Personality disorders are sometimes frustrating subsets of mental disorders for people who live with the affected individuals. They refer to rigid patterns of behavior that can be self-destructive. People with these disorders may have chaotic lives because they struggle to relate to others and may do things like abruptly end relationships or cling too tightly.
If you have a personality disorder, you may desperately want someone who understands you, while at the same time, you do things that push them away. What can you do to heal your relationships so that you can reap the benefits of secure attachments? If you love someone with such a condition, how can you relate to them more effectively and support their recovery?
Why Those With Personality Disorders Struggle in Relationships
Personality disorders arise from a combination of biological and environmental factors. While not everyone with the genetic propensity or an abusive childhood develops the condition, either risk factor can trigger one’s development. The combination increases the risk significantly.
People without a personality disorder have a sense of identity that helps them weather life’s stresses. In disordered individuals, the person lacks a clear understanding of who they are, which leads them to seek meaning in relationships with others, over-the-top acts or withdrawal into a fantasy world. A person who can serve as a secure attachment can act as an anchor by rewarding appropriate behavior and providing a sense of stability that afflicted people desperately crave.
The problem is, their behaviors push others away. People with borderline personality disorder may threaten suicide repeatedly. People with narcissistic personality disorders belittle those they deem inferior — even if they occasionally put them on pedestals. People with schizoid personality disorder may refuse to interact with others, preferring their fantasy worlds. These people deserve love like everyone else, but it takes strength and the correct techniques to respond appropriately.
Tips for Dealing With the Person You Love
To let someone with a personality disorder benefit from a secure attachment with you, exercise the following traits.
If the person you love enters treatment, you might expect a rapid turnaround in their behavior. Remember, they are trying to undo a lifetime of conditioning, and progress will take time. Many people remain unaware they have a disorder — giving them specific examples of problem behavior followed by sincere offers to help them find help sometimes work. Do so with loving-kindness — statements like, “You need mental help” only exacerbate problems.
Help Them Find Resources
If the individual has access to health coverage, help them locate a suitable therapist. If they lack coverage, explore less expensive treatment options, such as online therapy. If the person has next-to-no resources, you can point them to free online resources like mental health YouTube channels and psychology websites.
Set Consistent Boundaries
Your loved one’s behavior will test you, so you must set and enforce consistent boundaries. People with borderline personality disorder may threaten self-harm if you have to walk away, but feeding an argument can make matters worse. Talk to your loved one when you both feel calm. When their behavior leads you to want to walk away, say, “I am not abandoning you permanently. However, I need to take a few minutes (or hours) to myself. We can talk when I return.” This step de-escalates heated situations without triggering the fear of abandonment that is the hallmark of many conditions.
Your loved one may struggle with the disorder, but you need to manage your emotions, too. Participate in regular self-care by exercising and practicing relaxation techniques. Treat yourself with the same compassion you show your friend or spouse.
Techniques to Foster Secure Attachment If You Fall on the Spectrum
If you have a personality disorder, your job is to reduce the behaviors that keep you from benefiting from secure attachments by doing the following:
- Seek help: While you might feel distressed to learn that you have a personality disorder, take heart — most respond very well to treatment. The right therapist can teach you coping mechanisms that modify problematic behavior.
- Identify your triggers: Even if your disorder stems from biological causes, environmental stressors can trigger the worst behavior. Learn to identify what sets you off and remove yourself from the situation to use your coping skills.
- Take a break: Time can be a powerful healer. When you feel as if you can’t control your emotions or the resulting behavior, let your loved ones know that you need space to manage overwhelming feelings.
- Treat yourself kindly: Remember, you are not your disorder. You are doing a wise and kind thing by trying to get better. Treat yourself compassionately. If you behave in a way that hurts others, apologize and move forward. Don’t ruminate and keep beating yourself up over past events that you can’t change. Learn and do better in the future.
The Benefits of Secure Attachment Include Better Treatment Outcomes
People with personality disorders benefit from secure attachments, but they can prove challenging for both parties. With these tips, you can learn how to get along better with those you love and aid in the recovery process.