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My Friend Has Borderline Personality Disorder

Published: September 5, 2021 | Last Updated: September 5, 2021 By | 22 Replies Continue Reading
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It can be very stressful to maintain a friendship with someone with a borderline personality disorder.

QUESTION

Hi Irene,

I have a friend who was first diagnosed with schizophrenia and then with a borderline personality disorder. Some days, she seems perfectly cheerful. Other days she has hallucinations and is suicidal.

I’ve been trying to be as supportive a friend as possible: listening to her negativity, fetching and accompanying her to doctor appointments, bringing her to exercise, and having a nice meal once in a while.

Gradually, I feel more and more stressed and drained after spending time with her, and need more and more time to “recharge” to be me again.

I’ve known her for about two and a half years and over that time, she seems to be getting worse. My breaking point was when she told me she drank Dettol (a poison). She even brought it in front of me on Skype and wanted to drink more. She refused to go and see a doctor and refused to talk to her father. She flat-out refused any help. I literally had to beg her not to drink it.

I was so sad seeing her want to hurt herself. However, the next day, a mutual friend said she looked perfectly normal and happy.

I can’t take it anymore so I’ve distanced myself, and stopped answering her calls and texts. There was one day she called more than 40 times! She even suddenly texted me hurtful things. I told her the last thing I wanted was to hurt her but I needed some time off.

I read somewhere that tough love and withdrawing are not wise for friends suffering from borderline personality disorder. Is it true? Any suggestions on how can I keep myself sane while not aggravating her condition? I feel guilty yet I’m unable to love her unconditionally now 🙁

Signed, Beth

ANSWER

Hi Beth,

It sounds like you are a wonderful and compassionate friend, perhaps even heroic, sticking by someone who has been so difficult to be with. This has to have been very stressful for you.

For a start, it would be helpful to educate yourself further about Borderline Personality Disorder, a serious mental disorder often characterized by a variety of symptoms including unstable moods, impulsiveness and stormy love-hate relationships.

You will recognize that many of your friend’s behaviors are quite typical among people with this disorder; as many as 80 percent of individuals with borderline personality disorder attempt suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has an excellent online brochure, which might be a good starting point.

Borderline personality disorder is difficult to treat and requires the help of a professional who is experienced in working with people with this specific disorder. The most important thing you can do is to continue to encourage your friend to seek treatment, and to let her family know when she engages in any self-harming or threatening behaviors. You need to let your friend know, too, that you cannot keep this information to yourself. Tell her firmly that this is a burden you will not accept.

You might want to learn more about NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This grassroots advocacy organization has support groups across the country that help families and friends, as well as people with serious mental disorders themselves, learn how to advocate and cope.

Don’t feel guilty about making things worse for your friend; it is unlikely that your actions will aggravate her condition. Your first responsibility has to be to yourself. Taking time off from this friendship sounds like exactly the right thing to do. While you want to be supportive, you need to set limits in terms of the amount of time you spend with her and balance it out with friendships that are more mutually rewarding.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene


Disclaimer: Nothing in this or any other post is intended to substitute for medical, psychiatric or clinical diagnosis/treatment. Rather, all posts are written as the type of advice that one friend might give to another. 

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Category: Dealing with friends with health and/or emotional problems

Comments (22)

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  1. WW22 says:

    Everything that has been said about boundaries is very true. Just be aware that it’s better to have rigid boundaries, especially in the beginning, until you know for sure which things you can loosen up on. Unfortunately what oftentimes happens is, unless someone has first hand experience with personality disorders and how to deal with them, many people don’t realize that that they are in a relationship with someone with BPD until after some time has passed in the relationship. They may have had loose boundaries before knowing what they were really dealing with. Pulling back and setting firmer boundaries at this stage in the game, after having loose boundaries with the person, is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. This is when things can get pretty ugly. It can be done, depending on how severe the symptoms of the person with the BPD and how skilled the person is in doing the boundary setting, but sometimes the relationship won’t be salvageable. Just thought I’d mention that, because this is a common problem with the boundary setting.

  2. Jeannie says:

    I have a good friend ,who although not formally diagnosed with BPD fits many of the criteria. She can be fun,kind , is highly intelligent but can be VERY challenging to deal with. She is negative much of the time, isolates herself,self medicates(she is aware that her behavior can be “off” but doesn’t try to get help for it.) She isn’t young so this has been going on for a long time.
    I try to be a good friend but there are times when I feel worn down from the negative, angry behavior over things that aren’t really that bad. If your in the midst of it and trying to maintain calm it can wear you down. We’ve tried to discuss these “episodes” but it usually feels “sticky”. She talks over me, cries and doesn’t really listen to what I am saying when I’m trying to give her a different approach to when she is in those “moments”.
    Last week I finally had to tell her through email how her behavior affects ,not just her ,but everyone around her including friends.
    I explained the situation calmly…and tried to show her to perhaps “look at the situation” as if your looking down at it as a viewer and see if you can understand it..in that manner.
    I told her I needed to take time for myself because the last “episode” wore me down and made me feel exhausted . We will see what happens but it is important to take care of yourself as well as care for the BPD friend.

  3. Bad Friend says:

    Its been some time since the last post here but after a few days of seeking answers for what has been going on with a very close friend, who suddenly inexplicably cut me off in just the way other people here describe, I see my answer.It’s sad but also is a relief. I really appreciate it because its amazing to see how many other topics on line blame the person who is being rejected. “You must have done something”.”You’re too clingy”. Right now a very close friend refuses to respond to my efforts to clear up whatever she perceives as wrong so there is little I can do and I am not going to push it as I intuit that she enjoys causing the drama and distress. I have been through this with her before, unfortunately and when resuming the friendship knew what could happen but failed to establish or maintain adequate boundaries. With this information I can at least find some understanding and closure and learn from the experience.

  4. Fiona says:

    I myself have been diagnosed with BPD. I have had a friend for 7 years whom, from the outset, has been there for me despite the terrible ways I have made life hard for her, hurt her and am often difficult to be with. In the last couple of years since Ive had my diagnosis we have become close friends. I can clearly see my condition, am choosing to recieve help from a professional and trying my best to work on myself to help myself. Perhaps this is why my friend chooses to stick by me. I consider myself most fortunate and blessed to have a friend like this, who sees the good in me and reassures me that when I am `myself` she really likes me and likes being with me.
    I would encourage anyone out there who is dealing with someone like me to definately set boundaries (my friend insists on a day where she doesnt see me or hear from me) but at the same time to reassure your BPD that there is something good and worthwhile in them, build them up, and most of all do not take too seriously the hurtful treatment that people like me can often dish out.I am often horrified when I realise I have hurt my friend in some way, but at the time I do not realise I am doing so.
    A difficult but, I hope, very worthwhile journey for both of us.
    Best wishes.

  5. MaryJoy says:

    Hi
    I have a friend who suffers from BPD. She is seeing a psychologist and this seems to help a bit.
    The story of our friendship follows the same path of many other friendships with BP people. Idealization at the beginning and then down to devaluation.
    We have always had some ups and downs but in the last year we had two strong fights due to my reactions (I simply frowned) to some of her behaviours. She over reacted to them. Blocked me on facebook, stopped communicating for months. I tried all i could do (proposed to meet and talk, wrote messages where I explained my reactions, tried to be calm and nice). She eventually accepted to meet me to make up only after I had told her that I would not wait more than 3 months…she met me the very last day before the deadline!! She told me that she had never considered breaking the friendship, hugged me..but..after that nothing changed. She never writes/calls me. She sistematically finds excuses to turn down invitations to catch up. We are still no friends on facebook.
    I m always the one who sends texts and asks “how is it going?”.
    Many times she doesn t even answer or she does after many hours or days.
    She just texts me when she needs something.
    I didnt know she was suffering from this disorder before. I found out during our “fight time”. I have read a lot about BPD during this time, I realized that I made many involuntary mistakes, I worked on my emotions and tried not taking her beaviour personally..but…I feel used and discouraged. I tried my best in order to fix our friendship…
    The only thing that I have back is a superficial relationship with somebody who doesn t care about me (but in very few moments..when it happens I see my old friend and that s what makes me persist) just smiles when we accidentally meet and this makes her feel free to ask for fevors any time she needs something.
    I feel stuck and need help and encouragment.
    Despite what happened I deeply care for my friend, I see her drama now. I m encouraging her to keep seeing a doctor but..I also want my friend back! She is so distant and cold.
    Is there a way to help her come back?
    Do you think it is possible after such strong devaluation?
    I know that she has to do her own steps but..is there something that I can do to help the situation?
    Thank you a lot

  6. marky says:

    My best friend has strong BBD traits. She can go very dark and sound hopeless. She comes from a very traumatic family and has learned strong maladaptive coping ways. Last night we texted and she would tell me things going on in her life that bothered her but rejected any kind words from me.

  7. Jess says:

    I have been close friends with Sara (not her real name) for over 10 years. In the last couple of years she was officially diagnosed with BPD and it’s been very challenging indeed. Abandoning her is definitely not an option… I care so much for Sara and frankly I’m one of two close friends she has. She has a “crisis” almost everyday and relies heavily on my advice and expects me to be there to answer every single call. Her “crises” are always very trivial things (at least it’s perceived that why by normal people) ie. her fiancee refuses to buy her something and she equates that to him not loving her enough. She appears to be a very self-absorbed person who portrays herself to be a victim all the time. She is extremely moody and emotional… she changes her mind constantly, whether it be cancelling plans or suddenly not perceiving something to be a “crisis” anymore (referring to my previous point). Her reactions tend to be very blown up and extremely inappropriate for a given situation. She holds those closest to her (me, her fiancee, and her mom) in extremely high standards and therefore is harshly critical when we fall short of those expectations. We are not perfect human beings and cannot meet her expectations all the time. She has anger management issues which tie in to her highly emotional responses. She tells me I constantly disappoint her and threatens to cut me off if I do something she perceives a “good friend” wouldn’t do. Everything is black and white to her; you are only perceived as good or bad. It sounds cliche but it really feels like you are constantly walking on eggshells; scared to offend her and scared of what she’ll do in a psychotic state of emotion.

    With all this being said, Sara is also a very kind, compassionate, funny, intelligent, goofy girl who I’ve shared almost half of my life with. She is so special to me and we’ve had many great times together. I care deeply for her but the one thing I can say (as it’s been said in previous posts) is to set boundaries!!!! Don’t let yourself be her lifeline; don’t always answer the phone when she calls with a “crisis”; don’t agree with her when she gets super emotional and blows a situation out of proportion! When she is in a fit of rage and you are in the line of fire, don’t let her get away with treating you like that!! BPD individuals need to be validated but not to the point where you agree with their reactions. you need to call them out on their behaviour or else they’ll think they are correct in having these emotional outbursts. Trust me it can be endlessly exhausting to deal with someone who is so incredibly high drama and high maintenance but that’s who they are. They are emotionally raw and experiences hurt feelings and anger 10 times worse than the average person, which is why they explode at the slightest thing. and it’s also why they are so harsh and critical of those close to them… they are so emotionally attached to these people and anything we do “wrong” they will quickly label us as horrible people undeserving of their friendship. Something like not calling for a couple of days will be seen as being a terrible friend and a slew of accusations like “Oh you don’t even care about me!!! why don’t you cal everyday!!!!”.

    I hope this helps some of you guys out there. Remember you are not a punching bag and if your friend oversteps the boundaries set by you, you need to let her know. Don’t allow them to emotionally abuse you and make you feel guilty by being human… nobody is perfect so nobody should be ripped to shreds and labelled as an awful person when they screw up.

  8. Hilary says:

    hi all,
    I married my friend of 20 years, and over eighteen months discovered that he had borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder and terrible depression, which went through cycles. What I learned is that people suffering like this live their lives with a terrible illness and in order to do so will use you like a resource to cling on to and soak up everything you can offer like a sponge. They don’t mean to but they feel like they are in quicksand and cannot feel the bottom, and will cling onto any helpful passerby. The more understanding, helpful you are, the more they will pull on you. They will also indulge in behaviours that become more and more extreme. They will thank you for your help but then berate you for being pathetic in wanting to help them as at moments of clarity they fell terrible guilt at the way they are abusing your friendship. At some point your nerves will be in shreds and you try to extricate yourself but to them this is you abandoning them at their hour of most need. Actually what happens is they move on to the next helper. Don’t feel guilty about needing to put distance between yourself and them, and be ready for all the hurtful things that they will say to you. after all, friendships are a two way thing, and if your friend is abusing your friendship you have every right to leave the friendship either temporarily or permanently. Try to remember your friend at their best as this will help you grieve the loss of the friendship. Remember it is nobody’s fault. Good luck.

  9. Loola says:

    Hi
    So many great comments and advice on how to maintain a friendship with someone with BPD.

    I do think it’s important to look at one’s own motivation and relationship patterns when considering new friendships or whether to continue existing ones.

    If one does not have great boundaries, has difficulty setting limits and has a fair amount of instability in one’s own life I believe that it’s important to avoid, put on hold or walk (maybe even run) away from relationships where this skill set is paramount.

    Having grown-up in an extremely dysfunctional home, I have immense compassion for people with BPD. Because of my upbringing, drama and chaos were familiar to me despite how draining and destructive they were and felt. I’ve had multiple relationships with people suffering from BPD. I chose these relationships. Sadly, I chose relationships with people that helped recreate the dysfunctional environment of my childhood and people with BPD chose me because I would abandon them and reinforce their fears.

    I repeatedly willingly allowed myself to be the punching-bag and quasi-therapist in my relationships. Now I have no friends, a situation made worse by prolonged illness and unemployment. I feel vulnerable and exhausted.

    I strongly believe that everyone needs friends and hope that maybe someday I will have the skills and stability in my life to have a friend that has BPD. But, until I am stronger and have my basic needs met it is of utmost importance my social interactions and potential friendships are relatively calm, centered and consistent.

    I’m not an expert but I think it may boil down to… If you are someone that has a lot of codependent patterns then it’s probably not a good idea to get involved with someone that is a good candidate for a BPD diagnosis.

    • Alberta says:

      This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on this subject. It is amazing how you have such compassion for people with BPD and recognize that there is a skillset needed to engage in such relationships.

      With what you have gone through, it seems you would also have to be really careful of the jobs and careers you choose as well? It sounds like you would make an excellent counsellor but, that would be an emotionally draining job/career- are there certain careers and jobs that appeal (or don’t appeal) to you for this reason?

  10. Missabi says:

    I think the best thing is something other posters have mentioned, setting limits and boundaries. I think the most you can help someone with BPD is to be a STABLE, long term friend.
    Intense relationships are what they know how to do. You will be feeding the disorder if you get pulled into her world. Just try to be her stable friend outside her chaos, and you MUST encourage her to seek treatment from a professional. You could even go with her to help her find a good therapist and psychiatrist, because many mental health professionals are unhelpful or worse, dangerous.

    Take care of and value yourself too. That is your #1 need.

  11. Someone says:

    I am right with you Beth. My best friend has BPD. She is kind hearted and thoughtful however also unbelievably impulsive reckless and self absorbed at the same time. She often doesnt see how her own actions affect those around her. However dont give up on her please. I have been friends with my friend for 7 years and yes it is difficult however I believe it takes a certain type of patience to be a BPD friend and she needs someone who no matter what wont leave her. I realize that they can be manipulative and needy and helpless one minute and then next go off the track completely the next but for her rejection is possibly the worst feeling anyone could inflict upon her. She is broken in a way most people cant understand, only people who have earned their trust, which you obviously have, can fathom what i mean by that.
    You are entitled to your happiness as much as anyone and im sure she can suck the life right out of you sometimes, but she doesn’t mean to. The emtiness she feels, like the never ending story that has no name, like a bottomless pitt of darkness that she cannot fill no matter what she does. Most people they have coping strategies when they get down but her lack of self worth self image etc will just pull her further down the hole and you with it if you let her.
    You are the strong one so be strong as an example and yes it is hard to always have to be the strong one but ultimately it is about love ad care.
    The relationship you have with your friend is a challenge yes but she is not a freak, she is not perfect, she is a vulnerable woman who could so easily let herself slide down down down or find her way to prison without your guidance and support.And no it is not a job it is ultimately a choice like any other love. You do what you can because you want to and you care. If you feel overburdened take a step back. I have found that helping every step of the way is not the way to go and i have tried that believe me however people need to first be shown then learn from their mistakes. Because she is a grown women and needs to climb herself.
    Warmest love to you. You are a gem. x

  12. Alberta says:

    The post by Carol explains this type of situation spot on perfectly. You may want to read even a few times and copy for a reality check for when you feel guilt. This is the best reality check you could have.

    You have nothing to feel guilty about to not take this into your life and be a host to more dettol dramas. That this person was fine the next day showed that she stole your energy through the dettol drama. Highley likely there will be many more of this if you decide to stay in this relationship. Also of interest : Google 4mingthoughts emotional vampire series – it is on you tube – it is a good series.

  13. Lalita says:

    I believe there is a book about dealing with a loved one who has BPD entitled “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality” by Jerold J. Kreisman (Author) , Hal Strauss. They may be other books that are specifically tailored to the people around a patient and how to deal with the patient effectively and compassionately.

  14. Gail says:

    there is actually a book written by Paul T. Mason called Stop Walking on Eggshells- taking your life back when you care for someone with BPD. I found it a very helpful read. I have a former relative with BPD so this was enlightening.

  15. Amy says:

    People with borderline personality disorder are often extremely difficult, high maintenance individuals who thrive on drama and chaos. The term ” walking on egg shells” is often used to describe being acquainted with borderlines. They’re often quite difficult to be friends with, because they don’t have the social and emotional skill set to be on healthy relationships. I always say people have to have a healthy relationship with themselves or they won’t be able to have functional relationships with others.
    Additionally, schizophrenia is the most serious and difficult to treat major mental illness.
    If you want to maintain a friendship with this individual, you’ll have to have VERY strong boundaries.
    Avoid playing therapist and trying to solve her problems, instead urge her to call her therapist or 911.
    Don’t give her attention for histrionic behavior.
    Maintain that healing herself is her responsibility, nor yours. While you can empathize with her feelings, avoid feeding into her illogic thoughts.
    Don’t chase her down if she gets mad over perceived insults or slights based on her distorted interpretation over benign comments. While doing do might “keep the peace”, it’s not healthy for your friend or for your sanity.
    If she tries to blame you for her behaviors or feelings, reaffirm that she is responsible for herself and you are responsible for yourself.
    You have a lot of patience and compassion for trying repeatedly with this friend. If the relationship doesn’t work out, and the odds are against it, as long as you’ve tried to be kind, you are not responsible for how she reacts.

    • Irene says:

      You make excellent suggestions, Amy!

      • Bronwyn says:

        I think a lot of good information has been posted here, especially by Amy.

        I worked with people in this population for a long time and in spite of what you may have heard about tough love being a bad idea, the thing you need to remember when interacting with someone with BPD is limits, limits, limits. It’s what people working with Borderlines have to learn, it’s just something applied a little differently in a friendship. And yes, friendships are difficult with them, but they are possible. Don’t be her co-conspirator — if you see her ingesting anything harmful, tell family and/or 911.If you see her carrying out any part of a plan (like ordering poison online) report it — to her family, or other persons involved in her care and treatment. I think something a lot of people with this disorder don’t seem to realize is that people who are in voluntary relationships with them, aren’t required to have the same patience that professionals are. Their limit-testing is not something people should be putting up with in the world at large and they need to see that people will go away if their destructive behaviors persist (and they usually will for a while).

        I don’t think it’s so much that Borderlines are difficult to treat as that few people follow the treatment recommendations consistently — major among these is confrontation and limit-setting for unacceptable behavior. Usually a treatment plan involves a consequence if the Borderline engages in certain behaviors. I’ve seen far too many people withhold the consequence. And so the limit-testing continues. There have been times I’ve dreaded confronting someone with this diagnosis, but knew I needed to do it, so proceeded. Amazingly enough, if you’re consistent and follow-through, you’ll often get an apology. Often the most frustrating part of treating or dealing with persons with BPD is inconsistency. You set the limit, and the person not liking it goes crying to someone else. It’s very hard to feel unsupported. Those with BPD often play friends/co-workers, etc., against each other, engaging in what is known as, “Splitting.” You always have a worker or friend who wants to be the good guy, so you run the risk of being demonized.
        It may be as a friend that your only consequence is to withdraw unless you’re allowed to be part of the treatment plan. It’s not unheard of for friends to be involved. A lot of para–professionals especially, get the idea that they can be the one who makes a difference in the person’s life. And you might make some difference, but you will never make the total difference.

        Using these guidelines in a friendship can also work, but don’t get seduced into believing you’re the only one who understands the person. It can feel pretty heady at first, but it ends up being a trap.

        • Amy says:

          Good advice.
          Borderlines can be charming, engaging individuals, which is why people are initially attracted to them. They pick up on the sensitivities of others and often try to anticipate the desires of others. Unfortunately, with this insight often comes a lack of boundaries.
          They’ve often had difficult childhoods and are quick to feel like victims in relationships. They have patterns of unstable relationships and frequently cut friends from their lives because they see things in terms of black and white, right or wrong, good vs bad.
          Borderlines often jump into relationships full throttle, they share too much too soon.
          Because they feel insecure, they sometimes push people away when they get too close or test their friends.
          In the past decade or so, many borderlines have benefitted from DBT therapy, but successful treatment is contingent on patients with a high level of motivation to change their behaviors and thoughts.
          For a time borderline personality was considered a diagnoses du jour, meaning many clinicians unqualified to diagnose jumped on the bandwagon and there was over diagnosis (like ADHD and bipolar). Also with the internet had created a generation of armchair diagnosers fail to understand psych diagnosis is more complicated than reading symptoms and applying them to annoying friends and relatives. Lol.

  16. Carol says:

    If we become “friends” with another person it seems to me it is not a marriage or life-long commitment. A friend is someone we want to know better as the relationship moves along. It takes time as you know and sometimes it is short-lived for various reasons. If there is mutual respect with give and take, it may last a lifetime. If what you are looking to do is be someone’s caregiver and want nothing for yourself then it would seem you can choose to give your life to such a relationship. However, it seems you won’t have much peace and joy that a true friendship can bring. I am a person who believes, for a life of experiences with friendships, having no conditions leaves me unhappy and hurt. A person who knowingly has a severe mental illness and Borderline Personality Disorder is certainly in this category. The person will not be able to interact with you on a level playing field. Conditions for friendships create healthy boundaries and safety for both people. If you are trying to learn how it feels to be abused by another, this person has and will allow you to know more about such behavior. So my question to you is: Is “giving” to this person what you really want to do with your life, or would you like a friendship that adds to your life in a mutual giving relationship? If you are longing for “sainthood,” unconditional relationships with others will bring lots of practice. I wish you well in deciding how to use your precious life. For me, the best friend I have is me. If I “feel” overwhelming fear and worry when beginning a new friendship, then its not going to add to my life’s journey in a positive manner.

  17. Sanda says:

    Beth: My heart goes out to you. I could have written a similar post a few years ago. A neighbor with whom I’d become friends was given the same diagnosis after months of impulsive behavior following her divorce. She also went through periods of “hearing voices” that were telling her what to do. Very scary. She became more needy and dramatic as things got worse (she was also a substance abuser), calling me often for help or to describe her hallucinations. My whole family was terrified of the situation, and there were times I worried about our safety. I should add that she never threatened any of us, but we felt as though we were living the script of a horror film.

    One of the most helpful things I did was contact our pastor; I shared my concerns with him. He was familiar with BPD and consulted a psychologist to help me find a way to distance myself safely. As Irene has noted here, the pastor reminded me that few non-professionals would know how to handle a BPD situation like this. I felt so much better after talking to him regularly.

    I still felt bad about my friend’s illness and fought feelings of guilt. When I ignored her calls (and didn’t answer the door), she would leave notes and phone messages accusing me of “abandoning” her in her darkest hours. When I did talk to her, I had to be gentle but strong. It was my biggest lesson in setting boundaries, and it helped me in other situations later on.

    I wish you strength and courage.

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