What BPD Can Look Like in Relationships

By now, just about everyone has heard about the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard trial. As the testimonies come in and evidence is released, we’re gaining more information about the nature of their tumultuous relationship. While this can make for some interesting reading or videos on TikTok, this court case has caused a lot of fear, confusion, and anxiety for many living with mental illness. When Amber Heard’s diagnoses of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and histrionic personality disorder were revealed, many feared that these diagnoses would be associated with the tumultuousness of this trial, thereby increasing the stigma around mental health, particularly BPD.

A black background with icons for Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Netflix, Spotify, and Twitch

There is a lot of stigma surrounding BPD, partially because it’s often only mentioned in the media in instances of violence and/or abuse in which the perpetrator also happens to have a BPD diagnosis. That being said, it’s estimated that 1.6% of U.S. adults, or about 5 million Americans, meet criteria for BPD, and many believe that the true number of people meeting criteria is actually much higher. 

May is borderline personality disorder awareness month and with everything going on with this trial, we at the Cincinnati Center for DBT hope to use this opportunity to educate people on this disorder and decrease the stigma surrounding BPD.

BPD is an incredibly complex condition and can present differently for many different people. Although there are certain signs and characteristics of BPD, not everyone will experience every symptom and the intensity will also vary. You can read more about BPD symptoms, its prevalence, and treatment options by viewing our other blog. As mentioned earlier, the portrayal of BPD in the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard trial is more extreme than one might see in their everyday relationships. Here’s a little more about what you can expect being in a relationship with someone with BPD.

Being in a relationship with someone with BPD can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster. People with BPD may struggle to regulate their emotions, be impulsive, and have an intense fear of abandonment. Because of the intense fear of abandonment, someone with BPD might be especially sensitive to perceived signs that their significant other might be leaving them. This might manifest in a number of ways, from not wanting to be left alone to regularly checking in to see where you are and/or asking you questions about who you’re talking to or if you’re mad at them.

Black and white photo of twist and turn roller coaster

People with BPD tend to idealize their partners one moment and then devalue them the next. This may manifest as your partner fawning over you, telling you how much they love you and need you; then, a few moments later, that same partner seems to be mad at you and do or say things to push you away. This happens because people with BPD often struggle with black-and-white thinking; they may truly believe you’re perfect and when you make a mistake, like all humans do at some point, what they so thoroughly believed comes crashing down.  This reality check may increase their anxiety, anger, and other emotions. Because they may struggle to regulate these emotions, their emotions may come out in a variety of ways, from small arguments to big, blow-out fights.

Some final things to be on the lookout for: people with BPD tend to struggle with their sense of identity and self-image. People with BPD might act almost like chameleons, taking up the hobbies, interests, likes/dislikes, values, etc. of the people they’re around. This makes it difficult for people with BPD to know what they truly want or value in life, causing them to feel empty at times. People with BPD oftentimes don’t believe that they can solve their own problems and stressors. They’ve been made to feel as though their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can’t be trusted. Again, this can show up in relationships on a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum, your partner might ask a lot of questions about if they’re on the right track, or seek reassurance frequently. The other end of this spectrum might involve them demanding you solve their problems for them.

Being in a relationship with someone with BPD, whether romantic or platonic, can also be an incredibly fulfilling experience. People with BPD have the capacity to feel all emotions incredibly deeply, which can lead to a more fulfilling life for themselves and their partners. All humans struggle in certain areas and have flaws that can impact their relationships. Knowing what to expect can help you and your partner catch these moments sooner and work towards coping with some common cycles. Plus, treatment options are available if more professional help is needed. 

 

Resources:

Evidence-based treatment for borderline personality disorder: Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder by Shari Manning: Click here

The Family Connections™ Program for those who support loved ones with BPD: Click here

National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD): Click here