Home » Relationships » The BPD Friendship Cycle: Understanding Your BPD Friend

The BPD Friendship Cycle: Understanding Your BPD Friend

Do have a friendship with someone you suspect might have Borderline Personality Disorder?

In that case, you may be caught up in the early stages of the relationship, where everything feels perfect. You have found your best friend, but what happens when the “ride or die” friend suddenly changes and distances themselves from you? 

The BPD friendship cycle starts with intense idealization but eventually moves to devaluation once the BPD person’s fear of rejection and low self-esteem come into play. To maintain a friendship long-term, it’s important to communicate, find support, and avoid getting sucked into the BPD drama.

Let’s talk about how to do that!

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is characterized by a deep-seated fear of being alone, culminating in intense and often volatile behavior. People with BPD frequently alternate between idealizing someone and devaluing them.

This pattern of instability in relationships comes along with unstable self-image, severe fluctuations in mood, and impulsive behavior. It can be diagnosed by looking at clinical criteria.  

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses (DSM-5), the persistent pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships, fluctuations in self-image, and difficulty managing emotions must be substantiated by the presence of at least five of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent feelings of loneliness or emptiness
  • Unstable self-image or send of self
  • Fluctuating relationships that are either idealized or devalued
  • Desperate attempts to prevent or avoid rejections
  • Intense mood swings lasting hours to a few days
  • Intense anger that is often inappropriate
  • Paranoid thoughts or dissociative symptoms, sometimes triggered by stressful situations.
  • Impulsivity or risk-taking behavior in at least two areas (binge drinking, unsafe sexual habits, etc.)

People with BPD often struggle to reach or maintain their goals and aspirations, but one of the most distressing aspects of BPD is how it affects relationships.

An outline of a woman - one half black, the other a patterned gray. The gray side points to the heart, while the black side has a frustrated thought bubble with multiple exclamation points. The title reads "How to navigate the BPD friendship cycle"
Understanding the BPD Friendship Cycle

Why Do People With BPD Struggle To Maintain Friendships?

Because of a poorly-developed self-image and an inability to recognize the emotions that others feel, people with BPD often struggle to maintain friendships.

Whereas they may make friends easily, the duration of the friendship proves challenging. This has a lot to do with how BPD sufferers perceive relationships.

Early in relationships with BPD sufferers, they idealize you as the perfect friend (the BPD favorite person), partner, or caregiver.

They will heap affection and attention on you, meaning you bond quickly and intensely. This is classic BPD love bombing.

But it doesn’t last, and they will soon perceive that you aren’t actually interested, causing a dramatic shift in the relationship. 

You go from someone who is all good to someone who is bad. This is called splitting and it is a hallmark cognitive distortion of BPD.

Splitting puts a ton of pressure on all types of relationships.

As a result, all BPD relationships (friendships and romantic) tend to fluctuate wildly from being very good and satisfying to being a major source of frustration. 

People with BPD have an intense fear of rejection or abandonment, so even if there isn’t any reason for them to feel this way, they may perceive any behavior or interaction with you as though you are pushing them away.

They will then act in a manner that strives to avoid this. Still, in reality, this comes across as very clingy, obsessive, panicky at changes in plans, or intense separation anxiety often brought about by a total lack of emotional permanence.

For those who don’t have BPD, this can feel intense and even inappropriate.

Your BPD friend’s behavior can feel “over the top” and suffocating. And, when they feel like they are losing you or you are pushing them away – real or imagined – this behavior often ramps up even more. 

As a result of this, friendships with BPD sufferers can be very challenging. The BPD relationship cycle also predicts that, as part of their efforts to avoid abandonment, they will pre-emptively push you away first, often in the hopes that you will pursue them again, reinforcing their feelings of being valued. 

Can People With BPD Have Long-Term Friendships?

In short, yes, they can, but it can be challenging for both parties, and there are several caveats to note.

We should also acknowledge that it can be very disheartening to read that, but there are circumstances in which BPD friendships can grow and thrive.

While maintaining a relationship with someone with BPD is undoubtedly very challenging, there are numerous things to consider and steps to take that may make it easier to understand and deal with.

For starters, does your BPD friend have an official diagnosis? Do they receive counseling?

Answering ‘yes’ to both questions increases the chance that your friend is equipped to navigate a friendship in a healthier manner. It shows an important level of awareness and ownership.

But what can you, as the friend of someone with BPD, do to support your friend and make the friendship last?

How To Be Friends With Someone With BPD

The first step to being friends with a BPD person is to realize that the friendship isn’t going to follow the expected rules and norms of relationships.

It’s important to accept that there will be challenges. If you care about your friend and want to beat the odds of the BPD friendship cycle, there are two things you can do that will have a huge impact:

#1. Learn about BPD:

Learn as much as possible about BPD and know what to expect. It’s also essential for your friend to be aware of the presence of BPD. Encouraging them to seek help is an excellent way to support them.

#2. Learn how to communicate clearly:

Clear, consistent communication without ambiguity is key!

Boundaries do not come naturally to people with BPD, but they will be essential to prevent enmeshed or codependent relationships. To avoid enabling your friend, you must set clear boundaries and learn to say ‘no.’

Boundaries and the BPD Friendship Cycle:

BPD sufferers tend to view any changes in plans, noncommittal responses to invitations, or being turned down as rejection.

It’s essential that you communicate clearly in a way that can’t be misinterpreted and to remind them that you still want them in your life.

In practice, this looks like saying, “I can’t hang out tonight as I have a family commitment, but let’s meet for coffee tomorrow,” instead of canceling plans outright without explanation.

Even then, your BPD friend may react negatively in ways that don’t make sense to you. In that case, you can do the following:

1. Reiterate that your boundaries don’t affect your relationship but are there to protect it:

You may need to work through this a few times but take the time to discuss the importance of boundaries and remind them that it is not an indication of your disregard for them but rather an effort to protect your relationship.

2. Acknowledge your BPD friend’s fears:

For BPD people, a fear of rejection is paramount, so brushing them off, ignoring them, or disregarding their feelings plays right into their biggest fear. It’s always good to acknowledge their feelings and needs, even if you need to boundary them, as it will make them feel seen and heard and make it easier to keep the boundaries intact.

3. Avoid falling into the BPD trap:

It’s easy to get sucked into the euphoric highs of the idealization phase in the BPD friendship cycle. But you should use caution. That pendulum will swing back in the opposite direction.

On the flip side, you don’t want to get sucked into their emotional dips, dramas, and self-created crises. This can lead to a trauma-bonded friendship where you feel like you’re constantly saving them and putting their volatile emotional needs above your own.

As hard as it is, be aware of these cyclical situations and pre-empt them by reinforcing that you value your relationship with them but need to stick to boundaries. Not stepping in to save them when they are in crisis will be especially hard, but it’s important to remember that this is a ploy to “bring you back” and prevent you from leaving them again (as they perceive it). 

Try Talkspace.

You don’t have to do this alone. Talk therapy can help.

Take a quick assessment and get matched with a specialist who understands your needs. Many insurance plans are accepted.

Soberish is a Talkspace affiliate partner.

Bottom line:

Maintaining a long-term friendship with someone with BPD can be particularly emotionally draining and challenging. Because these relationships tend to be very intense in both good and bad ways, it’s imperative that you form – and maintain – healthy boundaries. A friendship is possible, but it will require effort and understanding from both parties.

And if you feel like you’re not managing your BPD friendship well or struggling to maintain boundaries in other aspects of your life, why not talk to someone? Sometimes an outside perspective is helpful.

Want more resources on BPD and complicated relationships?

Check out these resources:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *