Setting Boundaries with Borderline Sufferers
It’s okay -- and sometimes necessary -- to set functional boundaries with people suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD). Read about setting boundaries with borderline personality disorder sufferers (Setting Functional Boundaries).
Understand Borderline Symptoms Before Setting Boundaries
I used to be the girl your friends warned you about. My new friends were told to “be careful” if they planned to associate with me. People agreed that I was “nice, but crazy.” I was called "irrational," "unpredictable," and "too intense."
I didn't know how to stop being that person. It’s not as if I woke up and decided, "I think today I will deeply disturb my loved ones and push my friends away.”
I hated it. I was constantly fighting off shame, despair, and humiliation (Living With A Mental Illness And Self-Stigma).
Our emotional intensity is not a choice. It's impossible to understand this until you’ve experienced enormous and uncontrollable emotions yourself. If your emotions are ripples on a lake, ours are tidal waves. BPD is what happens when we get sucked under the waves and can’t breathe.
That said, it makes sense that people occasionally need to set boundaries with us. Unskilled borderline sufferers can be a lot to handle and some BPD behaviors necessitate separation. The borderline diagnosis is not an acceptable excuse for physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal threats, or the use of self-harm and suicidality as manipulative tactics (Is Mental Illness An Excuse For Bad Behavior?). Acting on these behaviors does not make us bad people, but we must learn to live with the negative consequences.
The Benefits of Setting Boundaries With Borderline Sufferers
Many of our loved ones will give us second chances when we hurt them, understanding that our actions often result from abuse histories, but some will cut us from their lives completely. I have experienced both outcomes. Though being removed from someone’s life feels awful, it can be the greatest impetus for change.
I first sought sobriety after my brother threatened to remove me from his life. I joined a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) group when my therapist refused to see me until I addressed my BPD. These experiences were embarrassing and hurtful, but they may have saved my life.
How and When to Set Boundaries With Borderline Sufferers
There are so many variations in circumstances, it’s impossible to set a strict rule about how and when to set boundaries with borderline sufferers. The general idea is this: you get to decide what you can and cannot handle. If someone with BPD is “too much” for you, you are free to distance yourself. If someone with BPD has intentionally or inadvertently abused you, it's probably best to cut ties until they seek help.
In either case, please be conscious of how you talk about this person and his or her diagnosis once the boundary is set, as BPD doesn’t need any additional stigma. Try to resist making assumptions about a diverse group of people based on negative experiences with a single person.
How to Cope When Someone Sets Boundaries With You
If you’re a borderline sufferer whose loved ones have distanced themselves, don't let yourself be swallowed by shame. Shame rarely serves a purpose beyond increasing self-destructive behaviors. But guilt and embarrassment -- reflections of our actions rather than our overall selves -- can motivate change. You can accept those feelings without falling victim to self-hatred.
I know it’s hard to sit with criticism or perceived judgment, especially when you’re already sensitive. Something that helps me when I’ve made a BPD-related mistake is to tell myself, “I am unhappy with my choices, but it makes sense that I acted this way. These are symptoms of trauma and BPD. I will try to do better next time.”
And you might not “do better” next time. You might fall back down. You might lose another friend (remember: this isn’t always your fault). You might face more negative consequences. The point is that you’re trying. You’re seeking help, learning new skills, and addressing instead of running from your mistakes.
Be kind to yourself throughout this process. It sucks to be told that people can't handle you, especially when your emotions and actions are unintentional (Fear of Abandonment Due to Mental Illness). But trust me: you are not a bad person, you’re not crazy, and you aren’t hopeless. The people who truly love you will stick by you no matter what, even if that means having to set a few boundaries.
Eveland, E. (2016, May 3). Setting Boundaries with Borderline Sufferers, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/borderline/2016/05/creating-boundaries-with-borderline-personality-disorder-sufferers
Author: Emily Eveland
My boyfriend has bpd and goes from job to job, we met at my current job and since he left that one, he hasnt had one for longer than two weeks. It has taken an emotional toll on me since we live together. I'm trying to find a way to set the expectation that either he gets a job, or I, and my children, are gone, without giving him an ultimatum.
He has lied since he left our mutual job and when I caught him he said that he will no longer do it. I dont trust him and he has not shown me that he can be stable financially to be with me and my kids. I love him, and I will support him like i have been, but I'm coming to the end of my rope. Advice?
Hi Tia, thank you for commenting and sharing what's going on for you. This sounds really tough and I can hear that you know what your needs are financially and for your children and want to get those needs met. I can see that at the moment your needs are not getting met with your boyfriend not staying in a job. I can hear that you love your boyfriend and really want to help, but at the same time you don't trust him and his situation is taking a big toll on you and it sounds overwhelming. I thought I would share the hotlines and resources page with you as it could be an idea to see if there are any organizations who could help you. Here is the page: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer… Take care. Rosie Cappuccino- Author of More than Borderline blog
My husband of three years was recently diagnosed with Borderline following hospitalization (I had seen symptoms and asked him to discuss it with his therapist, which he lied about having done). Before his diagnosis, when he would stand over me while I was in bed screaming for hours on end, I took advice I read online and had corroborated by our shared solo therapist and went silent. We had a tiny apartment and as a grad student I had nowhere do go. This only made him more angry. When we were together at the hospital talking to a doctor and occupational therapists they both confirmed that it was my right and constructive to set this boundary (this has not really sunk in with him yet), and that I should make other boundaries and communicate them clearly, in the knowledge that they must be followed through.
My question is how I should discuss them with him. There are some which are very clear (i.e. I will divorce him if he hits/threatens to hit me or my dog) and which I believe he understands, but I need other boundaries around things like going to therapy/complying with his medication plan, tantrums, self-harm, and impulsive spending. Obviously these shouldn't be so final as divorce, but I'm wondering how to set clear boundaries in these lower-stake areas AND how I should discuss them without freaking him out.
In the past this has not been helped by my personality, which is very much geared towards caretaking and "fixing", and which I'm working on. I need clarity for myself as much as for him.
I'm very curious about how people who suffer with borderline find that boundaries are most effectively enforced without needless antagonism.
'The people who truly love you will be there for you no matter what'
This is not true my best friend with BPD pushes away her friends and is in a cycle of self fulfilling abandonment prophecy. I still love her so much but I had to walk away for my own sanity and mental health. Now I am being painted as a bad person who is fake and has never loved her. It's so hurtful. I just keep hoping she will get help and we can reconcile.
I feel your pain 😢 the love of my life does this with me regularly. The closer we get, the worse it gets. I don’t know how much more I can take, its taking a physical a emotional toll on me and it hurts so bad. All I do is love her but it’s never enough 😭😥😭
HI Larry, thank you so much for your comment and for sharing a little about your experience. I can hear that you relate to the points raised in this article and that you are feeling a lot of pain which is having an impact on you. I have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and I can only speak for myself, however I know that for me I get triggered more easily with people I'm close to. In fact, as you describe, the closer I become to someone, the more intense the triggers and emotions (at least most of the time).
I wanted to share the Healthy Place hotlines and referral resources page with you as there may be some organisations on there which may be able to support you: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…. It can be really exhausting and emotionally difficult to feel as though you love a person but that it's never enough and I hope you can take care of yourself and get any support you may need.
- Rosie Cappuccino, writer for the More Than Borderline blog.
My mother and three sisters all have BPD. They are impossible to reason with and have only got worse with time. After 56 years of abuse, I got to the point where, for the sake of my physical, emotional and mental health, I severed ties with all of them. It wasn't a decision where I sat down and weighed up the pros and cons. It was more of a realization that I couldn't cope with their behaviour any longer. There was no point in my having a relationship with them. They are twisted, evil, sadistic people.
My son most likely has BLD. It's only been in the last few years I have put up some boundaries. It's been a roller coaster since. It most definitely fuels his anger, and makes him much more impulsive. We ve been to so many Councillors, and all ask if he s had a pych eval. I did look into that, but it s $1000. out of pocket. Any suggestions? My brain races thinking about how this 17 and half year old kid is going to survive in the near future. I even thought about an outbound program. I don't want him to feel abandonment. , but I'm at the end of my rope with finding solutions. His father is also a Narc, which does not help matters. My son has become physical with me in the past, and was caught by my boyfriend, who released him from harming me. Its sad I can't get through to him, but also healthier for me to put my boundaries up. It's a double edge sword, he has a significant learning disability especially with processing information. At the same time , on an anti depressant, but refuses to take ADHD med. I have a court date coming up soon. I'm not sure what to ask the judge. Should I insist on treatment ?
Sadly, being young and male someone will beat [moderated] him when he goes off on the wrong person and he’ll land in the hospital or the grave. Then he Might be open to counseling. Insist on counseling please.
I appreciate this article. I'm having difficulty with setting boundaries in a relationship. I feel bullied and smothered. He wants to be married and gets angry because I won't live with him or "show him enough attention", while at the same time he refuses to do the things that show me he's ready for marriage. He has a history of drug addiction and abusive behavior. Initially I thought his behavior was because of the drugs. Now he's clean and I'm realizing it's more a result of BPD and childhood abuse. The last time I broke up with him he sent an anonymous letter to my employer telling dangerous lies (I'm in the healthcare field) that got me fired. I was only able to work again after a polygraph test. I thought that was because of drug use too, and I forgave it all. Now that I'm setting boundaries in the relationship such as no yelling or cursing at me, no secret messages with other women, etc... his behavior is getting increasingly erratic. He's refusing counseling, but at the same time blaming me for not going. He's threatened that I will lose everything if I don't keep my word and marry him. We are not engaged. We were engaged before we first broke up over drug use but that was clearly over. At this point I'm torn between getting him help and being afraid of him. I know if I stand firm and refuse to bend after setting boundaries I'm going to be "punished" in some way. I don't know what to do anymore.
First it is important you talk about that with friends and family , to get a support net. In my case, I seek help with the police and let him know he will be in greater trouble if he ever yelled or curse me again. i still want my marriage to,work but this will depend if he addresses his mental issue. If he doesn't in a very close future, is over. Remember , he is not your responsibility and do not fear his revenge, just let everybody knows what he can do and fight back.
Thank you for this article. I need advice on boundaries with a friend I believe has BDP. Our daughters are friends, and it's a good friendship. Her daughter has struggled with behavior and emotional reactivity, but she hasn't acted out around us and I think she's really a great kid. On the positive side, her daughter is extremely intelligent, funny, and fun for my daughter to hang out with. They are both 10 years old. So I think it's a good relationship which I support as long as it stays healthy. I also admire and respect my friend, she has many great qualities, but I don't consider her a true friend, I am doing this relationship mostly for our daughters.
My friend's BPD is most apparent to me in her abandonment fears, and her absolute unwillingness to take responsibility for any of her problems, which are putting her and her daughter in financial jeopardy, and are risking homelessness.
So my problem is that she tells me things like "you're our only friends" and "my daughter thinks your daughter only plays with her because she's being forced to" - which is utterly untrue, my daughter loves spending time with her daughter.
My friend she wants to relocate to live closer to us, and she wants me to commit to spending more time with them. She asked us to set aside twice-monthly hikes together. I told her that would be hard because I have 3 kids and a complicated schedule. So I pushed back on that, but I'm really uncomfortable about the "you're our only friend" statement. I see how she causes her own re-abandonment with others. She absolutely refuses to see her role in the many disconnections and push-back that she gets from people she seeks help from.
What should I do to stay connected but not be manipulated to do so out of guilt that we're their only friends?
Hi there! The current author, here, of the More than Borderline blog. I so understand that BPD can be challenging both for those with it and those that are close to those with BPD! I think ultimately we all have to decide what boundaries to set for ourselves in relationships with BPD sufferers. I'd encourage you to think about what your own personal limits are. If the friendship is important to you, boundaries can only strengthen the relationship, not hurt it! Although it may take some adjusting to at first for her and for you. Please keep on reading our blogs. I find educating ourselves to be a powerful tool as well in learning to set boundaries with BPD sufferers. Wishing you all the best and sending warmth, Whitney.
Ok I need to know from your view: my ex friend who I suspect is BBD but never sought help knowing , with intentions went to CPS about my child, lied , made up stories, went to other people , when I have proof she did this, no one else did, she acted like she was above it all. I want to confront her but how do I go about doing that?
Do NOT confront her!! She sounds like my older sister who is a malignant BPD...like the character Alex in Fatal Attraction. My sister does the CPS threat as well. She gets triggered from her perception of being abused as a child. She is highly sensitive to any type of correction she sees parents give children. The best thing you can do is work with CPS through an attorney, if possible, and then have no contact with her. None. You could discuss with your attorney filing a malicious prosecution complaint against her, but that might escalate the situation depending on how malignant she is. Once again, as the sister of a malignant BPD, I advise NO CONFRONTATION. No contact. Hire a good attorney and let them deal with her through legal measures. It is against the law to file false complaints to government authorities.
I'm curious - is it atypical of BPD's to end a 4 year relationship...through email? A *seemingly* intelligent man who I loved, broke up in an email with me. A day before an event in his honor, and one that I helped with (for the last year). To confuse (and stymy) further, he's allegedly an MFCC! I cannot make sense of this and it's been 4 months since "the Dear John" email. I loved this man with my whole heart, mind and soul. I thought I could help him, help us, help everyone. One of the reasons this is so hurtful is because I don't give myself up to any man, it takes a very long time for me to achieve a comfort level/open up. I did with him. I let him into my family, friends and CHILDREN. I feel like a complete D idiot for being so naive. I've read it is impossible to "cure" BOD (98% if the time...not totally unattainable!). I held out for that 2%.
Do BPD's have regrets?
Do they need to change things up every 4 years (he ended things with HIS ex after 4 years too...time too...hmmm...seeing a pattern here!).
Is there any hope for a classic BPD, with inflated self ego and grandios visions of his "importance"?
I don't know the circumstances between you two so I cant tell you why he left (it's probably due a lot of misunderstandings , like most relationships *sigh* :( )he did it through email coz probably he's insecure to say it to you in person (I'm just guessing) Other bpd might think those people that is supportive deserve someone better, others might think they themselves deserve someone better. (Or we might think we deserve no one)
being abandoned sucks and we understand that the most/others just don't want to understand), we often overthink, over -analyze (we might want/really abandon someone (before they do) coz we don't feel secure.
We don't have mental timelines (measuring when it will end) but there is a pattern when circumstances occur, a lot of random things may happen, it varies per person. Some would do it in shorter timespan, some would cling. Its an emotional and mental roller coaster drama.
We do feel regret (who doesn't) there is a deep stigma that eat us up and we have different responses.
There is no exact "classic" BPD, with inflated self ego and grandios visions of his "importance". People with bpd, have varying other little to major issues , like bipolar, splitting, dissociation etc. ( lets also not talk about cultural, moral and environmental differences etc. its mind blowing I tell you.) You can picture it as living in one house but with different rooms, the rooms have different styles. The point is there is always hope. We fight, struggle, fail/win, fight again. Its an unending cycle. I'm sorry, I tried to explain what we may or may not feel but Im not an expert. This is just my point of view. (Hope other bpd's like me would try to be more open-minded in accepting another person's view on us, its hard but we can always change our selves for the better anyways ; we fail and try and fail and try, we're stuck to fight inner turmoils, but continue fighting, fellow warriors, you are not alone in this fight.)
This isn't my mother tongue so forgive me for i don't know what T_T
Thank you. I am trying to set up boundaries for myself so I don't manipulate or abuse my family and friends.