For most people, a crisis is something that unexpectedly disrupts their lives but eventually resolves itself. A death in the family, sudden job loss or losing your home in a fire is a crisis. The way we deal with a crisis depends on many factors as well, such as how much family support is available, financial resources on hand and how severely the crisis upends our lives.
A person with borderline personality disorder perceives a crisis whenever they do not feel in control of their lives. Unfortunately, that feeling constantly affects the way they speak, think, behave and perceive reality.
Take Maureen. A 24 year old college student working on her B.A in business administration, Maureen was raised by her grandmother after both her parents died in a car accident when she was 12 years old. Although her grandmother was a loving guardian, Maureen never coped well with the death of her parents. She struggled to maintain relationships with her peers in high school.
Maureen’s constant need for attention was exhausting. If Maureen saw two of her friends talking in the hallway, she would immediately run over and accuse them of “leaving her out” of the conversation. Although Maureen would try to say this in a joking manner, her friends suspected she seriously thought they were deliberately ignoring her.
Smart and attractive, Maureen had many boyfriends that she would date for a short time. Ultimately, they always broke up with her. When asked why they stopped seeing Maureen, they would always say the same thing: “She’s too moody, clingy, gets mad all the time about nothing and is way too jealous of other girls.”
Maureen seemed to manufacture her own crises by accusing boyfriends of cheating on her without proof, claiming she got fired from jobs because managers didn’t believe it was the customer’s fault and claiming “everyone hates me!” Her girlfriends tried to help her become more organized and less impulsive about making decisions. They would spend hours talking through her emotions and thoughts with Maureen, but nothing helped.
As Maureen’s life spiraled out of control, her volatility worsened. She managed to earn her B.A. in business management and landed an entry level job in a human resources department. However, her sudden mood swings, quick temper and desperate need to be “liked” forced the department to have to let her go. Although Maureen had thought fleetingly of killing herself in the past, this was the first time she had thought about it seriously. It felt like everyone in her life kept abandoning her or refused to see things “her” way. Maureen could not understand why she could not control everyone and everything in her life.
Living with BPD
In some ways, borderline personality disorder is an even more challenging mental health issue than schizophrenia. While individuals with schizophrenia have a tenuous connection with reality, people with BPD are totally aware of what is happening around them. They do not have audible or visual hallucinations nor do they need strong, antipsychotic medications to function on a daily basis.
If you have a loved one who you think may be affected by borderline personality disorder, you probably feel like you have to “walk on eggshells” when around them. Saying the wrong thing (in their view) could cause them to rage or sob inconsolably. Turning down an invitation to have dinner with them because your sister is visiting may cause them to accuse you of “forgetting all about them.” Then, when they start crying, they will try and blame you for making them cry.
People with BPD have described themselves as feeling like a “train speeding 100 miles an hour with no conductor and no brakes” or “an active volcano always on the verge of erupting.” Living in a state of constant fear and anxiety that they cannot understand or manage leaves them susceptible to emotional imbalances, volatile moods and an inability to control deep-seated resentment and anger.
One common characteristic of individuals with BPD involves experiencing traumatic events in childhood: loss of one or both parents, living in a dysfunctional household or being abused or neglected as a child. In addition, many people with BPD self-mutilate or develop substance addictions as a way to self-medicate and relieve intense anxiety. There are also higher incidences of gambling and sexual addictions among those with BPD, which are two addictions especially associated with lack of emotional regulation and poor impulse control.
BPD is also one of the more stigmatized mental health issues. While we always excuse the behavior and speech of someone we understand to be psychotic (as in out of touch with reality), society does not excuse the behavior of individuals who are “sane.” In addition, the term “personality disorder” implies a disorder based on something you could change if you really wanted to–your personality or at least some aspects of your personality. Unfortunately, the serious lack of solid information in the public sphere about the biopsychosocial causes of borderline personality disorder continues to perpetuate myths about BPD.
How to Support Someone with BPD
Maintaining a relationship with someone who you suspect has BPD can be challenging, stressful and, at times, infuriating. As much as you try to help them, they don’t seem to listen to helpful guidance or even understand how much they contribute to creating one crisis after another in their lives.
Supporting a loved one with BPD takes a lot of patience, empathy and self-reminding that they really can’t control what they say or do. BPD is defined by a real inability to regulate thoughts, actions and emotions due to serious psychological issues requiring professional treatment. Avoid blaming or criticizing individuals with BPD or telling them they are being “manipulative.” Don’t talk down to them or say things like “You push away people by acting like this!” Although they may be aware that something is wrong with them, they may not have the coping tools necessary for genuine self-reflection and self-awareness.
The best way to support a person with BPD is to learn as much as you can about the disorder and give them the unconditional support they need. Many people with BPD have gone on to successfully manage their condition with the help of cognitive-behavioral therapy, medications and ongoing supportive counseling. To learn more or get help for your loved one, call FHE today.