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Family & Friends

Setting Boundaries When a Friend Has Borderline Personality Disorder

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Chances are that if you have a good friend who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), you’ve witnessed some disturbing behavior and been put in some uncomfortable situations. People with BPD have great difficulty regulating themselves emotionally and the swings can be harrowing to weather. At times, you may feel you’ve been manipulated, lied to, dumped on, or unfairly judged by your friend.

Learning to set and keep your own boundaries is your best chance to avoid being on the receiving end of destructive or toxic behavior. You can decide what you will and will not tolerate from your friend with Borderline Personality Disorder. This doesn’t diminish your devotion to your friendship. Establishing boundaries with your friend with BPD is your best defense against being swept up in unnecessary drama.

When Your Friendship Is Strained

Friends are drawn together for many different reasons — we often want to be around people who either mirror our own values or who represent aspects of our own personalities that we find lacking. People with Borderline Personality Disorder can be intelligent, dynamic, and spontaneous, but they often have very poor boundaries and this can be expressed in a number of different ways.

It isn’t uncommon for friends of people with BPD to become a “dump site” when that person is emotionally dysregulated and needs to let it out. Perhaps in the beginning of your friendship you listened patiently while your friend tearfully explained how abusive her boyfriend was or how unfairly she was being treated by her family. You sympathized, tried to comfort her, shared her anger, and became an ally. You did what good friends do.

After awhile, though, her frequent emotional downloads probably became exhausting and frustrating for you. Interpersonal conflicts are a constant in the life of a person with BPD. If you’re the go-to person who listens to her grievances every day, this may become a burden to you quickly. You may begin to dread seeing her number pop up when your phone is ringing. This is when it is time for you to set boundaries.

How to Start Setting Boundaries

People with Borderline Personality Disorder can be extremely sensitive. Know that setting boundaries when you haven’t before can initially be a minefield full of emotional bombs waiting to detonate. If you set boundaries lovingly but firmly and are consistent about keeping them, you will find that your friend’s expectations will adjust over time and you will be on the receiving end of a meltdown less and less frequently.

When you are setting boundaries with your friend with BPD, try saying something like, “I love you and I cherish our friendship, but it is stressful and depleting to me emotionally when you unload on me. I will always support you, but I need to limit our phone calls to one a week from now on.”

You may get any number of unpleasant responses to setting a boundary. Remain patient with the process. When we ourselves have little experience in setting boundaries, it can trigger feelings of guilt. “She needs me. I’m the one person she can talk to.”

It’s important to understand that you are not responsible for your friend’s feelings or actions. Keep trying and keep reiterating your feelings with loving firmness. Listen to your inner voice and don’t let guilt overcome your ability to protect yourself from being taken advantage of emotionally.

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I think my dear friend of 30 years has BPD. While her spontaneous, high energy and wit first appealed to me, her anger, mood swings and false accusations to me makes me very nervous. she is constantly judging me and berating me in the name of “friendship” and her “concern” for me. She was incredibly nasty to me the past few days and accuses me of lying to her, when I don’t. I see the point to your post, but frankly I think I need to sever ties with her as she has become toxic. She will accuse me of being a bad friend as she is going through a rough patch, but I can’t handle the emotional abuse anymore. I feel guilty for not being there to support her during a difficult life transition for her, but she has been so nasty to me and my family that she has left me no choice. She will likely gossip and bash me and my family (whom she doesn’t like) to mutual friends, but at this point I don’t have much more of a choice. I don’t think it’s healthy for people to keep someone like that in their life if they refuse to seek help.

  2. I too am letting go of one of these. I think they use their diagnosis as a right to use and abuse others.

  3. Anonymous #2

    I appreciate this article as there isn’t much out there on how hard it can be to be a support person to someone with BPD but it would not work for me.

    My BPD friend was my sister in law. I am very happily married to her brother but she is no longer my friend. Our frienfship was a rollercoaster. I tried to put boundaries in place multiple times in six years and eventually now I have seperated myself from her.

    Her brother has less to do with her because I was the initiator of the contact from our side. Her mothers side of the family think it is all my fault. Yes.. yes of course. That is a lot easier for them to believe and I admit made mistakes too. But who handles it well when a good friend of yours, who happens to be your sister in law and also part of her wants to break up your relationship starts self harming and attempting suicide.

    She first attempted suicide the week after we sent out our wedding invites, three months before our wedding. Then the second time a month after. Joy.

    So I look like the big bad guy to many people. I cant change that. You make hard choices sometimes and I am so grateful to be off the rollercoaster

  4. Had Enough

    Recently, I broke up with a woman who was an extreme BPD. I’ve known her for over 22 years now and we dated a couple of times over the course of those 22 years and each time I allowed her back into my life, she always managed to find a way to create this extremely passionate, fun and intense relationship with me. But as soon as the relationship was taking off nicely, inevitably she would find numerous ways of sabotaging it before it ever really took flight.

    One of the biggest red flags I noticed early on was how she always displayed inappropriate boundaries with not only me, but to complete strangers she encountered at every turn. The first time she ever came to home my home, she met a good friend of mine from work and within the first 10 minutes, she started sharing a very personal story about a sexual relationship she had with a married man 20 years earlier where she eventually assaulted the man so severely, that he had to be transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital. My friend occasionally looked at me during her personal purge as if to say, “WTF?” But it didn’t stop at just that kind of sharing either. She would even place calls for takeout meals and strike up conversations with the person taking the order and divulge things that were completely unnecessary and/or inappropriate as well. And when I would mention something about it to her, she would respond with things like, “I was just trying to be open and allow myself to be vulnerable.” What she couldn’t ever grasp is how or why those types of conversations were completely over the top and they set the stage for people to either want to run away from her, or open the door for them to further cross boundaries that would often lead to them thinking she was an easy catch for a roll in the hay.

    Sometimes I would try to be diplomatic and point out why her actions were troublesome for her, me and others, but all she would do is justify and rationalize her behaviors further. Then she would follow that up by saying, “you’re a good opponent for me.” I have no idea why she felt the need to have an opponent in the first place, but I’m guessing it’s because she knew she would never have a healthy relationship with anyone for longer than a few months before she would eventually find a way to blow it up for good. Then she would justify it further by blaming her father for every single thing she does now and has ever done. Interestingly enough, I just discovered that he too has disowned her and he wants nothing to do with her ever again. Although, she’ll tries to pretend that their lack of contact is her decision.

    I’m sorry to say this, but no one can possibly have a meaningful friendship or romantic relationship with an untreated BPD. They are too toxic and too exhaustive for the average bear.

  5. I too, having a sister, have tried over the past 10-15 years to accomadate an emotionally unstable abusive person. I don’t know if she is BPD, she drinks all the time, but she exhibits the same type of behavior. I have decided that I need to limit our phone (mostly) conversations as the last three have left me feeling angry, depressed, and depleted. The term ‘dump site’ couldn’t be more accurate. I’ve tried telling her that I too suffer from depression at times, loneliness, and feel isolated, and worry about her and can’t handle her problems as well as mine, but it falls on deaf ears. She needs the kind of help I can’t give, which is professional counseling and detox. I as well as other members have tried to tell her only to be the recipient of vulgar nasty emails. I feel like I am the very last member of our large family to try to listen and help. But at this point I am sick of hearing the same stories of her ‘victim mentality’ to the hilt. I am spent. Sorry Sis, can’t help by bearing the brunt of your sick mentality.

  6. Sometimes involvement with an unstable or controlling person can make the other person act out of character as well. If you always end up in conflict and crisis with everyone you meet then chances are you have the problem; however, if most of your interactions are calm and pleasant but one person sets you off then they may be the one with the problem. People tend to recreate the environment that feels normal to them, and for some people that is a chaotic place full of conflict to generate a sense of excitement and drama needed to relieve their sense of boredom if everything seems quiet and peaceful. Most people react to feeling used and abused. How you react sets the template for whether the crises will escalate or be resolved calmly.

  7. Suzanne B.

    I ended a 30 year friendship with someone w/ BPD. We met at work when I was 22 and she was 30. She was my mentor. Took me under her wing. We became friends outside of work. Little did I know the high price I would pay. I was young. I was naive. And, I was a non-judgemental listener. Looking back, I see how I was manipulated. I don’t believe anything she told me was true. Fast forward, she retired before me. Her behavior became even more bizarre. I was unsure of the cause. It was a puzzle. Getting together with her became an ordeal. Unfortunately, it led to her suggesting we be each other pet sitters. I later realized it was a way to rope me in and keep me close to her. I ended the arrangement after 2 years. Our last lunch get together was truly bizarre. When I was leaving the table to look at the pastries, she tried to block my way. She grabbed the sides of the table like a linebacker and first moved one way to block me and then the other. LIke she wanted to tackle me. Who does this? While we were saying our goodbyes outdoors, I caught her in a bald-faced lie. It was so transparent.

    Her husband was just as strange.

    We are still FB friends because I am afraid if I unfriend her she will show up on my doorstep in the middle of the night ringing my doorbell and my neighbors.

    She took up a lot of my time. A lot of my time. At work. Outside of work. And, I realize now I was duped. Nothing she said was true. Everything she told me about herself was designed to manipulate me. I read that persons with BPD can improve over time. She seemed to deteriorate as she got older, especially in retirement. I think friendships with persons with BPD will always be one-sided.

  8. I suspect the Mother of my daughter has BPD,from the first time I met her,which was a sexual liaison,she assured me birth control was taken care of,she lied! Suffice to say a year later I got a letter from social services requesting that I take a paternal test to ascertain if a baby girl was my child,she is my child who has been in long term foster care for 8 years due to her mothers abuse of her previous children

    I tried to gain custody but the mother sabotaged my case with false allegations,the police always take her side,now I have a criminal record and estranged from my daughter as well as my son’s,this is still on going and I live in fear,every knock on my door I am prepared to be arrested.She uses our daughter as a means to abuse and project an amorous relationship which causes friction to my desire for a more platonic arrangement.

    The constant harassment and abuse has taken its toll,she abuses my family for the boundaries I try to set citing its their influence rather than my agency,The police and the judiciary always take her side,she has lost me quite a few jobs and I have been unemployed for a few years due to her constant abuse of my circle.

    I fear she will get me a jail sentence,there is a restraining order out on myself due to her specious allegations which she openly flouts ” If you do not do as I say I will get you arrested” including sex,we have never been together as such.There is no protection from these people if you are male,the powers that be take her side and to be honest I am starting to hate the law and the other gender which is totally irrational.

    I just do not know what to do,suicide seems the only way I can ever be free of her,my daughter is well looked after and is thriving in her foster placement as far as I know,due to the allegations and subsequent convictions I have only seen her a handful of times.

    I hate to say it but these people need to be avoided at all costs,they will ruin your life beyond repair and everyone around you, then play the victim. I just do not know what to do,to get her out of my life ,would be like wining the lottery.Even with evidence to the contrary the judiciary see fit to convict me for my reactions to her abuse,constant stalking,for get about having a partner as I could not put any one in this position,it is sheer hell!

  9. Linda Burkett

    I think it’s possible my daughter may have BPD. She’s only 15 but seems to exhibit some of these traits. She has mood swings and is constantly mad at least one person in the family. She’s said in the past that I am a wonderful mother and the only one who constantly supports and understands her. Now, she is being nasty to me as well. I go to NAMI meetings and my husband and friends are wonderfully supportive and loving. I know, I am not perfect but I am a good person and mom. Her therapist seems to side with her and thinks her behavior is ok. I think her psychacrist has more of a clue. Thanks for the article.

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