Transitions, especially as they relate to identity, can wreck havoc in a relationship with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
The last few months have been very difficult in my household with my wife with BPD. Over the weekend, she engaged in self-injury for the first time in eight years.
Because my household is going through a very significant transition. My girls have applied to and gone to college, leaving only my wife, my last child (a middle schooler) and myself in the house.
My wife identifies herself as primarily a mother. She is greatly attached to our girls and now that they have “left the nest,” my wife’s role as a guiding mother to them has been greatly diminished. At some level, she’s lost her purpose and it threatens her identity.
I have been blogging on the subject of being a supporter/family member of someone with BPD for almost 10 years now. Except at the very beginning, when I was still learning about the dynamics of BPD and the tools/skills to make things easier, this time in our lives has been the most difficult, as manifested by the self-harm.
I have a few suggestions regarding impending transitions in your life, as a loved one of a person with BPD:
- Be mindful of such transitions before they occur. Large life transitions, particularly those that involve identity, can wreck havoc on the emotions of someone with BPD. If you’re going to be in the “blast radius” be ready and aware.
- Show compassion for the person with BPD. While it can be very difficult when your emotions are involved, or when they attack you for seemingly no reason, the person with BPD is suffering greatly as his/her identity is threatened.
- Use validation and emotional skills to deal with the emotions as they arise. These are not intended to solve anything. They merely help cool the emotional temperature and can help build a sense that the person with BPD is heard.
- If needed, step back from or out of the situation for a short time, particularly if the other person is abusing substances or is in a rage. That said, make sure children are safe. Don’t allow “adult” decisions of an emotionally dysregulated (and therefore irrational) person put children at risk.
- Use mentalization skills to reframe the issues, yet do so when the emotional dysregulation is gone. “Strike while the iron is cool.”
Like kids at bedtime or going to school or getting up or whatever, transitions can be difficult for those with BPD.