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.