Borderline Personality Disorder, Manipulation vs. Honesty

August 24, 2016 Laura Lewis


People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) sometimes manipulate others to get the comfort or attention we need. Often, we don't even realize that we are being manipulative. Many of us never learned how to honestly ask for what we need or want. It starts with emotional pain. If we don't get the support we need in the midst of that pain, often feelings of anger arise, and we progress into new or worsening depression. Manipulation tactics then come into play, fueled by our anger that no one understands us. Manipulation in borderline personality disorder is important to understand.

Avoid Manipulation and Be Honest in Borderline Personality Disorder

Maybe our loved ones don't understand what we need because we don't tell them. Borderlines tend to be very sensitive people who can pick up on the emotional needs of others, so we expect others should be able to do the same for us. We've probably all heard someone say to us, "I'm not a mind reader." So let's speak up and tell people when we are hurting and need support (Talking to Others About Your Mental Illness).

Examples of Manipulation vs. Honest Requests

 "I've told three people that I'm depressed and my apartment is a mess, but no one will help me clean it."

An honest, responsible way to communicate might be, "My depression is worse than usual, and I have let things go in my apartment. It's hard for me to function, and I need help cleaning it. Are you willing and able to help?"

"You never ask me how I'm doing."

Instead, I could say, "I hurt right now, and it would comfort me to know that you care. I feel cared for when you ask me how I'm doing. I am willing to speak up more, and be honest about my feelings. Would you be willing to ask more often how I am doing?"

"I would do anything for the people I love, but no one wants to help me."

This example is tough, I know. As with the other examples, I recommend being as vulnerable as you are able, and honestly state your emotions. Then make an honest request. I might say, "I hurt so badly right now, and I feel overwhelmed and alone. Do you have some time that you could spend with me in the next few days?"

I would also be specific as to what you want to do during that time. Maybe talking on the phone or texting would work. Maybe you really need to be touched, so you might ask for a back rub. Perhaps you need distraction, and going to the movies together would help. Be specific.

Honest Requests Are Healthier Than Manipulation

Honesty can feel vulnerable and scary sometimes. Practice telling the truth about what you feel with a loved one. Make specific requests, instead of manipulative comments. Always remember, when you make a request of someone, that person has the option of saying "yes" or "no." If one person can't meet your need, try not to take it personally, and ask someone else. Honesty versus manipulation in borderline personality disorder may be a lifelong lesson for me, and I assume it is something that most everyone struggles with from time to time. Hang in there, everyone. We can do this.

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APA Reference
Lewis, L. (2016, August 24). Borderline Personality Disorder, Manipulation vs. Honesty, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Laura Lewis

March, 23 2022 at 6:33 pm

I don't think there is anything wrong with understanding that, yes, I too can be manipulative. If the emotional response is to automatically contract e.g. denial, outrage, etc. then that too is a problem. BPDers need to own up to the fact that they are not angelic. No one is. Lots of conditions have issues with emotion understanding and interpersonal relations. The key is to develop your emotional literacy, emotion regulation skills, social skills, and executive function skills.

December, 3 2021 at 4:44 pm

We are not adults - emotionally. Those who haven’t gotten the best help. I’ve been to 4 therapists and still haven’t got much from them (they didn’t deal with bpd specifically) as what I’ve got from forums like this and bpd workbooks. So while it is still our responsibility… would you say the same to someone with a physical illness that needs help like think about someone who can’t take care of themselves physically… is it still their responsibility to do what normal people do? Yes? But can they actually do it? No… we are doing the best we can!!! Please understand that please

July, 6 2018 at 10:49 pm

I think my mother may have BPD. She has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. She’s super sweet, generous, and caring, but is very emotional and controlling. She gets angry really fast and I feel like anything I say hurts her feelings. She gets her feelings hurt over silly stuff. My mom is close with me and my sister but gets angry with us and even pouts if my 2 young children don’t pay her enough attention. She constantly brags on herself one minute and the next minute she’s putting herself down. I need some advice from someone with BPD. Please help me understand.

September, 25 2017 at 5:45 pm

Thanks for taking such a sympathetic approach to this issue. A lot of people seem to misconstrue borderline behavior as monstrous, malicious or intentionally manipulative, but a lot of time it's either learned behavior, unconscious, or both. It's easy to vilify someone with BPD, but I think it's important to recognize WHY that manipulative streak can emerge: it's because we are too afraid of being shut down to be honest and vulnerable. We do not feel secure or safe enough in a relationship to express our feelings frankly, so we're constantly hurting and too afraid to say it or ask for help. We lay down "tests" to find out if people are safe enough for us to be honest with, and when they inevitably fail, we assume they don't love us and wouldn't be receptive to us asking for help. And that's actually rarely the case. And so much of that pain would disappear if we could truly see the love people have for us and that they really do want to help, that they'll totally come over and help clean! They'll totally hang out sometime next week; they'll totally give you the reassurance you ask for. It took a lot of therapy and support to see it, but the fact that so many people don't breaks my heart. And the fact we're called evil for it breaks my heart worse. We just never learned what it's like to feel loved. We don't know how to ask for help.

August, 31 2017 at 1:12 pm

So I felt I am a very good sales person. It's easy for borderline to pick up and blend in with the emotional state of others, being like a chameleon, an extreme empath. Sometime I don't want that because when I have someone trully manipulating my emotions or blaming me for acting out and telling me I am manipulative, or a drama queen or crazy and then avoid me, it makes perfect sense I will be hurt, especially when borderline personality are very sensitive people. I find this blog very good, and I can find some great advice. My therapist just arrived at that determination, after telling me I may not be. Keep in mind that I noticed bordline personality in adults comes in episodes of stress. When a person who suffers with borderline is under emotional distressing situation, you should absolutely expect the manipulation and childish drama behavior to come out. I said some crazy things to my therapist and then keep apologizing for my words and behavior. I wonder if I should keep doing that or be honest with him that it's impulsive behavior where I act out of cognitive control and in emotions. It makes perfect sense. I am hurting right now, my dad passed away and tomorrow is his funeral and I don't have any other immediate family members left. I do need support, but noon wants the negativity especially when I am acting out, anxious and many other factors. I want to be normal. I don't feel normal like the others. What is notmal right now, I am confused? Even when I am supposed to be happy and things are safe and okay, I still have the what if scenario, sabotage every good thing that happens in my life and look at the negativity that may happen. As if I expect it ! It's uncomfortable state of mind, especially when I am single and don't have Noone remind me that it's Okey, be supportive until the storm passes's difficult for a borderline person to control oneself to begin with. It takes an immense cognitive power and learn skills again their own ways of coping and reacting all their life. So if a person who may exhibit borderline symptoms, had lived through extreme traumatic experiences and had learned no coping skills, expect that at time of turmoil they need extra support or they will turn to unhealthy behavior such as sex, alcohol and drama and sabotage and manipulate and denile or even suicide thoughts and attempts. I hope what I wrote makes sense because I am writing trying to process my own emotional state right now before my dad's funeral.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 22 2017 at 12:55 pm

Girl I get it. BPD is soooo hard. I have no idea what is real and what is just me being irrational. I just got diagnosed with BPD and my ex boyfriend and I are struggling to try to get back together, I feel like I have no friends and no grip on reality. And I feel like I have no one to turn to when shit hits the fan.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 24 2017 at 4:56 pm

I don't know how to configure responses with everything going on inside me or my head. But In sure you understand.
I just want you and all those people on her alike. I feel alone. Very, very alone. It's like I want to be by myself but not lonely. Half the stuff I do is subconscious, which when I cant explain people dont understand. So I confide in these posts, the comments and people who understand. No matter how far, I feel a connection. Giving me reason.
I thank everyone of you, for just being you.
No matter how scary we are to ourselves, we are saints to each other.

August, 21 2017 at 4:11 pm

Can anybody explain to me the dynamic of when my BPD ex refuses to speak to me but will stock me and pretend to be another person to keep in contact?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

January, 7 2018 at 4:45 pm

Very interesting

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 13 2024 at 10:24 pm

This isn’t uncommon… It can be difficult for a borderline to feel individuated or have a strong identity, so they may tend to lock in to a partner, their children, or parents beyond what non-borderlines would. The refusing to speak to you may be to maintain an image as part of wanting to be seen a certain way.

Winnie Lee
May, 18 2017 at 11:31 pm

I choose to leave my manipulative bpd friend behind. It was all about her; no reciprocity even when I did ask.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 13 2017 at 2:59 pm

You sound very ignorant and rude. I have BPD and know A LOT about the illness. Do you know that "Manipulation is defined as a deliberate thought process. Not behavior, but thought. A cognitive, shrewd, artful….planning, setting into motion a plan, an idea and make that idea a reality."? Manipulation is a response, not a reaction. Manipulation is defined as a thought process, not a behavior process. Behavior is only the product. This product of reaction, a sort of pseudo-manipulation is usually activated when an individual with borderline personality perceives impending annihilation, disaster and abandonment. This hypersensitivity may stir up tremendous anxiety and helplessness. Most people with a borderline personality have not successfully moved though their early developmental stages and are fixated usually around 2 to 4 years of age. Impulsivity is a prominent behavior that is often misinterpreted as manipulation. A person with borderline personality may experience anxiety as helplessness since she cannot equate her notions to an adult on an equal level. In other words, the sufferer of BPD 'is in maddening, excruciating emotional pain and confusion.' Many psychiatrists portrays helplessness especially well since time becomes narrowed and pressured giving a sense of urgency to resolve the pain. This sets into motion a reactive reflex (pseudo-manipulation) to ward off anxiety with often-destructive consequences. These destructive measures amount to job loss or relationship failure due to poor strategies to resolve antithetical troubles, hardly an artful and shrewd manipulation of a mastermind. Also, many psychiatrists have a particular dislike for the word "manipulative" as commonly applied to these patients [borderline]. They point out that this implies that they are skilled at managing other people, when it is precisely the opposite that is true. Also, the fact that a person may feel manipulated does not necessarily imply that this was the intention of someone with BPD; It is more probable that the patient did not have the skills to deal with the situation more effectively. Rather than viewing themselves [individuals with borderline personality disorder] as someone who is attempting to manipulate, is attention-seeking, or is sabotaging treatment, individuals with borderline personality disorder learn to view themselves as driven by the disorder to seek relief from a painful illness through desperate behaviors which are reinforced by negative and distorted thinking. "A borderline personality has the ability to manipulate, however; it is not the principal process of artful cognition that leads to borderline-style behavior. If we are going to use the term ‘behavior’ then it is more parallel to defensive behavior. Most of the time a borderline adapts to defensive behavior rather than manipulative behavior. People with BPD have emotional reactions, or behaviors that are blunt, clumsy and ineffective efforts to have the BPD's needs met. There is an immense differentiation between primitive borderline defense mechanisms and skillful manipulation, the product of each, which is behavior." It is helpful to consider that often times a person that has borderline personality is a ‘mixed bag’ since co-morbidity traits in patients with borderline personality disorder is high. However, if borderline personality disorder is the principle personality structure, chances are they are poor manipulators. Manipulation is a deliberate and artful thought process, which is not a common trait found in the borderline personality. The borderline personality defense is closer a Reactive Defense Mechanism that operates as a knee-jerk retort flung into motion from a low threshold of impulsivity. Identifying the difference between manipulation and reaction to painful stimuli can help ameliorate the therapeutic stance.
So maybe you should be more careful about what you say, cause it can be hurtful and inconsiderate to those struggling with mental illness. Thank you for reading, and I hope this educates you. :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 13 2017 at 6:11 pm

wow. i dont even know you but i already love you lol

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 5 2018 at 12:08 am

Mike, a BPD's manipulation is only considered blunt, clumsy, and ineffective because it doesn't work on Self-Respecting human understand a BPD's True Motives, just ask the simple question, "What if their manipulation were effective?" Then the BPD would be sadistically *Gleeful* that they're in *control* of others....long story short, BPD's treat others as Material Objects (simply a means to an end), rather than Spiritual Subjects (important Ends in and of themselves)'s extremely hard for me to feel sympathy for BPD's, when it's precisely the BPD's who leave behind a trail/pattern of destructive/wrecked/failed relationships...and remember, BPD is simply a "statistical label", and shouldn't be used as an excuse for adults not to take responsibility for their behavior.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 9 2018 at 12:14 pm

Thank you for your comment! I'm the new author of the More than Borderline blog. I understand your perspective and think it's important to remember that not all with BPD are the same. I encourage you to keep reading our blogs and learning about the diagnosis. All my best, Whitney

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 3 2019 at 6:34 am

Bingo, i have seen and experienced much manipulation by my bpd traits wife. " not meaning" to doesnt excuse or negate the behavoir.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 17 2021 at 10:34 am

Do you realize everybody stopped reading your insane rant after the first sentence? Or are you too self-absorbed?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 17 2021 at 8:58 am


September, 10 2016 at 2:41 pm

Wow hit the nail on the head. That is EXACTLY the problem I face with this as well. I've never seen it explained better. Reminds me of the whole "love yourself" thing counselors pull. Who am I that I can love myself?

September, 7 2016 at 11:25 pm

honestly asking for what I need....if it were that easy!
first of all - who is "I"? that's not always as clear to me as it should be.
second - if I definitely knew what I need I'd already have a problem less...
and finally - how can I dare??? to need anything + even ask for it???
so better don't make yourself ridiculous and even more vulnerable than you feel already....better keep it to yourself

sha adams
August, 26 2016 at 11:57 am

Great information thank you. Hello Ladies my name is sha adams.

August, 25 2016 at 6:34 am

Awesome insight and the verbiage suggestions are great tools! Thank you so much!

August, 24 2016 at 4:27 pm

Good, clear, and simple advice!!!
For all!

Ann Strauss
August, 24 2016 at 8:25 am

Great article! Great advice!

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