Saying no to someone with borderline personality disorder can be tricky.
It can trigger intense reaction or “BPD episode” and bring about intense feelings of anger, fear, suicidal thoughts and self-harm, or very impulsive decisions.
This may even affect your self-esteem and trigger feelings of guilt and self-blame.
On a conscious level, you may realize that you’re not doing anything to deserve this treatment, but over time, you may have come to accept that you’re somehow to blame for the distress they feel.
What Is BPD?
The clinician’s “bible,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual lists 9 symptoms and features of BPD:
1. Chronic feelings of emptiness.
2. Emotional instability in reaction to day-to-day events (e.g., intense episodic sadness, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
3. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
4. Identity disturbance with markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
5. Impulsive behavior in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
6. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.
7. Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation (also known as “splitting”)
8. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-harming behavior
9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
Saying No To Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
BPD is marked by an intense fear of abandonment.
This is why being told “no” can be perceived as rejection or abandonment and set off an overwhelming wave of negative emotions of fear, inadequacy, and even rage.
The person with BPD may go a long way to avoid the real or perceived abandonment by pushing you away or by pushing your buttons.
What Are BPD Triggers?
Being told no is not the only thing that can trigger a BPD episode. The following is a list of common BPD triggers:
- A backhanded comment
- Not being invited to an event
- Being reminded of a past trigger
- Canceled plans
- Having their ideas rejected
- Delayed response to a text or not getting a text back at all
- Rejecting their help or support
How To Set Boundaries With Someone With BPD?
It might seem that almost anything can trigger someone with borderline personality disorder.
However, that doesn’t mean you need to walk on eggshells, bend over backwards to appease them and never say no.
In fact, it’s healthy to set emotional boundaries in relationships.
But it’s easier to set boundaries when the person with BPD is aware of their fear of abandonment and its triggers and is willing to work on themselves and the relationship.
1. Recognize Their Wounded Inner Child
When the person with BPD is triggered, they’re no longer acting from an adult standpoint, rather they regress into the state of a wounded child.
When you see the wounded child and recognize the unmet needs triggering their intense reaction, you’ll find it easier to feel compassion and be the bigger person.
2. Validate Their Feelings, Not Their Behaviors
When the person with BPD is having a difficult time accepting your boundary, acknowledge their painful emotions.
That is, communicate your understanding what they’re feeling or thinking and what triggered those in a non-judgmental way.
Remind yourself that there are no right or wrong when it comes to feelings.
FREE Validating Statements Worksheet
3. Set Kind But Firm Boundaries
You may not be able to communicate your boundaries in the heat of the moment.
But when they are calmer and in their adult mode, clearly communicate your needs and boundaries and come up with a plan that honors both your needs and theirs.
4. Take Care of Yourself
You can support the person with BPD and show them compassion, but that doesn’t mean you’re to blame for the way they feel or behave.
It’s also not your job to fix people or heal their trauma.
Moreover, your needs and feelings matter as much as the other person’s.
5. Seek Professional Help
Couples therapy can help you learn strategies to communicate your boundaries in ways that don’t trigger your loved one.
It can also help the person with BPD defuse what feelings belong within themselves and what pertains to the actual relationship. That way, they learn to recognize their feelings and let go of projecting on to their partner.
Online therapy is also an option. It can be much more affordable than in-person therapy, but can be equally effective. (source)
I recommend Online-Therapy.com for affordable online therapy.
(Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link, which means I receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you choose to use this link. You will get 20% off your first month)
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR), © 2021 by the American Psychiatric Association. All rights reserved.