Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) struggle with emotional regulation. This results in intense mood swings and maladaptive coping behaviours. The behaviours can range from violence, self-harm or substance abuse. Hence, we will be providing some tips and strategies to help people with BPD to adopt healthy coping mechanisms and better manage their symptoms. 

Strategies for Individuals with BPD

Short-Term Strategies

If you are clinically diagnosed with BPD, here are some de-escalating strategies for when you feel overwhelmed with these emotions [1]:

If you’re feeling..you can…
Angry– Engage in vigorous intensity exercises
– Hit a pillow
– Tear up a newspaper
Sad– Write down all your negative feelings and tear the paper into pieces
– Watch your favourite show
– Chat with someone about anything
Anxious– Do some breathing exercises
– Use your senses and identify the respective items that you can hear, smell, see, taste, and touch
Spaced out – Clap your hands together and pay attention to the stinging sensation on your palms
– Drink cold water and pay attention to how the cold drink goes down your throat
Desire to self-harm – Rub ice over where you want to hurt yourself
– Take a cold shower

Long-Term Strategies

The strategies listed above are immediate ways to help yourself when you notice an intense shift of emotions. In the long run, you can also [1]:

  1. Talk to someone
    • Verbalising your negative thoughts and feelings to people you trust.
    • You can also consider calling a hotline.
  2. Make a self-care box
    • Similar to a first-aid kit for physical injuries, you can make a first-aid kit for your mental health.
    • Include items that would help you feel better on days when you feel unwell 
      • E.g., favourite books, candles, or stress balls
  3. Prioritise your physical health
    • Your physical health can affect how you feel emotionally. 
    • Cultivate healthy habits to take care of your physical health
      • E.g., get sufficient sleep, have a healthy diet, and exercise

Tips on Supporting Individuals with BPD

If you are close to someone with BPD, the relationship can also take a toll on your own emotional and mental health. Here are some helpful strategies to communicate with them [2]: 

  1. Active listening & being empathetic 
    • Avoid being distracted when listening to individuals with BPD.
    • Listen without judgements.
    • Show your interest through verbal and non-verbal cues.
  2. Validate their emotions
    • BPD individuals communicate their feelings much more than the words they are using. 
    • Be sensitive to their emotional states and acknowledge their feelings.
      • E.g, “I can see why you are upset…”
  3. Stay calm when they agitated
    • Avoid being defensive when you are being accused or criticised in an unfair manner.
    • BPD individuals may get more triggered when you try to refute them.
    • Both parties should take time and space to cool down before talking.

Do‘s & Don’ts

Here are some things you can consider when reinforcing healthy boundaries with individuals with BPD [2]:

Do’sDon’ts
Reassurance:

– Calmly assure the peson with BPD when drawing the boundaries.
– E.g., “I love you and I want our relationship to work, but I can’t handle the stress caused by your behavior. I need you to make this change for us.”

Make ultimatums that you cannot carry out:

– While ruling out the boundaries, ensure that non-compliance is associated with a consequence.
– If it is not strictly adhered to, the boundaries would not be effective in addressing the negative tendencies displayed by the individuals with BPD.

Agreement from all involved parties:

– Ensure unanimity on the established boundaries
– Involved parties should be agreeable to the respective outcomes when there is non-compliance.

Tolerate abusive behaviours:

– Despite being their close/loved ones, you should not put up with verbal abuse or physical violence.

Gradual process:

– Introduce the boundaries one or two at a time
– Make the list less overwhelming for persons with BPD to comply

Enable individuals with BPD:

– This may sound contradictory, but protecting BPD persons from the outcomes of their actions will further reinforce their negative behaviours.

Sources of Support

Should you require professional help, you can:

  1. Seek a referral to a Family Service Centre
  2. Call local helplines:
    • Samaritans of Singapore (1800-221-4444)
    • Singapore Association for Mental Health (1800-283-7019)
    • IMH (6389-2200)

References

[1] Mind. (2018, January). Self-care for BPD. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/borderline-personality-disorder-bpd/self-care-for-bpd/

[2] Smith, M., Robinson, L. & Segal, J. (2021, October). Helping someone with borderline personality disorder. HelpGuide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/helping-someone-with-borderline-personality-disorder.htm