Thanksgiving is upon us. The time of year when millions of families gather to reconnect, rejoice and reflect. But for some families, especially ones that have a member with borderline personality disorder, it can also be a time of stress.
Many of the diagnostic criteria that characterize BPD revolve around interpersonal relationships– emotional volatility, anxiety, depression, anger, impulsivity and a deep fear of abandonment. In a stressful situation, these characteristics can provoke extreme behaviors such as lashing out at others, social withdrawal and self-harm.
Large gatherings can be a source of conflict and stress for people who have BPD and their immediate families. It can also be confusing for their guests who don’t know, appreciate or understand that even one offhanded comment can spark an intense reaction.
But there are things that can be done to minimize those risks. If you are mindful of your own or your loved ones’ emotional vulnerabilities beforehand you can develop strategies to effectively limit or avoid a melt down.
For example, be mindful that large and loud gatherings can be over-stimulating for a person who has BPD. So, Thanksgiving dinner with a house full of guests might be more stressful than smaller dinner with a handful of guests.
If you and your loved one are guests somewhere else, develop a plan of action with beforehand in the event he or she starts to feel uncomfortable. If a situation starts to arise don’t overreact. Take a step back, a deep breath and implement the plan agreed to beforehand.
Keep in mind that people with BPD tend to be more vulnerable when their normal routines get disrupted. Letting your loved one know ahead of time what is expected is the key to reducing their stress and avoiding a difficult situation.
In general, if your loved one has BPD, try to be fully aware of what that means for that person. How does he or she typically react in social situations? If they tend to be self-conscious, sad, feel judged, angry or hurt think about what situations might trigger those feelings and try to avoid them if possible or intervene in a way won’t increase the tension. Understanding your loved one’s sensitivities will go far in reducing their stressors and yours. It just takes a little foresight, understanding and a good deal of acceptance.