The BPD Relationship Cycle
ƒRelationships can be challenging even under the best of circumstances. When a relationship is new, it is often full of hope and anticipation about the future. What will the coming days, weeks, and months bring? Is this “the one”? Often, images of the future full your mind, and optimism and excitement run wild. Sometimes a new relationship works out, and other times they end in miserable failure. For people with Borderline Personality Disorder, relationships often come with a heightened level of challenge. One minute, everything is happy and going well, and then suddenly everything changes. Happiness and joy are replaced by hurt, dramatic expression, and anger over things that would be considered by most to be trivial. Next, come accusations, intensified feelings of hurt, threats, and demands. For someone who has never experienced this, it can be shocking, if not concerning. For those familiar with the Borderline Personality Disorder relationship cycle, it can seem all too familiar. While not every person will spiral to the extreme state mentioned above, some do. Below we take a moment to examine the Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis, the BPD relationship cycle, and how to break it and treatment options for Borderline Personality Disorder.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition that affects the way a person processes everyday emotions and reactions. Those who have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder are often showing to be impulsive and have difficulty with emotional stability. Additionally, they may experience episodes of intense anxiety, anger, and depression. These episodes can last several hours and then will be followed by a period of marked stability. In other cases, episodes of unstable behavior could last for several days and have a negative impact on a person’s work, physical health, and personal relationships.
A different way to look at how someone with Borderline Personality Disorder views each day, is to understand that someone with this disorder has a difficult time maintaining or returning to an emotional baseline. When something exciting or positive happens, they will likely experience greater joy for a more extended period of time than would someone without this illness. However, the opposite is also true; feelings resulting from an adverse event will also feel more intense and persist for a longer time. For friends, family, and potential romantic partners, the constant emotional roller coaster can appear chaotic and lead to intense and sometimes conflict heavy relationships. This becomes an even more significant challenge with teens and young adults for whom relationships are already often intense and complicated.
- Borderline Personality Disorder is commonly characterized by the following behaviors or symptoms:
Fear of Abandonment
- Unhealthy or poor self-image
- Unstable relationships
- Extremist mentality
- Swift and constant mood swings
- Excessive emotional responses
- Feeling ‘empty’
- Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
The BPD relationship cycle
Relationships for individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder often appear to go in cycles. For example, one minute, a person with Borderline Personality Disorder may be affectionate and doting, but the next minute they may feel smothered and overwhelmed, causing them to push away the partner they were pulling closer to them only moments ago. It is easy to see how the BPD relationship cycle could be highly challenging to understand for those who are unfamiliar with how relationships should be.
Romantic relationships with someone who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder can often be spotted with turmoil and dysfunction. However, individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder can be exceptionally caring, compassionate, and affectionate; all qualities people seek out when getting involved in close personal relationships. Despite their high levels of affection, those with Borderline Personality Disorder are highly sensitive to rejection or abandonment. Some will be heavily critical of perceived (whether accurate or not) signs that their romantic partner is unhappy or may be considering leaving them. When a person with Borderline Personality Disorder perceives a change in their partner’s feelings, whether real or imagined, they may immediately withdraw. They can become angry and hurt over something a person without Borderline Personality Disorder would not give a second thought to. They may even become obsessive over the person they are romantically involved with if they feel cause for concern. It’s important to know that healthy relationships are possible despite a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder; it is just necessary to understand the cyclical nature of symptoms.
During stage one of the BPD relationship cycle, a teen or young adult with Borderline Personality Disorder begins a new relationship. To their family and peers, the relationship seems to move forward with a rapid intensity that isn’t seen in other relationships. A first date that goes well can lead the person with Borderline Personality Disorder to view their new partner as the “perfect” partner. They may begin to believe that this person is “the one” and that everything about their relationship is pure perfection.
The relationship is progression (well in most cases), but as the days go by, the person with Borderline Personality Disorder becomes hypersensitive to the smallest action or word, which may have a negative connotation. Their partner may take longer to respond to text messages or calls or make plans with friends and family without first checking with their partner. These actions, small by any other standards, become a source of fixation and negative emotion for the person with Borderline Personality Disorder. Their fear of abandonment and low self-esteem begin to tell them their partner is no longer interested in them or no longer wants to be with them regardless of whether they have genuinely shown this to be the case. In the mind of the Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer, the relationship is beginning to splinter, and this becomes a source of constant and excessive concern.
The individual with Borderline Personality Disorder begins to push their partner as a response to the divide they believe exists in the relationship. The goal of the “pushing” is to create a situation where their partner “fights” for the relationship and demonstrates a level of concern that removes the source of worry. The individual with Borderline Personality Disorder may use calls or texts as an opportunity for their partner to prove their dedication and willingness to be in and fight for the relationship.
As a direct result of the intentional distancing, the relationship begins to fall apart. The individual with Borderline Personality Disorder waits on their partner for an overdramatic declaration of love and dedication, but this often does not come. Soon the individual with Borderline Personality Disorder convinces themselves that their partner is going to leave them. In their mind, the relationship is ending, and they begin to visualize the relationship ending as a result of their own actions. While with their partner (who is often unaware of many of the thoughts occurring in the mind of the borderline personality individual), they maintain an appearance of happiness, however, in most cases, they feel as though their needs are not being met. This makes them feel even emptier and more alone. Additionally, the individual with Borderline Personality Disorder will not communicate these feelings with their partner, who remains mostly in the dark.
The relationship ends, and their partner walks away. Sometimes the individual with borderline personality will attempt to salvage some elements of the broken relationship by trying to explain or justify why things with so wrong. However, this last-minute attempt at communicating feelings and emotions rarely allows the relationship to recover. By this time, the Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer has created such a distance between themselves and their partner that it cannot be undone.
Once the relationship ends, the individual with Borderline Personality Disorder will experience a time wrought with extreme emotional mood swings. They will go from sobbing hysterically to enraged at their former partner for not trying hard enough in their relationship. The emptiness they feel, and their perceived validation of their abandonment fears fuels their anger. During this time, they may lash out at friends and family with little or no provocation. In some cases, this emotional instability may lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors. For others, these emotions could lead to self-harming behaviors such as cutting, overdosing on medication, getting drunk, spending vast amounts of money, seeking out sexual relations, binge eating, or risk-taking behavior. Engaging in these behaviors gives only a momentary sense of relief.
The BPD relationship cycle is highly challenging for adults to manage and likely even more so for teens and young adults. During the teen years, emotions are often running at high speed. Events and experiences that do not trip the emotional scales for adults can be highly distressing for young adults and teens. For teens without Borderline Personality Disorder, romantic relationships are very challenging to navigate, as is the heartbreak associated with losing those relationships. For teens with Borderline Personality Disorder, these challenges are heightened significantly.
Ways to improve relationships for those with Borderline Personality Disorder
The first, and likely most helpful way to enhance relationships with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder is to learn about the illness. An integral part of caring for a partner who has Borderline Personality Disorder is understanding what they are experiencing and how their emotions can (and likely will) impact how they act in their relationships. Understand the level or intensity of the emotional disorder they experience can help their partner respond in a way that protects both the partner and their Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer from unnecessary chaos and heartbreak.
Emotional support is a crucial element to successful relationships with someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. A teen with Borderline Personality Disorder may feel very isolated because of their past relationship failures. They may be afraid or unwilling to enter into another relationship that they feel will only inevitably fail because of the BPD relationship cycle. As a partner offering patience and compassion can be highly beneficial.
Treatment options for Borderline Personality Disorder
Treatment, along with a strong support network, can help enhance stability in the emotional state of Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer. With treatment and continued support from those around them, including their romantic partners, those with Borderline Personality Disorder can have successful and lasting relationships. Treatment will not cure Borderline Personality Disorder. However, there are treatment options that will help your teen learn to cope with the symptoms and react to situations more appropriately. The most common treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder include therapy and medication.
Dialectical behavioral therapy is a commonly used treatment modality used with people who have Borderline Personality Disorder. A therapist will help the individual respond to emotional situations using reason and appropriate judgment as opposed to emotional or sometimes irrational behavior. The goal of therapy is to help the person think of things in a less black and white manner and to use a more open approach to their thinking.
There is not a specific medication designed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder. However, antidepressants, antianxiety medications, and antipsychotic medications are often used in conjunction with therapy to help reduce the severity of co-occurring symptoms.
For some people, outpatient therapy may not be enough for their recovery. This is especially true if the person has exhibited self-harm or indications of suicidal ideations. For these individuals, an inpatient residential treatment such as Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center may be the most effective choice. At Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center, we offer individualized treatment plans designed to work specifically on the needs of your teen. Our highly qualified and experienced staff is on-site to provide care to your teen through their entire treatment process. Your teen will work with a team of therapists, medical providers, nutritionists, and specialists who will help your teen to learn the valuable skills necessary to live with their Borderline Personality Disorder. They will also learn the skills required to return home and engage in happy, successful relationships despite their Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis.
If you have watched your teen suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder and the associated painful cycle of broken relationships as a result of the BPD relationship cycle, contact us at Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center. We would be happy to talk to you about how we may be able to help your teen and your family.