Updated July 2, 2023
If you or someone you love deals with borderline personality disorder (BPD), you already know it’s a complex disorder that brings forth many challenges. When borderline personality disorder ends a relationship, a fear of abandonment may influence the decision or affect the individual’s mental health after the fact. To learn how to support someone with BPD or work through a fear of abandonment yourself, read on.
What Is BPD?
BPD is a mental health disorder that impacts the way individuals feel about themselves and how they interact with others. It’s common for people with BPD to exhibit a pattern of instability in their relationships because they find it challenging to manage their emotions and behavior.
To complicate matters, people with BPD often experience an intense fear of abandonment, sometimes due to their self-image issues, and may have difficulty spending time alone. When they’re with people, they can demonstrate bouts of anger, moodiness or impulsivity that can push loved ones away.
Symptoms of BPD can include:
- Unstable relationships
- Going to extreme measures to prevent an imagined or real separation
- Periods of losing touch with reality or paranoia
- Risky or impulsive behavior
- Feelings of emptiness
- Self-harm or threats of self-harm in response to being left alone
The symptoms of borderline personality disorder usually begin in a person’s early adult years and can improve with age and treatment.
What Is Fear of Abandonment?
Fear of abandonment (FOA) is an overwhelming worry that the people in your life will leave you. While most people may associate FOA with childhood trauma, the reality is that anyone can develop this fear at any age. FOA may stem from a parent leaving during childhood or a toxic adult relationship of either a romantic or platonic nature.
The fear of being abandoned has a significant impact on people’s relationships and may cause them to avoid getting close to others to protect themselves from potential pain and heartbreak. Severe FOA can make it challenging to maintain a healthy relationship as an adult.
How Does Fear of Abandonment Relate to BPD?
BPD and FOA frequently go hand in hand, and FOA is one of the common symptoms of BPD. Because of poor self-image and insecurity, people with BPD often develop a severe FOA that manifests in unhealthy ways. They may fear being left alone and, as a result, go to extremes to prevent that from happening, even if the abandonment is imagined.
Sometimes FOA is demonstrated through threats of self-harm if you leave them. If you’re in a relationship with someone with BPD and you’re receiving these threats, it’s an unhealthy situation for both of you. Professional support may be necessary to treat the individual with BPD or help you extricate yourself from the relationship.
Assuaging Someone’s Abandonment Fears
To improve your relationship if you’re experiencing FOA or involved with someone dealing with FOA, there are a few steps you can take. If the individual with FOA is ready to talk about it, begin with an open conversation about these feelings but avoid pressuring them.
Even if the FOA seems ridiculous to you as an outsider, to the person with BPD, it’s very real and seems like it could happen at any time, which is why their reactions may be intense.
If you’re committed to remaining in this person’s life, you can reassure them frequently that you aren’t going anywhere and they don’t need to worry about you abandoning them. Don’t expect this alone to resolve the issue, but it can be a helpful step along the way.
Ask the individual dealing with FOA how you can help, and take their requests into consideration. If they seem receptive, you can suggest attending therapy, either individually or as a couple. Again, don’t push the idea if it’s not well received.
When a Borderline Personality Disorder Ends a Relationship
A person with BPD may end relationships preemptively. This might seem contradictory to a FOA, but in reality, it can be a coping mechanism that allows them to distance themselves before the other person leaves them.
People with BPD may experience frequent mood swings and shift suddenly from being affectionate to being distant, feeling smothered and feeling fearful of intimate relationships. This is known as splitting, and an episode may last anywhere from days to months. When this shift occurs, the individual may end a relationship despite seeming previously invested.
How Does Fear of Abandonment Lead to a Mental Health Crisis?
Fear of abandonment can be seen as a form of anxiety. Although it’s not a standalone health condition, it can lead to a mental health crisis when an individual with FOA goes to extremes. People with FOA may:
- Persist in toxic relationships
- Move quickly between relationships
- Be codependent
- Sabotage their relationships
- Struggle with emotional intimacy
If a person with FOA is staying in an unhealthy relationship because they’re afraid of being alone, it can have severe effects on their mental health and overall well-being.
Leaving Someone With BPD
BPD and abandonment are complex issues to deal with, and if you’re in an unhealthy or abusive relationship with someone who has BPD and FOA, sometimes the safest and best choice is to leave.
Have a plan, and if possible, consult a therapist ahead of your departure for additional support. Try to detach with love, meaning you still care about the person’s well-being but you’re prioritizing your own well-being and mental health. Once you make the decision to leave, act on it with a clean break.
Don’t draw out the process as this can create a toxic environment where the person with BPD may act out toward you or try to convince you to stay using unhealthy methods.
Treating Borderline Personality Disorder
The first step in the treatment process of BPD is to get an accurate diagnosis. Meeting with an experienced psychiatrist is essential in order to get an accurate diagnosis and to discuss any issues or symptoms such as fear of abandonment that are associated with the condition. During the psychiatric evaluation, your psychiatrist will conduct a medical history exam and discuss your symptoms in detail. This exam is likely to include verbal discussion and written questionnaires.
After a diagnosis of BPD from a mental health provider, you may have more peace of mind in knowing there is treatment for your condition and that it can be customized to address your symptoms.
If you’ve been diagnosed with BPD, your treatment plan is likely to include psychotherapy, which is a core treatment for this condition and many others. During psychotherapy sessions, a mental health professional will likely begin with a plan that addresses your ability to function in your everyday life. They will assess your current symptoms and how they impact your mental stability, which in turn, impacts how well you can function at home and out in the world.
Your mental health provider should also help you cope better with your emotions. Negative emotions such as fear require management, or they can cause symptoms to worsen, further impacting mental and emotional stability. An important part of psychotherapy sessions pertains to education; many patients don’t know about this disorder when they are diagnosed. Your provider should help you understand the disorder and how it manifests in your life.
There are various types of “evidence-based” psychotherapies that have proven safe and effective for BPD in scientific studies and that your provider may employ to help you manage your condition. For instance, dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on distress tolerance and helping patients improve the way they manage their emotions and relationships with family, friends, and colleagues.
Many patients with BPD are prescribed medication. Medication can improve the balance of mood. Although there are no medications specifically formulated to treat BPD, there are medications that can reduce symptoms and improve how patients feel and function as a result of symptom relief. Common medications prescribed to patients with BPD include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizing drugs.
Your psychiatrist will prescribe medications based on your symptoms and by taking into consideration any other health conditions you may have, your medical history, and other medications you may be taking. Some drugs such as antidepressants may take time to build up in your system, so you might not experience noticeable symptom relief in some cases for a few weeks.
Professional Support Is Available
About 1.4% of adults in United States have a borderline personality disorder. If you or someone you love is struggling with BPD and a fear of abandonment, you don’t need to go it alone.
At FHE Health, our experienced team can support you through a comprehensive treatment program designed to address the unique needs of each person. With the right support and therapy, people with a borderline personality disorder can live healthy, fulfilled lives.