Hugging and physical touch can be extremely beneficial for those with borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, there are also risks and challenges that need to be properly navigated.
This article will provide an overview of borderline personality disorder, explain the benefits of hugging for people with BPD, give tips on proper hugging techniques, discuss potential risks, and offer advice for loved ones supporting someone with BPD.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental health condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotions, unstable personal relationships, impulsive behavior, and chronic feelings of emptiness.
The main symptoms of BPD include:
- Emotion dysregulation – Intense, difficult-to-control emotions and mood swings
- Unstable relationships – Intense but unstable personal connections alternated with social isolation
- Impulsivity – Risky, reckless behaviors like substance abuse, binge eating, unsafe sex
- Identity disturbances – Unstable self-image and sense of self
- Self-harm – Suicidal behaviors, cutting, burning as means of emotional regulation
BPD often develops due to childhood trauma like neglect, abuse, or emotional invalidation. It affects 1-3% of adults and is more prevalent in women. Effective treatment involves psychotherapy, medications, and self-help strategies.
Read more about BPD from NAMI.
Hugging and Physical Touch in BPD
For those struggling with BPD, physical touch and hugging can play an important role in managing symptoms and difficult emotions. This is due to the early experiences many people with BPD faced as children.
Lack of safe, nurturing physical touch and emotional attunement in childhood may contribute to BPD development. Many sufferers report feeling touch deprived. Appropriate physical touch can provide much-needed comfort and connection.
Hugging and hand-holding can also be an effective self-soothing technique when emotions feel overwhelming. The sensation of touch releases neurotransmitters that reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
However, some people with BPD associate touch with past trauma or fear rejection. Their boundaries around physical touch should always be respected.
The Benefits of Hugging for People with BPD
When done safely and appropriately, hugging offers numerous benefits for those struggling with BPD:
- Oxytocin release – Hugging releases the hormone oxytocin which reduces cortisol levels and provides stress relief
- Emotional comfort – The sensation of hugging activates the caregiving-attachment system and provides feelings of safety and comfort
- Mood boost – Oxytocin release can also boost mood and decrease feelings of depression
- Emotion regulation – The soothing effects of hugging can help de-escalate intense emotions and self-destructive urges
- Trust and attachment – Respectful hugging helps build trust, positive attachment, and feelings of unconditional care
However, it is crucial to note hugging should always be consensual and should supplement professional treatment, not replace it.
How to Hug Someone with BPD
Hugging someone with BPD can strengthen your bond and support their healing when done properly. Here are some tips:
- Obtain consent – Always ask if they are open to a hug first and respect if they decline
- Start small – Brief hugs can help build trust if they are touch adverse
- Set expectations – Explain if the hug is meant to be comforting or celebratory
- Respect boundaries – Don’t force cuddling or sustained embraces if uncomfortable
- Provide support – Offer reassuring words and validate their feelings during the hug
- Don’t take it personally – They may decline hugs depending on their mood, don’t feel rejected
- Remain mindful – Note signs of tension or discomfort and keep hugs brief if needed
Let them take the lead in initiating and ending the embrace. Patience is key in building physical affection.
Potential Risks and Challenges
While hugging has many benefits, there are some risks and challenges to keep in mind:
- Should not replace treatment – Hugging helps manage BPD but is not a substitute for professional care
- Respect boundaries – Forced or unwanted touch can be triggering
- Past trauma – Some may associate physical contact with abuse
- Emotional dependence – Don’t allow them to become overly reliant on hugs for regulation
- Triggers – Certain types of touch may unexpectedly trigger flashbacks
- Unrealistic expectations – Hugging will not immediately fix their BPD
Get help from a therapist if hugging causes severe anxiety, flashbacks, or emotional instability. Setting healthy boundaries around physical affection is key.
How Hugs Affects Relationships and Emotions for People with BPD
Hugs affects relationships for people with BPD, both positively and negatively, in terms of quality and stability.
The way people use and receive touch can either bring them closer or create problems.
Some of the ways that physical touch can affect relationships for people with BPD are:
- Enhancing intimacy: Physical touch can help people with BPD and their partners feel closer and more connected, both physically and emotionally.Physical touch can express love, affection, and appreciation, and can create a sense of belonging and security. Physical touch can also increase sexual satisfaction and pleasure, and can strengthen the bond between partners.
- Building trust: Physical touch can help people with BPD and their partners build trust and confidence, both in themselves and in each other.Physical touch can show that they care, respect, and value each other, and that they are committed and loyal. Physical touch can also reassure them that someone is with them, supporting and understanding them.
- Improving communication: Physical touch can help people with BPD and their partners communicate more effectively and honestly, both verbally and nonverbally.Physical touch can convey messages that words cannot, such as empathy, compassion, and forgiveness. Physical touch can also complement and reinforce verbal communication, such as by nodding, smiling, or holding hands.
However, physical touch can also create challenges and difficulties for people with BPD and their partners, such as:
- Causing conflict: Physical touch can cause conflict and arguments, both over the quantity and quality of physical touch. People with BPD and their partners may have different needs and preferences for physical touch, and may not be able to meet each other’s expectations.
- People have different preferences for physical touch, which can cause frustration and dissatisfaction if not understood and respected by their partner.
- Triggering jealousy: Physical touch can trigger jealousy and insecurity, both within and outside the relationship.People with BPD and their partners may feel threatened or suspicious by physical touch from or to other people, such as friends, family, or strangers. They may perceive physical touch as a sign of infidelity, disloyalty, or betrayal, and may react with anger, accusation, or withdrawal.
- Creating instability: Physical touch can create instability and unpredictability, both in the frequency and intensity of physical touch.People with BPD and their partners may have mood swings and impulsivity that affect their behavior and attitude towards physical touch. They can switch between being loving and distant, or between being passionate and bored, without warning. These changes can create confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety.
Physical touch can also influence the mood and well-being of people with BPD, both positively and negatively.
Tips for Loved Ones
For loved ones of someone with BPD, hugging can strengthen your bond but requires some finesse:
- Have patience – Physical affection may take time to build
- Offer unconditional support – Don’t just hug them when they are upset
- Build trust and safety – Respect their boundaries to make touch feel safe
- Get therapy for yourself – Caregiver burnout is common, take care of your needs too
- Set clear boundaries – Mutually agree on when/where hugs are appropriate
- Don’t give up – Progress may be slow but consistency helps
Let the person with BPD take the lead in initiating touch and don’t feel offended if they decline hugs sometimes. It’s about supporting them, not your own needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is hugging recommended for someone with BPD?
Yes, when done properly, hugging can help provide emotional comfort and regulation. However, consent and boundaries should always be respected. Hugging can be beneficial for individuals with BPD, hugging can help establish trust, reduce anxiety, and foster a sense of security.
Can hugging help manage BPD episodes?
It can help de-escalate emotions and self-harm urges during a BPD episode. But professional treatment is still required for long-term stability. Hugging can be a valuable tool for managing BPD episodes. It provides comfort during times of emotional turmoil, offering a calming effect and potentially diffusing intense emotions.
What if they don’t want a hug when upset?
Never force physical touch. Offer alternatives like sitting with them, holding their hand if ok, or providing emotional validation. Respecting boundaries is crucial. If someone with BPD doesn’t want a hug when upset, it’s essential to honor their choice.
How long/tight should you hug someone with BPD?
Ask them for their preferred hug length and tightness. The duration and intensity of a hug should be guided by the individual’s comfort level. Some individuals may prefer shorter, gentle hugs, while others may benefit from longer, more reassuring embraces. It’s essential to adapt to their needs and preferences.
Will hugging “fix” their BPD?
No, BPD requires comprehensive treatment plans. Hugging should only supplement professional help. Hugging alone cannot “fix” BPD, but it can be a supportive component of a comprehensive treatment plan. At Positive Reset Mental Health Clinic, we offer evidence-based therapies, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), tailored to address the core challenges of BPD.
Hugging can be a positive experience for people with BPD when done thoughtfully and consensually.
While touch can help provide emotional comforting and stabilization, it should not be forced or replace psychological treatment.
By respecting boundaries, building trust slowly, and communicating clearly, you can use hugging to support someone struggling with BPD and strengthen your bond with them.
However, be realistic in your expectations – hugging will not “cure” their condition, so professional help is still needed. With patience and compassion, physical touch can become one tool in helping manage BPD.
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