**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
Gaining as much healthy perspective as possible when suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is important since without it you tend to experience much more emotional pain and remain lost in dysfunction. Gaining perspective often means learning more about expectations, and so in this article, I am writing about what to realistically expect from partners for emotional support when BPD is active. Living with BPD myself, I believe I can safely relate how unrealistic expectations for emotional support from partners often need adjustment to reduce BPD suffering and retain relationships.
From my experience, most people entering into relationships with others who suffer from mental health issues know little-to-nothing about mental health and zero about conditions like BPD. And since most people don’t know nearly enough about mental health, they also don’t often realize when they are entering relationships with people who are suffering (or vulnerable to suffering) with mental health issues. Nonetheless, to exist in a relatively stable relationship with someone who suffers from BPD, it helps when there are a willingness and openness from partners to learn more than average about mental health.
**Even though it is true that it would be nice for partners to take an interest in learning more about how people suffer from mental health and what works to be supportive, the reality quite often plays out differently than what is wanted.**
Most people in relationships with BPD sufferers are caught up in matters of day-to-day living and are not prepared to spend extra time learning more about mental health. Better yet, until things get complicated in regards to emotions and relationships, people may have a hard time believing that mental health should take such a high priority in human life. Even after things do get harsh and mental health symptoms are plain to see, the first approach is often to send troubled people to the doctor and therapist instead of learning more about how to be supportive. In many ways, people in modern culture don’t think of health issues (especially mental health issues) as being a matter of shared responsibility, no matter how much suffering is going on.
For these reasons and many others I probably haven’t thought of, a strategy is needed to assist those with BPD effectively bring expectations for partner emotional support sharply down. At any point expectations for emotional support rises above what is realistically available from partners, there will be immediate suffering in the form of feeling rejection, abandonment, and worthlessness. And since these kinds of emotions can be hard to tolerate for persons living with BPD, it then follows that the feelings may not get managed well and reactions of aggressiveness or passive-aggressiveness might happen.
**The tragic but oh so common experience that happens to people with BPD after reacting to their emotions with aggressiveness and passive-aggressiveness is that they end up experiencing real rejection, abandonment, and devaluing (put-downs, etc.).**
The strategy that I have found useful for reducing expectations for partner emotional support, and therefore, reducing the odds of the common tragedy mentioned above from happening, involves thinking about emotional responsibility as mostly and primarily an individual matter. I realize this may sound harsh at first since emotional struggles occur so often in the context of relationships and would, therefore, SEEM to be a matter of complete shared responsibility. However, I can say with therapeutic confidence that emotions (even BPD emotions) are the primary responsibility of the human experiencing them, and that the strategy described below does work to reduce suffering (although not eliminate suffering). Does anything anyone offers eliminate suffering?
To be more specific about emotional responsibility being a mostly individual matter, I look at the division of responsibility for emotions in a “fraction” format. So for example, the fraction may be 80 percent individual and 20 percent shared, or 90 percent individual and 10 percent shared, or even more extreme depending on the situation the person with BPD is living in. Even though the partner of someone with BPD may influence the BPD emotional experience in the ways, for example, conversations happen, it remains the ultimate responsibility of the person experiencing his emotions to be THE MANAGER or THE MASTER of himself. That being said, existing in a relationship also usually implies one can assume some measure of support through all personal hardships experienced for the duration of the relationship.
**Reductions in emotional suffering become possible when a person with BPD gets to a full acceptance that people (even partners) are limited in what they can do to provide emotional support, even when the suffering of mental illness seems so high.**
To expect a small amount of emotional support to take better emotional responsibility is, in my opinion, totally acceptable in any human relationship. To expect a small amount of emotional support (and even a little bit more than that) when someone is working through BPD is, in my opinion, entirely acceptable – even a necessity to ensure the survival of the individual and the relationship. That being said, sometimes a person must decide to leave a relationship when even a small amount of necessary support is not forthcoming from partners and need areas have been explained and understood.
The best outcome for a person with BPD is to learn so much about himself and BPD that he could survive the hardest BPD moments without partner support, although with a small amount of ongoing mental health informed partner support being available can keep BPD suffering at a consistently low level. Finding this set of circumstances offers a quality of life worth living.