Young friends are making dinner, and the man is considering learning how to detach from his friend with borderline personality disorder.

Here’s How To Detach From Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

5 min.

Setting boundaries or breaking up with someone who lives with borderline personality disorder requires clear and respectful communication — though never at the cost of your well-being.

By: Sarah Fielding

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

April 18, 2024

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Creating boundaries or ending a relationship with another person is always challenging. There are many ways to do it that can be cruel — ghosting, insults, or avoidance — but there are also steps that show respect and understanding. At times, this means taking into account a person’s mental health since mental health conditions impact how a person thinks, feels, and interacts — with themselves or a loved one.

In the case of borderline personality disorder (BPD), the condition affects how people manage emotions. People living with BPD might see things in extremes, act impulsively, and quickly change how they feel about other people. Like all mental health conditions, BPD’s presentation and impact on a relationship is nuanced. There’s no one way to “detach” — create healthy boundaries or separate — from a person living with BPD. However, there are some tips you can keep in mind. Read on for therapist-approved tips on how to detach from someone with BPD.

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How to detach from someone with borderline personality disorder

Part of healthy open communication in a relationship is being able to express necessary boundaries while being respectful of the other person. Setting healthy boundaries with someone who lives with BPD isn’t all that different from creating them with anyone. 

The first step a person should take is sharing why a specific boundary is important to them and why they want to implement it or change an existing one, says Charlie Health Group Facilitator Clary Figueroa, MSW. It can help to create a clear picture of what it will look like moving forward. 

Figueroa recommends being “open to understanding their needs and ways that you both can work together to meet their needs as well as your own. It’s a compromise,” she says. “Try not to devalue or put down the other person for feeling a certain way even if you do not understand it. To you, it may not mean anything, but to the person living with BPD, something small does matter.” Once a person sets a boundary, they should try to keep it. This continuity ensures a precedent is set and maintains a clear expectation that the boundary is not overstepped. 

However, the exact manner in which a person could end a relationship requires some nuance. Figueroa explains that it depends on exactly how BPD manifests in their partner. “I think making the time to speak to them directly and in person is best. Try not to lash out at them. Stick to the facts as you explain and share why you want to end the relationship,” she says. That being said, ending the relationship at a distance (like over the phone) would be better if a partner has acted abusively. 

If detaching from a relationship isn’t what a couple decides to do, it is possible to cope with the condition proactively and still have a healthy relationship. In this situation, the two people might try to regularly check in and express how they feel about the other person and the relationship as a whole. In either case, a therapist could benefit the relationship by supporting them in learning healthy ways to communicate and regulate their emotions and learning more about attachment style. There’s also dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which supports people in understanding and regulating their emotions during BPD recovery. 

How borderline personality disorder affects relationships 

BPD symptoms impact a person’s experience of relationships. According to Figueroa, BPD symptoms typically include:

  • Experiencing mood swings
  • Struggling with a sense of identity
  • Devaluing themselves or others
  • Idealizing themselves or others
  • Feeling intense emotions
  • Struggling to regulate their emotions

Then there’s quiet BPD, which can lead to emotional detachment and symptoms such as submissive behaviors, depression, and a lack of trust in other people. BPD can occur due to a mixture of factors, including environmental stress, neglect, and trauma, says Figueroa. Genetics might factor in, as well, with studies showing that people are more likely to develop BPD if a family member has it, National Institute of Mental Health data shows.

A person living with BPD might engage in splitting, in which they see every aspect of themselves and the other person in black and white. During these instances, a person “may lash out or find ways to ‘test’ others to try and get reassurance. They may also bounce back fairly quickly after a splitting episode or fall into shame spirals,” says Figueroa, who emphasizes that every emotion varies person to person. A person living with BPD might also have intense relationships that move quickly from the speed at which they fall in love to how soon they break up.  

These factors can impact how the other person in the relationship feels. A person living with BPD might seek constant reassurance from their partner (not something exclusive to people with this condition, of course), which can be painful. “They may feel like they cannot meet the needs of their partner or feel burnt out,” says Figueroa. “Due to shifting mood swings, they may feel confused or have a whiplash effect. Partners can also feel hurt due to splitting episodes where the partner may shift from loving them to hating them.” 

 None of this is to say that the person living with BPD is the “problem” and the other person is “perfect.” It’s a one-sided generalization that doesn’t explore nuances such as the other person potentially living with a mental health condition, how they express emotion, or other traits that affect how they are in a relationship. Instead, it’s a specific look at how BPD can factor into a relationship and how a partner can show respect. 

A young woman tells her friend about getting borderline personality disorder support.

Borderline personality disorder support at Charlie Health

If you or a loved one are struggling with borderline personality disorder (BPD), Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions, including BPD, quiet BPD, and more. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies, like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, practicing emotional detachment is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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