Supporting a family member with a personality disorder can be a monumental challenge. Simply consider the symptoms: distorted thinking, problematic emotional responses and regulation, issues with impulse control, and significant interpersonal difficulties. Clinical depression, anxiety and battles with substance abuse are also common.
Clinicians group personality disorders into categories, or “clusters.” Cluster A involves paranoid, schizoid and other eccentric thoughts and behaviors. Those in Cluster B display dramatic emotional and erratic thoughts and actions; narcissistic and borderline personality disorders fall into this category. Finally, Cluster C encompasses the anxiety- and fear-related dependent and avoidant personality disorders.
Having a family member that falls into any of these clusters is especially taxing, since the hallmark of a personality disorder is difficulty relating to others and developing healthy relationships. Tiny or even nonexistent outside support systems are not uncommon, placing family members in the difficult position of being the target for someone whose mental illness causes him or her to be self-destructive and hurtful toward others.
Though people with personality disorders rarely seek help on their own, if you have a loved who is in treatment, there is hope. Here are five tips to help you cope.
1. Educate yourself about personality disorders, their symptoms and available treatments. Participate in seminars, groups or other educational experiences in your community. Having that knowledge really helps when a loved one loses control.
2. Set personal boundaries, and be realistic with your expectations. Recovering from a personality disorder takes time and patience. A patient may regress during treatment.
3. Seek professional help. Talking about your feelings is crucial in your efforts to help a loved one suffering from a personality disorder maintain a healthy perspective.
4. Separate the person from the behavior. Make it clear that it’s not the person you dislike, but the behavior.
5. Support other family members. Knowing that other family members have your back can go a long way in keeping everyone’s emotions in check.