Saturday, December 10, 2011

When Family Members Don't Like Their Loved One with BPD

One of the most difficult feelings to acknowledge is not liking your loved one who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  If you have experienced these feelings, please know that you are not alone and it is a very difficult situation with many possible causes. How to manage these feelings is an important, complex question with many different possible causes and options.

First consider what has led to these feelings? Maybe you can pinpoint the one thing that if it didn’t exist you wouldn’t feel the way you do? Knowing the source of your feelings helps to clarify the options.  That is the first step.  I’ve listed some possibilities below:

1.   Can you remember what your daughter was like before her symptoms became more dominant?  Can you separate her personality from her disorder? Because the disorder is so difficult and overwhelming, sometimes BPD becomes all we see even though if we look more carefully we can see the person separate from the disorder.  Maybe take some time and list the symptoms of BPD and then list the behaviors that your daughter displays that fit the symptoms.  Then write down the her  personality characteristics that are not symptoms of BPD.

If what you don’t like is the disorder, maybe try to increase opportunities to interact with her when her symptoms are less prominent.  This may not be easy to do, but sometimes the disorder is so demanding that when someone is doing better families breath a sigh of relief that they can pay attention to other people and other needs.  Thus they don’t get to experience the person who has BPD when s/he is doing well.

While absolutely normal and understandable, interacting only when the person with BPD is experiencing difficulty sometimes leads to increased symptoms on the part of the person with BPD (not conscious) because they feel abandoned when they are doing better.  The connection with parents can become about discord. Feeling attached through anger is better than no attachment for the person with BPD.  This can be very wearing on parents and other family members.  If this is the case, then it is possible (though a lot of work) to change this pattern.

2.  Is it is a question of her behavior or choices being contradictory to your values?  If so, then is her behavior reflective of her values or her disorder? Do you understand the reasons she is behaving the way she does?  Understanding the reasons someone behaves the way they do sometimes helps us accept though not approve or support.  Is it possible to dislike the behavior but love the person?  And if her choices do reflect different values, can you find acceptance that she believes differently than you?

3.  Is it her behavior toward you that is the final straw?  As a behaviorist, I believe that all behavior has a purpose, even when it is part of a disorder.  Can you identify what purpose her behavior toward you might have? What does her behavior toward you accomplish for her (such as increased contact with you as noted in number 1)?   After the reason for the behavior is known, then changes in the results of the behavior can change  the behavior.

4.  Are you experiencing chronic stress or compassion burnout?  Not liking someone we used to like, someone we’ve given a lot of time and energy to, is a common symptom of both of these situations.  It may be that you need to set more limits, give yourself more breaks, and do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.  Finding support that works for you, validating yourself and your own needs would also be helpful.  You might also evaluate whether you are giving too much and need to reconsider your limits.

5.  Could this be about sadness for you?  Are you feeling discouraged?  Are you feeling hopeless, perhaps like a failure?  Or afraid?  When you see your daughter is it painful for you because of your own feelings? It may be that seeing her brings up painful feelings for you and that could make you not want to be around her.  In this situation, taking a look at your feelings and how to resolve them or accept them might help.

6.  Are you constantly on edge, waiting for the next crisis? Are you attempting to control what you can’t control?  This can also lead to exhaustion and resentment.  Sometimes having a crisis plan, so that it is concrete and clear what you can do and what you can’t do could be helpful.

7.  One option is of course  that you don’t like her. It may be that completely accepting that fact will help you. What you think and feel is valid and self-validation would mean not judging yourself for your thoughts and feelings. Then, remember that validation is not a communication of love or liking, just as it is not agreeing.  It is acceptance and recognition that the other person has thoughts and feelings and has a right to her thoughts and feelings, whether it is someone you love or someone you don’t want to spend a single minute with.  I would say that every person in the world has a right to their thoughts and feelings. Maybe separating validation from love or liking would help. When you validate her thoughts and feelings you are not communicating that you like or love her.

Plus, validation of her thoughts and feelings could make your interactions easier which could lead to your feelings changing.  Or not.

Finally, you might consider talking with a therapist who is knowledgeable about BPD to help sort out your thoughts and feelings.

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