This is one of my most frequently asked questions, so I decided to share my thoughts on it. I think there are as many ways of helping someone as there are individuals because everyone has their own needs and wishes when it comes to support. That being said, I have definitely noticed some general themes of what often works and what usually doesn't, so thought I would outline these below...
1. Ask "how can I support you?"
Asking the person with BPD how they want to be helped gives them an opportunity to share their preferences and priorities. Often people with BPD can be embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help and accepting support from others can be hard due to feeling undeserving of it.
If someone feels guilty about accepting help, express your desire to help and explain that friendships / family relationships are reciprocal. This means that there will be times when the person being helped will become the helper and can make accepting support easier.
2. don't offer to help more than you can
Please don't make promises to help more than you can. Make sure that you know your own limits. Please don't deplete your own energy and time reserves so that you end up resentful and burnt out. If this happens, it can activate so many feelings of shame and guilt in the person with BPD.
Please communicate your boundaries clearly, but very gently as people with BPD may struggle with a terrifying fear of abandonment or rejection. It can be very helpful to say something sensitive such as: 'I cannot phone you right now, but please know that I care about you a lot and will speak to you over the next few days'.
3. Silence can be terrifying
The worst possible response for me from people I am close to is silence. I find it very scary. Of course, sometimes people cannot reply to messages and phone calls. However, if at all possible, please don't wait several days or weeks to reply if someone with BPD has talked about something emotional or meaningful to them.
I find it really helpful to get 'holding' messages such as 'I can't reply properly right now as things are so busy, but I am going to reply to you next week, remember that you are an amazing friend!' If you cannot help anymore, please say so in a gentle way. I would much prefer that to the terror of silence.
4. learn about stigma & its impact
Please know that BPD is one of the most stigmatised mental health conditions and with that often comes fear, shame, discrimination and exclusion. Accessing mental health services can be extremely hard. Negative attitudes amongst healthcare professionals still exist. Listen and believe when someone you care about tells you they have been stereotyped or treated disrespectfully.
5. Use validation
A validating attitude is one that is willing to listen, curious to understand and non-judgemental. An invalidating attitude is one which criticises, blames or shuts someone down: 'You shouldn't feel like this', 'you are being ridiculous crying over something that didn't actually happen' or 'stop crying over nothing'.
Validation means seeing and accepting someone's emotional experience and thoughts, even if you do not think they are true. One example of being validating whilst not agreeing with someone's understanding of a situation is: 'I can see how sad you are, you have been crying all day and lying in bed. I know you think that your friends don't like you, but I can't see the evidence that is the case.'
I'm hoping to make a YouTube video soon to add to this post. I hope you found these tips helpful if you care about someone with BPD.
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