How to Respond to Someone with BPD

Is someone you know and love making you the focus of their anger? Does this person seemingly place you in the position of being either “all good” or “all bad” with nothing in between? Is your point of view denied or not taken into account? Are you accused of doing things you never did, as well as feel that anything you do or say will be twisted and used against you? If so, the person that you love might be exhibiting traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. Loved ones of those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) often feel manipulated, controlled, lied to, as well as feel like a victim. How do you respond to this? There are two primary ways: like a sponge, or like a mirror.

Like a sponge: You absorb the person’s projections and “soak up” their pain and rage. You take much of what they say personally, and may feel like it is your responsibility to make things better.

Like a mirror: You reflect the painful feelings back to the rightful owner and don’t get caught up in the accusations, blaming, impossible demands, and criticism.

How to reflect like a mirror:

  • Maintain your own sense of reality despite what the other person says.
  • Reflect the pain back to the owner.
  • Express confidence that the person can learn to cope with his or her own feelings.
  • Offer support.
  • Make it clear that your loved one is the only person who can control his or her feelings and reactions.
  • Show by your actions that there are limits to the type of behavior that you will and will not accept.
  • Communicate these limits clearly and act on them consistently.

These concepts have helped me as I have interacted with those that attempt to make me the source of their frustration and anger. It can be easy to get caught up the whirlwind of emotions and “sponge” up what the other person is expressing. Being able to accurately reflect back what is going on, in a non-judgmental and aggressive way, can be incredibly effective. I recommend reading the book Stop Walking on Eggshells for additional help, particularly chapter 7 which discusses this concept.

By Chris Taggart, Therapist at Sunrise Residential Treatment Center.  Parts of this blog is adapted from Stop Walking on Eggshells by Paul T Mason and Randi Kreger