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Ask A Therapist: My Mom Has BPD, What's My Survival Guide?

Therapy 101, Relationships, Coping Skills, Ask a Therapist
5 min read

Dear Therapist: I'm pretty sure my mom has BPD, what's my survival guide for this? She is not open to therapy, and has always been completely unaware of her role in any issues. 

Frame Therapist Kendra Wilson weighs in….

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by intense emotions and fear of abandonment that often leaves people around them having to walk on eggshells all the time - it’s very intense! It is one of ten personality disorders, which are ways of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.

With BPD, it results in instability in relationships, thoughts, emotions, and how they see themselves. They might self-harm or get suicidal frequently, even when they are not depressed. Even though anyone would feel exhausted living with this, don’t ignore their self harm behavior or threats - take those all very seriously, because they are often on the table for those with BPD, as it is challenging to live with for the individual and all of their loved ones. 

Tips for living with a person with BPD 

Ideally, your mom would see the problem and be willing to work on it, but since that is not the case, here are some ways for you to manage: 

  • Set boundaries - EVERYTHING you read about BPD tells you how important this is, but they do not always tell you how to do it. Think about what you really want, be as specific as you possibly can, and distill it into a simple message. Then you will deliver that message calmly and as many times as you have to to get the message across.

    An example: Mom, it is frustrating when you continue to read my emails and violate my trust. To protect myself, I will set a password on my computer so you will not be tempted to violate my privacy again. 

  • Learn to calm the waters - for yourself and for her. Here are some techniques:
     
    • 5 senses - focus on each of your five senses in turn, or assemble a sensory soothing kit for when you need to regroup. 
    • Square breathing - this simple breathing exercise can be used at any time to help recenter you. Just breathe in through your nose for a slow count of 4, hold for 4, and breathe out through your mouth slowly for 4 - then repeat 3 more times! 
    • Validate - Don’t tell them what they are feeling. If you can validate someone in the midst of a conflict in 3 different ways, you can usually end the argument. This means that you find something (even if it is a little something!) to acknowledge you heard them - something like “I can understand your point of view/emotion/reaction.” Validating someone’s perspective doesn’t require you to abandon your own. Empathizing shows that you understand why they have those feelings and needs. 

  • Get support if you need it - dealing with BPD can be very frustrating and very invalidating for you, too! Sometimes, you need to change your own perspective and get feedback from outside the situation. This can be a friend or partner, or it could be a therapist. Just be clear about your expectations - if you just want to vent, make it clear you do not want them problem solving - that can make it worse sometimes. 

  • Develop loving-kindness - compassion and loving-kindness are related, but it is really important! Loving-kindness meditations are available in lots of different places, but here's one I like from Dr.Kristen Neff. There are a ton of benefits to these exercises, but the main ones are that it reduces your stress response and builds resilience. 

Try these 4 strategies, and try them again! Another key to boundary setting, and to dealing with BPD, is to be consistent and clear in your behavior and your words, like a broken record if necessary! 

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About the author:
Kendra Wilson is a licensed clinical social worker in Virginia & North Carolina. She has been working in mental health for over 20 years and specializes in working with clients with Eating Disorders and with using DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). Her focus is helping people with issues of over-control (including depression, perfectionism, anxiety, and all types of eating disorders) develop compassion (for themselves and others). View more authored content from Kendra, or connect directly, via her Frame profile here. 


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** This blog series is not suited for people who are in immediate crisis. If you are in crisis, please call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or contact Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.