Having any relationship where BPD is a factor is a challenge in itself, but what happens when you are faced with suddenly not being important anymore? Suddenly, your relationship goes from almost perfect to the complete opposite: cut off, treated with disdain and resentment, and arguing about everything.
Is this devaluation? What does BPD devaluation look like in real life, and how do you deal with it? Can you, as a person with BPD, manage it so you can have healthier relationships?
In this article, we’ll explore BPD devaluation from all angles, with insights for both people with BPD who want to understand and escape the devaluation/idealization cycle and for people on the receiving end of BPD devaluation trying to make sense of it all.
- BPD: Quick Overview
- For People With BPD
- What Is BPD Devaluation?
- Why Does BPD Devaluation Happen?
- The Impact on Relationships
- Steps To Manage Devaluation
- For People Affected by BPD Devaluation
- What It Feels Like To Be Devalued
- What Are The Signs of the Devaluation Phase?
- It’s Not Your Fault
- How To Respond To BPD Devaluation
- Moving On
- BPD Devaluation FAQs
BPD: Quick Overview
If you’re already very familiar with BPD, what it is, and how it manifests in people, feel free to skip over this part.
But if you’re new to this, it’s worth taking a moment to understand what BPD is and how it affects people.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to manage their emotions, negatively impacting their relationships. People with BPD characteristically struggle to maintain healthy relationships, so much so that a pattern of unstable and intense relationships is one of its main symptoms.
People with BPD feel things intensely, but because they cannot regulate their emotions, they generally respond to what they’re feeling in an inappropriate or dysfunctional way. Together with mood swings, this leads to relationships that fluctuate wildly between feeling really good and feeling really bad.
One of the biggest challenges for people with BPD – and those who love them – is trying to understand and deal with how relationships progress. Unlike healthy relationships, BPD relationships follow a predictable pattern of intense infatuation and inevitable devaluation.
It’s the last bit that can be incredibly difficult to deal with.
For people affected by BPD, dealing with devaluation is confusing and painful. In this discussion, we will explore precisely what devaluation is, how it affects the people in relationships from both perspectives and how each party can deal with it.
While this is not a substitute for professional input from a mental health professional, it should give you a broader understanding of how and why devaluation occurs and what to expect going forward.
Here’s a video explainer if you want to dive into this topic further:
For People With BPD
Learning about devaluation and why it happens can be empowering for those with BPD. The first step for those who want to improve their interactions with others and have more balanced relationships is learning about the challenge to overcome it.
What Is BPD Devaluation?
Devaluation is the point in a relationship where a person with BPD switches from believing someone is perfect or ideal to perceiving them as bad or worthless. This usually follows a period of anxiety and paranoia triggered by the BPD person’s low self-worth.
To better understand where devaluation fits in, here’s a quick summary of how the BPD relationship cycle looks in real life:
This is the “honeymoon phase,” where the BPD person sees the other person as perfect. All their attention, time, and effort is invested into this one person – their Favorite Person – and in conveying their love or affection to them.
This often looks like a relationship that progresses rapidly and is intense, with the BPD person showering the other person with gifts and compliments (also known as love bombing).
2. Anxiety and Paranoia
When the initial euphoria wears off, and the BPD person starts to second-guess their value and worth and whether their Favorite Person actually cares about them.
This can look like obsessive clinginess, with the BPD person wanting to spend every moment with the other person so they don’t ‘forget about them.’ Sometimes, it can make the BPD person suspicious of the other person and desperately try to avoid losing them.
A thought process called splitting leads to this phase, where the BPD person’s defense mechanism against a potential rejection looks like them deciding their Favorite Person is worthless. They see this person and their relationship with them negatively.
In this phase, the BPD person decides their Favorite Person isn’t worth their time or effort, so it often looks like the opposite of idealization. Here, they avoid the other person, mistreat them, or pick fights with them.
4. Pushing Away:
Following the devaluation, the person with BPD will push away the other party – partly as a means of gaining control over what they expect to be abandonment or rejection, but also as a reaction to the intense anger, fear, and resentment they suddenly feel towards that person.
The BPD person may initiate a breakup or cut the other person off in this phase. In most cases, this phase also involves the person with BPD hoping and waiting for the other party to reach out to them, pursue them, or try to fix things, which validates the BPD person and makes them feel less worthless.
Rekindling or Ending the Relationship:
Depending on how many times this cycle has been followed and whether or not the parties are willing to try to fix things, this is the point where the relationship either starts again or ends.
Should both parties want to rekindle things or work on the friendship, the cycle starts again with idealization, where everything is perfect. It inevitably follows the same pattern again, however.
Why Does BPD Devaluation Happen?
The main problem with BPD is the inability of the individual to manage, regulate, and appropriately express their emotions. People with BPD often describe how their feelings are “larger than life” and “overwhelming,” and their natural tendency is thus also to react in big ways.
This is one of the reasons why the idealization phase is so intense.
When someone with BPD becomes attached to another person, the positive, happy, and ‘in-love’ feelings are so intense and so big that their behavior mirrors it: big displays of affection, grand gestures of adoration, and disproportionate expressions of undying love – all within a very short period.
It stands to reason that when a BPD person starts to feel they aren’t getting the reaction they want from this person, their emotions will be just as sizable. Feelings of doubt, fear, and anxiety about their worth to the other person are so intense that they react in extremes, too.
There are three overarching reasons why people with BPD start doubting the relationship, triggering devaluation. Firstly, because not everyone will respond positively to such intense interest.
In the initial phases, BPD people tend to insert themselves into every aspect of the other person’s life – boundaries are not always respected, and it can feel like you’re being smothered.
Secondly, their own feelings about themselves inevitably taint the relationship. People with BPD have a distorted self-image, which means they inherently believe they are worthless. They tend to find value in others, which is one reason they pursue relationships and try to win people over – because it makes them feel validated.
Sadly, their negative feelings about themselves tend to creep in when the initial feelings of bliss fade. This inner turmoil is a constant back-and-forth between wanting to believe they are good enough and simply being unable to believe it.
And since they desperately fear being rejected or abandoned, they will often attempt to gain control of these big emotions by making the decision themselves – they pre-empt the expected abandonment by choosing to see the other person negatively instead. This also makes it seem like it’s not their fault that the relationship fell apart – it’s because the other person was the problem.
Lastly, people with BPD see life in black-and-white terms; their general pattern of thinking is all-or-nothing, good-or-evil. There are no gray areas for people with BPD. Someone is either brilliant or stupid; good and kind or evil and mean; the perfect partner or not worth their time.
Failing to see that people can be good while having flaws means that the person with BPD will focus on all the negatives instead of accepting reality.
The Impact on Relationships
As we’ve seen in the predictable BPD relationship cycle, relationships with BPD people are challenging, confusing, and emotionally taxing. For the BPD person, emotions fluctuate wildly from intense joy and euphoria through anxiety and fear to anger and resentment – and it’s followed by fear, yet again.
Make no mistake, it’s not easy or pleasant for a BPD person to deal with these intense emotions, many of which are aimed inward at themselves.
The terror, anxiety, and dread they feel when expecting the other person to reject or abandon them is so intense that it prompts them to push the other person away.
At the same time, they are desperately trying not to lose the person they love. Their desire for connection and validation through relationships is equally strong. This means they may reach out to the person they’ve devalued in the hopes that they will reaffirm their love and care for them, making the BPD person feel validated and regaining some self-worth.
The push-pull dynamic is inevitable, however, because while they struggle between wanting to be close to people and being afraid of rejection, they falter between being over-involved to win them over and cutting them off, so it hurts less if they are rejected.
Sadly, it’s often the case that the person on the receiving end of the devaluation gets tired of the emotional ups and downs and chooses to cut things off to protect themselves – and while this may be a valid response for them, it makes the BPD person feel like they were right all along: they are worthless and deserve to be rejected.
It’s easy to see how challenging any relationship can be when it’s a rollercoaster ride like this. Whether it’s your best friend, spouse, or family member, it significantly affects all the parties involved. Generally, only the initial phases of such relationships are pleasant.
What follows causes disruption, confusion, and plenty of arguments. And since the BPD person struggles with emotional regulation, any conflict will be intense, dramatic, and often very hurtful for everyone.
Steps To Manage Devaluation
The first step to managing devaluation is to become self-aware and mindful of yourself, your behaviors, and your thought patterns. This can be challenging if you’re doing it alone, and getting professional guidance and support is always a good idea.
Here are some tips that may help to manage the devaluation stage:
- Learn to identify your emotional triggers through mindfulness and building self-awareness
- Challenge your thought patterns that push you to see things in black-and-white terms
- Learn to communicate your fears and anxieties rather than letting them run away with you
- Discuss your feelings with the other party and be open to hearing theirs
- Seek help for the underlying core beliefs that make you feel worthless
For People Affected by BPD Devaluation
We’ve looked at devaluation from the perspective of a person with BPD, but what about how it feels to be on the receiving end?
What It Feels Like To Be Devalued
Confusion. That’s probably the most accurate word to describe how devaluation feels – at least, the first (few) times it happens to you.
For those who are used to healthy relationships, devaluation isn’t something they have to deal with.
It’s not a natural progression of a healthy relationship, so when it occurs, you’ll likely be caught off guard and thrown for a loop trying to figure out what happened, what went wrong, and your role in the explosion.
Since devaluation is the complete opposite of the infatuation phase, many people who experience devaluation question their sanity or the accuracy of their memories thus far. The two are so different, and the initial idealization is so intense that people who are suddenly devalued mainly assume they’ve done something terrible to offend the other person.
Only after the pattern has been repeated a few times will most realize that it’s dysfunctional.
Initially, people at the receiving end of devaluation will look for logical explanations – and not find any. This is because devaluation occurs based on the perception of the person with BPD and not reality.
Taking too long to respond to a message, spending time with other people and not the BPD person, not offering compliments, or choosing to be on your own are some of the common reasons people have cited for a BPD meltdown that led to devaluation. You can see how disproportionate a BPD person’s “This relationship is worthless” response is to any of these imagined offenses.
And, since no logical predictions can be made as to what will cause a meltdown and devaluation, you may be left feeling like you have to walk on eggshells all the time to prevent saying or doing something that can be misconstrued and lead to the BPD person’s breakdown.
What Are The Signs of the Devaluation Phase?
There are some ways you can identify the devaluation phase, and if you’re wondering what to look out for, here are some helpful pointers that may indicate you’re dealing with devaluation:
- The BPD person’s attitude towards you changes dramatically. They used to be affectionate, complimentary, and focused on you. Now, they seem angry, resentful, and dismissive.
- There are more points of conflict than ever before. You seem to argue about almost everything, even things you used to agree on. They respond to you in passive-aggressive or overtly aggressive ways.
- The BPD person withdraws from you. They once were over-involved in your life. Now? It’s the opposite. This can also look like withholding affection from you. They may actively avoid you and cut you off, too.
- You can’t pinpoint an exact, sensible reason for why their behavior and attitude have changed, and you’re left wondering and doubting yourself.
- The person with BPD is overly critical and points out all your negative traits and flaws, whereas before, they made you feel almost perfect.
It’s Not Your Fault
The most important thing to know about devaluation is that it’s not your fault. There is no truth to the idea that you can “love someone enough that they act right” or the concept of “being a better partner would’ve stopped them from pushing me away.”
BPD is an illness that prevents people from engaging in a healthy way.
It’s not your behavior, attitude, or who you are that causes it. Devaluation is the result of a disorder, not a reflection of your worth as a friend, partner, or family member, and it’s not a reflection of your love or the effort you’ve put into the relationship.
It’s critical that you know that changing who you are to prevent their meltdowns doesn’t result in a healthy relationship. It may decrease conflict and lower the frequency of problems, but it comes at too high a cost because you can’t be yourself.
That being said, you have a decision: Do you continue the relationship or end it?
How To Respond To BPD Devaluation
If you feel the relationship can be improved and you want to stick around and try to have a healthier relationship with a BPD person, you should know that while a good relationship with a BPD person is possible, it takes time, effort, and professional help. The latter is the best chance for maintaining some semblance of a healthy relationship.
However, here are some guidelines for responding to devaluation in the interim:
- Don’t get sucked in. Now that you know what to expect and what the cycle looks like, don’t get caught up in the inevitable.
- Set boundaries regarding your availability, what you will allow, and how you expect to be treated. Work with the BPD person to set boundaries and expectations from their side, too.
- Learn the art of effective communication with the BPD person so that you are on the same page.
- Remind yourself that BPD is a disorder with symptoms that play out in relationships – it’s not about you. You’ll have to grow a thick skin if you want to be in a relationship with a BPD person and learn not to take things personally.
- Practice self-care, which includes time away from the BPD person, engaging with others, and ensuring you can recharge on your terms.
- Support groups and professional help is not just for the BPD person. It is incredibly taxing and traumatic to deal with BPD issues, and there’s no better way to debrief, heal, and get tools than through those who know the most about it.
If you’ve decided you can no longer deal with the repeated cycle of idealization and devaluation, you may want to end things for good. It’s easier said than done, though:
- Remember the relationship cycle that preempts reaching out to rekindle: stand firm in your decision.
- A clean break is the best way to prevent any ‘temptation’ or the opportunity to get sucked back in. Cut off all avenues of communication and possible interaction.
- Debrief and seek healing. Whether we realize it or not, relationships like this can leave us with scars and wounds to our self-esteem. Seeking help is always recommended.
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BPD affects not just those who live with it. All parties involved in BPD relationships will have challenges to face. It’s so important to offer just as much support and understanding to those who have BPD as we give to those whom BPD people have hurt.
Communication is crucial to any relationship, which becomes even more critical with BPD as a factor. Managing the disorder and learning healthier dynamics is possible through respectful communication and intervention.
It may be difficult for those with BPD to acknowledge that they are just as deserving of compassion as others. Since they inherently believe they are worthless, we should remind them that seeking help is not just a matter of doing less harm but also because they are worth investing in and deserve a happy, healthy life.
BPD Devaluation FAQs
What is the difference between splitting and devaluation?
Splitting is the thought process characteristic of people with BPD. It is a framework through which they see life in extremes. There are only two options in any scenario and no middle ground.
It means that the bigger picture isn’t seen where people and situations can have traits of both good and bad, positive and negative, happy and sad.
Devaluation, on the other hand, is the phase during which splitting occurs, and the BPD person sees the other party in an extremely negative light.
Can a person with BPD revalue someone after devaluing them?
The answer here depends on your definition of ‘value.’ Devaluation is a name given to the phenomena whereby a BPD person sees only the negative in another as a defense mechanism against perceived rejection, but this is a distorted picture of reality.
The BPD relationship cycle shows that while idealization may occur again if a relationship is rekindled, the “positive” and “idealized” behaviors don’t necessarily mean you are suddenly being valued.
Does a BPD person know they are devaluing you?
While most people with BPD (primarily undiagnosed) aren’t aware of the cycle they are in, they do realize that they suddenly see you in a different light.
Those diagnosed with BPD report that they are aware of the devaluation phase. The degree of self-awareness may vary from person to person, but for the most part, they report that even knowing they are in a devaluation phase doesn’t make it easier to stop the cycle.
How long does devaluation last?
It’s not easy to pinpoint an exact timeline for how long the devaluation stage lasts, with some reporting just a few hours of it, while for others, it carries on for weeks.
This stage will last until one of the parties either reaches out to get closer again or until one of the parties calls it off – generally, this means the BPD person finds someone else to fixate on.