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.
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.