Do you struggle with saying ‘No’ to someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD)? This guide should help you.
It features crucial tips for handling difficult conversations with someone with BPD.
In my role as a life coach, I am often helping clients communicate better with those closest to them.
That’s why I’m keen to share this guide with you.
So, let’s dive in.
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness, characterized by extreme mood swings. These are often described as BPD episodes.
Sufferers of BPD tend to experience extremes of happiness and despair. The latter can result in angry outbursts (BPD rage), emotional distress, self-destructive behaviours such as binge eating, taking drugs or even suicidal thoughts.
It’s often caused by fears of abandonment, which appear to be triggered somewhat easily in BPD sufferers.
Disagreeing with a BPD sufferer or declining one of their requests can be enough to trigger their fear of abandonment and cause a BPD episode.
This makes it very difficult to enjoy interpersonal relationships with BPD sufferers.
The guide below should help you though. It features 20 tips to help you disagree or say ‘No’ to someone with BPD without triggering an episode.
20 Ways: Saying No To Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
These tips will help protect the feelings of a BPD sufferer when you need to say ‘No’ to them.
1. Listen To What They Say
People with BPD are quick to find reasons why someone doesn’t seem to care about them. So, make sure to listen to their reasons why they want something. Don’t dismiss their desires automatically without hearing them out. That will make them feel unwanted and is more likely to trigger a BPD episode.
2. Give Them The Reasons Why You’re Saying ‘No’
A straight ‘No’ without an explanation is likely to lead BPD sufferers to assume the worst as far as your feelings towards them.
To minimise the risk of triggering a BPD episode half-way through your explanation, you may want to preface it with your reasons why you’re saying ‘No’ before you actually say it.
3. Remember BPD Sufferers Usually Have A Fear Of Abandoment
So, anything you can say to reassure them of your love for them will help.
4. Keep Things Simple
It’s best to use short clear sentences when saying no to anyone with BPD. If you say too much, you place unnecessary risk of them reading too deeply into your words and their insecurities being triggered.
5. If Your Answer Is ‘Not Now’, Say That
A straight ‘No’ might lead someone with BPD to assume you mean ‘never’ and blow up. Saying ‘not right now’ with your reasoning can help to soften the blow. You can also encourage them to ask you again in a few days.
6. Give Them An Alternative
“No, you can’t have X, but maybe you’d like Y or Z instead.”
This can also help to soften the blow, reaffirm your love and prevent a BPD sufferer from feeling unloved.
7. Explain How You’re Feeling
In any disagreement, it’s important to explain how you’re feeling. This will help prevent a borderline person from automatically assuming you’re being abandoned or rejected.
8. Ask Them To Explain How They’re Feeling
If you spot a person with BPD on the cusp of an intense mood swing, it can help to ask them to explain how they’re feeling. This can help to release some tension, allow logic to their emotions and stop them from feeling abandoned. At the very least, it will help you to correct any false assumptions they’re experiencing about your feelings towards them.
9. Pre-Empt How They May Be Feeling
If you have the emotional intelligence to say “I bet you’re feeling like XYZ right now, but actually that’s not true”, this can help to prevent you from sparking an emotional roller-coaster in one of your friends.
The better you understand your BPD relationship or the BPD struggle in general, the easier this will become.
10. Offer Plenty Of Reassurance
It will never hurt to remind your friend that saying ‘No’ doesn’t change your relationship with them. The more you can say and do to show this person that you love them, the easier it becomes to manage their episodes.
11. Be Consistent
This guide is about helping to prevent your friend’s self-destructive streak, but if you can remain consistent in your own behavior, it can do a lot to help calm their intense emotions.
When you’re consistent with positive and loving behavior, your BPD-suffering companion has less reasons to doubt your loyalty towards them.
12. There’s A Time And A Place…
In an ideal world, you won’t have to disappoint a BPD sufferer while they’re already going through an episode. This will usually only result in even more negative emotions.
If you’re out in public and could do without making a scene, it might also be worth delaying your negative conversation too.
This won’t always be possible or suitable, but it’s something to bear in mind nonetheless.
13. Set Boundaries And Stick To Them
I’m not recommending that you fold every time a BPD sufferer engages in one of their emotional extremes. It’s important for both of you that you’re consistent with your boundaries.
Once you say no, that should be your decision. It’s no use teaching them that BPD rage will get them what they want.
Setting boundaries is healthy for those with BPD. When done in the right way, it can often calm them down and snap them out of their black and white thinking patterns.
14. Put Yourself First
Even if you’re in a BPD relationship or you’re looking after a family member with BPD, it’s still important to look after your own mental health as well. You’ll be in no position to help them unless you do this. Maybe you’ll consider joining a support group for carers of people with BPD or at least ask for help from a loved one.
15. Be Patient
Sometimes, you are going to trigger someone with BPD. Losing your cool with them will only make things worse. Instead, you need to learn how to calm them down while keeping your own emotions in check.
16. Learn More About BPD
The more you learn about this illness, the easier you’ll find it to diffuse troublesome situations. “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me” and “Stop Walking On Eggshells” are two highly recommended books for assistance.
17. Don’t Take Their Insults To Heart
It’s common for BPD sufferers to hurl verbal abuse at those who love them the most. Of course, this can lead to hurt feelings, but it’s important to remember that these people (usually) don’t mean it. Most likely, they were showing love to you a few hours or days ago, and they’ll probably return to that mood soon. Don’t let their words affect your self-image.
18. Take Self-Harm And Suicidal Threats Seriously
These might seem like empty threats or a way to get attention, but you should take all self-harm threats seriously. Some 10% of BPD deaths are from suicide, due to their frequent mood changes and tendency for impulsive behaviour. Call an emergency hotline to seek professional help.
19. Encourage Therapy
Unlike sufferers of other personality disorders, many people with BPD will welcome the idea of receiving help from a mental health professional. In most cases, they’re sick of experiencing chronic feelings of sadness and just want to get better. There are plenty of cases of BPD recovery after dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) in particular.
Still, you’ll want to be intelligent about when and how you suggest therapy. Wait until a calm moment when you can recommend them to seek treatment in a loving and supportive way, showing that you really care and that’s why you want them to get help.
20. Remember It’s Not Their Fault
Borderline Personality Disorder is a real mental health condition, which features in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The self-destructive behaviors of the sufferers aren’t their fault. Remind yourself of this whenever you get frustrated by the conflicts caused as a result of a perceived slight.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s round off this article with some frequently asked questions about dealing with people who have BPD.
What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder?
Mental health experts have found evidence to suggest you may be more likely to suffer from BPD if a family member has previously struggled with it, atlhough not enough for it to be described as a genetic condition.
More likely, it’s caused by environmental factors, particarly as most people are diagnosed during early adulthood.
Often, people with BPD report having suffered from unstable relationships with parents, childhood abuse or some other form of trauma.
You’ll often find people with BPD have co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety, depression or even narcissistic personality disorder.
What Are The Symptoms Of Borderline Personality Disorder?
The defining symptom of BPD is wild and intense mood swings, called BPD episodes. These can be caused by the most basic of interactions that the sufferer takes the wrong way.
Those with BPD are often said to have no emotional skin, because they are so sensitive to the words and actions of others. You might perceive them as having an extremely unstable self-image.
More than anything, this happens because people with BPD fear abandonment. They often feel misunderstood, even though it’s usually them misinterpreting others’ intentions.
During a BPD episode, a sufferer is prone to impulsive behavior or coping mechanisms such as substance abuse. These BPD symptoms are all ways the sufferer tries to deal with the emotional pain.
BPD is not a physical illness, so you won’t find any physical symptoms other than perhaps nervous body language, or clues that they have been engaging in the above behaviors.
Is Borderline Personality Disorder Different To Bipolar Disorder?
These two conditions have similar symptoms – such as mood swings and a lack of impulse control – but they are different.
When someone is bipolar, they can swing from periods of happiness to manic depression. This is rarely caused by interpersonal conflict and can last days, weeks or months.
With Borderline Personality Disorder, the swings in behavior are caused by interactions with other people, but they are easier to prevent and calm.
What Are Some Common BPD Triggers?
Saying no to someone with BPD can trigger an episode, but these aren’t the only triggers.
Some other triggers include;
- feeling ignored;
- feeling ‘left out’ of a conversation or a friendship group;
- a passive-aggressive comment;
- a partner making plans without them;
- having their ideas rejected;
- having their support rejected;
- having their request for support rejected.
You may see that many of these triggers can link to thoughts of rejection or abandonment, and that’s what triggers BPD episodes more than anything else.
How Does A Borderline React To Rejection?
Rejection is the main cause of a ‘BPD trigger’ or a ‘BPD episode’. This is a violent mood swing, where the sufferer will become extremely upset and often very angry.
Do People With BPD Have Trouble With Boundaries?
People with BPD tend to take it personally when someone sets healthy boundaries. They might react badly to this perceived slight, when this person was simply standing up for themselves.
How To Communicate With Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
The article above explains how to say no to someone with BPD, but the basic guidelines apply with all forms of conversation.
To avoid triggering someone with BPD, it’s always best to be clear about feelings and explain them fully, while keeping things simple so they can’t be misinterpreted.
The more you can reassure someone with BPD that you have good intentions for them, the better.
Can You Trust Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder?
It can be difficult to trust someone with BPD, because they are prone to letting their emotions get the better of them.
When this happens, they can quickly turn on loved ones and/or engage in spontaneous self-destructive behaviors.
How To Detach From Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
If you decide you want nothing to do with someone who has BPD, it’s best to tell them rather than ‘ghost’ them. This way, you can both move on with your lives faster.
It’s best for both of you that you don’t blame them for wanting to detach, even if that’s the case.
Stay calm, even if they overreact. Consider telling them in a safe public location, or maybe even over the phone, if you’re worried about them engaging in risky behaviors.
How Do You End Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder?
Break-ups are difficult at the best of times, but there are two key reasons why you may find it especially difficult to break up with someone who has BPD.
For starters, you might feel responsible for their well-being. Perhaps you’ll feel guilty about them being unable to continue without you. Could it be that you feel like their ‘knight in shining armor’ who makes life worth living for them?
Secondly, you may be worrying about their reaction. In all likelihood, you’ve seen them freak out over much less.
Either way, you have to put your own needs first. If taking care of your BPD partner is destroying your mental health and leaving you emotionally exhausted, it’s right to break up. If their compulsive behavior has led them to do something unforgivable, breaking up is also the only option.
Perhaps you’ll alert some family members or your BPD partner’s psychiatrist so they’re prepared to take care of your soon-to-be ex-partner in the aftermath.
It’s important to choose your words wisely during a break-up. Be compassionate and avoid blaming them.
Afterwards, it’s recommended to go full ‘no contact’. The silent treatment might seem harsh, but it will help you both recover quicker.
Any More Questions
Thanks for reading my article on saying no to people with BPD. I know this is a difficult situation and I hope the guide helps you.
If you have any questions on this topic, feel free to write them in the comments section below.
It would be great to hear from you.