Saying no to someone with borderline personality disorder

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder that impacts mood, behavior, and relationships. Maintaining a friendship or healthy relationship with someone with BPD can be challenging because of their symptoms. Learning to communicate with them effectively and implementing positive boundaries can be helpful.

How does BPD affect relationships?

A common experience of people with BPD is a pattern of intense and unstable relationships. This may be within friendships, family relationships, or romantic relationships. People with BPD are known to have love-hate or push-and-pull relationships, which rapidly alternate between intense positive and negative feelings [1].

Partly of this instability is due to an intense fear of abandonment, which is a common symptom of BPD. The fear of abandonment can cause people with BPD to make extreme efforts to convince others not to leave or reject them. Extreme efforts might include making excessive attempts at communicating via text or calls, trying to communicate at inappropriate times of the day or night, or making threats of self-harm should the person leave them [2].

Individuals with BPD might also be intensely loving or doting on their friend or partner, to the point of becoming clingy. Then, the intense love can suddenly switch to anger or anxiety, causing outbursts of verbal or physical aggression or emotional and physical withdrawal.

These extreme mood swings and varying interactions can cause partners or friends of people with BPD to feel very confused, frustrated, or physically and emotionally hurt. The symptoms of BPD can make it very difficult for loved ones to know how best to communicate [2][3].

What to say to someone with BPD

As people with BPD struggle with emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships, learning how to communicate with them can be beneficial. You can say several things to someone with BPD that may be helpful or supportive.

Validate their feelings

Showing that you recognize and acknowledge their feelings can help your loved one to feel validated and heard. This can help to reduce any negative emotions or fears that they are unloved. You can also offer them support and an opportunity to discuss their feelings [4].

Be open and clear

Sometimes, someone with BPD might make assumptions or jump to conclusions about how someone else feels about them. For example, an unanswered call could cause them to believe you don’t like them anymore or are trying to ignore them. In this example, it might help to clarify when you are busy or why you can’t communicate with them [5].

Communicate when you can

Again, it can be common for someone with BPD to feel that they are being ignored if a text message or call is unanswered. This can cause false assumptions or anxiety about being rejected and abandoned. As such, try to communicate and respond when they contact you.

However, responding should be at a time that is appropriate for you. You don’t have to feel pressured to respond when you are busy or throughout the night [6].

Use mindfulness or regulation skills together

Encouraging someone with BPD to utilize therapeutic skills can be very helpful in managing their emotional regulation. They may have learned skills and techniques through therapy or personal research. You could suggest practicing these techniques together to help them feel supported, motivated, and cared for [1][4].

Show appreciation

It can be reassuring for someone with BPD to receive compliments or signs of love. Recognizing or thanking them for their actions will help them feel appreciated. Similarly, it can be helpful for them to receive praise or gestures of love, to confirm that they are cared for and reduce fears of abandonment [6].

Be calm and kind

Emotional lability is common in people with BPD, which can cause rapid mood swings and intensely negative emotions. Communicating with them calmly and kindly can help reduce the intensity of negative emotions and provide a calm and supportive environment [4][7].

How to say ‘no’ to someone with BPD

It can be challenging to say no to someone with BPD, as it may result in anger, hurt, resentment, or fear of abandonment. However, it is vital that you form and maintain your boundaries for your well-being by doing the following [4][5][7][8]:

Be specific

Being transparent and direct about your needs can help prevent confusion around a situation. If you are saying ‘no,’ try not to leave room for interpretation, such as saying ‘I’m not sure’ or being indecisive with your answer. It can make it easier to understand the response if it is clearly expressed.

Explain your reasons

Try to be clear about why you are saying no, to prevent the person with BPD from making assumptions or feeling that they are being left out or abandoned. It can help to frame it from your perspective, such as saying ‘I feel…’ rather than putting the focus on them.

Give alternatives

To help prevent feelings of rejection, try suggesting an alternative arrangement or idea. This can help demonstrate that you want to support your loved one and spend time with them on another occasion, but it is not possible this time.

Ask how they feel

If the person with BPD becomes upset or angry when you say no, you could offer to talk about it with them. Ask them how they feel about this happening and if there is anything they or you could do to help them feel better about it.

Be consistent

It can help to be consistent with your responses, so the person with BPD knows what to expect, such as the specific suggestions or circumstances you will decline. Consistent responses can be especially helpful in managing episodes of anger.

For example, you may wish to state that you will always walk away from them if they begin to shout at you, but that you will return and communicate with them when they stop shouting. This can help to prevent them from feeling abandoned when you walk away, allow you to protect your well-being, and give a clear message about the type of communication you will not accept.

What not to say to someone with BPD

There are some things that you should try to avoid when communicating with someone with BPD, such as [5][6][7][8]:

  • Placing blame: Don’t tell them that they are to blame for you saying no or choosing not to spend time with them, as this could feel triggering and hurtful.
  • Judgment: Although it can be difficult to manage mood swings and episodes ofintense anger, it is essential to try not to judge someone with BPD for their impulsive behaviors but to be patient and understanding of their feelings. Similarly, telling them to ‘cheer up’ or ‘get over it’ will also be unhelpful and could cause them to feel misunderstood and alienated.
  • Canceling plans: Try to follow through with your plans and don’t cancel, as this can cause them to feel abandoned or rejected. If you must change or cancel plans, be clear about your reasons and make alternative arrangements to show that you care about spending time with them.
  • Making threats: Making threats to try and change their behaviors, such as stating you will end the relationship or stop communication, can harm the well-being of the person with BPD and will likely trigger negative emotions. It will also damage your relationship with them.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. (Reviewed 2023). Borderline Personality Disorder. NIMH. Retrieved from
  2. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). Borderline Personality Disorder. NHS. Retrieved from
  3. Kay, M.L., Poggenpoel, M., Myburgh, C.P., & Downing, C. (2018). Experiences of Family Members who have a Relative Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Curationis, 41(1), e1–e9. Retrieved from
  4. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2023). Borderline Personality Disorder.NAMI. Retrieved from
  5. Mind. (2022). Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).Mind. Retrieved from
  6. Greenstein, L. (2017). Supporting Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. NAMI. Retrieved from
  7. Borderline in the ACT. (2023). Guidelines for Loved Ones of a Person with BPD.Borderline in the act. Retrieved from
  8. Health Service Executive. (Reviewed 2022). What To Say To Someone Who Is Going Through A Tough Time. HSE. Retrieved from
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Jul 20th 2023, Last edited: Sep 22nd 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 20th 2023