Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder that affects how you think and feel about yourself and others around you. Those that live with BPD are likely to have a “favorite person”, an individual that they prefer above all others and feel they cannot live without .
What is a BPD favorite person?
Those that have borderline personality disorder often have intense feelings about their personal relationships, either idolizing or devaluing those around them. Most relationships feel unstable for someone with BPD as they may have a hard time with other people setting healthy boundaries with them, seeing this as a form of rejection. It can be a struggle to maintain safe and reciprocal relationships without fear of abandonment or other insecurities affecting them .
Their “favorite person” is an extreme version of this; for someone with BPD, the “favorite person” is deemed the most important person in their life. This person can be anyone but most likely a family member, romantic partner, good friend, or another supportive relationship.
It is unremarkable to have a person in your life whom you prioritize and spend a great deal of time with. However, for someone with BPD, this intense relationship can feel all-encompassing. Their “favorite person” may become their only source of happiness and validation and would have a great influence on their sense of self, mood, and confidence. They may go to extremes to maintain the attention of their “favorite person” e.g., moving great distances or making threats against themselves. Therefore, it is important to fully understand the relationship and set appropriate boundaries to ensure the safety of both parties .
How does a 'favorite person' relationship work?
From the outside, the relationship between someone with BPD and their “favorite person” appears intense and very close. When they first meet, someone with BPD will idolize their “favorite person” and believe they are perfect, looking to them for reassurance and approval. This may result in extreme mood swings from ecstatic happiness when they are together, to despondency and dejection when they are apart.
These mood swings may increase after the initial euphoria and start to influence the relationship with their “favorite person”. As the individual with BPD starts to rely heavily on their “favorite person”, any deviation or retreat will be felt deeply. They may react with jealousy, anger, or display controlling behavior over their “favorite person’s” other relationships.
The BPD relationship cycle and how it works
A person with BPD tends to have cyclic, intense relationships filled with conflict and is likely to pinball between fear of abandonment and fear of intimacy. The resulting effects on a relationship can be disconcerting, a back and forth between requiring high levels of attention to withdrawing from the relationship and back again.
The BPD relationship cycle refers to a repeating pattern of highs and lows within relationships, romantic or otherwise, that occurs frequently for a person with BPD. There are several stages to this cycle:
Stage 1 - The initial stage of the relationship. It will be a positive start, with both parties having a favorable response to their new relationship. However, it may be perceived as moving fast and a significant degree of intimacy will be reached quickly. The person with BPD will idolize the relationship and the other person so much so that they may start to fixate on them.
Stage 2 - The BPD partner will start being extremely sensitive to everything the non-BPD partner does or says. These negative perceptions will trigger a fear of abandonment and start a detrimental narrative about the partner’s feelings toward them.
Stage 3 - The BPD partner may start to manipulate or lead the non-BPD partner into a situation that requires them to demonstrate their feelings. The aim is to get positive reinforcement to reduce feelings of anxiety and insecurity.
Stage 4 - At this point, the BPD partner may appear calm and happy but there are core feelings of insecurity and inconsistency. There is an internal vicious cycle of fear and instability leaving the BPD partner feeling more and more anxious and subsequently acting more erratically.
Stage 5 - The non-BPD partner will have gone through a tumultuous time. Their relationship would likely have been filled with many highs and lows, extreme happiness followed by fear and rage. They may experience relationship fatigue at this point, emotionally checking out and leaving the relationship.
Stage 6 - The BPD partner may sink into depression or lash out with anger; their response is likely to be very emotional and intense. They may think that their inner voice of worthlessness has been proved right. It is possible that at this point they may engage in dangerous, life-threatening behaviors or become suicidal .
Signs you have a favorite person
The following questions may help you decide if you have a “favorite person”:
Do you need to ask for consistent and frequent reassurance from a particular person?
Do you feel strong, positive emotions for that person and wish to declare your appreciation and love frequently?
If they don’t respond to you for a period of time, do you keep contacting them with increasing frequency until you get a response?
Are you scared that this person wouldleave you? Or no longer love you?
Do you ever exaggerate issues or crises to receive more attention from this person?
Do you depend on them for guidance or advice?
Are you jealous when they spend time with other people or do activities without you?
If you answer in the affirmative for most or all these questions for one particular person, then you probably have a “favorite person” .
What to know if you're the favorite person
If you are the “favorite person” for someone, your relationship with the person with BPD will most likely be turbulent and they will require the reassurance of your continued regard for them. It is therefore important that you maintain your own emotional well-being by setting healthy relationship boundaries.
If you go through any serious life changes (e.g., changing jobs, moving house, or a new relationship) then they will need more reassurance than usual as they will be concerned that this change will impact your relationship or your feelings for them. This additional need for reassurance will also occur when the person with BPD feels insecure or stressed. It is important to maintain your boundaries at these times while being sympathetic and understanding.
What are the risks of a favorite person relationship?
For those with BPD having a “favorite person” can be emotionally exhausting. Even if they acknowledge that their expectations from their “favorite person” are unrealistic, it is taxing to regulate their emotional reaction to any disappointment or change as well as manage their anxiety and thoughts about low self-esteem and abandonment .
Here are some risks of a favorite person relationship:
Emotional dysregulation - many people with BPD have an ongoing struggle with managing their own emotions. Within the “favorite person” relationship, they are reliant on another person for validation and attention. This offers immediate relief from self-regulation but after some time it can leave them vulnerable to their own emotions and stressful situations.
Extreme jealousy - many people with BPD have an anxious attachment style; this leaves them open to intense feelings of jealousy. Seeing their “favorite person” spending time with other people can trigger feelings of abandonment, insecurity,and lack of control. These feelings can be expressed as extreme jealousy.
Ongoing fear of abandonment - the presence of a “favorite person” doesn’t remove this fear. If anything, the importance placed on the relationship with the “favorite person” can trigger it if there is a sign of withdrawal, life change,or any absence.
Co-dependent relationship - this depends on the “favorite person” and their own mental health. If they have any co-dependent tendencies this can quickly perpetuate negative thought processes.
Neglecting other relationships or hobbies - many people with BPD may start to ignore other relationships or spend less and less time on things that interest them. This sands away their sense of self and can leave their life feeling unbalanced and confusing.
Self-harm or other compulsive habits - due to the tumultuous nature of their relationships, an intense “favorite person” relationship may trigger the person with BPD to want to self-harm. They may also do this, or threaten to, as a way of gaining attention from their “favorite person”.
Can a favorite person relationship be healthy?
It is entirely possible to have a healthy relationship between someone with BPD and their “favorite person”; over time and with deep understanding it can even promote healthier attachments. This takes a lot of emotional work and communication to get there. Both parties need to be aware of the dynamic between them and ensure ongoing accountability for their roles and expectations in the relationship .
Here are some tips for a healthy “favorite person” relationship:
Label it - ensure that both parties know and understand what the relationship is. Acknowledging the relationship style is a great first step in creating a healthy relationship.
Maintain other relationships and hobbies - this will ensure that their individual identities are maintained even within an intense relationship. This may be difficult for both parties but is essential.
Setting boundaries - identifying, communicating, and understanding boundaries for both parties so that they can be respected.
Seek outside support - both parties should understand that they are not the sole person responsible for each other's well-being. Finding support in other relationships or seeking professional help is very helpful to gain understanding and perspective.
Accept that moments will be uncomfortable or painful - all relationships have moments of pain or disappointment and acknowledging this from time to time is a useful way to ground yourself.
These are the treatment options used most frequently:
General psychiatric management (GPM) is a type of therapy that focuses on patients' hyper-sensitivity to relationships. It can be practiced by many primary care doctors and nurse practitioners, not just therapists. It is effective for treating most people with BPD.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is frequently recommended for BPD as it explores distress tolerance, emotional regulation, interpersonal skills,and mindfulness. It teaches patients to control their own emotions and minimize destructive patterns.
Mentalization-based treatment (MBT) aims to improve interpersonal relationship skills and reduce self-destructive behaviors. It encourages self-reflection on different mental states and the effects they have on usand others.
Transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP) focuses on issues surrounding the patient’s sense of identity such as interpersonal relationships, self-esteem,and mood. The aim is to help patients verbalize their emotions rather than reacting impulsively .
Jeong, H., Jin, M. J., & Hyun, M. H. (2022). Understanding a Mutually Destructive Relationship Between Individuals With Borderline Personality Disorder and Their Favorite Person. Psychiatry Investigation, 19(12), 1069–1077. https://doi.org/10.30773/pi.2022.0079
Nia Coppack is an experienced writer and mental health subject matter expert with a background in Biochemical Engineering and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Newcastle University. Her innovative writing style and mentorship contribute to our mission of making optimal mental health attainable for all.
Published: Jan 31st 2023, Last edited: Aug 4th 2023
Rychel Johnson is our expert medical reviewer, a licensed clinical professional counselor with specialized expertise in anxiety treatment and social skills development. Her academic achievements include a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology from The University of Kansas and a Bachelor of General Studies with a focus on Psychology and Behavioral Sciences.
Content reviewed by a medical professional. Date reviewed: Jan 31st 2023
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