How to Be a Good Friend to Someone With BPD

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A friendship with someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD) is not always easy. There may be times when your friend feels totally hopeless or out of control, causing you to feel helpless as well. While there is no cure for BPD, with the right treatment and support, people with BPD can get better. Here are some general principles you can follow to be a good friend to someone with BPD.

Educate Yourself About Borderline Personality Disorder

If you have a friend with BPD, it is critically important to educate yourself about the disorder. The disorder is characterized by unstable moods and emotions, which affect relationships and behaviors. As a result, friendships with people with BPD can be rocky.

Sometimes, people with BPD engage in behaviors that can seem manipulative, mean-spirited, or destructive. A deep understanding of the disorder can help you recognize these behaviors for what they are: symptoms. Understanding that these behaviors are not intended to harm you may help you build more empathy for your friend so you can better support them.

Support Their Efforts to Get Professional Help

It's rarely productive to try to force someone to get professional help, no matter how badly they need it (unless, of course, it's an emergency situation).

You can, however, support your friend when they decide to get help. This may mean telling your friend that you are proud of them for asking for help or that you think seeking help is a courageous choice. Or it may mean offering rides to appointments or making an effort to visits if they are in the hospital. Whatever you do, it will mean a lot to your friend to know you are behind them.

In fact, people with BPD who have support and stability in their personal life often see improvement in their symptoms sooner than those who lack support.

Validate Your Friend’s Experiences

The most important thing you can do to help a friend with BPD is to just listen and validate their feelings. Understand that strong emotional reactions are part of the disorder.

You may not necessarily agree with their evaluation of a situation or feel that the intensity of their feelings is justified, but you can still listen and acknowledge the difficulty of the feelings they are experiencing.

In fact, receiving validation from another person can provide tremendous relief to someone with BPD. Many people with BPD grew up in emotionally invalidating environments and expect that no one will care how they feel. Because of the nature of the disorder, even those who didn't experience a problematic environment growing up may have grown accustomed to people telling them that they are overreacting. As a result, having someone actually care about how they feel can be powerful.

Don't Ignore Threats of Harm

Suicidal threats and gestures are common in people with BPD. Some people with BPD will make multiple suicidal threats, which can lead their family and friends to become desensitized to this kind of behavior.

But even if your friend has made suicidal threats in the past without actually attempting suicide, know that people with BPD are at very high risk of attempting and completing suicide.

Research has found that 75% of those with BPD will attempt suicide at least once during their lifetime. Studies have shown that between 3% and 10% of people with BPD die by suicide. For this reason, even if you don’t think they will actually do it, never ignore a threat of suicide.

Learn the possible signs that your friend is contemplating suicide, and call emergency personnel (such as “911” in the United States and Canada) any time you believe there is a risk your friend may harm themselves. Leave it to the professionals to decide whether there is a serious risk of harm.

Take Care of Yourself, Too

Sometimes friendships with people who have BPD become unbalanced, and you may find yourself giving more than you receive. If this happens only occasionally, it is usually fine. Most relationships ebb and flow; they can’t always be an even 50-50 split. But if you find yourself in a perpetually unbalanced and difficult situation, it will create a strain in the relationship.

Research has shown that friends and family that care for people with BPD have high rates of hostility, anxiety, depression, and distrust. Financial strain, marital problems, and social embarrassment are also common family responses.

If you give too much, you may start to feel resentful or burned out. After a while, you may get to the point that you feel the need to end the relationship for your own health and happiness.

In the long term, however, it is more helpful for a person with BPD to have a consistent, reliable friend than to have a friend who was 100% there for them for a few months before disappearing forever. For this reason, it is important for you to take care of yourself, take breaks from your friend when needed, and create healthy boundaries so that you get your needs fulfilled, too.

All of this is easier said than done. It requires assertive communication skills and sufficient self-awareness to understand when it is time to pull back a bit. However, it is possible to have a long-term, rewarding friendship with someone with BPD if you work at it.

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