I never really knew or understood what borderline personality disorder was until this summer. Throughout my life, I had never even considered that someone I love had this mental illness. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of fighting and emotions through family members. This other family member had bipolar disorder, or so we thought.
During my teen years, I developed extreme highs and low lows typically seen in people with bipolar disorder. I was exposed to this pattern of behavior, so, in a lot of ways, it was the only way I knew how to act and regulate my emotions. Going into college, I suffered from extreme bouts of anger and other emotions that seemed to be out of my control. It wasn't until I got help and went to therapy that I was able to manage my mental illness.
This other family member, someone I knew and loved, was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but looking back now, that could not be anything further from the truth. A personality disorder, unlike bipolar disorder, is extremely different, and so are the signs.
Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
According to the largest study ever conducted on personality disorders (PD) by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), 5.9% of the U.S. population has BPD. Those who suffer from it often seem to struggle with some aspect of their life or childhood, maybe due to trauma or some other type of situation. As a result, they cannot socialize or communicate with others in a normal way.
People Pleasing and Trouble Empathizing
They have trouble keeping and/or forming relationships with others, often feeling like they don't know where they fit in or belong. Many times, they try to imitate the behaviors they see of those around them. Those with BPD can be known as "people pleasers" to a certain extent. In addition to that, with the lack of proper communication skills, it is a lot more difficult for those with BPD to pick up on the feelings and emotions of others.
I noticed this with a loved one myself. It was never, "How are you? How is your life?" He was more focused on all of his problems and telling me about himself. In addition, if I was noticeably sad or upset in a conversation, he would not be able to read that emotion on my face.
Projecting Their Problems and Emotions Onto Others
Because those with BPD often feel like outsiders, they tend to want to "blame" others for their problems or their perceived problems, which is where this illness can oftentimes tear families apart. Those with BPD feel like they need to blame someone for feeling the way they do, often feeling an emptiness or hole inside themselves that they can't fill. This can lead to outbursts of anger that seem to come out of nowhere.
Extreme Mood Swings and Outbursts
One minute, the person with BPD might love you, and the next minute, they are threatening to never speak to you again. These extremes are often confused with bipolar disorder, but the difference here is that everything that a person with BPD goes through is centered around their relationships with others and their perceptions of self. These outbursts of emotions and moods aren't random; rather, they are the result of something that "sets them off." Many family members have a hard time with this because they don't understand how the person could have gotten mad or upset at them for seemingly no reason.
We must understand that the person with BPD experiences feelings and emotions much more intensely than others. They see everything as having some kind of meaning other than the surface meaning. So, if you send a text or say something that a person with BPD could take the wrong way, they won't let you forget about it.
Struggling With a Sense of Identity
Another symptom that people often don't know much about is struggling with identity. Oftentimes, the person with BPD doesn't understand who they are or where they fit in in the world. They may struggle with their sexuality, gender, or professional identity. Many people with borderline personality disorder have a hard time keeping a job because of their unstable relationships.
The Effects It Has on Family and Loved Ones
The most difficult part of learning that a loved one has borderline personality disorder is learning how you will move forward as a family afterward.
If the person with BPD is open and willing to go through therapy and get help, this could be a very positive experience for the family. However, if the person isn't willing to go to therapy and is in denial about their problems (this often happens with cases of BPD), the family can feel completely helpless, like there is nothing they can do.
I personally have felt this, and it has severely impacted my own day to day life. It is very typical for people with BPD to cut off certain family members after a period of time, and the results of that can be devastating. I am personally experiencing this with a family member, and it is devastating. It almost feels as if this person has died, like they are no longer in my life, and that is the worst feeling ever. To have someone that used to be so close to you now not communicating with you at all can be heartbreaking.
As we age, our mental health changes. Someone who was seemingly stable five years ago might be struggling later. It is disorders like BPD that can actually advance with age. Through all my research, I looked to see if BPD is something that can get worse as you age. However, most of the things I found said that it actually lessens with age. This couldn't be further from the truth in my particular situation. This family member has actually gotten worse with age, and it has become a very hard thing for our family to handle.
How to Support and Accept Your Loved One
Many people will live their entire lives not accepting the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, either for themselves or for a loved one. I know I have struggled to accept the issues and some days, I just want to believe it isn't true at all and for everything to just go back to normal. Unfortunately, that's not something that can just happen.
I sought out therapy for this issue, because I was having trouble coping with the fact that someone I love has borderline personality disorder.
Here is what I learned:
- You can't just will them to get better. They have to choose to get better.
- Sometimes taking time apart from the person with BPD is okay.
- This is an illness that needs more awareness and more resources to help families that have loved ones suffering from this disorder.
What I didn't learn was how to fix anyone. That's the way my mind used the think. I thought, if there is a way we could just fix him or fix everything, it would be better. That's just not reality.
The unfortunate side of BPD is that there really isn't a cure for it. Therapy helps, but it won't fix anything. What we really have to learn to do is love, and forgive, those that we love with this debilitating disorder. I have learned so much about BPD since this summer, but I still feel like I'm not ready for that word "forgive." It's hard. It's difficult. No one ever said it would be easy, but I remain hopeful that I can forgive and learn to live once again.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.