How to Communicate with a Loved One with BPD (2024)

Loving someone with symptoms of borderline personality disorder is often described as living on an emotional rollercoaster. The emotional instability that many with BPD symptoms experience can be extremely disruptive to their relationships, particularly their closest and most intimate relationships.

Improving or stabilizing any of these relationships requires that your loved one acknowledge the effects of their unstable emotional expression on you and on the partnership. Yet many individuals struggle with the words to say to their loved ones that might help them do this.

Many individuals with symptoms of BPD express strong feelings of passion in relationships when things go well. In romantic relationships, they can be “fast friends” and bond very quickly. In other relationships, such as parent-child relationships, they encourage frequent contact and support. This is often driven by their fear of abandonment and being alone. This leads to idealized expectations which result in disappointment. When individuals with symptoms of BPD get frustrated or disappointed with their loved ones, they often lash out at them.

Kelly and Harold

Kelly loves her son Harold, but due to his symptoms of BPD, the relationship was a challenge. She tried very hard to please him—as his father left home when he was very young and she felt responsible—but he was always eventually disappointed. The following dialogue is typical of how many of their interactions became unstable.

Harold: Mom, you're the best mother ever.

Kelly: I love you too.

Harold: I wish we could be together all the time.

Kelly: Me too, honey, but we both have to work.

Harold: What if I stop working and take care of the house and make dinner?

Kelly: You want to quit your job?

Harold: Yes, so I can be with you more.

Kelly: I don’t think that's a good idea.

Harold: Why not? I thought you loved me.

Kelly: I do love you. But you need to have a life of your own.

Harold: I have a life here with you.

Kelly: I don’t know if that's healthy for a 29-year-old man.

Harold: Oh. So you were just stringing me along. Some mother you are.

Kelly: I'm not "stringing you along." I'm trying to do what’s best for you.

Harold: You're the worst mom ever. I hate you!

Kelly has been through this many times with her adult son, and it breaks her heart each time. She's tried to explain that they could have a much better relationship if he could see his emotional instability and the pain it causes each of them. But her words never get through.

A Sample Letter

It is helpful for most people to write down what they want to say to their loved one with BPD before conveying their thoughts. Below is a letter that someone might write to their loved one with BPD. It is provided as a model to help you clarify your thoughts. In your communication, you should use the words that best express your feelings and intentions.

Dear [Loved One with BPD],

I love you very much. I know that sometimes you do not feel it. I know that you are in pain.

I would like to love you more and I think we could be closer, but there is an obstacle that we must work together to neutralize.

While much of our time together is wonderful, there are times when you push me away and our relationship is compromised. I know that you don’t want to push me away, but you are driven by your pain. I want to be there with you when you are in pain but I cannot if you push me away.

I cannot take your pain away. I know this disappoints you. It also prevents you from accepting from me what I can offer. I can be there for you and with you, if you don’t push me away.

When you are upset and you lash out at me, you are partnering with the pain against me. This triangulates me out of your life. I ask that instead, you partner with me against the pain and triangulate the pain away. In order for this to happen, you must accept your tendency to lash out and suppress it. Then I can love you more.

I know that this is painful to accept but your doing so will free our relationship from the limitations that currently exist. Choose me over your pain.

Consistency is Everything

Writing a letter, such as the one above, to your loved one is necessary but not sufficient to effect change in a relationship with a loved one with BPD. There must be a follow-through with consistent messages and behavior. When your loved one lashes out, you must point it out to them and remind them that they have a choice.

In the above example, Kelly might have responded to Harold’s lashing out behavior like this:

Kelly: Harold, you just said you want to be closer to me, but now you're pushing me away.

Harold: I'm not pushing you away; you're pushing me away.

Kelly: Saying that you hate me is pushing me away. Would you like to say something different? If not, this conversation is over.

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If Harold does not offer a more respectful response, she should separate herself from him temporarily, until he is willing to change his demeanor. She must do this every time he lashes out; point out to him that he is pushing her away, offer him a second chance, and then enforce her boundary that she will not be treated that way.

Realistically, it will probably take many exchanges between Kelly and Harold before Harold accepts that he has a problem that causes him to push his mother away when he is hurt. If you love someone who lashes out at you when they are hurt, you will have to decide to either invest the time and energy into trying to help your loved one accept their problems, or end or minimize the relationship.

Facebook image: Goksi/Shutterstock

How to Communicate with a Loved One with BPD (2024)


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