Change the Way Your Borderline Personality Impacts Others
Jude: “Please accuse (sic) me if this sounds paranoid, but has anyone contacted you about me?”
[Followed immediately by 42 e-mails escalating in tone and urgency, making accusations of hacking his computer, with final e-mails expressing suicidal thoughts]
A Look at Sandra and BPD
Both Sandra and Jude are merely acquaintances of the author, although the desperation and revealing nature of their missives might lead one to believe they are longtime friends or perhaps family members of their e-mail recipient. What they have in common is a diagnosis; both Sandra and Jude battle borderline personality disorder. Sandra, perhaps because she is the daughter of a mother with a strong personality and narcissistic traits, experiences BPD as the “waif” personality. She perceives herself as the perpetual victim and is never clear why others choose to end their relationships with her, although in her experience, they always do.
In the above transcript of Sandra’s email, she uses not-so-subtle manipulation, an exhausting and inauthentic means of controlling outcomes, in order to convince her addressee not to abandon her, to reveal her emotional needs, to beg for understanding by saying, “I know YOU understand.” The “borderline’s” most pervasive fear is abandonment, after all, but by using manipulation - even a kind that may appear innocuous on the surface - Sandra doesn’t realize that she is participating in the very behavior that pushes people away from her.
What everyone requires of friendship is honesty, trust, authenticity. No one desires to be manipulated; it feels dishonest - disrespectful. Furthermore, the perpetual victim personality is draining for others. We all recognize intuitively that no one is 100 percent innocent in any exchange. In the breakdown of a relationship, it takes two. One person might have been more or less unfair or unruly, but it took two people to decide to enter the arrangement, and it usually takes two people to allow its breakdown. Sandra plays the “waif,” but this is an unconscious or partially conscious decision; it is not a truth. The people around her want her to accept accountability for who she is, many of the things that happen in her life, and the direction she is taking - just as we all must do. Anything else feels childish, and as adults, we want our friendships to be with other adults.
A Look at Jude and BPD
Jude does not play the “waif,” but like Sandra, he sees himself as a perpetual victim. Unlike Sandra, however, he is more equipped to stand up for himself, although he does this in contexts in which no one is actually seeking to harm him. Jude is under the impression that everyone is out to get him. A man of extraordinary intellect, he might be able to go far professionally if it weren’t for a disorder that is holding him emotionally hostage. He is distrusting of the world and nearly everyone in it. Jobs and relationships - family, friendships, and romantic relationships - fit the profile of BPD in Jude’s life; he burns through them passionately and quickly - and permanently. His bridges are burned with dynamite. Due to his chronically defensive posture, Jude chooses to attack, and he always believes he is justified.
Having held Jude’s acquaintance for some time now, his intelligence is never disappointing, but one never knows from one day to the next which way Jude will be splitting either himself, his friends, or his acquaintances. Being patient through these highs and lows - finding oneself placed on a pedestal one moment and derided the next - is dizzying. It takes a great deal of patience and the ability to never take his insults personally. This can be impossible for most people to do, even when they know a friend or loved one has a mental illness, and it may be too much to require it of them.
Ways to Help Your Friends and Loved Ones When You Have BPD
If you have been diagnosed with BPD, it may be wise to recognize that others in your life are nearly as deeply impacted by your mental and emotional health challenge as you are. There are some things you can begin to do for them and for yourself:
1. Recognize from the point of first diagnosis that you do have this mental health challenge. If you are like other people with BPD, you will resist your diagnosis now, or in the future. You will want to say it was never true. But it is true. And admitting it and getting help for it is the only thing that will help you get better. This will begin to help your relationships, your job - your entire life. You will never regret treatment once you find the right kind. And the best news is that although BPD is among the most difficult diagnoses to have and for others to contend with, it is treatable, and it can be cured!
2. Begin to be honest, really honest, about the ways you are affecting your relationships. The thing you are most afraid of is abandonment. News flash: so is everyone else. It is only that your emotional reactions to this fear are more severe. Listen to what your friends and family have been telling you. If you have hurt them with words, criticisms, threats of suicide, listen. These behaviors actually push people away. You want to keep them close. Consider your words and actions and begin to dig into the therapies available to teach you how to handle your emotional responses - therapies such as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) or emotive rational behavior therapy (ERBT). Do the work and get well.
3. Commit to stopping and thinking (or just stopping and grounding) before you react or speak. Don’t respond to that remark just yet. Don’t reply to that e-mail for a couple of days. Let it settle, and don’t allow yourself to obsess. Distract your mind by exercising, breathing, reading, or walking. Do something else, but retrain your mind from reacting to your usual knee-jerk emotional responses. Train yourself away from those old behaviors and teach yourself a more centered, mature way of responding to the people and events in your life. You’ll be happier and wiser, and altogether less stressed, and the people who care about you will be much more likely to lean in closer, and to stay.