Having a family member with a personality disorder can make life difficult. Personality disorders tend to have significant disruptions on relationships. It can leave a family member feeling responsible, guilty, angry, and hopeless.
A personality disorder is a different kind of mental health challenge when compared to depression or anxiety. With other mental health challenges, the person who experiences that challenge can see there is a problem. They do not like the effect it has on their life and take steps to change.
A person with a personality disorder does not see that they have a problem and can see the devastation their behavior creates in their lives. But this person believes that the problem lies outside of them and views the need to change as the problem of those around them.
Ego-dystonic Vs. Ego-syntonic
Emotional struggles are considered to be ego-dystonic. Personality disorders are considered to be ego-syntonic. This difference makes the world of difference in understanding family members with a personality disorder.
Ego-dystonic and Emotional Disorders
With emotional struggles like depression and anxiety, these are considered "ego dystonic". Ego dystonic is when your thoughts, impulses, behaviors, attitudes, emotions, etc. are felt to be unacceptable or inconsistent with your personality: "I don't like how I feel, I need to change it."
If I am depressed, I notice that this emotion is not consistent to how I want to feel or with my personality and who I am or want to be as a person. I understand that depression comes from within myself and it's my responsibility to change this if I want to be happy.
Ego-syntonic and Personality Disorders
With personality disorders, these disorders are considered "ego syntonic". Ego syntonic refers to thoughts, impulses, behaviors, attitudes, emotions, etc. are aligned with your personality: "I don't like how I feel, it can't be me, other people need to change."
People who are ego syntonic see themselves differently. They believe their problem behaviors are the result of other people outside of themselves. Thus, a person who is ego syntonic do not believe they have a problem to change. The problem is yours to change -- not theirs.
A narcissistic person who is grandiose, lacks empathy, and pushes people away will not see this as being a problem related to their behavior. They have to see this as the people around them having the problem.
If they were to see themselves as having the problem, it would be too much for their ego to handle, it would feel overwhelming, and they could decompensate.
As a personality disorder is ego-syntonic, it can be very challenging for these people to change. They view their behavior as affirming who they are as a person and anybody pointing out anything different becomes emotionally threatening to them.
People with personality disorders will go to great lengths to protect their ego. They will externalize blame, lash out in anger or rages, manipulate and other behaviors to point blame elsewhere in order to not view the problem from coming from within. This is why there is a high level of relational instability in their lives.
Borderline Personality Disorder
There has been attention lately to how to live with a narcissistic family member. Narcissism is a personality disorder that many of us may be familiar with.
But not much has been written on living with a family member with Borderline Personality Disorder. There are some similarities between narcissism and Borderline Personality Disorder. But Borderline Personality Disorder carries with it some specific differences from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
According to the American Psychological Association, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is characterized by:
Intense mood swings, sometimes severe and sudden
Extreme emotional reactions
Display inappropriate, intense anger
Ongoing feelings of emptiness
Delusional thought process
What Might Borderline Personality Look Like in the Context of a Family?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is fairly simple to identify once you know what to look for. As you read through the characterization above, you may already be identifying people in your life who may meet this description.
After reading through this you may hear a "click". That click? It's the piece of the puzzle that just clicked into place for you.
Walking on Egg Shells: Emotional Volatility
Living with a family member who has BPD you can often feel like you have to walk on egg shells when around them. A family member with BPD will find it hard to manage their emotions.
Seemingly innocuous comments or actions can result in a highly negative emotional reaction. One moment they can appear happy and the next be in a rage lashing out at others seemingly out of no where.
For example, a parent with BPD can appear perfectly calm in one moment and in the next, yelling and swearing for minor incidences. When looking at the minor incident and the extreme reaction from the parent with BPD, it can appear bizarre as the reaction seems far out of proportion from the incident.
Your actions may tend to revolve around doing things to prevent them from blowing up. You can also develop a sense of learned helplessness. Everything you have tried to do in the past doesn't seem to help. This leads to a place where family members may give up trying, finding ways to escape, or simply avoid the other family member.
Saint Then Sinner: Difficulty Maintaining Stable Relationships
They also have difficulty in maintaining stable relationships. One moment, they will idolize you and the next, you can be the worst person in their eyes.
They tend to have a polarized, "all or nothing" or "black and white" way of thinking with these extreme swings and absolutes: you're either "all good" or "all bad". Not much room for in between.
A family member may praise you for an something you accomplished and rave about you and your achievement. They then then can turn around and demonize you based on a seemingly innocuous comment or action taken and cast you in the light of a terrible person.
"I Just Can't Win!": You Feel Manipulated by Fear, Guilt, or Delusional Behavior
Living with a family member with BPD can leave you feeling like you just can't win. You may have attempted to work out a problem in your relationship, be genuine and sincere in doing so, only to have them lash out in anger, rage, or other extreme behavior.
A person with BPD can become delusional in their thought process. If a family member is challenged regarding their behavior, the family member may start to make delusional allegations or accusations that are clearly inaccurate.
They can tie together seemingly irrelevant situations and create a "reason(s)" for why their behavior is not the problem and focus these delusions on casting blame and doubt on another.
Their delusions may include lies, manipulation, and deceit to case dispersions on your accomplishments or credibility in your assertions. It can leave you feeling unheard, invalidated, and hopeless in your relationship with the family member.
To an outside observer, it is clear that there is no fact or basis for the blame yet, the family member with BPD will often defend the delusional accusation and may actively find more "evidence" so support the accusation.
It can come across as viscous and vindictive but it comes from a place where the family member feels their identity being threatened and is "protecting" their ego or emotional state.
In their mind, they may feel that they are in the right despite the negative consequences their behavior has on the relationships around them.
3 Tips on How to Live with a Family Member with Borderline Personality Disorder
Living with a family member who has BPD can be challenging. As by the definition of a personality disorder, the family member may not be able to acknowledge their wrong doing and have desire to make changes.
It can feel overwhelming at times but there are tips to help you live with a family member who has BPD.
1. The 3 C's
This first tip is probably the most critical and important. This comes from "Out of the Fog". These 3 C's can help a family member keep in perspective their own internal and emotional boundaries with the family member:
1st C: "I Didn't Cause It"
It can be hard to not take some responsibility for the family members behavior. Sometimes, the family member is convincing in the problem coming from outside them.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a psychological disorder that has developed over their lifetime. You did not cause this. It's important to keep this mantra, "I Didn't Cause It" alive and active in your mind.
2nd C: "I Can't Cure It"
You cannot cure your family member's disorder. And it's not your responsibility to do so. No matter how much you love them and want them to get better, they have to be the ones to seek help and make changes. Until then, another mantra to keep alive and active in your mind is, "I Can't Cure This".
3rd C: "I Can't Control It"
Because we love our family member with Borderline Personality Disorder, we may try to take steps to control the family member's behavior. Yet, when we attempt to do so, we may find that the outcome usually result in you being hurt.
You cannot control another person's behavior. There is no convincing someone of the problem when they don't see it as their problem and they don't feel the need to make changes.
Continuing to attempt to control the other person will likely result in an increase in the family member's behavior plus you getting hurt.
2. Make Self-Care a Priority
Living with a family member who has BPD is stressful. A foundational and must have tip is to make sure that you are taking care of yourself.
Make sure that you are taking care of your physical health. Eating a healthy diet and exercising help the brain become more resilient and strengthen you emotionally as well as physically.
Explore stress management techniques and approaches. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to help decrease stress, anxiety, or depression. Find a hobby that you enjoy and that can take your mind off the day to day.
3. Join a BPD Support Group
Join a Borderline Personality Disorder support group. If there is not one in your community that you can join face to face, there are groups you can join online.
Being a part of a support group can help normalize your situations. As other people share their experiences, you will come to find that you are not alone and your feelings are normal.
Being a part of a BPD support group can also help by hearing about how others are coping with a family member who has BPD. You may discover new ways that can help you cope and maybe even thrive under difficult circumstances.
Teen Therapy, Young Adult Counseling, & Couples Therapy: Katy Teen & Family Counseling
If you are struggling with a difficult family relationship, therapy can help. As a teen or young adult, living with a family member with BPD may feel overwhelming. Starting teen therapy or counseling for young adults can help.
If you are in a marriage or relationship with a partner with BPD, marriage counseling or couples therapy can help. Having an objective, third party providing guidance can help improve the relationship.
Our Katy, Tx office is conveniently located just off of 99 and I-10. We are about 4 blocks behind (south) Academy Sports.
If you are looking for support and are ready to start therapy, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Speak with our talented therapists
Start neurofeedback today and experience the relief and freedom from emotional or behavioral struggles
Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
At our Katy, Tx location of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we use therapy and counseling approaches that are supported by research. These approaches have been shown to work in the shortest amount of time.
We also offer the following therapy and counseling services:
Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)
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About the Author
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker (LCSW) and Board Certified in Neurofeedback (BCN) through BCIA. He specializes in the family system including: teen therapy, family therapy, counseling for young adults, and neurofeedback. He has provided therapy to teens, families, and young adults since 2003.
Jason also works with talented teen athletes and Gifted students who experience unique challenges. He has helped athletes overcome mental blocks caused by injuries or near misses. Through neurofeedback, he has helped gifted students increase peak performance.
Jason uses CBT, EMDR, Neurofeedback, FFT, and Motivational Interviewing. If you would like to learn more, please call or email us. He is also a Certified Brain Health Professional through the Amen Clinics.