Do you have a loved one who suffers from a personality disorder?
If you do, then you know that it is not only the person with the diagnosis who is affected, but anyone who cares for them.
Being close to someone with a personality disorder can feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster at the mercy of your loved one’s symptoms.
People with personality disorders generally have difficulties regulating their emotions and behaviours and this impacts on their ability to maintain relationships. They often display mood swings, angry outbursts, abandonment issues and impulsive or irrational behaviour, which can understandably take a heavy toll on family and friends.
If your loved one has a personality disorder, it is important to realise that they are suffering and their behaviour is not about you but a response to deep emotional pain. While you can’t force someone to get treatment, you can help stabilise the relationship by setting boundaries, establishing limits, improving communication and managing your own reactions.
How to be in connection with a Person who has a Personality Disorder
Communication: communicating with a person with a personality disorder can be very challenging as the personality disorder distorts both the messages they hear and the messages they are trying to express.
1. Listen actively and be sympathetic. Show interest and avoid interrupting or trying to redirect the conversation. Set aside judgments, criticism and blame.
2. Focus on the emotions rather than words. People with a personality disorder need their emotional pain acknowledged and validated. Listen to the emotion they are trying to communicate rather than focusing on the words.
3. Try to stay calm. Avoid getting defensive no matter how outrageous the accusations. If needed, walk away and give yourself space.
4. Distract your loved one when they get overly emotional. Use anything that changes the mood, distracts and, if possible, is also soothing. Humour well timed and delivered in a sensitive manner can work wonders.
5. Don’t always talk about the disorder. Your lives aren’t defined only by the disorder – discuss other interests. The diagnosis does not define who they are – it is simply what they have learnt to do (usually in an attempt to get what they need).
Set boundaries: you can help your loved one gain control over their behaviour by setting and enforcing healthy limits.
1. Pick the right time. You should discuss these boundaries at a time when you’re both calm and not in the heat of an argument.
2. Make your expectations clear. Decide what behaviour you will and will not tolerate. Make sure everyone in the family is in agreement and knows the consequences. Explain why the boundaries are necessary.
3. Avoid making threats or giving ultimatums unless you are prepared to follow through. It is human nature to test limits.
4. Don’t tolerate abusive behaviour. You should not have to put up with verbal or physical abuse. Even though your loved one’s behaviour is caused by a personality disorder, it is still real and damaging to you and other family members.
5. Avoid enabling. You are not responsible for protecting the person with a personality disorder from the consequences of their actions. Encourage responsibility.
The home environment: Look for ways to create a calm, relaxed environment. Aim to be consistent, reliable and predictable where possible. When a person with a personality disorder is in crisis mode it is recommended that important issues are not discussed by members of the household at that time. Raise issues when things have settled down. Keep your cool, prevent escalating arguments where possible and avoid getting caught up in fruitless argument.
DON’T IGNORE THREATS OF SUICIDE OR SELF DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOUR. If you think your loved one is at an immediate risk of suicide or self-harm, seek help. Call their therapist or emergency services on 000. DO NOT leave the person alone.
When you live with a loved one who has a personality disorder, you may find yourself putting all your energy into them at the expense of your own needs. This will likely lead to resentment, exhaustion, depression and even physical illness.
1. Your own needs are also important. Give yourself permission to have a life of your own. It is important to relax and have time for fun.
2. Don’t isolate yourself. Stay in touch with family and friends. You need people who will listen, support, care for you and give you reality checks.
3. Join a support group. It is good to be around others who know what you are going through.
4. Take care of your physical health. Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep.
5. Learn how to manage stress. You are not responsible for another person’s actions or behaviours. Remember – you didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it and you can’t control it.
If you are living with a loved one with a personality disorder and would like help, contact Wellbeing Therapy Space -firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 1300 208 680.
Author: Claire Mansveld of Hey Zeus Creative and edited by Rebecca Dallard
Photo by Mark Asthoff of Unsplash