Earlier this week I wrote an article about what is Borderline Personality Disorder. Relationships are challenging, even in the best of circumstances. When someone you love has a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, the relationship can be even more difficult.

Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition in which individuals fear abandonment and respond in emotionally reactive ways.  It may seem as if the person with this disorder is looking for conflict, at times, but this is a conditioned response to their internal dialogue which anticipates abandonment and judgment at every turn.

The better you understand Borderline Personality Disorder, the more you can observe the signs and symptoms and improve your relationship.

Talk to your loved one about it:

The thought of talking with a loved one about their mental disorder may feel daunting, but once you begin, it will be a relief for both of you. Ask questions about the disorder and how they feel about it. Find out how you can be supportive.

Keep your perspective:

When you care about someone with this condition, it can feel like you are walking on eggshells to avoid conflict. Try to keep your focus on the person beneath the symptoms.

Remember that some of the more trying parts of this disorder are based out of pain that stems from deeply-seated feelings of shame and low self-worth.

When someone feels they are worth nothing, their natural assumption is that you believe the same thing about them.

Establish some ground rules for yourself:

In order to avoid getting caught up in unwinable, cyclical arguments it is important to set some general rules to abide by. It may even help to write these down and refer to them during difficult periods in your relationship.

Explain your ground rules to your loved one with Borderline Personality Disorder (when they are in a good space) so that they know how you will respond to certain situations ahead of time.

It might help to think of yourself as the counterbalance to the erratic feelings or behaviors of your loved one when they are experiencing a flare up. It will be important for you to maintain a level, calm presentation and to step away from situations that feel amped up and harmful to you or them.

Create a crisis plan:

Work with your loved to develop a crisis plan. Sometimes with Borderline Personality Disorder, emotions and behaviors can escalate quickly. Be sure to include the local crisis hotline number in your plan so that you can make that call for additional help if your loved one becomes suicidal or self-injurious.

Self-Care for Loved Ones

If you have a relationship with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, be sure you are paying attention to your own mental health needs. Invest in your own emotional health; talk to a counselor, engage in some meditation, massage or other healthy outlets.

Keep in mind that you can not (and should not) be the only person providing support to your loved one. Encourage them to establish friendships and connections with others and you should do the same. You are not going to ‘cure’ someone of this condition.

Your loved one can access specialized therapy to help manage the symptoms and this can offer dramatic improvements in functioning. You cannot ‘love’ someone out of their mental disorder, and it is important for you to keep your eye on staying within your role in their life. If you intend to stay in a relationship with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, it is crucial that you pay attention to your own wellness and stay strong in your own knowledge of self.


  • Dr. Teyhou Smyth

    Performance Coach, Adjunct Professor of Psychology, Keynote Speaker, Licensed Therapist (#115137)

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