It is normal to feel overwhelmed when you find out your friend, partner, or family member has been diagnosed with BPD. The most important fact families and friends must understand is that Borderline Personality Disorder is a treatable, neurobiological disorder (Porr, 2010). And the condition is not caused by, or a result of, ineffective or inadequate parenting or partnering.
It seems there is no list of symptomatology that adequately describes what it is like to be in the maelstrom of a BPD episode. However, if you have experienced any of the following, you are not alone:
- You have no idea what it is you said or did that triggered your wife’s sudden volatile reaction.
- “Your well-intentioned suggestion or comment turns into a volcanic eruption, turning your kitchen into a war zone, your vehicle into a lethal weapon, and your bedroom into a fortress” (Porr, 2010).
- You have felt as if the person you once knew has disappeared.
- You have watched helplessly as your son, writhed in emotional pain and screamed he no longer wanted to live.
- You have felt confusion over your daughter’s ability to act so calmly and competently around outsiders but rapidly switch to emotional dysregulation around you.
The first step many of us took when learning of the diagnosis was to read everything we could on Borderline Personality Disorder. There are more and more books and websites. Some are very good, and some contain old, inaccurate, or pessimistic information. Among other resources, many loved ones find the book Overcoming Borderline Personality Disorder: A Family Guide for Healing and Change by Valerie Porr (Oxford University Press, New York, 2010) to be one of the more helpful, accurate, and informative books available.
Seeing your loved one in so much pain and not knowing what to do is a helpless feeling. After learning whatever you can, it is common to want to put this knowledge to action. The first idea for action may be to try to drag our loved one to therapy. Some of our loved ones are desperate for treatment, but it is common for many of them to be very resistant to treatment. In addition, finding the right treatment can take some time. Regardless, you can get the education and support you need to feel more hopeful and empowered than you do right now. A crucial action many loved ones take is finding support.
Support groups are incredibly valuable resources to help navigate through this tough illness. Attending a support group in person or online is an action you can take now to change the way you interact with your loved one.
- Support groups help families realize they are not alone, they do not have to remain as isolated as they are; there are other families that have the same problems.
- Support groups offer you the opportunity to transform old reactions and develop new skills.
- Sometimes, despite their best efforts, your immediate circle of family and friends, do not understand, and cannot provide you with the help you need. Support groups provide a forum where you can talk openly and honestly about your fears, sadness and financial strains so that you can feel less isolated and more fortified to experience strength and hope.
FBPDA offers a BPD Family Support Group, as well as DBT Skills Workshops. To learn more about these, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are not located in or near Tampa, there are two other support group resources:
If you are able to travel to New York City, TARA offers a weekend workshop:
If these groups are out of reach for now, there are many actions we can take to help our loved ones now. Though we haven’t caused our loved one’s condition, our responses to their behaviors can either escalate, de-escalate, or have no effect on the intensity of the episode. Many of us realize we have been reacting to our loved one’s behaviors in ways that don’t help them or us. Another action we can take is to learn the very skills they will be learning in treatment. These skills are valuable to everyone, not just people with emotional conditions.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, an evidenced based treatment designed for people suffering from BPD, also offers a toolbox of skills that can provide families with ways to more effectively manage the scenarios previously described. We cannot “fix” our loved ones, but there are things we can learn so that we can better understand how they feel, and better help them help themselves. The primary skills are:
- Walking the Middle Path
- Distress Tolerance
- Emotional Regulation
- Interpersonal Effectiveness.
Family members usually find it incredibly beneficial to honor themselves and their loved one by learning these skills.
One of the most important concepts for supporters is to learn what validation is and what validations is not. This skill is beautifully addressed in the Porr book mentioned above.
Though it is scary and we may feel helpless at times, there are things we can do to make the situation better. Perhaps the most important thing is to realize that showing yourself compassion, care, and understanding is the first step in caring for your loved one.