How to Support Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) - Handel Behavioral Health
Mental Health Blog

How to Support Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

June 1, 2023

A woman is looking at herself in a bathroom mirror. The digital painting consists of the scene being a bright green, except for what is seen in the mirror appears in a reddish peach hue. The vantage point is looking up from below at the woman and the mirrow.

Amy Mauro

“The worst thing we can do is demonize a person with any form of neurodivergence or disability.”

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a complex mental health condition and form of neurodivergence, depending on which way the individual chooses to identify. Those with BPD typically struggle to self-regulate, feel safe and secure within their relationships, and within their own identity. 

Like any form of neurodivergence, the presentation of BPD varies from person to person.

Popular myths surrounding BPD, fueled by widespread misconceptions about the condition, often forces those with BPD to feel shunned and rejected. 

“When you read about BPD online, people with BPD are often framed as abusive and neurotic monsters. It’s completely inaccurate and unfair. Any human being has the capacity to be abusive, and it’s not contingent on an individual’s traits or diagnosis,” said Julie White, MA. 

That’s why it’s so important for people with BPD to connect with a trained clinician, with experience in treating BPD, who understands, supports, and validates their lived experiences.

“A healthy therapeutic relationship will help the individual with BPD embrace their natural strengths, and abilities to form positive relationships in their personal life,” said Julie. 

Julie is a neurodiversity affirming therapist who helps individuals with BPD bring awareness and healing to their life experiences. 

Equally as important, we need to break the stigma surrounding BPD through learning about the condition from honest and accurate sources. It’s vital that we look compassionately at the lived experiences behind a person’s traits, as we learn how to support their healing. 

In the following blog, Julie discusses what BPD is, how BPD can affect a person’s life, and how both therapists and loved ones can support an individual with BPD.

How does BPD show up in someone’s life?

In essence, BPD is a form of neurodivergence characterized by struggles with self-image / self-worth, extensive fears of relational abandonment, and difficulties with regulating painful and intense emotions.

According to Neurodivergent Insights, people with BPD tend to demonstrate:

  • An unstable self-image/self-identity
  • Intense difficulties in personal relationships
  • Difficulty managing painful emotions
  • Impulsivity, risk-taking, and disinhibition

“People with BPD tend to have a pervasive fear of abandonment, and an intense urge to do something about it,” said Julie. 

To prevent abandonment, those with BPD often try to gain a sense of control over their relationships by doing things to keep their partner, family, friends, or coworkers around. 

“This isn’t to be seen as manipulative behavior, but rather, as someone who is deeply emotionally dysregulated due to experiencing a relational based trauma response,” said Julie. 

With an insecure attachment to self and others, individuals with BPD may demonstrate compulsive tendencies within their relationships. However, much of the destruction is demonstrated at the self. Self-image difficulties can lead to fears of rejection and other painful thought patterns.

With the right support, individuals with BPD can learn skills to be more effective interpersonally, and approach the world with more confidence and mindfulness.

How can therapy help someone cope with the traits of BPD?

Not everyone with BPD has a complex trauma-history, or identifies as a trauma-survivor. 

Many people with BPD experience difficulties in interpersonal relationships. Verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in their early years may have been a contributing factor to their BPD. Other causes of BPD often pertain to relational trauma, especially bullying or any form of social rejection. Marginalized populations are also at risk of developing BPD due to experiencing discrimination via racism, classism, and ableism.

A trauma-informed therapeutic approach involves helping the individual learn adaptive coping skills to manage their feelings and sense of self. It also addresses why these traits show up, and recognizes the emotions and behaviors as a result of lived experience with enduring relational trauma.

Many skills used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) involve physical and meditative experiences for addressing traits of poor self-image, mood lability, impulsive behaviors, and strained relationships. 

“Somatic skills like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help improve emotional regulation and interpersonal communication,” said Julie. 

Julie also finds Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) effective for treating individuals with BPD. Instead of rejecting distressing emotions, ACT teaches individuals to accept and understand why these emotions exist. Individuals will learn to observe their emotions, objectively and mindfully.

ACT also teaches individuals to identify their personal values, goals, and beliefs. This is especially effective for helping people with BPD develop a stronger sense of self.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy has also shown promising results in the treatment of BPD, as it contains mindfulness based interventions. These interventions are unique, in that they help clients identify and befriend their “parts” in a curious and compassionate way. This helps individuals with BPD to build a stronger sense of self, practice self-compassion, and learn the purpose of their parts, as opposed to trying to get rid of them.

How can I support someone with BPD?

“The worst thing we can do is demonize a person with any form of neurodivergence or disability,” said Julie. 

So, whether you’re a partner, parent, child, sibling, colleague, or friend of someone with BPD, there are effective ways to support the individual as a whole:

1. Don’t Believe Popular Myths About BPD

BPD is more stigmatized than other forms of neurodivergence, and there are many inaccurate myths surrounding people with BPD. Myths cause isolation and further distress for anyone with any form of neurodivergence or disability. 

Learn about BPD from honest and accurate sources, such as from marginalized individuals who share their lived experience online, as well as affirming and intersectional mental health providers with experience in treating BPD. 

The following resources also provide clinical information about BPD:

 2. Be Responsive 

Be responsive when your loved one with BPD is trying to contact you. It can trigger someone with BPD when their friend or loved one doesn’t respond. They might internalize your lack of communication as rejection or abandonment. 

Even if you don’t know what to communicate in words, your quiet presence will remind them that they are loved. Listen, offer empathy when needed, and try to relate to your loved one without retaliation or blame. 

3. Show Them That You Appreciate Their Love

People with BPD will go out of their way to make others feel appreciated and loved, but they often struggle with intense feelings of insecurity. Show your loved one that you appreciate them and the things they do to make you happy.

4. Offer Your Support 

Support for your loved one with BPD starts with “I” and demonstrates a desire to help. To establish a healthy and secure foundation for the relationship, it can helpful to say:

“I want to try to help you feel better in this moment,” or “I care about you,” or “I am concerned about how you are feeling.”

Don’t tell your loved one how they’re feeling, instead, be compassionate and curious toward their feelings. This can remind them that uncomfortable feelings are okay, thus validating their emotions.

5. Set Healthy Boundaries

Clear boundaries are essential for the wellbeing of individuals with BPD, as well as others around them. 

Set boundaries with empathy and understanding of your loved one’s struggles. If your loved one is feeling afraid of abandonment, communicate what you can expect from each other. 

Boundaries will help your loved one regulate their emotions and behaviors, leading to a more secure relationship. Boundaries can also prevent your loved one from becoming overly dependent on others, which is necessary for building their sense of self. 

6. Seek Support for Yourself

The weight of others’ pain can sometimes be overwhelming. To be an effective source of support, you need to take care of yourself. 

Seek individual therapy, and/or connect with support groups for loved ones of BPD to maintain your own emotional wellbeing.

The take-away

If you or your loved one is struggling to manage your mental health, you owe it to yourself to acknowledge your distress and seek help.

Through working with a trained mental health professional, who treats BPD as a form of neurodivergence, individuals with BPD can begin to understand, accept, and heal patterns of painful emotion and behaviors. They’ll learn how to put aside labels and inaccurate stigma, and develop adaptive skills to process their emotions and create stable relationships. 

Our team of trained mental health professionals operating out of our offices in Amherst, Franklin, West Springfield, Wilbraham and online across the state of Massachusetts are here to support you and your loved one. 

To schedule an appointment with one of our mental health professionals, contact us today at (413) 343-4357.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Julie White, MA Headshot

Julie is an inclusive, warm, and empathic clinician who aims to help their clients feel respected, validated, and empowered in sessions. They are an LGBTQIA+ and Neurodivergent Affirming Provider. Julie utilizes a person-centered counseling approach that is Health At Every Size / weight inclusive, trauma, and social justice informed. They prioritize providing anti-oppressive, anti-ableist, and overall intersectional care.