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Breaking Up With Your Loved One With BPD

A compassionate approach towards someone you used to love.

Key points

  • Individuals with symptoms of borderline personality disorder may experience great pain when their romantic partners leave them.
  • If you are breaking up with someone with BPD, being compassionate and gentle will benefit both you and your loved one.
  • Blame and defensiveness is best avoided when breaking up a relationship.
Be Kind, Be Firm.
Source: Ben_Kerckx/Pixabay

You have tried everything to save the relationship. You have come to the realization that your relationship is unhealthy for you and that you have to get out. You don’t want to inflict pain on your loved one, but you cannot continue. If your loved one has symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD), they may not take the break up well. Here are some tips to help you minimize the pain to your loved one and to yourself while you free yourself from an unhealthy relationship.

Remain Calm, Remain Respectful

It is essential that you remain calm and respectful at all times. Individuals who struggle with symptoms of BPD tend to lash out when feeling attacked or frustrated. This is almost certain to happen when you reject them. While it might seem natural to mirror their hurt and anger, this will only escalate the situation. Do not be sarcastic, snarky, or demeaning. This will result in your loved one justifying being in a victim position and lashing out at you.

Do Not Blame

Healthy individuals often look to understand why the relationship did not work. Sometimes constructive conversations about this can occur. Individuals who suffer from symptoms of BPD may ask what they did wrong, but they very often hear these explanations as attacks on their character and become defensive or sometimes hostile. In the following exchange, Geri tells Rory that she does not want to live together anymore.

Geri: Rory, I'm going to move into my own place.

Rory: You're leaving me?!

Geri: Yes.

Rory: You're horrible.

Geri: I'm not trying to hurt you.

Rory: Well, you are hurting me. What did I do wrong?

Geri: You didn’t do anything wrong.

Rory: Oh, so you're leaving me because I'm perfect?

Geri: I can’t be in a relationship where I feel controlled.

Rory: So I’m controlling?!

Geri: I don’t like having to always let you know where I am and what I'm doing.

Rory: You must hate me.

Geri: I don’t hate you.

Rory: I wish I'd never met you.

Geri felt like she didn't have a choice. She tried not to say anything to Rory that might be angering but when asked directly why she was breaking up with him, Geri felt that she had to be honest. They both got hurt.

Do Not Be Defensive

In the above dialogue, Geri was defensive on a number of occasions. Statements such as “I'm not trying to hurt you” and “I don’t hate you” only made Rory angrier. This is because defensiveness is fundamentally invalidating. It's like trying to convince Rory that his feelings are based on misperception or incorrect interpretation. It's like telling Rory that he is crazy, stupid, or wrong. Of course, he has an undesirable response.

Offer Validation Generously

Replacing defensiveness with validation will be helpful. For example, when Rory said “You hate me,” Geri might have said, “I can see why you would feel that way. I am sorry for hurting you."

This will not make Rory happy, but at least Geri’s validation will not feel like a further attack.

Set and Enforce Boundaries as Necessary

When you break up with your loved one with symptoms of BPD, they are likely to lash out at you. You have made their worst fear come true. You are abandoning them. It does not do them or you any good to allow them to hurt you. It will not make them feel better and it will make you feel worse.

If you are being yelled at or physically threatened, be prepared to state that the behavior is unacceptable and that if it does not stop immediately, you will leave and the conversation will be over. Don’t say this more than once. If the aggressive behavior returns, then you turn and leave. You can have another conversation with the person at another time if you wish to but you must convey that aggressive hurtful behavior will not be tolerated. If you don’t do this, the behavior will get worse.

A Sample Script

There is almost no way that your loved one will not be hurt and angry when you break up with them. The following sample script incorporates the above elements in an effort to minimize the hurt that Rory will feel and the conflict that follows.

Geri: I'm moving into my own place.

Rory: You're leaving me?!

Geri: I'm grateful for the chance to live with you, but I feel that I need to be on my own now.

Rory: What did I do wrong?

Geri: You didn’t do anything wrong. I just need to be by myself in order to grow.

Rory: So I prevent you from growing?!

Geri: No. I prevent me from growing when I'm not fully responsible for myself.

Rory: So it's all about you.

Geri: I am being selfish. I'm sorry that it hurts you.

Rory: I hate you for dumping me.

Geri: I understand your feelings. I wish that I could do this without hurting you.

Unilaterally ending a relationship is always hurtful to the person being left, whether they have symptoms of BPD or not. Individuals with BPD are likely to suffer more than other individuals because their condition causes an intense fear of being abandoned and because they may struggle more than most to regulate their emotions. The impact of leaving someone you love or used to love will be minimized by being compassionate and respectful and by taking responsibility for your choice rather than trying to justify your decision.

More from Daniel S. Lobel Ph.D.
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