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Do you have a loved one who’s been diagnosed with BPD? While you can’t force them to seek treatment, you can take steps to improve communication, set healthy boundaries, and stabilize your relationship.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behaviour, and a pattern of unstable relationships. People with BPD tend to have major difficulties with relationships, especially with those closest to them. With borderline personality disorder, you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone. Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships.

Partners and family members of people with BPD often describe the relationship as an emotional roller coaster with no end in sight. You might feel helpless, abused or off-balance. Still it is good to keep in mind that you have more power than you think.  You can change the relationship by managing your own reactions, establishing firm limits, and improving communication between you and your loved one. In fact, patients with the most support and stability at home tend to show improvements sooner than those whose relationships are more chaotic and insecure. Whether it’s your partner, parent, child, sibling, friend, or other loved one with BPD, you can improve both the relationship and your own quality of life, even if the person with BPD isn’t ready to acknowledge the problem or seek treatment.

When a family member or partner has BPD, it’s all too easy to get caught up in efforts to please and appease him or her. You may find yourself putting most of your energy into the person with BPD at the expense of your own emotional needs. But this is a recipe for resentment, depression, burnout, and even physical illness. You can’t help someone else or enjoy sustainable, satisfying relationships when you’re run down and overwhelmed by stress. Here are some tips on how to take care of yourself:

  1. You’re allowed (and encouraged) to have a life! Give yourself permission to have a life outside of your relationship with the person with BPD.
  2. Join a support group for BPD family members. Meeting with others who understand what you’re going through can go a long way.
  3. Don’t neglect your physical health. Eating healthily, exercising, and getting quality sleep can easily fall by the wayside when you’re caught up in relationship drama.
  4. Learn how to manage stress. Getting anxious or upset in response to problem behaviour will only increase your loved one’s anger or agitation.
  5. Learn more about BPD. The better you understand what your loved one is going through, the easier it is for you to be there for them and help them build a healthy relationship with you.

When supporting your loved one’s recovery, it’s important to be patient and set realistic goals. Change can and does happen but, as with reversing any kind of behaviour pattern, it takes time. Supporting your loved one’s recovery can be both extremely challenging and rewarding. You need to take care of yourself, but the process can help you grow as an individual and strengthen the relationship between you. Remember that with right support and treatment people with BPD can live a fully normal life.

Vilhelmiina Välimäki is a Clinical Psychologist at Willingness Clinic. She works both with children and adults. You can contact her on vilhelmiina@willingness.com.mt or on 79291817