How do you Calm a Loved One with Borderline Personality Disorder?

Updated: Jul 31

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be a strain on any relationship. Whether it’s your parent, sibling, partner, or close friend, it can be a struggle to maintain a healthy relationship with them if you have no knowledge of the disorder and how to help someone suffering from it. Being able to calm someone with BPD can be difficult, but it is worth learning.

Having BPD myself, I know from experience that my behavior towards those I care about has cost me a lot of friendships over the years. I never realize what I’m doing until the bridge has already been burned, by then, my fears of abandonment have already come true. Although I can still be difficult towards people at times, it has become a lot easier for my loved ones after they come to understand what I’m going through and how they can support me.


In the world of mental illness, personality disorders are the most unique and the hardest to diagnose. Sufferers of BPD often fail to realize that their emotions and over-the-top reactions are not typical human behavior. Unlike someone with anxiety or depression, who feel that their experiences are different from their normal state of mind.


If you have a loved one with BPD, it’s not going to be easy. I can say that from my own experience as I can be very hard to handle at times. Your life can be full of conflict and difficult times. And sometimes, you may feel like a hostage because you’re afraid for your loved ones to hurt themselves when you leave or if you don’t soothe them all the time.


It is possible to improve your relationship with someone suffering from BPD, even if they’re not ready to seek help and treatment just yet. You have to be open to doing some research and have an understanding attitude. It does require the skill to de-escalate situations and build independence in your loved ones. The person with BPD needs to learn to not depend on you for everything. It’s not going to be easy, but with the right knowledge and strategy, you can improve the life and relationship of you and your loved one.


How to understand someone with BPD

It’s worth the effort to understand what your loved one is feeling and going through. For example, the destructive and hurtful behaviors towards you are a reaction to some deep emotional pain that they're dealing with. It would help to recognize that they are suffering and not purposely trying to hurt or push you away. Learning about BPD won’t automatically fix everything in your relationship, but it will certainly help.


A borderline personality disorder is very rarely diagnosed on its own because it’s usually in conjunction with other disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, eating disorders, etc.


Sensitivity Your loved one will be extremely sensitive, and the slightest thing can trigger the most intense reactions. You may feel like you are walking on eggshells, watching every little thing you do to not accidentally trigger them.


Black and white thinking There will be no middle ground in the way your loved one sees things. Everything will either be all good or all bad, nothing you can do or say will change their mind. They will often twist things to make everything your fault, and you may start to believe it as they criticize and blame you for every little thing, even things that make no sense whatsoever. Even if you wish to leave, short-term or permanently, they will throw themselves into a fit of rage and even threaten self-harm or suicide.


How to calm someone with BPD

Those with BPD struggle to self-soothe. Once they are upset or triggered, they cannot calm themselves. They often find it hard to think straight or come up with anything positive. Their mood drops, and everything seems negative and dark. However, there are ways to help your partner who is upset or triggered.


What NOT to do The one thing to NOT do is to make them feel like their emotions are invalid or that they are “just being silly” it will make them feel worse about themselves and upset them further. Even if they are getting upset over the smallest thing, it’s a big deal to them, and their emotions are still valid. You need to listen to them when they tell you how they are feeling. Show empathy and understanding. Do not try to fix or explain the reason for what they tell you. If you simply listen to them, they will feel heard, and it can go a long way. Sometimes they just want to let it all out to someone they trust. If they can depend on you when needed, it’s a huge help.


What to do After listening to them talk about how they are feeling, you can let them know that you want to better understand what they are going through and how they see things. This could open a conversation about what triggers them. With this, you can avoid or recognize them in the future. Once you learn their triggers, it can be easier to calm them before it reaches an extreme point.


When I space out for some time, I’m often lost in negative and upsetting thoughts. When someone sees me in this state, they often ask "what's wrong?" and by asking this, it reinforces the thoughts even more because it feels as if someone just validated that something is wrong. It's better to start talking about anything else to get my mind off what I was thinking about. I'm not saying to never check if someone is okay, in some cases, it's definitely needed. But for some people with BPD, the dwelling is constant, and it doesn't always need emphasizing, which is for their own good.


When people with BPD feel negative about themselves, remind them of their positive traits. People with BPD have a negative self-image most of the time, which can keep them in a state of depression. When they feel as if someone thinks of them in a positive way or sees something in them that they themselves can’t see, it lifts their spirits. Although they may not believe what you tell them and remain negative, it is worth a try, and they will remember the positive things you’ve said once they are settled down.

As difficult and as frustrating situations might get, it is important to remain calm and consistent when trying to help someone with BPD. If you get too worked up with them, it could feed their frustration and anger further, and that’s not what either of you wants. When they say hurtful and hateful things, remember to not take it personally. Again, it's easier said than done. But they are only saying it to hurt you because they themselves are hurting. They don’t think about what they are saying until it is all said and done. They don’t mean any of it, they are simply lashing out.


Remaining consistent and offering ongoing support shows them that you are trustworthy and that you truly care about them. It will make them more comfortable around you, and more open to listening to you when you advise them to seek help or stay on track with treatments.


Yes, this is a lot to take in and may seem like you will have a difficult time ahead, but the earlier you see the signs and have a better understanding of the disorder, the easier it will be to soothe someone with BPD.


Summary on how to calm someone with BPD

Something as respecting your loved one enough to listen to them without actively trying to fix them or patronize them for the way they are feeling can avoid a lot of stressful situations. Learning about BPD and how to identify your loved one’s triggers will help you de-escalate a situation before it starts.


You must always remain calm and learn how to control your own reactivity because they don’t have that control themselves, so one of you has to keep a level head. So, be self-aware with the way you react, the tone in your voice when you speak, or even your body language. Your loved one will pick up on all of these and overthink every little detail.


When you noticed something is triggering them, take their mind off it. Act like a fool, take them out for ice cream, go to the park, play a videogame together, anything will work if the two of you are having fun together. But at the same time, it’s not all fun and games, and you need to keep them on track with their treatment or encourage them to get help if they haven’t already.


It's important that you encourage them to have their independence too. They can’t always rely on you for everything, and you can’t be around 24/7. Slowly help them do things on their own so that they learn to cope without you. That way, you will not feel trapped or tied to your loved one all the time.


Help their self-image by identifying their strengths. When they are showing signs of self-hatred, remind them of the positives, why you love them and what they are good at. Just hearing those things can make a big difference to their mood.


In short, just be a calm, understanding, loving and trustworthy person to your loved one. Show them that you will be there for them through all of the hard times and that you are not going to abandon them.