The culture of finger-pointing and catastrophizing others' words has grown…
This post is about HOPE that things can IMPROVE for people with mental/emotional problems and the family members who suffer with them.
Secular and Christian perspectives are both included.
Recently, my wife and I had an upsetting experience. Years ago, this could have put my wife over the edge with anger, crying, and accusations, followed by days of sleeping and eating binges, etc.
But now in our 33rd year of marriage, yesterday’s messed up situation was my Helen’s day to shine.
She was a picture of supportiveness, calmness, and encouragement as I dealt with vehicle breakdown—a trailer with a broken leaf spring and two jammed wheels in totally undriveable condition along an interstate highway, while massive trucks whizzed by us.
It’s taken an incredibly long time for her to get to this point. But she is much, much better.
God has not taken it all away, as you’ll see further below, but we have a loving, joyous marriage.
When my wife introduces herself to a new doctor it usually starts with, “Hi, I’m Helen and I’m nuts.”
Like many people with Borderline Personality Disorder (and in her case Bipolar Disorder too), her illness has nearly become her identity. “I’m a nutcase,” she often says, sadly.
(By the way, we don’t believe in labeling or demeaning people who struggle with mental illness at all. I have a form of Bipolar Disorder myself. We are all first and foremost children of God with an important purpose and loved by God our Father. We are not just our illnesses.)
I share all of this with Helen’s permission and encouragement. She has suffered beyond measure—and so have I—and we believe that our experiences and positive outcomes can give hope to many.
Does My Family Member Have Borderline Personality Disorder?
I’m not an expert in the mental health field.
I am, however, an expert at surviving and thriving with a family member who has mental and emotional health issues.
And I have definitely learned how to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ within the context of mental health dysfunction.
Further below, I list some fantastic resources about BPD symptoms and treatment in case you think you might be dealing with it in your family.
Here’s my list of telltale BPD signs. I think you’ll find these easier to understand than some professional websites because they’re written from the perspective of a family member and not “clinical speak.”
- Instant, severe anger over seemingly “nothing.”
- Inability to handle the emotions of other people while demanding endless patience from others. Even a slight “look” or “tone of voice” from a friend can set them off because they perceive anger or hatred.
- Massive communication problems with other people (not perceiving others’ meanings and not expressing their own thoughts and feelings accurately, which leads them to feel constantly misunderstood and isolated).
- Severe swings from “I love you more than anything” to “I hate you!” to “Why do you hate me?” and back to “Never stop loving me, please! I love you SO much. Nobody will ever love me like you do” and on and on and round and round.
- “Get out!” followed by “All you ever want to do is leave me!” (when the family member was simply following the direction to “get out”).
- Lack of empathy for other people, which typically leads them to be severely critical and judgmental (which is shocking and ironic to other people because the person with BPD is constantly behaving erratically and expecting endless compassion and empathy from others).
- Incredibly black-and-white, either-or, false-dichotomy thinking. Meaning, the BPD individual takes everything to extremes. Either life has always been perfect or it has never been one bit happy. Either their family member has never shown one ounce of compassion or they are the god of the whole earth and the perfect lover. There is no gray and they can’t seem to comprehend gray in anything. Situations and people are just one way or the other.
- Inability to make plans and keep commitments. Plans seem to wash downstream with the slightest stress or change of circumstance.
- Impulsive spending sprees, risk-taking, illicit sex, etc. Severe feelings of emptiness and self-hatred lead them to such activities to “fill the hole” of their inner emptiness.
[continued further below]
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Does My Friend Have BPD?
Individuals and families suffering with BPD are often super secretive about it.
They know their lives are in turmoil but it’s so hard to explain to others and the person with the disorder is so terrified that others will find out how “crazy” they are that they go to extremes to keep it private.
If you’re aware that a friend has major conflicts at home and seems to disappear for days at a time or avoid calls or texts, there could be some type of emotional issues taking place. Of course, it’s not necessarily BPD.
But the more you know about this disorder, the more you may be able to recognize patterns and eventually—in a moment of love and caring communication—have a conversation about it with them.
Why Call It Borderline Personality? Borderline What?
These are great questions because BPD sounds like a weird name.
Back in the 1930s, doctors weren’t really sure what to do with people who acted like what I’ve described above. They seemed to be a cross between neurotics (meaning emotionally unstable) and psychotics (meaning not in touch with reality). The term “borderline” was first used in 1938.
So, the name “borderline” meant they were on the line or sharing attributes of both neurosis and psychosis: emotionally unstable people who were at least occasionally out of synch with reality or living in their own world.
I would have to say that’s all spot-on accurate.
Nowadays, doctors have pretty much nailed their understanding of the symptoms of this disorder and treatment has improved dramatically as well also.
So, What Happened After the Highway Breakdown?
Helen had a mini-meltdown the night after our breakdown on the highway. There was more stress during the following day’s journey and she got tired and hot and hungry and it was more than she could stand. So it turned into a crying, accusation-filled painful moment for about 10 minutes.
But it was just 10 minutes as opposed to days of what felt like a living hell.
Here’s the realistic, hard truth that family members need to recognize:
Your loved one’s condition will not completely go away. However, both the sufferer and their family members can learn effective emotional management and coping skills that enable a much, much better quality of life.
BPD can sometimes be helped with medication, as it does for my wife. Medications can also be helpful for conditions that are combined with BPD (like Bipolar Disorder).
Through a partnership with God, accepting His teachings first, and working through all available treatment options, life gets much better.
We are here to testify that vast improvements are possible. They happened for us. I believe we have a happy marriage. It’s still very stressful for both of us at times but it is happy and we feel a lot of love and peace.
The really, really awful things happen only rarely, and what I described above was just a minor speedbump compared to what it was like before we got serious about following Jesus Christ and seeking professional treatment.
Resources and Treatment for BPD
This is my hands-down favorite online resource: https://www.bpdcentral.com/
- The author of BPD Central was a co-author of the book that saved my sanity and started us on the path to developing new patterns of thinking. The most important first step for the BPD sufferer and their family is to understand the nature of the illness and the triggers that can set them off. The book “Stop Walking on Eggshells” is outstanding and is linked from the Store section on the above-referenced site. Buy that book if you can.
The most popular treatment that has been consistently effective for individuals with BPD is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Read more here:
My wife went to an intensive 3-month program in 2013 and it was life-changing for us. She finally understood how to deal with all of those violent emotions and unreasonable “psychotic” thoughts.
She was tired enough from the pains of her life that she was willing to listen and try it.
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If you enjoyed this post, here are others to check out.
- Our FIRST Joint Podcast Interview: The Couples Synergy Show (2022)
- How to Live with Mentally Ill, Unstable, or Addicted Loved Ones (a Christian’s Top 10)
- What You Didn’t Know About My Amazing Wife
- How to Set and Enforce Boundaries in Marriage (Jesus’s Way)
- How to Love “the One” Like Jesus
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