How to Be an Emotional Support to Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder

**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

It is interesting to observe that people are quite often willing to provide various types of support to others when they recognize those others as having a genuine need. For instance, opening doors when it appears hands are full, helping with changing a tire, helping to lift something heavy, helping to clean up a mess, etc. On the other hand, when it comes to helping others with working through emotional distress that is hard to understand, the willingness of others to provide support can be drastically less.

A lack of willingness to provide emotional support might be related to not knowing how to offer this kind of support, but it can also be connected to misguided values, morals, and beliefs about emotions and mental health. Misguided attitudes often sound like “you should act like a grown-up if you are an adult” and likewise “there is never a good reason to over-react or act irrationally” – As if people could somehow be perfectly emotionally balanced at all times, regardless of condition.

Unfortunately, it is very common for people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) to become unbalanced or “de-regulated” in their emotional experience, and therefore, to appear as though they are trying to be disruptive and challenging in the way they express themselves and interact with others. For instance, becoming extremely and unnecessarily defensive, or becoming extremely and unnecessarily demanding/controlling. When other people observe these types of behaviours, it is common for them to believe that the struggling person isn’t struggling at all, but instead has premeditated every word and action and wants to make life hard.

If a person indeed has Borderline Personality Disorder then he or she does not want to make things hard or lose relationships, but instead has NO IDEA how to manage all the emotions going through his or her body and so is continually “over-reacting” to the feelings (very often with no insight, awareness, or understanding that skill development is needed).

When you need emotional skills that you don’t have and that others believe that you should have, the recurring consequence can be conflict with others, being avoided by others, and sometimes even be punished by others who find this kind of response is necessary to “help a person grow up.” The problem with all of these types of reactions towards a person who has not yet developed the emotional awareness and skills necessary to navigate life successfully is that emotional skills remain undeveloped. In fact, with others showing no compassion, being unforgiving, and otherwise remaining unaware of mental health issues, the struggling person is more apt to believe that his irrational thoughts and related emotions are all entirely sensible, and likewise that there is no other way of looking at things.

One of the primary areas of mental health that a person with BPD needs to strengthen is recognizing multiple viewpoints for every life event, but this area remains weak when nobody realizes what is happening in moments of difficulty.

A useful emotional supporter is someone who realizes that there is a severe impairment happening with regards to processing thoughts and feelings and that the struggling person did not ask for this problem. If this one aspect of BPD can be realized, then there is a chance for offering some compassion. To refuse to acknowledge the reality of stunted emotional awareness and skill development in a struggling person is to refuse to accept reality as it is.

It is much more common than people realize to be unequipped in the regulation of emotions going into adulthood, especially when the feelings are of the large/intense variety, and therefore to also develop BPD. When the struggling person and those around him accept the reality that more strength and capacity for tolerating and processing emotions is needed, and that misguided beliefs or punishing types of responses will not help matters, chances of making changes to the BPD pattern improves significantly.

If able to accept the struggling person as having real neurological issues that can’t be corrected quickly, and likewise that hard to understand emotional expressions are not what they seem, more can still be learned to provide helpful support. For instance, learning to remain curious about interpretations and inquiring about the struggling person’s ways of thinking, plus using validating language to help the struggling person identify emotions and become more mindful of his felt experience, are all excellent ways to be a support.

I have actually written two other articles on validation if you really want to know how to do this effectively! Please find them here… Article 1, Article 2.

An excellent analogy for being a supporter of someone with BPD is to imagine working out with someone in a gym, and that you are available to be a “spotter’ and therefore to help lift the weight when it has become too much for the person doing the actual lifting. Weightlifting is a good analogy because living with BPD means being faced with severe emotional challenges on a daily basis, and so “the weight” of the emotions can become both exhausting and overwhelming.

Experiencing even small acts of support from others in the ways mentioned above can mean the difference between functioning and not functioning for a person with BPD, so please do consider your willingness and the overall benefits it might bring to the relationships you are in with the people who live with these struggles day in and day out.







photo credit: JPHoesch IMG_8693 via photopin (license)

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How to Be an Emotional Support to Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder
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