If you have a partner with borderline personality disorder (BPD), it’s likely that you have experienced times when your partner has said things that were extremely hurtful, maybe even cruel. A person does not have to have BPD (or any other mental disorder, for that matter) to know just how to push their partner’s buttons, but for the partners of those with BPD, the emotional outbursts tend to be more frequent and, ultimately, more harmful, both to you as the non-BPD partner and for your relationship as a whole.

“Emotional abuse” is any kind of behavior that is meant to control another person through the use of fear, humiliation, or physical assault. It can range from verbal attacks to more subtle forms of manipulation, intimidation, and the inability to be pleased, no matter what you do for them.

People who are emotionally abused have a slow erosion of self-esteem, self-confidence, and sense of self-worth. They begin to question their own thoughts and ability to judge a situation accurately, because their abuser is constantly telling them they are wrong. Eventually, the person being abused feels so worthless that they decide no one but the abuser would want to be in a relationship with them, so they stay. Their worst fear is being alone.

If this describes your relationship, you are not alone.

Something that is important to remember is that people with BPD generally do not mean to be abusive. They are reacting in response to emotional pain that they cannot tolerate. However, that does not mean that the recipient of the attack doesn’t still get hurt. Whether the comments are “intentional” or not is irrelevant. To protect your mental health, you need to protect yourself from harm. No one deserves to be emotionally abused.

Some things to consider if you are in an emotionally abusive relationship:

  • Understand that it is not likely that the person will change without help. If your significant other is abusing you, eventually you will need to decide whether you want to stay or go. If you are determined to stay, then your partner needs psychological help if anything is going to be different. That will likely be a hard sell. It is not your job to “fix” the person, nor is there anything you should do differently so that they won’t hurt you.
  • Pay attention to your feelings. You may truly love the person who is abusing you, but if that person also terrifies you or makes you feel badly about yourself, that is not a healthy relationship. Fear and love cannot coexist.
  • Consider your resources, and use them. Make a list of supportive friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors, and enlist their help in getting you out from this relationship, if that is what you have decided to do. I have found that my clients who are in need of help are usually surprised and relieved to discover that they have more people than they realized willing to lend a hand when one is needed.
  • Getting professional help yourself can give you the tools and strength to end the relationship. Your abuser may have whittled away at your self-worth, but a caring counselor can help you regain the strength you need to make the right choice for your life.