How to Avoid Being Manipulated by Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

Manipulation is one of many ways that people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) attempt to control others in their lives and influence their behavior. It is not usually a conscious decision on the part of the person with BPD to do this, but that doesn’t mean that it’s OK to allow it to continue.

It’s important to recognize when you are being manipulated by someone with Borderline Personality Disorder and learn to avoid falling into the trap.

What are the signs of manipulation?

Let’s take a look at how you can tell you are being manipulated:

  1. When the person with BPD is approaching you for a favor, are they warmer or more flattering than they are at other times? If their demeanor changes dramatically when they need something from you, that is a sign of manipulation.
  2. How do you feel when the person with BPD is asking you to do them a favor? Do you comply out of guilt or shame knowing that you will be made to feel bad if your answer is no?
  3. People with Borderline Personality Disorder often get angry or rage with little provocation. This alone can be seen as a form of manipulation. If you avoid saying or doing certain things out of fear that your actions will trigger a rage from the person with BPD, this in and of itself is manipulation.
  4. Beware of coming to the rescue of someone who is always the victim. The person with BPD may be soliciting your help under the pretense that they are helpless without you or the victims of others’ bad actions.

How can I avoid being manipulated by someone with BPD?

The best way to avoid being manipulated is to give yourself permission to refuse the manipulator’s requests. You must not buy into the idea that not acting as they want you to makes you responsible for their feelings.

It’s easier said than done. In my case, when I first began to say no to the person in my life with Borderline Personality Disorder, I knew I was acting appropriately in asserting myself, but I was still consumed by guilt afterward. The love I feel for my nephews was frequently used to get me to come and babysit them with no advance notice. My BPD sister-in-law would call me in the middle of an emotional breakdown and ask me to come over right that minute and take care of my nephews so she could go out. One day I even left a lunch date before the food arrived just to comply with her wishes.

Sometimes when I arrived she would be acting completely normal again and would be dressed and ready to go out. I was fully aware that my affection was being used as a tool to get me to serve my sister-in-law’s needs, but I felt obligated to my nephews and terribly guilty when I said no.

Now I realize that my life, my desires, and my needs matter, too. I have learned to keep it simple and short and to stick to my guns when I don’t want to do something she wants me to. I do this by practicing detachment. I keep my emotions at a distance and simply assert myself calmly, remembering that saying no is not a sign that I am a bad person. In doing this consistently, I find myself accumulating less resentment toward my sister-in-law. I feel better saying yes when it feels right to me as opposed to doing so primarily out of guilt or shame.

Learning to say no to someone you care about who has Borderline Personality Disorder is often very difficult, but in doing so you set boundaries that allow you to take better care of yourself and have a relationship that is free from manipulation.

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10 Responses to “How to Avoid Being Manipulated by Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder”

  1. Meghan 07. Jan, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    Wow talk about negative framing of those with BPD. I was shocked to see this headline at the top of the page that I had expected to offer information in SUPPORT of persons suffering with this diagnosis. This labeling of their difficulties with mood regulation as “manipulation” only strengthens a stigma they already struggle to cope with, and the following “advice” may help keep boundaries, but it does not help the BPD person. Is it your job to help? No, but that’s what people do for those they care about. Sacrifice everything? No – absolutely not. But there is a huge difference between having healthy boundaries and a healthy understanding and closing someone out due to lack of understanding and fear, two factors with the author here.

    I am really sorry that the author of this article felt “manipulated” by their sister-in-law when in reality what the BPD person is really trying to manipulate is themselves. One thing they got right was that persons with BPD who experience panic due to mood disregulation do not intentionally “manipulate”. I suggest that anyone with a BPD person in their life read the article here if they care to actually help the person with BPD while keeping their own HEALTHY boundaries:

    http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/12/19/helping-someone-with-borderline-personality-disorder/

    This article, among many others, clearly states that setting tough boundaries does NOT help the BPD person,

    “Avoid boundaries, limits, contracts, and tough love.

    These methods are not effective with people with BPD. Be sure that families understand that boundaries are generally viewed as punishment by the person with BPD. Be sure they understand how to change behavior by explaining reinforcement, punishment, shaping, and extinction so that they do not reinforce maladaptive behaviors.”

    Best of luck to all of you with BPD in finding people in your lives who understand that you are not bad and that you need support just as much as a person going through a physically debilitating crisis, and to those who are struggling with giving support.

  2. Jay Doe 24. Mar, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    My BPD stalker tells people that she will/has self-harmed to get them to do anything controlling to me…sad…

  3. Kyle 12. Apr, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    I thought this was a really helpful article. With all due respect to Meghan, the strategies in this article for establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries are geared primarily toward the preservation of the person with whom the individual with borderline personality disorder is interacting. I think it’s important for people (especially those with BPD) to understand that not everyone is their therapist, and that sometimes certain behaviors are expected and mandated in certain situations. Establishing clear expectations and contingencies, in my opinion, ultimately helps the person with BPD be more successful behaviorally regardless of their immediate (often irrational, angry, and unregulated) emotional reaction.

    Unlike other types of psychological disorders (eg anxiety, depression) the interesting thing about personality disorders is that they often cause as much – if not more – distress to others as they do to the individuals who have them. It is the same with antisocial PD, narcissistic, etc.

    I thought this was a compassionate article that took into account the needs of the person with AND without BPD. People with BPD need healthy people around them for support, and keeping these sorts of boundaries helps toward that goal.

  4. Jonathan 28. Apr, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    This is an extremely helpful piece. The only way to deal with BPD when its symptoms flare up is to ‘Take your ball and go home,’ so to speak. One must learn how to do this in a way that is self-preserving but without obvious anger toward the other person. This is very difficult, because BPD tends to bring out the worst in NONs – especially those who are less experienced with the disorder. The ‘crazy-making’ and emotional dysregulation of BPD can be extremely disorienting. A lot of NONs report that after a certain point in their relationships with BPDs, they had a hard time distinguisning fact from fiction. This is a CLASSIC situation. Untreated BPDs often CANNOT deal with the reality they have created, so instead of capitulating to the NON’s interpretation of reality, they project their own emotional chaos onto the NON as a ‘survival’ mechanism.

    Most BPD’s have an uncanny ability to sense when you are getting that ‘Something is just not adding up,’ feeling. That is often when their manipulation tactics jump into high-gear. It is important to spot these tactics so that you can take a big step back and interpret your own reality without the interference of the BPD’s projection tactics.

    Generally speaking, when the BPD senses that you are starting to ‘sort things out,’ their abandonment issues flare up. If they gave you the space to sort things out, you might actually GET sorted out and discover how sick the relationship really is and LEAVE IT. More than anything, the BPD will try to avoid this – since abandonment is what lies at the core of their illness. The bitter irony is that the BPD’s behavior at this point will flare up and PUSH the NON even further away, thus causing the very abandonment that the BPD fears the most. This is tragic, because a lot of the time, the NON has no intention of leaving. But in the end, the BPD’s behavior gives them no choice.

    Hence, the untreated BPD goes through life fulfilling their own worst fears over and over and over and over again. In a very real sense, the disorder is a self-fulfiling prophecy. And the worst part of it is, the BPD’s maladaptive behavioral techniques are usually so ingrained that they have an INABILITY to see the truth of this.

    Of course, if you have the option, the best way to deal with someone who has BPD is to cut them out of your life and not deal with them at all. Despite what ‘professionals’ say, BPD has a very low recovery rate – especially among those with the disorder who are older (say, 30 and up.) More often than not, they will make YOU crazy before THEY get better. Recovery from BPD is a long, hard road that takes years of behavioral therapy (4 to 7 years, according to most professionals.) BPD is ‘characterological’ in nature; it is not an organic illness that can be managed with medication. Nor can it be managed solely by traditional talk therapy with professionals who are NOT specifically trained to treat BPD.

    Think of it this way: how in the hell do you cure a PERSONALITY? A personality is WHO YOU ARE!! BPD is not an ‘issue.’ Dealing with BPD is not like sorting through every day emotional baggage. A person with BPD is, essentially, acting out severe abandonment trauma (often in the form of sexual abuse) in EVERY personal relationship. Until the original abandonment trauma is faced and dealt with, their is NO HOPE of recovery. The problem is, the BPD has gone through life developing behavioral techniques to specifically AVOID dealing with this original trauma. And the irony is that in doing so, they have ACTUALLY RECREATED this abandonment trauma over and over again. So, in a very real sense, when you are dealing with an untreated BPD, you are dealing a person who is emotionally SHELL-SHOCKED.

    Marsha Linehan, the pioneer of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, refers to BPD’s as ‘emotional burn victims.’ This is a very accurate assesment. Until the burns are treated, their is no hope for healthy relationships. This treatment includes facing the original ‘trauma’ and developing new and effective behavioral skills. AGAIN, the difficulty here is that the BPD has usually spent years or DECADES in specific behavioral patterns that have become totally ingrained into their personality.

    So . . . if you’re in a relationship with a BPD, know that even if they go into treatment, it’s going to be a long haul. Your needs will most often be secondary (if that) to the BPD’s. You will essentially be a caretaker during the period of recovery, and there’s a good chance that you’ll remain in that role afterward. I was told this by a professional who had worked for three years on a BPD ward in a NYC hospital, under the supervision of one of the world’s foremost experts on Cluster B mental disorders.

    As far as Meghan’s comment; this looks like a shaming tactic. ABUSE IS ABUSE, no matter the origin, and just because a BPD doesn’t mean to do it, that doesn’t make it ok. I look at it this way: ‘Did I cause whatever the BPD is suffering from? Was I part of their original trauma? NO!! Well then, I don’t have to stick around to suffer the consequences. I’m just as important as they are, and I have a right to live without their emotional chaos!’

  5. Kim 03. May, 2012 at 5:50 am #

    Dear Jonathan
    Your reply makes sense to me. I have been married to a man for 10 years who I believe has BPD. Rage is the main thing I have to deal with, it seems to come from nowhere and he cannot come down from it, especially after alcohol. I hoped that my husband would also be my best friend but that was not to be as there are so many things I cannot talk to him about. Topics go through my head and I envisage the negative reaction so don’t bother. I end up listening to his monologues which currently involve messages from time travellers and which he has filled copious notebooks with. I have been at the receiving end of physical abuse on occasions and mental abuse often, the fault never lies with him it is because I am a bad wife. He is in his mid 50’s and I would say he’s getting worse the more he isolates himself from people. I have tried boundaries to the point where I live separately during the week but things are getting worse when I am with him as he cannot understand that a woman who has been abused cannot simply smiled and act as if nothing has happened. The latest incident where I left the house barefoot with torn clothing having been pushed on a staircase, hair pulled, hands around my throat and threats of broken limbs has made me realise I cannot help him, only myself. He shows no remorse for this and blames me. I stand to lose financially by leaving him but my health is more important.

  6. Suzanne 21. Sep, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Fantastic article!
    I have been in counselling and therapy from a psychologist for about 10 years to help heal and recover from being raised by an abusive mother with BPD. I never thought I would be free from her abusive & twisted world.

    Once I FINALLY realized that it was never me but my mother who had all the problems and personality disorder…my life changed. I was conditioned to believe I was responsible for all of my mother’s issues, mood swings, happiness….everything. I was hated one moment, then “loved” the next as I was drained of everything I was for her stability. We never knew one minute to the next what behaviour from us would trigger her outbursts of rage and hostility…or her sobbing episodes.

    It was awful.

    I am free now, though there is a long journey ahead of me in learning how to interact with her while protecting myself. This article has clearly expressed the tools I have recently learned from my psychologist about setting boundaries and protecting yourself from a family member with BPD. If you do choose to go limited contact (as I have done – as opposed to no-contact)…boundary setting is the first thing to learn. It is necessary.

    Thanks for posting!

  7. ben 27. May, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Narcissisim

  8. SHAWNCURLE 02. Aug, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    This article and the comments have been so helpful and enlightening! I have anti-social BPD and it’s a living hell to say the least. But I do find comfort in knowing so many others suffer and deal with this disorder.

    Reading these comments has given me hope that my life is not a total disaster. I also believe that a strong faith in God is paramount in dealing with the guilt and shame brought on by this illness.

    Thank you for posting.

  9. Ken 13. Sep, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    Kim, I hope you have reached out for help by this point. YOU do not have the ability to change him, his “personality.” However, you can change how you allow it to affect you, and I believe that this is the point of this article. Yes, the person with BPD did not ask for this, they would not choose it and need help. However, you do not need to be an additional casualty as well. BPD recovery is a long road uphill in the snow, so to speak. I will remember you and your family when I next pray!

  10. Aelida 18. Feb, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    I find good points in every comment. I have long believed that ALL emotions are valid, even when they’re nuts, because to whomever is feeling them, they are probably very real.

    I too am rubbed the wrong way by the constant “manipulation” term getting thrown out there everywhere I look. Why? Because as a person who *SUFFERS* with BPD, I very rarely have any clear picture of reality during conflict or these types of situations. In fact, it usually takes me writing things down constantly and reading them days later to get a grasp on the reality vs. my “perception.”

    I don’t feel like my motivation is ever malicious. I know that I often allow negative treatment from others (yes, I know, abandonment issues) to go unpunished so to speak and will forgive the most heinous things with an “I’m sorry.” Manipulation seems deliberate and I don’t see it in myself (very rarely at least) and apparently neither do the majority of people I know. It’s an ugly trait.

    Boundaries are cool. In my experience though, I’m compelled to break rules, push buttons, and I’d rather not. I’ve responded to validation and honest communication. Yes, I’ll eventually recreate trauma etc. and it nearly kills me every time (it scares me to read our mortality rate). But even in those crazy wtf moments, I’m trying to explain what I’m feeling at the time, and expressing how it may not be reality but at that time it’s mine. And I ask for help and apologize (then proceed to launch the stupid inevitable war)

    “Manipulation” hurts. I feel like I deserve to be known as a victim of myself, too. I can’t break up with myself and change my number. I can’t move away. Knowing I’m capable of hurting people I love is pretty heartbreaking, too. There’s my emotional, long-winded two cents.

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