If saying no to others is something you struggle with in everyday life, you may feel entirely overwhelmed when having to say no to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Around 1.4% of adults in the USA have BPD, and enforcing boundaries can be terrifying for those with a loved one with BPD. How do you say no to them without triggering an episode?
Clear communication, consistency, and courage are required to say no to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. The best way to do it is to be explicit in your “no,” explain your reasoning and reassure your loved one that they are not being rejected.
If you’re afraid that saying no to someone with BPD will see them spiral out of control into a self-destructive or outwardly harmful episode, you’re not alone.
These tips can help.
- What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
- Saying No To Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
- 8 Tips For Saying No To Someone With BPD
- 1. Be Clear And Leave No Room For Ambiguity
- 2. Explain Your Reasoning
- 3. Confirm Your Boundary Is Not About Them As A Person
- 4. Remain Consistent
- 5. Acknowledge Their Feelings
- 6. Don’t Brush Them Off
- 7. Don’t Get Sucked In
- 8. Don’t Panic If They Are Triggered
- So, how do you calm them down if they have an outburst?
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Diagnosing someone with BPD requires the person to meet criteria that include impairment in self-functioning and interpersonal functioning.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), impairments in personality functioning manifest in the areas of self-direction, identity, empathy, and intimacy.
What this looks like in real life is instability in goals and aspirations, a poorly-developed self-image, an inability to recognize feelings in others, and intensely conflicted close relationships.
Furthermore, the DSM-5 also notes that pathological personality traits help us identify someone with BPD, including frequent mood changes, anxiousness, fear of rejection/separation, and depressive episodes.
Behavior characteristic of someone with BPD includes impulsivity, risk-taking, and antagonism through hostility. These are typically expressed outwardly, although people who suffer from quiet BPD can experience these more inwardly.
Someone who consistently displays these traits and behaviors over time, and without contextual influences of environment, can likely be diagnosed with BPD.
To learn more about BPD, take a few minutes to watch this clip:
How Does Borderline Personality Disorder Affect Relationships?
One of the key identifying features of BPD is the pattern of unstable, highly intense relationships that patients display. Studies indicate that this symptom is significant in making the correct diagnosis, with 74% of patients diagnosed by looking at problematic interpersonal relationships having BPD. But how does this look in real life?
Patients with BPD manifest an intense fear of abandonment, even if it’s not a realistic fear to have (meaning there isn’t any reason for them to be concerned) – they perceive potential rejection as a recurring threat and act in a way to avoid it.
This means that they don’t handle separation well, get upset at changes in plans, and overreact, often in a panic, if they feel they are being brushed off.
This kind of behavior translates to high-intensity, clingy, and often enmeshed or trauma-bonded relationships in an attempt to prevent abandonment. This can make it incredibly difficult to draw boundaries because any attempt at a limit will be seen as an overt rejection.
Saying No To Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
Boundaries are necessary for any balanced, healthy relationship to thrive. Still, when it comes time to draw these lines with someone with BPD, you can expect extreme – and often volatile – reactions.
This makes it very difficult to say no, establish clear expectations, and draw the line where needed.
Common Fears People Have About Saying No To Someone With BPD
Those who have a loved one with BPD will know that any time the BPD sufferer feels they are being abandoned or rejected, it triggers extreme reactions. From intense feelings of depression and sadness to deep rage, the person may lash out at you, become abusive, or even self-harm.
Understandably, you may want to avoid triggering an episode. Statistics show that threatened suicide and attempted suicide are common outcomes for those with BPD who feel they are being rejected. However, this means that we often don’t say no, draw boundaries, and avoid dealing with matters because we are afraid.
How Do You Not Enable Someone With BPD?
One of the ripple effects of dealing with a person with BPD is that in not saying no – not enforcing boundaries that are important to us –to prevent a meltdown, we are also enabling those with BPD.
When we don’t enforce our boundaries, they learn that they will be put first. Sadly, that ties in rather badly with other traits of BPD.
A lack of empathy and understanding of how you feel means that BPD patients don’t naturally respect your boundaries.
And allowing them to continually transgress your boundaries by not saying no because you’re afraid of how they’ll react means nothing changes.
They will continue to do as they please, and you are the one who suffers. So how do you go about actually saying no?
8 Tips For Saying No To Someone With BPD
If you find it’s time to draw those all-important boundaries, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed. Here are some clear guidelines and strategies that will help you to say no; practice runs of this process can also make it a little easier for you to implement when the time comes.
1. Be Clear And Leave No Room For Ambiguity
Mincing words, sugarcoating what you want to say, or trying to be “less harsh” by being indirect with your ‘no’ will not work.
Be clear about your boundary – if it’s a hard no that will remain a no indefinitely, state that. If it’s a no “for now,” you must make that clear. Any room for ambiguity is an opportunity for someone with BPD to find a loophole and overthink what they think you may have meant.
In practice, this looks like saying, “I am not going to give you a set of keys to my house,” over “I’m not sure about you having keys.”
Sure, the former is a lot harsher, but the latter opens the door for repeat negotiations in the future.
2. Explain Your Reasoning
Be clear about the reason for your boundary. Whether you don’t have time or whether it’s something outside of your values and beliefs.
Make sure they are aware of why you are saying no.
Not only is this the first step to them understanding that you are not openly rejecting them, but it also establishes that your beliefs, values, and feelings are important.
For example, stipulating that they can’t come over any time they want to because you are often working, need time alone with your children, or won’t be home is a logical boundary that doesn’t have anything to do with you avoiding them.
3. Confirm Your Boundary Is Not About Them As A Person
The BPD sufferer’s biggest fear is that you want to leave them, so it’s important to tell them that your care for them is not affected by the boundary you are drawing.
Tell them in no uncertain terms that you are saying no to honor your needs, not because you are pushing them away.
Explain that you value them. Assure them that your relationship is important. It can help them see that the ‘no’ is not prompted by avoidance or rejection.
4. Remain Consistent
Once you’ve drawn your boundary, it’s essential to stick with it. Changing your mind, giving in, or loosening the rules out of sympathy for them halfway in nullifies the entire exercise.
Consistency regarding saying no to repeated requests over time is just as important. You can’t draw a boundary one day and relax it the next. Enforcing a boundary repeatedly is the only way to ensure that you aren’t enabling them.
Protecting the person with BPD from the consequences of disrespecting the boundaries won’t benefit anyone in the relationship.
Your consistency is required for them to learn this.
If they aren’t adhering to the boundary, you need to enforce it. For example, if they make you feel unsafe, you will leave. Make sure you follow through.
5. Acknowledge Their Feelings
Being firm yet understanding can go a long way to helping a person with BPD feel seen. Acknowledging that they may feel anxious or afraid can also help them feel less insecure. Try to do this in the context of providing solid reasoning for drawing a boundary.
They may struggle with empathy, but knowing that you see their internal struggle can help them to feel less abandoned.
It’s also essential to avoid threats or negative connotations to the Disorder. Instead of trying to force them into something by issuing ultimatums or blaming their condition, reassure them that you understand how they feel. Tell them that these boundaries must be established to make your relationship work.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
6. Don’t Brush Them Off
A surefire way to push a person with BPD to the brink of an emotional episode is to brush off their attempts to discuss the situation.
You don’t want to convey any sense that their feelings don’t matter. It will most assuredly trigger an episode if they think you don’t care about them or will reject them.
This can be very challenging, especially if you are feeling deep emotions of your own at the time.
It’s not easy dealing with people with BPD. Sometimes, it means our intense emotions have to be set aside to deal with theirs. Remain calm and remind yourself that they struggle with empathy; it isn’t a reflection on you.
7. Don’t Get Sucked In
It’s essential not to brush off attempts to discuss the situation. But you also don’t want to get into extended debates or emotionally-charged conversations. They’ll drag you into one in an attempt to get you to change your mind.
It’s very easy to fall into this trap. Don’t allow them to trap you in an emotionally volatile situation with them. Remember, their default is to expect rejection and abandonment.
It’s not uncommon for a BPD patient to dissolve into tears and claim you are leaving them. They may accuse you of hating them or claim they aren’t good enough for you because they want you to pity them.
They will pull you into a vicious circle of affirming and acknowledging how important they are to you, opening the door to them trying to push your boundary.
This is often the point where many people falter and give in, bringing you back to square one. While a bit of compassion goes a long way, remember to step back when it gets too intense, remain firm, and move forward.
8. Don’t Panic If They Are Triggered
Especially during the first few times that you are enforcing boundaries, it’s highly likely that the BPD patient will get triggered.
Hearing a ‘no’ is as good as a rejection to a person with BPD who isn’t accustomed to hearing it.
The result can be anything from a tantrum to suicidal threats and furious rage – and, in some cases, violent and abusive outbursts.
This is the very thing most of us are afraid of when it comes to dealing with loved ones who have BPD; it’s worth remembering that these episodes are not permanent, and while some may last just a few hours, it’s not likely to continue longer than a few days.
Still, it’s terrifying to experience, especially if your loved one can harm you, others, or themselves.
So, how do you calm them down if they have an outburst?
You can find a way to set healthy boundaries.
Living and loving someone with BPD isn’t always easy, but improvement is always possible. Many people note that it is possible for a BPD patient to learn to accept boundaries and for relationships to flourish.
However, it requires consistency, courage, and clear communication, and with these guidelines in mind, establishing the healthy boundaries needed for positive relationships can be realized.
Remember to also be gracious to yourself – finding a support group or counseling is essential to help you cope.