Is it Normal to Develop Feelings for your Therapist when Suffering from BPD?
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
People that suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder(BPD) are advised to seek help, especially therapy. Because of the complications that BPD brings, it is not uncommon for BPD patients to develop feelings for their therapist. This is also called transference since the emotions of someone with BPD that are retained from childhood shift toward the therapist.
BPD is a personality disorder characterized by unstable self-image, emotional instability, trouble with interpersonal relationships, and fear of abandonment. All of these symptoms, especially when combined together, can be very exhausting for the sufferer.
Therapists believe that BPD is formed when children undergo dysfunctional relationships during childhood. These relationship dynamics can impact the individual later in life. Our sense of self is also believed to be shaped in our early years through interactions with our caregivers. If something goes wrong in this phase, our sense of self is threatened and becomes unstable later in life, which is a key feature of BPD.
For successful therapy, It is important to have a skilled therapist who can form a trusting relationship with their patient.
Is it common for borderlines to fall in love with their therapists?
This question is not uncommon on forums since individuals with BPD oftentimes develop feelings for their therapist. People react in these forums as if having feelings for one's therapist is a terrible act. With this article, I would like to address those comments. It may seem unusual to fall in love with your therapist, but there is a harmless explanation. This isn't exclusive to people with BPD; it can also happen to those who need therapy in general.
It is common enough for BPD patients to form a strong connection with their therapist, often emotional to an intimate level. This is not bad, quite the contrary. However, borderlines have issues controlling their emotions and get attached very easily. Borderlines are prone to form an emotional connection with their therapist since they finally feel heard without being judged. A therapist will be able to provide a safe space and unconditional regard to the borderline, something they are probably not used to.
This will be experienced by the borderline as the “ideal partner”. The attraction they feel towards their therapist could lead to feelings of shame because the borderline is still aware of the professional boundaries. At this point, fear or internalized rage might be activated, and the BPD cycle starts.
What to do if you have feelings for your therapist?
This is a known occurrence, and if kept within professional boundaries, it is nothing to worry about. If you are experiencing affection towards your therapist, it is important to talk about it with your therapist. Surprisingly, they are accustomed to it since it is a common matter. You may think these feelings are “wrong” or even “abnormal”, but that is far from the truth. It is just a way to deal with overwhelming unresolved emotions. Work with your therapist on how to get rid of these feelings since it's probably not a fun experience. If you keep it to yourself, it will probably get worse, and you won't be able to focus on the therapy.
Transference between therapist and BPD patiënt
Transference is the redirection of feelings and desires, especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood, toward someone new. Oftentimes this is a therapist or psychoanalyst.
Psychotherapy can be an emotionally intense experience, where unresolved issues come to the surface. These issues could be insufficient love, trauma, abuse, lack of proper parenting, etc. All emotions experienced during the therapy are then shared with the therapist. The patient may experience a sort of mother/father figure in the therapist, someone that listens to their problems for the first time. Therefore, if therapy is going well, the therapist may start to feel like the most important person in their life.
The psychology behind transference