12 Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms for People With BPD

Having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is hard enough with all the symptoms that come with it. And due to having a lot of internal turmoil, they tend to try and cope in whatever way possible. When people with BPD are constantly coping in unhealthy ways, life becomes even more difficult in the long run.

In this article, we'll go over harmful and maladaptive coping mechanisms that someone with BPD often uses to avoid dealing with negative and intense emotions.


What Are Coping Mechanisms?

A coping method or mechanism is a pattern of action used to insulate or shield oneself from psychological harm caused by a problem in life. There are healthy and unhealthy coping methods.


Healthy coping mechanisms for BPD A good, adaptive, or healthy coping mechanism results in the problem being solved, or at the very least dealt with, in a way that decreases stress and suffering. Examples of this are engaging in problem-solving, asking for support, going for a walk, and expressing one's feelings.


Unhealthy coping mechanisms for BPD A bad, maladaptive, or unhealthy coping mechanism does not fix the problem in the long run and may even make things worse. In the short term, unhealthy coping mechanisms may appear to be having the desired impact. In this article, we're going to look deeper into 12 unhealthy coping methods someone with BPD often uses.


Detached self-soother

When someone is constantly shutting off their emotions by engaging in activities that will somehow soothe, stimulate or distract them from their feelings, it refers to a mode called detached self-soother. This mode is an emotionally detached person who tries to suppress and silence his/her emotions with a variety of coping methods. People with BPD often showcase this mode.


When someone is constantly emotionally detaching themselves, he or she loses control over their life. When unhealthy coping methods are used, the situation becomes more and more difficult in the long run. Someone who suffers from this trait should get help through therapy.


12 Unhealthy BPD coping methods


1. Fake love and intimacy Since the underlying problems of someone suffering from BPD lie mostly in relationships, it is no surprise that unhealthy ways of coping are also attached to it. Bonding with others and forming relationships are frequently forced as a result of the individual's idealization and a chronic feeling of emptiness.


By forcing love or lust relationships, which are often short-lived, the individual experiences intense emotions for a period of time. Since people with BPD often have low self-esteem, they rely on the opinion of others to be able to feel good. Within this dating period, when all needs are met, and the individual feels loved and good about themselves. Due to splitting and coming to the understanding that the person is not ideal, the relationship quickly comes to an end. This cycle is often seen by people with BPD, and it can be addicting since finding new love, intimacy, and also breaking up releases chemicals in the brain.


It could be speculated that someone with BPD manipulates people for 'fake love' and intimacy, but even if this is the case, it's important to understand that the individual with BPD truly believes in the other person being the 'one' because of their idealization. Most of the time, their whole world revolves around that person. And at the end of the cycle, they may feel as if they deceived the other and themselves.


2. Music Music as an unhealthy coping method? Yes, from my own experience, I've added this to the list. Don't get me wrong, music is, in my opinion, one of the best things there is in life, and I'm definitely not saying you shouldn't use music as a way of coping. Music is powerful, and it can affect your mood in a lot of different ways. Even sad music can lift your mood, and music can boost happiness and reduce anxiety.


The problem is, when I look at my situation, I listen to music constantly, always, and everywhere so that I don't have to endure my thoughts. It's hard to determine from which point on it gets unhealthy. However, I can certainly say that when you feel uneasy not listening to music as if you're addicted, then it's probably getting unhealthy.


It's important that we build some sort of resistance and mental strength to face problems in our lives. When we immediately resort to something like music when things get hard, we can't build up this resistance. That goes the same for other coping methods listed in this article. We become mentally weak when we are not putting up a fight with any problems we face.


''What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but what you avoid doesn't.''

3. Dissociation A common symptom of BPD is dissociation. It is a coping mechanism used to avoid feeling emotions. Dissociation is something we all do to some extent and is part of our survival system. It's a survival strategy that protects someone by retreating inwards to deal with stressful events that may otherwise be too overwhelming. It is a kind of out-of-body experience in which the mind is separated from the body.


While dissociating, someone may lose track of time, location, and identity. You can see it as daydreaming, which often happens unconsciously. With this coping mechanism, it's also hard to determine when it gets unhealthy. However, when someone dissociates a frequent amount it could interfere with personal relationships. Friends, coworkers, and partners may feel neglected, and employers may think you are careless. And in extreme cases, it can develop into dissociation disorders like DID.


Furthermore, when a person with BPD dissociates, they are more prone to engage in self-harming or self-mutilating activities such as cutting. Seeing the blood reassures them that they are real and exist.


4. Self-harm Self-harm is the most harmful way of coping. As stated previously, self-harming or self-mutilating activities often give the individual a feeling of being alive. Since people with BPD often experience a chronic feeling of emptiness, this coping method is a way of filling that void.


Additionally, one of the core reasons for people with BPD to self-harm is to experience physical pain that overrules their emotional pain. The emotional pain is so intense that they prefer any other feeling, even if that means hurting themselves.


5. Video games Just like with a book and a movie, you can completely immerse yourself in a video game. Games are the perfect place to step out of your reality and take on a different role and purpose. When someone experiences negative thoughts or emotions, they may feel the urge to boot up a game to forget about everything.


Just like the use of music as a coping method, video games are also not necessarily an unhealthy way of coping. It gets unhealthy when someone starts gaming every time negative feelings arise and when it feels uneasy when they're not gaming.


6. Sleeping It is known that people with depression sleep a lot. The same goes for people with BPD since it is often comorbid with depression. When we don't want to experience any negative feelings, we may try and force ourselves to sleep. When sleeping is mainly used to escape from reality and to avoid feeling negative emotions, we can call it an unhealthy coping method. One may feel no expectations when they are asleep, but avoiding responsibility may only worsen the situation.


''Every time I close my eyes, it's like a dark paradise.''

7. (Binge) Eating Eating, especially binge eating, can be used for attention displacement. It can become someone's habit to eat when negative emotions arise. Sometimes people keep eating until they throw up. Since this can develop additional health problems, this method of coping is unhealthy. It's also common for people with BPD to develop eating disorders.


8. Impulsive spending Impulsive online shopping is a way that allows someone to shift their focus, and that gives a temporarily good feeling. They feel instant gratification after unplanned purchases and often return these purchases due to regret.


Impulsive spending can lead to financial difficulties and does not solve problems, making it an unhealthy coping method. This method of coping occurs more often in women.


9. Gambling People with BPD are more susceptible to reckless and impulsive behavior like gambling. Since gambling can give a short dopamine boost, just like impulsive spending, it's a perfect distraction from negative emotions. Gambling is an unhealthy coping method because it is commonly followed by financial problems. This method of coping occurs more often in men.


10. Scrolling social media Nowadays, we spend hours scrolling through social media. It shifts our focus, and we forget about everything for a while. The use of social media, like many other coping methods, gives a dopamine boost every time we see something satisfying, hear about the latest news, or get likes and comments on our posts. Just like the use of music and video games as a coping method, we become mentally weak if we turn to social media every time we experience something negative. Because problems are put on hold, this coping method is unhealthy. This method of coping is more seen in the younger generation.


11. Overworking/keeping yourself busy For some people, work is less stressful than life outside of work, so they prefer to stay busy. It's difficult to determine at what point it gets unhealthy. However, workaholics are known to have more health complaints in general, and this coping method often leads to a burnout.


12. Alcohol or drug abuse One of the most damaging coping methods is the use of alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately, people with BPD are more vulnerable to addictive behavior. Using substances to forget about problems is an unhealthy and temporary solution. After a while, many more health complaints will arise due to the use of alcohol or drugs.


Final word

The use of most of these coping methods isn't immediately unhealthy. It is dependent on the frequency and reasoning behind the use of the coping methods. When it's primarily used to distract oneself from negative emotions and avoid dealing with life's problems, and when it results in problems not being solved or the problems worsening, it's considered unhealthy. Finally, when you consider yourself to be coping all the time, you might be in a detached self-soother mode. If this is the case, it's good to consult a mental health professional.