• Saying no to someone with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, especially if you share a close connection, can be difficult.
  • Reinforcing consistent boundaries, especially if the person is upset, is far more effective than ignoring them.
  • Even though many people with BPD may be hyper-sensitive to rejection, if you’re able to establish communication guidelines before saying no, for whatever reason, this may reduce the chances of them feeling attacked or abandoned afterward.
  • It’s also helpful to remember that people with BPD don’t usually realize that they’re being hurtful—the feelings of abandonment, especially from past traumas, often cause them to overreact.
  • No matter how much you love someone, it’s not your responsibility to treat their condition. If you feel unsafe or disrespected, you can take space and time in order to let the situation cool off.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a condition which can make trusting other people and establishing lasting relationships extremely difficult. This can make coping with BPD in relationships frustrating for the person carrying the diagnosis, as well as for a loved one who is often trying to understand and be supportive. BPD may affect friendships, romantic bonds, and familial ties.  

Navigating BPD in relationships doesn’t require radically new boundaries or communication styles—but in general, people with BPD may be extra sensitive to perceived rejection. In order to establish trust, and work through the intense feelings that BPD may create, it’s important to remain grounded and consistent in your interactions with someone who has BPD. 

Can You Ignore or Say No to Someone with BPD?

You can ignore them if you feel disrespected or unsafe, but do this as a last resort when communicating your boundaries hasn’t worked. Acknowledge their feelings, but express that you feel disrespected, upset, or overwhelmed by their current behavior. You should never ignore or stonewall anyone, but saying no (in a respectful manner) is perfectly acceptable and sometimes necessary. 

If your friend, partner, or relative has BPD and is experiencing an angry outburst, you may wonder what to do. Take your time and some space in order to let them (and maybe yourself, too) cool off. Dealing with BPD in relationships sometimes means spotting when someone is emotionally reactive and may experience difficulty controlling their anger. 

How Do People with BPD React to Rejection?

For people with BPD in relationships, the threshold for perceived rejection can be very low. By perceived rejection, this refers to feeling as though they’ve been rejected by someone they care about, even if that hasn’t actually happened. 

Small failures on your part, such as being late for a date, being grouchy in the morning, or forgetting to text or return their calls can be triggering. People with BPD in relationships might cut you off suddenly if they feel disrespected or rejected. 

If the person with BPD hasn’t received care or insight into their diagnosis, this can sometimes lead to big reactions. A small inconvenience can snowball into something larger. 

For someone with BPD in relationships, reacting angrily to these small slights is not a way to manipulate you: To them, it truly feels like such a huge deal that they feel the urge to protect themselves from mistreatment. 

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What Is the Coping Mechanism for BPD?

So essentially, the tendency to react angrily to perceived rejection is the protective mechanism in place. If you take a look at BPD, the individual’s mind is often ruminating on the past, using past poor experiences as a way to make assumptions about the present and future. 

It’s like keeping an eye out all the time—while thinking, “I can’t get hurt.” People with BPD may also cope by impulsive behavior. This can include:

  • Risk-taking
  • Spending extravagant amounts of money
  • Drug use
  • Binge-eating
  • Promiscuity 

Essentially, they may resort to things that if they stopped to think about, aren’t good in the long-term. But there are no resources for healthy coping skills or grounding techniques if they haven’t developed them.  

If you look at the big piece of BPD, there’s a tendency to have a weak sense of self, which can make saying no to impulsive behavior harder. People with BPD may experiment frequently with changing their identity, appearance, taste in music, culture, and more. 

Do People with Borderline Personality Disorder Realize How Much They Hurt People?

No—people with BPD may have a very low tolerance for natural relationship stressors. This means that they don’t believe they are being hurtful when they lash out when they feel rejected or ignored.

What Are Things You Should Never Say to Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder?

It’s not what to say or not to say, but make sure whatever conversation you have is in a neutral space, when it’s appropriate. Consider what you’re both going through at the time, and be consistent. If you’re setting boundaries, follow through with what you say.

Criticism is a big no; don’t make a disagreement about who they are. Make sure to point out their actions, don’t define them by what they’re experiencing. Don’t depict them as overly emotional—and use “I” statements.

Announcing any kind of ultimatum is not usually a good way to negotiate with a loved one who has BPD (or anyone else). Threats, especially threats of abandonment, will make the situation much worse, as this is their worst fear. Avoid extreme language and keep your tone calm and clear.

People could be very upset that the natural consequence of their actions mean that you have to set new boundaries. That initial discomfort that someone with BPD may feel from your setting healthy boundaries is normal. Keep consistency alive. That’s what builds trust—this is what people with BPD want more than anything. 

What Should You Avoid Saying to Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder?

Three essential things to keep in mind when navigating BPD in relationships include: 

  • Talk to the person in front of you. Don’t respond to their diagnosis, but to the behavior and communication that you’re seeing and hearing. 
  • Don’t assume they’ll fly off the handle or be irrational—give them the benefit of the doubt. 
  • Have healthy, realistic expectations of what behaviors are acceptable. If you see behavior that doesn’t work for you, don’t personalize it. Don’t be critical. 

As expressed above, maintaining stable relationships can be extremely difficult for someone with BPD, as past traumas and negative experiences can make trusting someone almost impossible. 

Being in a relationship with someone with BPD may be difficult at times. Do know that if you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a relationship of any kind then it is okay to separate yourself from the relationship.