Having A Family Member With Borderline Personality Disorder
I just finished the show “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” and was so impressed with how they depicted the experience of loving, befriending, or being the family member of someone with borderline personality disorder (or BPD). It is, maybe indisputably, one of the most difficult mental disorders to have for the one suffering, and one of the most difficult ones on everyone around the affected individual. It’s also difficult to spot because those with borderline personality disorder display a lot of traits that many of us see in a lot of people, ever day. Issues with impulse control, extreme mood swings, fixation and obsession on one thing…Everybody, at some point, acts a bit like that. But when your family member exhibits all of those traits on a near weekly basis—which is common of someone with BPD—it can be very hard on everyone around them. Having a family member who just doesn’t have her life together yet versus one with BPD are two different things. Here is what it’s like having a family member with BPD.
You never know what’s a real issue
When your family member with BPD is obsessed with a certain issue—a loud neighbor, an annoying coworker, a friend who didn’t text her back—you never know if this is something they’re genuinely upset about, or just the thing they’re using to distract themselves from their real issue.
There’s always some new, big announcement
It seems like every day there is some big, new announcement. “I’m getting married,” “I got a tattoo,” “I’m moving to Europe,” or “I’m quitting my job to become an artist/novelist/chakra healer.” Keeping up with the changes and having to celebrate them all—knowing they won’t last—is exhausting.
You can’t decide if you’re excited or worried
When your family member does announce exciting news that is “normal” for most people, like getting engaged or putting a down payment on a condo, you can’t decide if you’re excited or worried. You aren’t sure if this was a thought-out, mature decision or an impulsive one made during a manic episode.
Giving feedback is very difficult
It’s nearly impossible to give constructive feedback to someone with BPD without them blowing up at you. They lack the protective emotional skin most of us do to hear that feedback, and understand that it is not a personal attack.
They can be very needy
Most people with a family member with BPD know that caring for them can feel like a full-time job. They call often—anywhere from every day to several times a day—and when they reach out, it is always “Urgent.”
But then they can be very flaky
Just when you’ve spent a tremendous amount of time and energy helping your family member, they can ghost you. They can leave you hanging, wondering what happened. They may be in a depressive episode, not answering calls. They may be shacking up with some person they met at a bar or doing drugs as an escape.
They will say nasty, nearly unforgivable things
Part of the impulse control issue includes what they say. Your BPD family member has said very nasty, hurtful things to you. You know she didn’t mean it—it was her disorder acting up—but it still hurt.
You worry about the people they date
When this family member gets into a new relationship, you can’t help but pity the person. You can see him, thinking he’s found a great relationship, and you just know that he’ll soon be horrified/disappointed.
They lose jobs often
Your BPD family member loses jobs left and right. They lack the filter to compose themselves professionally, and will say things they shouldn’t to colleagues, customers, and even bosses.
They lose homes often
This family member may have an ever-changing living arrangement, too. They struggle to hold onto roommates or they get kicked out of places for breaking the rules.
So you take them in
Due to the last point, you or other family members are regularly taking in this family member, temporarily. Those are dark times when you argue often, are driven to drinking, and feel as if you’re walking on eggshells in your own home.
They ask you for a reference—it’s awkward
You cannot, in good conscious, ask a friend or someone you respect to hire your family member with BPD. You know the situation will blow up somehow, and you’ll be the one to blame.
The family takes turns helping them
The family all talks about who will pick up the slack this time. Who will take the family member in after her roommate kicked her out? Who will lend her money while she looks for a new job? Who will go stay with her during her depressive episode?
Most conversations are about them
Most conversations with this family member are about this family member. Whether she’s having an upswing—and it’s all about her new business/new boyfriend/new diet—or she’s having a downswing and you’re comforting her during depression, the focus is on her.
And if they aren’t, they get upset
In group settings, when the focus may not be on the person with BPD, that family member may act up, start to be rude, and in general lash out—they’re used to having the attention on them.