BPD Recovery: Healing Broken Relationships

Mental health professionals and borderline personality disorder (BPD) sufferers agree: there is no other mental illness that is quite so maligned. Among mental health professionals, people diagnosed with BPD are considered some of the most difficult patients; and among family, friends, and co-workers, they’re thought of as some of the most difficult people to deal with.

But despite its bad reputation, and the often-severe symptoms that come along with the diagnosis, BPD researchers are discovering some good news. BPD is now being called the “good prognosis diagnosis”; sufferers, it turns out, can and do recover.

With a disorder that creates social complications—nearly all of BPD’s symptoms impact social functioning—the potential for recovery is truly a blessing in the lives of not only those with the diagnosis, but everyone close to them.

But what can recovering BPD sufferers do about the harm their former symptoms created in their relationships? Now that these symptoms are no longer wreaking havoc, is there anything former-BPD sufferers can do to rebuild their relationships (and reputations) and begin anew?

Necessary Tools for Relationship Repair

The answer, of course, is yes.

Rebuilding relationships is integral to BPD recovery. The skills needed to repair broken bonds are those skills former BPD sufferers experienced in deficit. Being willing to be vulnerable, not taking others personally, being willing to hear others’ emotions without protest—these are just some of the tools a healthy adult and a recovering person will need in life, and it so happens that these are the very tools that are most useful in healing broken relationships.

It is not possible to repair every relationship that may have been harmed by the severity of one’s previous BPD symptoms, but it is important to try to rebuild those that can be healed. In doing so, a recovering BPD sufferer encourages both the self-confidence he or she will need for sustained recovery, and the support of loved ones that will bear him/her through.

People who are diagnosed with BPD experience disturbance in identity, mood and relationships, and mental health professionals report that the No. 1 reason BPD-diagnosed people initiate therapy is because of stress in relationships. We are social creatures; healthy relationships are vital to healthy lives. The skills to repair relationships are the same skills required in building them—both with others, and with ourselves. Here is a list of important ones for recovering BPD sufferers to work on:

Learn to bear conflict. Learning to tolerate the normal ups and downs of relationships is essential. All relationships have them. When BPD is full on and activated, these conflicts often seem insurmountable. Every amount of relationship friction feels like the force of a thousand hurricanes. But life comes with smooth times and with tension, and learning to handle both with grace is a requirement of recovery and of sound mental health.

Seek validation from within, but offer it to others sometimes, too. BPDs are people who frequently need others to validate them, to tell them they’re OK—that they are wanted and worthwhile.

But no one’s worth hinges on the determination of any other person; we are all imbued with worth and dignity straight out of the gate. Learning this is a vital step in recovery because when you need others’ validation, you’re vulnerable to splitting—the act of swinging back and forth between high self-esteem and crushing self-hatred, something BPDs project onto others as well.

Asking for What You Need

Learning to feel self-validated is key, and it’s important to be able to express the value you see in others, too, without becoming overwhelmed by those feelings, or terribly disappointed when others show themselves to be simply human.

Learn how to gently and honestly ask for your needs to be met. Too often, BPD sufferers experience tension in their relationships because they assume others know exactly what they need; they believe their loved ones can read their minds but simply refuse to listen. No one is a mind reader. If you experience a need you wish to have fulfilled by another, whether it is physical or emotional, it is only fair to speak that need—maturely, honestly and as gently as you would wish to be spoken to. Demanding, whining and guilt-tripping don’t work. Healthy relationships require trust, and trust requires the work of fair communication.

Own past mistakes without blame or diffusion. It can be hard sometimes to fully own your part in a difficult relationship, especially one that had high tension on both sides, and where terrible things were said and done by both parties.

But a required skill of recovery is the ability to be fully accountable for yourself without deflection (“… because you did this …”), diffusion (“it was my mental illness that made me like that”), or blame. Mature, stable adults are able to own every detail of their behavior without having to explain it away. There are no “buts” in a sincere apology. It can take time to get to this place, but reaching it is sincerely liberating.

Full ownership of oneself is a powerful position, and a healthy place to be. This is the place where healthy relationships are built and where broken ones can finally be healed.