Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a serious mental health disorder that affects not only those who are diagnosed with it, but also has a profound effect on the lives of those around them. With symptoms ranging from distorted self-image, fear of abandonment, extreme and sudden mood swings, stormy relationships, and difficulty bonding and trusting, living with BPD is a struggle for everyone it touches.
No matter how old your child is, relationships with them can be hard to maintain. While you may dismiss many of the symptoms of BPD as “growing pains” during adolescence and early 20s, they may become increasingly noticeable and difficult to manage as your child enters adulthood. Your child may not even develop BPD symptoms until they enter adulthood.
Because your child is an adult, you may feel like there is nothing you can do to help them learn to manage their BPD symptoms and live a more successful life. How do you help an adult child dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder and help heal the family?
A Difficult Reality
It’s not unusual for family members of those with BPD to feel manipulated and abused. In a New York Times Q and A with Marsha Linehan, PhD, developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, a woman describes her BPD sister as “holding her parents hostage” and “exacting revenge with suicide threats” on the family.
Dr. Linehan answers, “I think it is safe to say that folks with Borderline Disorder are usually not skillful in their interpersonal communication styles. The problem is that they often can only express their emotional pain by screaming out how much they want to be dead, which is likely true.”
Hearing that your child would rather be dead is a bitter, and uncomfortable, pill for a parent to swallow. And hearing it over and over again, every time there is a conflict in the home, can feel abusive. It can be difficult at that point to regulate your own emotional reactions.
“Effective treatment requires that a therapist teach families how to respond in ways that do not reinforce suicidal behaviors while, at the same time, not punishing the individuals for their pain,” continues Dr. Linehan.
Living a Skillful Life
Naturally, the issue with trying to help an adult child with their BPD, as opposed to an adolescent, is the fact that, as an adult, they can simply refuse to accept help or to even acknowledge the need for help.
Dr. Linehan points out that if an adult sufferer of Borderline Personality Disorder does not see the need for getting help, it’s their right not to.
“In those cases, you might want to find a group for friends and families of anyone who is difficult to care for, work with, or be around,” she suggests. “The focus is on how to live a skillful life no matter what people are intimately involved in your life.”
Where to Find Help
The first step in helping an adult child with their BPD is to urge your child to seek therapy at a Borderline Personality Disorder treatment center. As Dr. Linehan points out above, the therapy should not be limited to the patient diagnosed with BPD, but the treatment center should offer a support system, therapy, and training for family members and loved ones of those with BPD.
This can be an incentive for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Let your adult child know that they are not on this journey alone, and that you will be there to support them every step of the way.
Another source of support can be found with Family Connections. The National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA.BPD) offers this free 12-week course to help learn how to deal with Borderline Personality Disorder in the family. If you do not live in an area where the course is offered, you can join in via Tele-Connections. More information on both Family Connections and Tele-Connections can be found on the NEA.BPD website.
No matter how hopeless it may feel when you have an adult child with Borderline Personality Disorder, remember that there is BPD treatment out there that can help both you and your child get the support you need.