BPD And Relationships: How Borderline Personality Disorder Can Affect Connections With Others
By Kelly Spears
Updated November 14, 2019
If you've ever been in a long-term relationship, you know maintaining a meaningful connection can be challenging even in the best of times. Preserving bonds with family members, friends, and romantic partners may seem downright daunting when you add feelings, emotions, and the occasional disagreement to daily commitments, logistics, and unforeseen circumstances.
For individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD), relationships are often characterized by extreme highs and lows, making it difficult to maintain meaningful, healthy connections.
In this article, we'll discuss common signs and symptoms of BPD, how the disorder develops, and common co-occurring conditions. We'll also cover how BPD affects relationships, as well as treatment options for individuals and couples.
Understanding BPD: History, Definition, And Statistics
Although neurologist Adolph Stern first recognized "borderline" symptoms in patients in the late 1930s, borderline personality disorder didn't become a formal diagnosis until 1980, when it was first published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Stern believed affected patients were on the border of neurosis and psychosis. Now, decades later, BPD is characterized not by neurosis or psychosis, but by unstable moods, behaviors, relationships, and self-image.
Even today, BPD is largely misunderstood. Many experts agree that the disorder's name is misleading and increases stigma. BPD is a relatively common disorder, currently affecting over four million people in the U.S. alone.
BPD: A Treatable Condition
In the following sections, we'll highlight the common signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder and how the condition develops. First, it's important to note that this disorder is highly treatable. Even if you're experiencing multiple BPD symptoms, you don't have to suffer forever.
The most common treatment options are outlined below:
- Psychotherapy, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), schema-focused therapy, mentalization-based therapy (MBT), transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP), and systems training for emotional predictability and problem-solving (STEPPS)
- Medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers that may lessen symptoms and help treat co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, and aggression
- Inpatient Programs for individuals in need of intense treatment
If you're struggling with BPD symptoms, you are certainly not alone, and there is hope! Individuals who seek treatment are very likely to recover, with over 50% recovering after two years, and more than 80% recovering after ten years.
ReGain's online therapists can help you begin your recovery process and live a healthier, happier life. Later, we'll introduce you to two of our experienced counselors.
Common Signs And Symptoms Of BPD
Individuals with a borderline personality disorder often experience the following symptoms:
- Intense fear of being abandoned by loved ones, and going to great lengths to avoid rejection, temporary separation, or abandonment.
- Passionate, unstable relationships that are often short-lived. People with BPD tend to view relationships as black or white, oscillating between intense love and loathing for their partners, otherwise known as "splitting."
- An unstable sense of self, as well as unclear goals and values. Individuals with BPD often suffer from self-hatred. They tend to change jobs, friends, intimate partners, goals, and religions often.
- Impulsive behaviors, including risk-taking. Folks with BPD may quit a good job or end a positive relationship on a whim. Risky behaviors may include unprotected sex, excessive shopping, binge eating or drinking, and drug abuse. These behaviors tend to have a negative long-term impact on the individual, as well as his or her loved ones.
- Self-harm and suicidal thoughts, threats, and behaviors, often initiated due to an intense fear of separation or abandonment. Common self-harm behaviors include skin cutting, headbanging or hitting, and burning. Self-harm or injury may also include scratching or pinching, interfering with healing wounds, and hair-pulling.
- Unstable emotions and moods, resulting in extreme mood swings. The individual may feel elation one moment and irritability or intense anxiety the next. These mood swings may be triggered by an insignificant event and can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days.
- A prolonged feeling of emptiness, sometimes in conjunction with feeling worthlessness.
- Episodes of intense anger, characterized by yelling, bitterness, sarcasm, and physical fights. Many people with BPD hold their rage inside and feel intense anger towards themselves.
- Suspicious thoughts and paranoia. In some cases, BPD sufferers disassociate and lose touch with reality.
How BPD Develops
Borderline personality disorder likely develops from a combination of biological and environmental factors. In many cases, individuals with BPD experienced trauma during childhood, including abuse and neglect, or exposure to unstable family relationships.
If a close family member has BPD or a similar condition, you may be at higher risk. It's also believed that the brains of folks with BPD are always on high alert, ready to launch into fight-or-flight mode at any given moment. This can make it difficult to think and act rationally.
Common Co-Occurring Conditions
In most cases, individuals with borderline personality disorder have co-existing mental health conditions. If this is the case, it's important to seek treatment for each condition.
Common co-occurring conditions include:
- Mood disorders, including dysthymia, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety/panic disorders
- Eating disorders, including bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (BED)
- Substance use disorders
- Co-existing personality disorders
How BPD Affects Relationships
While individuals with a borderline personality disorder often struggle with low self-esteem, these individuals tend to be friendly and engaging. Because people with BPD tend to possess an ever-changing identity, their personality and preferences may shift depending on the person or people they're with or the situation they happen to be in.
As mentioned previously, folks with BPD fear rejection and abandonment while simultaneously craving connection and closeness with others. This internal tug-of-war results in interpersonal hypersensitivity-or difficulty maintaining healthy, loving relationships.
A Roller Coaster Of Emotions
As challenging as relationships are for individuals with BPD, their loved ones also tend to suffer. Both parties may feel helpless and unable to find common ground due to the extreme ups and downs that accompany BPD.
Because people with BPD are often desperate to feel "normal" and escape the ever-present sensation of emptiness, they are very observant of others and always on the lookout for shifts in emotional cues in social situations. In some cases, these cues may be misinterpreted.
Partners of individuals with BPD may feel like they've failed due to their inability to meet their loved ones' emotional needs. People with BPD tend to hold their partners to an impossible standard, often counting on them to calm the storm that's always brewing inside them. Many relationships crumble under the immense pressure, as both parties wind up feeling burnt out, confused, and misunderstood.
It's important to note that individuals with BPD don't operate from a place of manipulation. They long for closeness, connection, and love, but the emotional turmoil inside them can make healthy, happy relationships difficult to maintain.
Remaining logical and grounded during an argument can be nearly impossible for an individual with BPD. Arguments escalate quickly, making loved ones reluctant to challenge or disagree with their partner.
Many people with BPD love their partners one moment and despise them the next. They tend to live in a black-and-white world with no gray area-an area that's essential for growth, mutual respect, and stability in a relationship.
Folks with BPD sometimes struggle to see their own destructive patterns, blaming others due to their inability to self-reflect and view relationship problems from a rational perspective.
Therapy For BPD
As mentioned previously, recovering from borderline personality disorder is possible. While some individuals may require medication to treat symptoms and co-occurring conditions, psychotherapy is considered to be the primary treatment option. Awareness and treatment have the power to save relationships. Both individual and couples counseling can be beneficial and even life-changing.
Read the reviews below to learn how to ReGain online counselors are helping individuals and couples heal and improve their relationships:
"I continue to appreciate Rick's direct and honest approach and the practical ways that he challenges and encourages me. I have been on a long journey with a difficult relationship, and Rick has helped me to find effective ways forward at each stage. I am almost there and am grateful for Rick's solid support along the way. No fluff, no patronizing, no sliding over the tough bits - I recommend Rick highly if you are looking for rock-solid support and meaningful progress in any area of your life."
"Neil is an open-minded counselor, a great listener, and a great sounding board. He has a refreshing approach to navigating conflict in relationships. He encouraged my partner and me to talk to each other and look at each other directly during therapy, rather than talk to him. He asks us pertinent questions that make us reflect on ourselves and our union in a healing way. I would recommend Neil as a counselor, and I'm grateful for his support."
Healing from borderline personality disorder takes time. Your therapist can help you learn to process emotions from a logical perspective and begin shifting away from a stringent black-or-white point of view. Understanding and support from loved ones can also play a major role in recovery. With time and effort, you'll start to see the world-and the people in it-in magnificent color.
"Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us." - David Richo