Overcoming BPD: 3 Vital Ways Parents Can Help

Parental action can make big difference for borderline teens and young adults.

Posted Jul 25, 2019

(c) Lushpix/fotosearch
When a son or daughter shows borderline personality traits, what can parents do to help them?
Source: (c) Lushpix/fotosearch

In my clinical practice, I have been working with the parents of a young woman who has suffered for multiple years from a serious case of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The parents' improvements from therapy in their personal and marital well-being seem to be having a significant positive impact on their daughter's well-being. I was therefore particularly struck when I recently re-read the following comment to one of my earlier posts on BPD.

Written by Loving Mom of Loving Daughter

"This interesting article urges me to respond regarding our family experience, particularly the economic and available treatment aspects mentioned.

"We are, as you may call, the 'upper rungs' of the economic ladder. Our family has had the privilege of choosing any treatment, anywhere, anytime for our now mid-30s daughter who has BPD. We found the that regardless of the available treatments, the efficacy of the treatment was determined by our daughter- whatever treatment was proposed she was not ready, was incapable of doing 'the work', fought the treatment—a variety of things happened and her situation only worse for, what she would call, her 'failure'. All the while, her father and I remained her solid and loving parents, not giving up, seeking more options while keeping her alive.

"Over time, her condition worsened. Yes, we had the money on the 'upper rung', but it did not stop her steady, life-threatening decline.

"She is now doing well. Where did the successful treatment and support come from? Two places: when she was ready, the local non-profit mental health system that provides free DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy- the empirically proven treatment/therapy of choice for BPD) was available to her in her indigent state, and also provided free or prorated Rx. Free quality care!

"The second source of support is family education. Her father and I became very skilled in ways to keep our relationship closer and healthy for all, and, most importantly, we learned to understand the illness, to look past the challenging behaviors to the daughter we love unconditionally. The pluses include tremendous compassion, empathy, less burden, less grief, and more peace for all of us. It is common for individuals with this diagnosis to 'burn bridges' and family members find it easy to wash their hands and give up- the opposite of what an individual with BPD needs.

"I strongly encourage family members, friends, loved ones, to get educated about this disorder that rends individuals exquisitely sensitive. Free classes, Family Connections & TeleConnections, are available for family members through the NEA-BPD, National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder. We can learn to support our loved ones in a way that is a win-win for all.

"For those with the disorder, I encourage you to hold on. Yes, each day may really suck, and as long as you are alive there is still a chance for better things. Search for free resources such as a NAMI or DBSA support group, your local state or county substance abuse/mental health department, or other state organizations. Encourage friends and family to get really educated along with you to build a support team. You can build a life worth living.

"There is hope! BPD is a 'good prognosis diagnosis'. No matter what rung you may be on, there is help available for individuals with the disorder and for their families."

Thank you Loving Mother for your wise advice for parents of offspring with BPD.

Loving Mother's comments highlight three especially important ways parents can help their children or young adults who struggle with BPD. 

1. Persist in the struggle to find effective therapy help for your child's difficulties.  The low-cost resources that you suggest should be helpful for many readers.

2. Seek "family education."  Family education can include learning about the nature of BPD, and also hopefully includes learning about yourselves.

I once heard a parent say to his adult child, "I know where you got that bad habit!  That was from me!  I'm so sorry about that—and glad that I've learned some better ways." 

3. Get therapy for yourselves, especially for any patterns of behavior that you can see have been models for the difficulties of your BPD offspring.  Borderline patterns are passed on through genetics, learned through parental and older sibling modeling, and in addition, can be triggered by trauma.  While not all parents of young people who develop borderline personalities themselves have BPD-like excessive emotional reactivity and/or marital difficulties, many do.

As parents of a son or daughter with a borderline personality disorder become more emotionally healthy, all the family benefits.

The husband and wife in the couple I referred to at the beginning of this article first began learning about BPD when one of their young adult children, after a suicide attempt, entered an intensive BPD treatment program.  Understanding the syndrome opened their eyes to what might have been their contributions to their child's difficulties—and to their own.

The husband realized how at home he virtually never spoke up about issues that bothered him,  Feeling often that he'd been wrongly treated, he then dealt with his kids and wife with gruff irritability.  The wife realized that she had long modeled the anger flare-ups experienced by so many individuals who struggle with BPD.  The interaction of both spouses' negative habits had made their home far too often a source of stress rather than a safe haven for their children.  Realizing these patterns and reprogramming them, the parents now have made home their place that their adult children can visit with confidence that their stay will be consistently calm and loving.  The parents' growth also has inspired their BPD daughter that change really is possible. "If Dad can learn to talk openly and calmly about situations that bother him so he is almost always fun, relaxed and cheerful, and Mom no longer erupts with anger geysers, I can build these skills as well."

Nowadays, information to help you to upgrade your emotional and relationship health is easily available. 

My earlier post on overcoming the Siamese twin disorders of narcissism and borderline personality can get you started.  I write books teaching how to upgrade your relationship skills, as do many of the other bloggers on this website.  I offer an inexpensive online program that teaches skills for living lovingly and without excessive anger.  Therapists who can help abound in every city.

The bottom line is that all children, and perhaps especially those with BPD, benefit when their parents become confident, kindly, and cooperative adults who model healthy relationships. The time to learn how is now.  The choice is yours.  Choose to keep encouraging your BPD son or daughter to get help; at the same time, choose to get informed about BPD, and to seek emotional growth for yourselves as well.  Parents can make a major difference.