Working with Teens with Borderline Personality Disorder

New Haven Students Walking

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of working with several girls with borderline personality disorder. I remember so many conversations that I had with these students. It felt like we went in circles, going over the same thing and I ended the conversation feeling completely helpless. How could I help them?

I was discussing the issue with our team when a light bulb came on. More effort and rationalization on my part wasn’t exactly a good thing. The more I stirred about the situation, the more damage I was doing. My epiphany can apply to all teachers and parents of students with borderline personality disorder. When you’re trapped in a spiraling conversation, voice your opinion and leave it at that. Don’t go down the spiral with her. Don’t try to fix the student or change her mind.

It may seem counterintuitive to simply leave the conversation but the battle doesn’t end with a few words. A difficult part of working with borderline students occurs after the fight is over. Some of the girls I worked with felt no empathy or need to apologize. Rather, they’d ask, “Why are you mad?” or “Hey, do you want to hang out?” They were talking to me like nothing had happened, like our relationship hadn’t been damaged. In these moments, I realized that I couldn’t take things personally. I needed to use my love and relational skills to be the tool to heal her. Setting boundaries about the relationship is also crucial. I couldn’t be involved in a relationship where I gave of myself and my love while the student only dished out hurtful words. Giving the student time to process her thoughts and then talking, when she was ready to do so in a constructive manner was so beneficial for our relationship.

Above all else, I learned about the importance of forgiveness. When a student is ready to express love and a willingness to move forward, I need to move with her. This doesn’t mean that I can’t express my feelings of hurt, but rather that we can both leave the negativity behind. Ultimately, the best way to teach someone with borderline personality disorder how to have a healthy relationship is to model it. Our examples can make all the difference in their futures. We need to remember that there is always hope for healthy relationships. For more information about how New Haven works with borderline personality disorder, please contact our admissions department at 888-317-3958.

By: Janis Taylor, Eleanor Roosevelt House Lead