How can friends and family help?

This section is for friends or family who wish to support someone they know with a diagnosis of personality disorder.

  • Emphasise the positive: a diagnosis of personality disorder does not stop someone being likeable, intelligent, highly motivated or creative. Make the most of their strengths and abilities.
  • Good information is crucial. If your friend or relative would find it helpful, you could be involved in discussions with mental health professionals when they are explaining diagnosis and treatment approaches to them. You could act as their advocate and speak up and support them, making sure they get the answers they need from professional services.
  • They may need your encouragement to change their behaviour. For instance, alcohol, drugs or staying in an abusive relationship can only add to their problems.
  • But try not to stop them from doing things just because you think they may be unhelpful. Unless it is something dangerous, it may be better to let them experience the consequences of their actions, so that they can learn from them.
  • Telling them they are ‘immature’ or ‘inadequate’, or ‘attention-seeking’ or ‘making bad choices’ may sometimes feel justified, but it is usually more helpful to focus on their good points and things that have gone well for them. Remember that it can be very hard to change, so try not to expect too much too soon.
  • If their behaviour is difficult for you, let them know how it makes you feel, and ask them to think about how they would feel if they were treated in a similar way.
  • If you treat them as if they are unable to cope, they will not learn how to make their own decisions or do things for themselves
  • Encourage them to reflect on their experiences and learn from them, rather than saying ‘I told you so’.
  • If you think they are at risk of self-harm or are feeling suicidal, do not be afraid to ask about this. Sharing these feelings may help them to find other ways of coping.
  • Try to help identify situations that bring out the best or worst in them and follow up on this. For example, even if they are uncomfortable being close to people or in company, they may be much more relaxed and lose their inhibitions when they are discussing a subject that really interests them. So, encouraging them to join a particular society, club or class may be a way they can learn to enjoy company.

People with a diagnosis of a personality disorder can sometimes be very challenging to spend time with or share a home with. You will need to look after yourself and put your own needs first sometimes. You may find that there is a carers support group nearby, where you can share your experiences with others in a similar position and support each other.

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