Loving someone with BPD

Loving someone with BPD

Many walk on egg shells and struggle to love someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In loving someone with BPD, it is not easy to form a secure relationship. The relationships can be volatile, intense, and heated due to the overwhelming feelings of abandonment, jealously and insecurity.

The person who is borderline lacks a sense of object constancy. When their partner is not available, they feel that their partner is no longer there. This causes the person who is borderline to accuse their partner of things such as, cheating, wanting someone else, or not loving them.

Often the person who is borderline can be depicted as having what John Bowlby describes as a insecure attachment or disorganised attachment, whereby the expectation is that others will not be there for them. Therefore they fear that they will become abandoned, causing the relationship to feel insecure.

According to psychanalyst and attachment theorist John Bowlby, a person develops a set of internal working models which forms the internalised views of how they see themselves and others, originating from the earliest attachment figures.

These early attachment patterns become internalised and becomes the template for how the borderline perceives themselves and others.

Internationally recognized psychoanalytic psychiatrist, James Masterson, who formulated the study and treatment of personality disorders, elaborated on Bowlby’s theory. According to James Masterson, the person who is borderline, who endured abandonment or abuse in childhood, internalises the view of themselves as having a bad ‘self’ representation, and a ‘other‘ representation which consists of  seeing ‘others’ as withdrawing, abandoning, or not caring.

In adult relationships, the activation of this attachment dyad triggers what James Masterson calls the ‘abandonment depression’, whereby the person with BPD feels intense abandonment, rage, anger, anxiety or even suicidal ideation.

When this withdrawing attachment unit is activated, the person who is borderline will often react in ways that become abusive or accusatory in order to defend against the abandonment feelings. Therefore, their partner gets blamed for causing them to feel this way, forgetting where these feelings originated from.

In order to love someone with borderline personality disorder, the person who is borderline requires a strong partner to help them re-examine their perception, so that they do not react according to their abandonment feelings. This requires a partner who does not take their anger personally.

Those with BPD react in ways that push loved ones away, when they perceive rejection, making it difficult to have a relationship with someone with BPD.

Comments that push loved ones away include: “You’re always home late”,You don’t care about me”. When the partner tries to get close to a person with BPD, the borderline person might say, “You do not really love me, so why bother now”.

These typical responses prevent the person who is borderline from being understood for how they feel and push love ones away.

Healthy separation, such as having separate interests or friends, can trigger feelings of abandonment, which remain outside of their awareness. These feelings are so painful that they become projected onto the partner as causing them to feel this way.

Often, the partner can feel accused of things, such as being uncaring or being unloving, when the borderline person defends against these feelings of abandonment and feeling not good enough.

These feelings become externalised as being caused by the partner, to rid oneself of these feelings, so the partner becomes the bad person who mistreats them, so that they do not have to feel this way.

The couple becomes stuck in the blame game or pointing the finger, unable to become unstuck from the destructive cycles of interaction, until these feelings are acknowledged and worked through with a relationship therapist or couples counsellor.

The partner of the borderline usually ends up reacting when they feel wrongly accused of not wanting them or ignoring their needs.

Those with BPD are usually not aware of their underlying abandonment feelings, but often react to alleviate them when they need constant reassurance that their partner loves them, in order to avoid feeling abandoned or unworthy.

The person who suffers from borderline personality can feel abandoned when the partner works away or does not show them how much they care.

A partner of a borderline can feel constant pressure to always be there in some way, such as calling or messaging, doing things for them and showing gestures of love.  This makes it difficult loving someone with borderline personality.

Just like a toddler that acts out in ways to seek attention when their needs are not met, this is what it feels like for the person who is borderline.

The person who is borderline can protest when it feels that love has been withdrawn from them, as a way of wanting their partner to put more effort into the relationship to show them that they care, to avoid feeling abandoned.

In loving a person with BPD, their constant reliance on their partner can propel their partner to feel overwhelmed by their needs. Often, partners give into them, and then eventually withdraw in the relationship, perpetuating the feeling of abandonment.

When the person who is BPD does not know how to handle their intense abandonment feelings, they often put their feelings onto the partner to alleviate them, which can cause their partner to feel responsible for how they feel or to feel attacked for not caring about their feelings.

The borderline person becomes angry, to rid themselves of these feelings, hoping their partner can take them away. Yet, their reactions often propel their partner to feel pushed way, rather than becoming attuned to how they’re feeling.

The person who is borderline needs help self-regulating or becoming aware of their triggers, rather than projecting how they feel onto others and making them responsible for their feelings.

The more  the person with BPD makes others responsible for how they feel, they remain stuck in relying on others to make them feel better, rather than working through their feelings and addressing them at Melbourne Counselling or during couples counselling.

Some partners say it’s too much for them to deal with and they often struggle to know what to do, often feeling that they have to regulate the feelings of the borderline and make them feel better, and anything they say or do to express themselves becomes taken the wrong way, as if they do not care. Many end up saying nothing or avoiding arguments, which perpetuates the feelings of abandonment in the borderline person.

It is difficult to love someone with borderline personality disorder because the person with BPD will test their partner’s love, to see how far they can push the boundaries, to see exactly much effort their partner will put in, in order to prove their love for them.

Many find it difficult in knowing how to love someone with BPD. I have heard spouses say that no matter how much they show that they love them, the BPD person will think that their partner does not care or does not love them.

So, how does a partner respond when they feel wrongly accused of mistreating them or abandoning them in some way?

So, how do you love somebody with BPD?

If you can understand some of these aspects about BPD, you will know exactly how to love someone with BPD and manage the meltdown moments.

In fact, loving someone with BPD requires a partner to be attentive and understanding to how they feel, without getting drawn into being responsible for their feelings.

How to love someone with BPD

Do not label or judge the person.

In loving someone with BPD it is important to see their behaviour as a reaction against feeling abandoned and do not react, otherwise you will escalate their reaction.

Do not take their reactions personally but listen to what is underneath it.

In loving someone with BPD,  it is crucial for the partner of a borderline to demonstrate that they are there for them, by listening to how they feel, without necessarily feeling responsible for their feelings.

Listen to their feelings, without taking on the blame

Essentially, the angry outbursts are purely ways to communicate how they feel deep inside, so it is important not to be offended, but to allow their feelings to be felt and expressed, so that they can be better understood.  You do not need to take on-board that you’re to blame, but rather understand how they feel, so you can be attuned.

Validate how they feel without taking responsibility for their feelings

If you feel responsible for how they feel, then you will get drawn into enabling the destructive behaviour to continue, making it impossible loving someone with BPD

Let them know you were not coming from a place of rejecting them.

In order to love someone with BPD, it is important to understand and acknowledge their feelings, whilst also demonstrating that your actions were not coming from the place that they see you.  “I am sorry you feel so upset that I came home late from work, I couldn’t leave earlier and I had an urgent meeting, so I couldn’t call you.”

By acknowledging their feelings, you are showing that you’re not the person that you are made out to be, who does not care or abandons them. This will provide them with a corrective emotional response of an attuned partner who understands them and is willing to work it through, without taking on-board the projection as the bad guy.

Widen the lens in how they see your behaviour.

By showing them that you are there, you can modify their perception of you as abandoning them, while also get them to re-examine their response, and assisting them in putting the past behind them and not projecting their past wounds onto the present situation. It assists the borderline to mentalize and stay present in the moment, rather than seeing things from the perspectives of their past wounds, through discharging those feelings onto the partner who then feels responsible for them.

In loving a person with BPD, it is important that the partner separate themselves from feeling blamed for these feelings and not feeling responsible for them, but understand how their partner is actually feeling, without taking their reactions personally.

Many people do not know how to love someone with borderline personality, they either react or walk away to keep the peace.

Reacting to their feelings or avoiding them will confirm how they already feel, where the partner is perceived as abandoning them and does not care. These responses further invalidate them, rather then allow a deeper understanding of the person.

Sometimes partners find it hard and walk away or react when they feel abused, finding it hard loving someone with BPD.  At Counselling Melbourne individuals with BPD can  regulate the intense affect, so that the partner can understand where the borderline person is coming from, without taking their hostility personally.

If these abandonment feelings remain unaddressed they will continue to surface. It was Freud who noted that whatever unresolved emotions remains buried and outside of our awareness, are relived in each relationship, until the emotions are reprocessed and worked through in therapy.

Loving someone with BPD is easy if they work through the abandonment feelings

The borderline will keep feeling abandoned until they address their feelings and work them through.

It is imperative to address these abandonment feelings, so that the borderline person becomes aware of them, understands their triggers and modulates the feeling. In this way, they can see their partner clearly in the present situation and not project their past wounds on them.

Once the borderline person is aware of their past wounds, they can own their feelings, instead of projecting them onto their partner who feels abused for treating them this way. A borderline person can work through these feelings and respond according to the real situation, not what it is projected to be.

It is also very important to address unwanted behaviour without blaming or judging the person. In loving someone who is borderline, placating unwanted behaviour or not addressing their behaviour enables it to continue, until it gets out of control and takes over the relationship.

It’s like a toddler controlling the parent with tantrums, when the parent gives in and then reacts back. Therefore, the person who is borderline needs a strong person to set realistic limits on unwanted behaviour, with healthy boundaries, as well as emphatic attunement and understanding.

If their partner gives into their behaviours and then reacts in the heat of the moment, they further reinstate the triggering wound which causes them to act out. This leaves the borderline to defend against feelings of worthlessness and abandonment, in ways that can push the partner further away.

Nancy Carbone specialises in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute in New York.  To  find out how to love someone with BPD contact Nancy at Counselling Service Melbourne

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All content is copyright 2017 Nancy Carbone



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