Supporting Yourself is a Must While Supporting Your Loved One

By Larry Shushansky, LICSW | Jun. 26, 2017

 

Imagine you’re on a boat and the seas are calm. The wind picks up a little and you’re having a great time. One of the best days sailing you’ve ever had. Suddenly, a storm begins to brew. Even if you’re a good sailor, the wind, rain and high seas dictate what’s happening, making it difficult to use what you know. If you can imagine this scenario, then you can imagine what it’s like being in a relationship with someone who experiences Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), both from their perspective and yours.

This condition causes a person to experience certain symptoms that are bound to impact the loved ones in their life. Two of the condition’s main symptoms are unstable relationships and an unstable sense of self.

A person with BPD may behave in a way that’s hard to understand. When symptoms flare, you may feel as though your relationship is falling apart. You may feel as though your relationship won’t be healthy for either of you unless serious changes are made. You may even feel personally attacked and extremely confused. If you are feeling lost at sea, here are a few suggestions to follow.

Immediately Stop:

  • Trying to “fix” the relationship
  • Trying to “change” the other person

If you’re a “solver”—meaning you’re always looking for a way to fix problems—stop doing that right now. Borderline personality disorder is not a “problem;” it is a legitimate, clinical medical condition that needs proper treatment and time for recovery. So, if you find yourself buzzing around your loved one, trying to “fix” them or how they’re functioning in the relationship, stop now.

Instead, focus on the things you need to develop about yourself, such as learning how to stay “whole” and not give up on yourself regardless of what your loved one is doing or saying. Stay in touch with your friends, make sure you have healthy activities outside of your relationship and keep practices in your life that allow for growth.

Try to Start:

  • Regularly checking-in with yourself
  • Making any changes you might need to ensure a happier lifestyle

Stay in touch with what’s going on for you. Are you overwhelmed at times because of what you think the other person is doing? Do you often feel tense and anxious, like you’re walking on eggshells? Do you often think that no matter what you do, the same drama continues? Do you feel like you’re always defending yourself? If any of these are applicable to you, take a huge step back psychologically from the other person. If possible, quiet the “noise” (all the thoughts and feelings) you have about them, so you can think more clearly.

Once your mind is quiet and focused, you can assess what changes will be helpful to make for you to become healthier and happier. This may mean a change as simple as going to yoga a few times a week or a change as drastic as moving out of a shared apartment or home—and many other options in between. But be aware: As you make healthy changes, you may feel worse before you feel better.

Once you’ve decided what changes you need to make, consider setting boundaries for yourself to make sure you don’t give up the parts of your life that are important to you while still maintaining your relationship. This will require a commitment to yourself to be strong about your boundaries. Others may accuse you of not caring when you make these decisions, but remain firm. You are making these changes to benefit yourself and the relationship.

You might be wondering if it’s okay if the only “healthy change” you can see is removing yourself from the relationship entirely. And I get that. A relationship with a person living with untreated borderline personality disorder can be a very toxic, painful thing. But the key word in that sentence is untreated.

Is your loved one untreated? If so, it would be difficult for your relationship to grow in a healthy way. You’re making all of these healthy decisions that benefit you and your relationship. They need to match that growth. Treatment for someone living with BPD is that match. If they aren't willing to enter treatment, then continue to grow on your own, and through that growth you will learn whether this relationship is a good fit for you.

“It is important to remember that despite intense and disruptive symptoms, people with BPD are frequently good, kind and caring individuals” writes Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault Ph.D. And they can have healthy and functional relationships. All it takes on your end is ensuring that you are developing healthy habits, meeting your own needs, supporting yourself and honestly communicating with your partner. Having BPD does add an extra challenge to a relationship, but it’s a challenge you can get through if you are willing to do the work together.

 

Larry Shushansky has seen thousands of individuals, couples and families over 35 years as a counselor. Through this and the process he used to get clean from his alcohol and drug addiction, Larry has developed the concept of Independent Enough. Follow him on Facebook here. You can also access his blog through his website at Independentenough.com

Comments
Patrick
My wife of 20 years, and 10 before that, was diagnosed bi-polar, and like others, I self diagnosed her with BPD after reading just the title of a book, "I hate you, don't leave me!" (she doesn't accept the borderline thing, doesn't want to be "more" ill. It's been a long lonely road. For both of us. I wish I could find a support group, Birmingham to OKC is a little far :) but for years I haven't been able to get any good help for her, or me. Seems like the rut just keeps getting deeper and deeper and all family members find it easier to just keep their distance. I wish all, caregivers or afflicted, love, hope, and peace.
9/29/2017 11:21:18 AM

Mary
I'm convinced that my husband has BPD. His behavior and moods have become increasingly more volatile over the past few months, and he blames everything on me. Sometimes I wonder how I didn't see the signs earlier on....

My husband and I are both in the mental health field (psychology). I have a doctorate and he has a masters degree. He's currently in graduate school, working towards a doctorate as well. I think our education and training is both a blessing and a curse! It's helpful in that we have a deeper understanding, more insight, and usually more compassion than most people. When we're communicating well, even when life has thrown us some terrible curve balls, we are a great support to each other. But sometimes things go off the rails in a big way! Then my husband will tell me that I'm "selfish" and "controlling," as well as "incapable of listening" and unwilling or unable to care about his feelings. He can react in a huge way to the slightest little thing, and then the gloves are off (figuratively speaking), and he tells me that he's "done" and will move out and file for divorce as soon as he can get his hands on enough money to do so. He rages around the house, has thrown his wedding band so hard at the wall that the clock on that wall fell to the floor. He curses at me incessantly during his rages, talks over me, then walks away and/ or puts his headphones in and turns up his music really loud to drown out whatever I have to say....

My husband accuses me of being unstable and overly emotional, and tells me that I need a mood stabilizer and a lot more therapy. He has even told me that he thinks I have BPD! One of his favorite offensive/defensive tactics is to quote a law of physics, namely that "for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction." He uses that rationale to justify his over-the-top aggressive behavior and verbal abuse. So he sometimes recognizes that his angry outbursts are extreme, but he explains that it's merely a REaction to whatever mistreatment or abuse he thinks I have perpetrated, and he prides himself on how well he can "amplify" and return whatever perceived injustice he has suffered. He has flat-out told me, in numerous arguments, that our marriage problems are "100% [my] fault" because if I was a better wife who treated him the way a husband deserves to be treated, he wouldn't be provoked to this degree of anger....

Inevitably, after a while (sometimes hours, sometimes 2-3 days), he apologizes for being so disrespectful and hurtful, and then he's back to viewing me as the most amazing and wonderful woman ever. He has told me that he has been more open and honest with me than with anyone else in his entire life. He has shared things with me that he never told his late wife, whom he deeply loved (and still loves). Not too long ago, he said he gets so hurt in our marriage because he loves me so much more than he loved his late wife, and so everything I say or do has a greater effect on him. It's an enormous compliment (because he typically puts his late wife on a pedestal), but it's a huge burden as well (because he puts the responsibility for his emotional well-being on me).

I love my husband very much. I've said many times (before things got so crazy) that I didn't think I could love someone as much as I love my beautiful little girl. But I have felt the same depth of love for my husband as I have for my young daughter....

Unfortunately, with my husband's increased drinking and more frequent rages, his verbal abuse and threats of divorce, that love is slowly withering....

I hope I can weather the storm until he starts working again. He was much more balanced when he had a full-time job to keep him gainfully occupied (instead of ruminating by himself all day, drinking and smoking)... I think it will help for him to have an adequate income to make him feel like the man he has always perceived himself to be: a self-sufficient, dependable provider for himself and his loved ones (including adult family members who use him for a free ride in life)....

I apologize for writing such a long comment. This is my first attempt at posting anything about the drama in my marriage. I'm looking for support and for hope from others who live with and love someone with BPD (which is not formally diagnosed and definitely not treated). My husband has been diagnosed with PTSD (from multiple traumas), as well as Complicated Grief. He acknowledges both of those diagnoses, but he refuses to seek treatment of any kind. And he's quite adamant that he doesn't have a problem with alcohol, and I'm just too critical, etc. And the cycle starts all over again, with me being the cause of all our marital distress and his depression....
7/12/2017 1:44:03 AM

Lora Ramey
I live near Birmingham AL and really need to find a support group to attend. My youngest daughter has BPD and also BiPolar, she is 23 and living with me for the time being. I need to have other people to talk to and share ideas and thoughts. The lonely feeling is sometimes unbearable. I have researched and learned about her condition but it would help tremendously to have people to talk to, that are in my similar position. I am willing to drive some distance. Any help would be great appreciated!!
7/9/2017 11:46:00 PM

PJC
I am certain now more than ever that my 19 yr old daughter has BPD. She has been in and out of treatments, docs, therapists, hospitals... and I'm a single mom living with her alone and her only caregiver and support, financially, emotionally, physically... and I have reached my breaking point. There are no support groups in my area. She has been misdiagnosed so many times as she suffers multiple symptoms and issues that change, depending on whatever negative issue she is focused on as that time...the list goes on. She just attended her first long term (30-60 day)inpatient treatment and the first night was taken to the ER for acting psychotic and thought she was suicidal, which she said she wasn't. Knowing her behavior, just having someone to talk to would have calmed her down. Since they didn't know her behavior, or how to handle someone like this, it was a trip to the ER. Eventually after convincing her to return to treatment after 4 days in short term treatment, she went back for a week and walked out at midnight without notice after a week of no sleep - suffers from insomnia and shared room with snoring roommates - did not give her medication to help her sleep or other. Fed up, she said she couldn't take one more night without sleep and told them she would leave if they didn't help her - they blew it off and she did - left and walked miles in the dark out in the country and called me from a gas station....I did not bring her back. This type of thing has been going on since she was 13/14 and I am completely spent emotionally and financially. I'm drowning in medical bills, my credit is ruined, her young adult credit is affected, she wont work (says she can't), won't go to school (says she can't), doesn't drive, has no friends (were mostly all bad) and is a high-tense, touchy, negative person that is very difficult to live with and keep content. Every day revolves around her. I need help and don't know where to turn. She blames me for a lot of things, blames family, her dad is absent and has made things worse with his own behavior and bipolar emotional anger issues, and I am alone in this battle. He argues with her and has been a very harsh parent since she was little, which causes her a lot of emotional pain and obsesses. Where can I get help? As sole bread winner, I am forced to work from home and it affects my job, our family, and I have completely lost who I am anymore. I have isolated myself for years and don't see a way out of this situation. I fear eventually I will go broke, become ill, or other. I have no health insurance and don't have access to my own therapy. I'm interviewing for new jobs and afraid if I get one, what will she do? Sit home all day alone? BPD trained professionals are VERY hard to come by and most do not accept insurance. I could barely find a doctor which historically has not helped. Please let me know if there is way to get help or support for either her or me. I have no way to leave to decompress or get a break... for years. And I'm falling into depression. Thank you.
7/8/2017 2:42:07 AM

Inga
I found this very affirming. I have self diagnosed my mother with BPD, because she is in denial and does not believe she needs serious help, but through my research and own therapy it is clear what she suffers from. I have had to detach completely from any kind of mother daughter relationship, to protect myself and my family. At the moment I am allowing her to remain in our lives but I am nearly reaching my limit. It is a terrible illness and when someone does not want to help themselves, then the people around them have no
Choice but to abandon ship.
6/29/2017 7:59:17 PM

Patricia
This article was helpful. I have been through so much with my older daughter, 33 who suffers from BPD and is suicidal, plus dealing with it all alone since her father passed a three years ago. It is now the worst it has ever been. I feel like I am going to lose it myself. Her younger sister has detached herself from her. She couldn't take all the drama and draining of energy as the same with her few friends and other family members. So tough for me as a mother not be able to help her plus she is a single mom with my 3 year granddaughter who I worry about all the time. She sabotages any happiness I try to have, from vacations, a night out with friends, even work and business events and calls/text messages me 3-4 times a day at work with some type of drama or problem. I am the only one there for her 24/7 and she treats me horribly. I am trying to find a good inpatient facility in Colorado for her which is hard to find! If anyone has any referrals please let me know.
6/29/2017 4:51:41 PM

Maureen Doyle (Mo)
Hi just read Elyse P Muller.
When I was first diagnosed, my diagnosis was bipolar disorder 11. I was institutionised for 11 years because of my suicidality. I was in a private psychiatric hospital in Ireland. My sister got me eventually discharged and I entered the public psychiatric system where I got my diagnosis of BPD with my Bipolar. I've been through Rehab for alcohol and drug addiction, married now divorced. I have 2 wonderful grown up children and a beautiful 4 year old granddaughter. I was sexually abused as a child and never disclosed this until the age of 32.
I always struggled with my sexual identity.
I'm now a happy lesbian and my children and family accept me for who I am.
I was promiscuous, not any more. I have made a lot of new lesbian friends and am not in a relationship at the moment. I came off all medication and have received different types of therapy, which worked for me personally. I'm not recommending anyone to come off medication.
I was diagnosed with bipolar 21 years ago rather than BPD, wrongly diagnosed and I was very suicidal and lucky to have survived my many suicide attempts. I feared abandonment, rejection and all that goes with BPD.
Not any more, therapy works and talking.
Please keep talking to your daughter, get her therapy. Be honest with her, accept her whatever her sexuality is, this doesn't matter.
Don't abandon or reject her. Just listen and let her find her path and accept her.
People do get better from this difficult mood disorder.
Try and be strong. It was very difficult for my family and friends watching me on self destruct mode.
I have lost a lot of friends through suicide and a lot of my healthy friends with no mental health disorders have stepped out of my life and I understand why now.
I also have stepped away from unhealthy friendships I made in psychiatric hospitals.
I have my family and friends that matter to me back. I've also made new friendships and lead a very happy and healthy life.
People do recover.
Be strong and take care.
Love Mo
6/29/2017 12:31:12 PM

Jeannie Nelson
i am drowning how do i get an advocate also need advanced directive
6/28/2017 9:22:51 PM

Elyse P Muller
My daughter was diagnosed with ADD, depression, then Bipolar disorder at 14. A later diagnosis included Borderline Personality disorder when she was 18.
She has been seen by psych. docs, behavioral specialists and neurologists since she was 5 years old. As she got older, she would pray they would find something wrong and fix it so she could be a normal kid.
She has been suicidal, alcoholic, has severe eating disorders, gender identity issues and has learning disabilities. There is rarely a stretch of time where she is not struggling w severe anxiety. She spent
middle school eating lunch in an empty office because her anxiety prevented her from eating with anyone but immediate family.
She is 32 now and she knows I will never abandon her no matter how difficult her behavior may be. As much as her disorder has impacted our family, I know any of us can step away from her difficulties because it can be very draining. But I remind myself that she is the only one who can't step away from all the turmoil that lives inside.
If you aren't in a situation where a friend or family member needs your support, remember the caregiver who needs your compassion and understanding. That support person has probably spent much of her time defending or explaining their loved ones' behavior.
I am still optimistic that my daughter's life will be more peaceful and happier.
6/28/2017 6:24:55 PM

Georgia
I think I have an adult daughter with BPD. How do I get her help or diagnosed? She has a 7 year old. They live with me and the household is in chaos. We all are desperate and spinning out of control. I read the book by Linehan and it describes my daughter to the 'T'. I am being the parent of the 7 year old and then get accused of taking control but the yelling and cursing at the 7 year old has to stop. It is vicious!
6/28/2017 12:23:32 PM

Michelle
Woah. I want to stay married to my husband. It is a releif to finally read something (this is the 2nd article so far) about BPD that is positive.
6/26/2017 11:58:29 PM

Lizanne Corbit
This is such an important read, and it really even goes beyond the topic. It's time we stop seeing self-care as a secondary thing, a luxury, or even a selfish act. Self-care is so necessary if we're going to be able to help, and care for others. Especially those living with things like BPD. The phrase "you can't pour from an empty cup" may be easily written off by some but there is some powerful truth in that little line. Taking time to care for yourself is absolutely important, and posts like this are so helpful in reminding us of that.
6/26/2017 8:16:43 PM

Maureen Doyle
Already did?!!
6/26/2017 12:05:55 PM

Maureen Doyle
Interesting read. Nearly lost all to BPD. Lots of therapy.
Family back and all who matter to me back.
Live happy and healthy life now. Lucky to have survived multiple suicide attempts, self harm and self destruction.
Life is good. Therapy a necessity for BPD sufferers.
6/26/2017 12:04:47 PM

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