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

  1. Rich Moreno 23. Jun, 2016 at 7:52 pm #

    My name is Rich, and I am a borderline. One of the biggest struggles I have had to deal with is my own BPD parents. I am in my 50s now, and they are at an age where they are no longer open to the idea they are BPD, and how I and everyone around them have become casualties of their/our illness.

    BPD is cross-generational and, just as it has affected me my entire life, it’s done so for my parents’ entire lives, and their parents’ parents, etc. They understandably just want to validate their own lives by creating self-serving interpretations of events from long ago.
    Therefore, it’s important to realize that many of the comments made here may well have been from undiagnosed borderlines themselves, who are now in the unenviable position of being caretaker of one or both agitators from whom they inherited, both genetically and environmentally, their own illness. This smacks of BPD with a strong side order of codependency, too, and I see it in myself, as well.

    Ironically, other borderlines here have taken exception to use of the term manipulation, though I’ve experienced it firsthand from my parents. Looking outward, I see BPD permeates my family in much the same way termites infect wood: it’s largely unseen by the rest of the world and, since so many in the family are also BPD, like the rages and other extreme symptoms that are hallmarks of our illness, it goes unseen, at home, behind closed doors.

    For me, the manipulative tendencies (read ‘survival skills’) of this illness was my “normal.” It took me decades to realize I was also BPD, courtesy of a sharp-eyed therapist. And though I knew I never wanted my home to be like the one in which I grew up, that’s exactly what I’ve created for decades.

    Bottom line? Undiagnosed borderlines steeped in dysfunctional family backgrounds may well have manipulative tendencies that, to them, have always been normal. But, in retrospect, after two marriages, one estranged child, and a 10-mile long “trail of bodies” of frustrated, disappointed coworkers, friends, and would-be friends, I’ve become quite adept at recognizing other borderlines. I usually do my best to avoid them, as they may not know they’re BPD yet themselves. Frankly, I don’t have room for the drama that will surely ensue.
    Still, many others I don’t see as BPD also demonstrate manipulative behaviors.

    So, please always remember, those with BPD do not have a monopoly on manipulation, especially when used as a survival tool. Every baby crying for its mother to feed it, to change it, to soothe it, etc., might be thought of as “manipulative” in this way. Therefore, we all have been “manipulators” at least once in our lives in order to survive, and many of us are incapable of handling the inevitable stressors that trigger us any other way.

  2. Wendy 26. Jun, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    I grew up with a mother with BPD and once I changed my beliefs about myself, I realized the her demands and manipulations are not about me. They are about her trying to manage her pain and get her needs met. Not about me. And knowing that lets me ask for what I want and say no to what I don’t want without expectations of her being any different. I coach people on their beliefs so they can get what they need on the inside, not from the outside.

  3. Lani 20. Sep, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    My mother is BPD and my brother is NPD. Needless to say, I also grew up in a dysfunctional household. I am grateful that I am resilient, but not grateful that the disorders of others were made my responsibility to cater to and manage. That is not role of child and not the role of any mentally healthy person to assume at their own emotional expense.

    BPD is a difficult diagnosis, but it does not give that person the right to manipulate or abuse others. The mistake that those with loved ones with BPD make is not drawing a hard boundary. BPD people are no different than addicts who manipulate to get their fix. It is a behavior that is means to an end at any cost. Without treatment, they use the people around them in an effort to avoid change or treatment for their BPD.

    BPD sufferers employ manipulation since that strategy was successful in the households that they grew up in. You cannot fix a person with BPD with love, understanding or by accepting their dysfunction. You can set hard boundaries, require treatment for continued contact and make rules about acceptable behavior to protect your own mental health.

    People with BPD feel entitled to use others to regulate their own emotional dysfunction. That is not right, but it is part of their illness. Anyone with BPD that feels differently is probably someone who has no insight into how their choices and disorder affect others.

    BPD sufferers do not get a pass for their bad behavior. They should be held accountable for their actions and other reactions. Walking carefully around BPD does nothing but encourage them to continue their pattern.

    Give them a choice. Treatment and boundaries or no more tolerance of them or their manipulation. You don’t hate the person with BPD because they have a disease, but you demand better behavior in exchange for support and contact. Relationships are reciprocal.

    Untreated BPD people instead believe that relationships are sources of support for them with no reciprocation needed or intended since they choose to use guilt instead of personal repayment in emotional kind.

    If you have a person in your life with BPD, understand that their disorder is not your responsibility. It is theirs as an adult to address. If they refuse treatment, they are someone that you will need to limit your time with. If the manipulate with demands or tears, they are someone to be ignored. If they refuse to change, you may eventually need to go no contact so that they understand that you will act to protect your own emotional needs.

    BPD does have treatment options. If you are BPB, there is help. If you love someone with BPD, they have to want to get help to be better. If they don’t, walk away and leave them to their disease. You cannot help someone who refuses treatment and is unwilling to accept responsibility.

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