Relationships and Borderline Personality: How Therapy Helped Me Grow

Rear view of couple talking as they hold hands and climb stairs along forest trailDuring early childhood and throughout my adolescence, I lived in chaotic and toxic environments that I could not control. My parents argued frequently, and the mood in my household was often tense. The stability children need during their most formative years was not really present for me.

That is not to say I have no good memories from childhood. But if you were to ask me about my early years, the first thing I’d share was how emotionally difficult they were. I have always been a highly sensitive person, and the constant tension within my house fostered the development of borderline personality, which I was diagnosed with when I was 19 years old.

I remember crying as a child—a lot. When my parents dropped me off at school, I would cling to them desperately, latching onto them with all my might. I remember bringing photos of my mom and dad to school with me in first and second grade so I could look at them to make sure they were still there, even if they weren’t physically with me. But even that strategy only worked for a brief period of time.

Within an hour or so of my arrival at school, I’d end up going to the nurse’s office, complaining of a stomachache. In reality, my discomfort was the result of pure anxiety, of constantly feeling unsafe no matter where I went. Throughout all of school, elementary and beyond, I never felt like I belonged. I had friends here and there, but I lacked a sense of true belonging, and I never felt connected to my peers.

This lack of connectedness continued into adolescence. When I became older and started dating, none of my relationships were healthy. Again and again I found myself in abusive relationships in which there was a lot of fighting. And by fighting, I don’t mean small arguments—I mean screaming matches and the use of suicidal threats to one another as a tool to manipulate. Obviously, that is the quite far from a healthy relationship, but unstable relationships were familiar to me. In fact, they were all I knew, because they were what had been modeled to me. The last of these relationships (which ended years ago) was characterized by fights every other day, constant breakups, lies, and manipulation. Eventually, when I couldn’t take it anymore, we broke up for good.

Exploring Recurring Patterns

After that relationship, I stayed single for about a year and a half. During this time, I basically cut myself off from everyone. Things weren’t going well at home, so I spent a lot of time alone, writing. At this point, my mental health issues were still undiagnosed, but I knew something was wrong. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere, and I couldn’t understand why I always ended up in bad relationships. I had noticed patterns in my behavior that kept coming up in my relationships, such as:

  • Trying to please the other person at my own expense
  • Becoming intensely jealous, distrustful, and insecure when my partner wasn’t with me
  • Picking fights. I came to realize this was because I (subconsciously) found comfort in drama.
  • Breaking up and getting back together

When I look back, I realize I should have tried to find a therapist at this point. But at the time, getting help to address these patterns and my feelings had not even crossed my mind.

I was still desperate to change this narrative, even if it didn’t occur to me that I could work to do so in therapy, and I eventually became involved with my current boyfriend. I was attracted to him because he was unlike anyone I had dated before. He was intelligent, respectful, and genuine. He had goals and ambition. But I also saw stability in him, something I have lacked my entire life. At one point early in our relationship, he told me he was seeing a therapist once a week for anxiety and depression. Knowing I had my own set of issues that needed tending to, I was inspired to find my own therapist. Thus, I began my journey in therapy.

Healing and Growth

That was in 2014. My boyfriend and I have been dating for a little over three years now, and I’ve never been happier or more in love. But because of my traumatic history and the previous rocky relationships I’d always deemed normal, my psyche still struggles with the idea of a healthily functioning relationship.

Mental health issues can make relationships challenging for all involved. It takes a patient, understanding, and dedicated person to stick with someone who is in distress. It also takes a great deal of strength and determination for a person struggling with mental health issues to continue to work hard on healing and recovery.

Due to childhood trauma and my struggles with BPD, what most people would consider a “normal” relationship was completely foreign to me at first. During the first year of my current relationship, I had no idea what I was doing or how to act, which was challenging for both of us. I didn’t know how to effectively communicate with him or express what I needed, especially during difficult times. For example, many people who have BPD don’t know how to control or healthily express their anger. Sometimes we unintentionally project it onto other people, and that was something I would often do to my current boyfriend, even though I would feel horrible after I realized I was projecting.

Just the other week, I had a panic attack during one of my classes at school and ended up having to leave class. I was very upset with myself for leaving because I knew that doing so might affect my grade. My boyfriend tried to calm me down and remind me that it wasn’t the end of the world. But in the heat of the moment, I didn’t feel the same way, so I interpreted his words as minimizing how I felt. I found myself projecting my frustration with myself onto him, even though I knew it wasn’t healthy and did not help the situation.

But instead of fighting, we continued to discuss the issue, processing and resolving my anger and the issue together in an effective and positive way. This is something we never used to do. In the past, I had not yet developed the ability to communicate in a healthy manner. His levelheadness, patience, and communication skills, combined with my commitment to therapy and personal growth, have helped things between us to continue improving—though I am still a work in progress!

Mental health issues such as borderline personality can make relationships challenging for all involved. It takes a patient, understanding, and dedicated person to stick with someone who is in distress. It also takes a great deal of strength and determination for someone struggling with mental health issues to continue to work hard on healing and recovery.

Seeing a therapist has played a significant role in my recovery. I have developed my ability to cope with difficult emotions and am learning how to adjust and function in a healthy relationship. Living with borderline personality is a daily battle. But it is my opinion that seeking help from a qualified, compassionate professional is one of the biggest and most essential steps a person can take to help improve not just their relationships, but also their overall quality of life.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 9 comments
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  • Kylie

    Kylie

    April 20th, 2018 at 8:20 AM

    Thank you for this!! Borderline has been such a struggle for me and I wish more people talked about it with such candor and open-ness. So much strength here!

  • Julia

    Julia

    April 20th, 2018 at 10:28 AM

    Kylie-
    I’m glad you enjoyed reading my work. I hope it brought you a little bit of peace and connectedness. Managing BPD can be so stressful. I’m happy I am able to share my experiences with others, and next month is BPD Awareness month, which means I will try to submit more work to GoodTherapy and hope it gets published!
    Thanks again,
    Julia

  • Mari

    Mari

    March 14th, 2019 at 6:42 AM

    I have been in a relationship with a person with BPD for 5 months. She has been at the hospital for the last 3 weeks for treatment of BPD and also depression. She stopped talking to me after 4 days of her stay at the hospital and accused me of being a bad person (to put it in general words). She hasn’t spoken to me for the last 2.5 weeks (except for messages like “I’m in a really bad shape”). I have no idea what I should be doing. I’m not even sure if she considers us still being together. I’ve read that “borderlines” tend to idealise their partner at first and then they find flaws (it may be something very insignificant) seeing their partner as someone entirely bad. Things have been great until she went to the hospital. I feel like the period of her “idealising” me has passed. I was hoping therapy would help but the first few weeks has just made things worse.

  • Julia

    Julia

    March 14th, 2019 at 4:12 PM

    Mari,
    Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers for you. :( I am really sorry you’re going through this right now, and I’m sure it’s very hard for your partner too. I do know that both partners are affected when someone with BPD splits, which is exactly what you described: idealizing and then devaluing. Seeing people or things as all good or all bad. Although it is tough to navigate these waters, it IS possible. From my own experience, whenever I split on someone, it is typically temporary. I cannot speak for others, though. But that’s what I can tell you from my own dealings with BPD. You mentioned that you hoped therapy would make things better but they’re seemingly worse. Again, from my own experience in therapy, particularly when it comes to trauma, things DO tend to get worse in therapy before they get better. It’s because we’re uncovering and facing a lot of super challenging issues and traumas that we haven’t looked at before. Try to be gentle with your partner but also be gentle with yourself and have boundaries. My partner is the non in our relationship (the one without BPD), and he has learned (and is always learning) what boundaries he needs and how to put them into place. Although your partner is suffering, it’s important to take care of yourself, as well. But like I also mentioned, be gentle with your partner, too, because the mental anguish and torture that BPD puts us sufferers through is unlike any other. Most times, episodes of splitting has absolutely nothing to do with you as a person, but rather something that triggered her and she is now projecting it onto you. Not saying that it’s OK, because it’s important for those of us with BPD to take personal responsibility, but it is typically what happens when we are splitting, or in other words,
    thinking in extreme black and white. If it sounds and feels right to you, it might be worthwhile to seeking a therapist for yourself so they can help you figure out ways to have boundaries and understand the mind of someone with BPD a little more. It’s a very complex disorder but the more we inform ourselves about it, the better it will be for everyone, and I’m sure your partner would greatly appreciate you trying to do research and help in whatever way you are able to. I wish you and your partner the best of luck.

    -Julia

  • Mari

    Mari

    March 15th, 2019 at 12:13 PM

    Thank you for your response, Julia. I have been seeing a psychologist. I have been very gentle and understanding from the start of our relationship because I knew about her BPD from the very beginning. I have been reading a lot about this disorder (currently reading a book entitled “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality”) so I kind of see patterns in her behaviour. The thing is, we have only been together for 5 months, which makes me feel insecure because that’s a very short time. I guess I needed to hear a point of view of someone with BPD (because nobody knows better than people who actually go through this) and you just did that so thanks! It helped! All the best to you!

  • Julia

    Julia

    March 17th, 2019 at 8:41 AM

    That’s a good book on BPD! Another one that helped me understand my condition in depth was “Borderline Personality Disorder for Dummies.” It’s packed with helpful information. :)

  • Mari

    Mari

    March 24th, 2019 at 10:12 AM

    I thought it would be fair to let you know that unfortunately, she found “a new person to idealise” at the hospital, hence she stopped talking to me. And she also tries to blame me. This is really devastating. I feel betrayed and naive.

  • Matt

    Matt

    July 31st, 2019 at 11:17 PM

    How long did it take for you to be diagnosed? I have abandonment issues from childhood, sex and drug problems as an adult, constantly struggling with relationships, isolating, depression, several suicide attempts, the splitting thing. I don’t know what to do or I guess I do but I’m scared. I move fast in every relationship but this one was different and this relationship is how I learned about BPD eventually but I worry about learning about it and my mental state worsening with our struggling relationship. We both are so connected to each other in so many ways and everything was going wonderful and then her ex husband with PTSD, kills himself. That triggers my suicide attempts and the realization that this could have been my family. I’m there for her and her 9 year old daughter who has her own issues and hasn’t seen her drug addicted father in 6 years. I’m worried to death about them and don’t take care of my self and pay attention to how this has triggered me and effected me and not sure how much of this I can talk about with her without raising fears of myself. Which leads to me shutting down and relapsing and quickly within a few weeks I’m at rehab and not wanting to lose the life I have now and losing everything and being homeless, unemployable, hopeless and alone. My psychiatrist at rehab was talking to me about being bipolar but I’ve never felt like that is me and then she switched gears and asked me a series of questions and suggested that I might have BPD which is enlightening and hopeful at first. Then reality and fear of her dealing with her ex husband, now me in rehab and also possibly crazy lol stirs up the abandonment fear, because what if she doesn’t accept this part of me but she does and tells me not to worry. Now she’s finally grieving the loss of his suicide, my relapse and the future dreams together are now no more as I am trying to recover from my relapse and relapsing once out of rehab. I went to see a psychiatrist when I got out of rehab and mentioned this and he said it could take years or months to discover if this is a problem for me or not. I want to find out and see what treatment is like because the way I have responded to situations and added more stress to our relationship makes me think I need to get help fast as she’s is extremely concerned about this unhealthy relationship status of the present moment, my abandonment issues and she is very encouraging as she is finally seeking help to guide her through her grieving process and hopes that I will seek help and get and maintain my sobriety as I had for the last 4.5 years. I guess I’m curious as to how long it take and what’s the treatment like, are people understanding with you or are you looked at like a freak? If you don’t like your current psychiatrist and joke on him, should I get another? This has been bothering me ever since I answered correctly to the .com set of questions lol if that makes sense

  • The GoodTherapy Team

    The GoodTherapy Team

    August 1st, 2019 at 8:34 AM

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for your comment. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your postal/zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list, you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. Please contact us if you have any questions.

    If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, in danger of hurting yourself or others, feeling suicidal, overwhelmed, or in crisis, it’s very important that you get immediate help! Information about what to do in a crisis is available here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

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