There’s a lot of stuff written online about borderline personality disorder, or BPD. Most of it’s negative, which I actually think is pretty unfair.
Maybe it’s just the “empath” side of me, or the fact that I can always see both sides of things. I don’t have BPD but I have had someone I love who does and this is just what I’ve observed. I definitely don’t think people with BPD are evil.
I truly believe that most people with BPD don’t enjoy destroying their closest relationships or struggling with feelings of emptiness and low self-worth.
While the emotional extremes the disorder is characterized by are fun when you’re experiencing the upswing, the depths to which the lows go seem to be torture. The people I’ve known with BPD seek out the high times, which they usually call “passion,” like an adrenaline junkie seeks thrills.
But there’s always the equally intense comedown, often accompanied by even a suicidal depression. For whatever reason, calm stability is seen as boring.
I get that all of this is just how they are and it takes serious, consistent long-term effort and therapy to change. (However, I can’t recommend The Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Workbook highly enough as a DIY method.) I know that nobody wants to be told they have this illness. I know that many people who have been hurt by someone with BPD are responsible for spreading all the bad stuff about the disorder.
But I get that, too. It’s a difficult disorder to have, but it’s also incredibly difficult and painful when someone you love has it. From reckless behaviors to paranoia (like thinking people are saying bad things about you when they’re not), more of it comes out the more time you spend with them.
It can only be hidden for so long, which is one cause of the self-loathing and emptiness most BPD people experience. Feeling like people will leave you when they get to know you better is a powerful motivator to hide and hiding never feels good. Most BPD relationships are either shallow or burn out really quickly.
Because if you get really close to someone with BPD, it’s only a matter of time until they “split” their view of you. In the course of less than 24 hours, you can go from being their soulmate to the most vile person who ever lived. All of your good qualities cease to exist or are even now viewed as bad.
Someone with BPD is not likely to feel anger with casual acquaintances they only see rarely. The cashier at the grocery store or the internet-only friend probably won’t ever see it.
And that behavior is what ends relationships, whether it be family relationships, marriages, or friendships. I actually find it incredibly sad because everybody needs close relationships–including and maybe even especially people with BPD.
But BPD rage is a real thing and it’s far worse than “just a fight.” It’s likely to be among the most vicious experiences you’ll ever be on the receiving end of. As the non-BPD person, you’re likely to find it completely bewildering, maybe even terrifying.
Eventually, most people leave the person with BPD, unable to take the emotional extremes. Ironically, that actually makes it worse, especially if the person leaving was someone very close to them.
Reaction to abandonment is a major trigger for BPD rage, so there’s really no safe way to back away from the person with BPD without triggering the intense anger. You will be called every name in the book, have things you shared in confidence thrown back at you, and be mocked in every possible way. Any sort of “you just can’t say that” social norms are thrown out the window.
In my observation, the person with BPD often does not think their actions should have any lasting effect on the relationship. Reacting so intensely is just what they do and they think that once they’re over the fight, the other person should be as well. Any real acknowledgment of how deeply the BPD person has hurt the non never comes. Or if there’s a brief moment of self-awareness of what they’ve done, they’ll later take it back.
Above all, people with BPD desperately want unconditional love and acceptance. Everyone else wants the same, of course, but it’s a deeper, more primal need with BPD.
If the people closest to them all point out having problems with the same behaviors, those people are accused of thinking they’re better than the person with BPD. No criticism, no matter how mild or carefully worded, is safe to make.
Unfortunately, the degree of explosiveness of that anger often nails shut the door to any future reconciliation. No matter how much people love the BPD individual, few people can tolerate being on the receiving end of the super-intense rage. Even if you give a second or third chance, there will always be a next time.
Even though I understand all this, I can’t go back to being in a relationship with the BPD person in my life, even though I miss them. I don’t really know what to do from here. I just can’t deal with the rage again.
Originally, that was the reason I wanted to become a therapist: I think too many people have an unfair judgment of people with personality disorders as just being bad. And I don’t really think anyone’s beyond saving if they work on it and seek help.
But ultimately, I think the reason I may not become a therapist is because people have to want help. The therapist will inevitably be the target of the patient’s rage and I’m not sure I could handle it again.
And because deep-seated shame is at the root of BPD and many personality disorders, how do you make people feel safe enough to confront and work on their issues without triggering that shame?