Do’s and Don’ts for Living with a Borderline (Part 2 of Living with High-Conflict People)
© 2014 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
DO YOU FEEL TRAPPED BY THIS PERSON?-Intense anger
-Sudden mood swings
The NIH estimated 5.9% of the population has a Borderline Personality Disorder.* Living next door to a person with BPD can make you want to move. Keep reading for tips about what you can do to manage it.
WHY DO BORDERLINES SEEM SO IRRATIONAL?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is one of the most common High-Conflict Personalities. You may recognize the pattern: someone adores you and bakes you cookies one minute, then rages against you for declining because you’re on a diet, then forgets they were angry the second you pay a compliment to their coffee-making skill or give in and eat a cookie. It’s exhausting! Research indicates this seemingly bizarre behavior may stem from biological and misguided social learning factors and/or some form of abuse or neglect in childhood that left them feeling abandoned by someone of importance. ** Whatever the cause, they may live their entire life feeling traumatized by everyday events that trigger the unresolved emotional fallout and an ongoing fear of being abandoned. The article Borderline Disorder from the Insideoffers insight into the disorder but for now just keep in mind that it’s unconscious behavior. If you are not able or willing to distance yourself from the Borderline, you can learn how to manage it.
WATCH OUT FOR THE BORDERLINE BLAST
A borderline’s self-defeating actions tend to drive people away – to actually abandon the Borderline – but they don’t see that cause and effect. For most, they feel as if their actions are necessary to defend themselves from that unconscious fear (you will often hear them justifying what they did/said). For example:
John was buying a property and planning to fix it up for sale. John spotted his realtor- neighbor, Frank, in the yard and went over to chat.
FRANK: Morning, John. How are you?
JOHN: Not so hot. I can’t find time to deal with the other house. I want to make it look as good as your house does then sell it for a big profit like you did. Can you look at it and give me your opinion? I need your help.
FRANK: Um, OK. I’ll try to get over there later today.
The next day:
FRANK: I went over to the house and I'm curious what your plan is.
JOHN: I need to flip it for a fat profit like you do. I have to rip up the kitchen and replace the plumbing. Bunch of other stuff too, like the roof, but I’m having trouble with the contractor and he charges me for every little thing.
FRANK: Sounds expensive. I think the house is in OK condition. My professional opinion would be to only do some minor repairs and then sell it as a fixer-upper.
JOHN: What are you talking about? As a realtor, you should know what needs to be done! That contractor you recommended says I need to do it so I can make a lot of money.
FRANK: Well, you asked for my opinion, and for several reasons I don’t think you’re going to get enough profit after doing all those things to make it worthwhile. You seem stressed, and it would be easier for you this way, too.
JOHN: You think I’m stupid? Why did you tell me to use your contractor, then? I see what’s going on. He’s giving you kickbacks, isn’t he? Giving you my money for all that crap he charges me for. I don’t need advice from you. I’m going to report you to your boss right now!
Frank watched as John stormed off. Where did THAT come from? What he didn’t realize was that someone with a Borderline Personality Disorder will develop huge expectations from a relationship, and then react as above when those expectations are not met. In John’s world, Frank was the expert who would reinforce his idea of making quick cash and would help him do it. He unconsciously felt abandoned when Frank’s advice was contrary to his (ill-conceived) plan, so he blasted Frank for letting him down.
DON'T BEND BOUNDARIES WITH BORDERLINES
Since he lives next door, ignoring John altogether may not be an option. It might also make things worse because it would be an actual abandonment of the relationship which could drive John to further impulsive behavior. Avoiding the typical love-you-hate-you nature of a Borderline is not easy, but these tips will help you control it:
1. Resist being put on a pedestal. Borderlines often build you up in their eyes to feel a greater sense of security in the relationship. If you sense someone is idealizing you, proceed with caution because you will eventually be attacked for falling off your pedestal. If you present yourself as an average person, you’ll have less distance to fall.
Frank was vaguely uncomfortable with John’s initial praise about his house and achievements (a sign you may be dealing with a Borderline). Frank could have simply said, “I was lucky with a house sale once” to tone down the accolades a little.
2. Create clear expectations of your relationship. Borderlines develop extreme expectations of a relationship and repeatedly ask for validation or favors to feel secure in your commitment to them. This inevitably becomes frustrating but if you start backing off, the Borderline will react harshly because you abandoned them. You can nip this situation in the bud by setting boundaries in the beginning.
Frank’s best course would have been to politely decline helping, perhaps with a non-personal policy reason such as “My firm does not allow us to be involved in real estate matters outside of work.” He should not have given any contractor referrals either, because when that other relationship did not meet John’s expectations, Frank was blamed and accused.
3. Don’t try to fix their problems. Borderlines have a pattern of behavior that leads them to largely self-induced distress. Most of us naturally feel like helping, but if you do, they’ll adore you at first and then blame you for everything when something goes wrong.
Frank’s a nice guy, so he agreed to help even though it was an imposition. When he gave his opinion as requested, he was slammed for it. Frank’s life would have been a little easier if he offered some Empathy, Attention and Respect (EAR) but otherwise not made suggestions or actively helped.
In short, an arm’s-length approach is the rule. It helps you avoid being sucked into the turmoil and allows you to have some measure of control for your own sake. If you are close to a Borderline, you may want to invest some time in learning these skills to help you get control of what you CAN manage. See Bill Eddy’s bookIt's All Your Fault: 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything for 8 methods designed specifically for dealing with Borderlines. You may also want to check out the High Conflict Institute (developer of this concept and information), the BIFF Response® or feel free to send us your questions in the comments section below.
*NIH study, regarding Borderline: Grant, B. F., Chou, S. P., Goldstein, R. B., Huang, B., Stinson, F. S., Saha, T. D. (2008). Prevalence, correlates, disability and comorbidity of DSM-IV Borderline Personality disorder: Results from the Wave 2 national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 69, 533-545
**Eddy, William A. (2008) It’s All Your Fault! 12 Tips for Managing People Who Blame Others for Everything. California: Janis Publications
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.