Why BPD relationships are so complicated

If you care about someone with borderline personality disorder, keep these four facts in mind:

  1. To Help Your Family Member, You Must Help Yourself First
    Your physical and emotional health, and the health of your relationship, partly depends upon your willingness to look after your own needs, such as taking time away, setting limits with love, and having a hearty life of your own separate from your borderline family member.
  2. You Can Improve Your Life Even If Your Family Member Doesn’t Change
    Right now, you probably feel trapped, confused, and powerless. But it doesn’t have to be this way—at least to the extent it is right now. It may seem hard to imagine, but the tools and techniques described in this web site and in The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tools and Techniques to Stop Walking on Eggshells that will enable you to feel better and more in control of your life regardless of what your loved one does or doesn’t do.
  3. It Takes Only One Person to Fundamentally Change a Relationship
    It takes two to have a relationship. But each person is in charge of 50 percent. Right now, you may think that your family member has power over you and can “make” you do and feel things you don’t want to do and feel. This is false. When you take more control of your own reactions and make decisions true to yourself, the dynamic of your relationship will change.
  4. Most Borderline Behavior Isn’t Deliberate
    Without education about BPD, family members take their family member’s behavior personally—especially if the BP is of the higher-functioning invisible type. This leads to much unnecessary suffering, because BPD behavior isn’t willful. Think of it this way: Why would anyone choose to be in situations that make them angry, unhappy, or otherwise in distress?

Why Are BPD Relationships So Complicated?

Some features of borderline personality disorder strike at the heart of what makes us able to have good interpersonal relationships. Some of these features are:

Low emotional intelligence

There’s more than one way to be smart. In addition to the kind of intelligence you can measure on an IQ test, there’s emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is about monitoring emotions—both your own and those of the people around you—and then using this knowledge to guide your thinking and actions. Many people think BPs don’t have empathy. They do—it’s just that their own emotions are so intense they can be oblivious to the emotions of those around them. They’re like a drowning person who grabs on to a would-be rescuer and pulls them both down.

Impulsive aggression

Impulsive aggression is what happens when the other shoe drops, when the eggshells break, and the emotional roller coaster takes a 180-degree turn. It can be triggered by immediate threats of rejection or abandonment paired with frustration. The aggression can be turned inward (self-injury, suicide) or turned outward (raging, verbal abuse, domestic violence).

Impulsive aggression is associated with a biological “tug-of-war” between the logical and emotional aspects of the brain, in which the logical side loses. These aggressive tendencies can be inherited.

Think of impulsive aggression as a “border-lion,” a ferocious beast that is uncaged when BPs’ emotions are so strong and overwhelming they can no longer be contained. It is not exclusive to BPD, but a component of several impulse control disorders such as intermittent explosive disorder.

Whether the border-lion is turned inward or outward, it is one of the top barriers keeping BPs and those who love them from developing the close, trusting relationship each partner yearns for.

It’s going to be tough, but try to hold fast to the notion that your family member and the border-lion are not one and the same.

Rejection sensitivity

In addition to fearing abandonment, people with BPD are overly sensitive to rejection. They anxiously await it, see it when it isn’t there, and overreact to it whether it’s there or not. This is why small slights—or perceived small slights—can cause major messes.

Child-Like Characteristics

People with BPD may seem as mature as any other adult in social or professional situations. But when it comes to coping with strong emotions, they can be stuck at a child’s developmental level.

Their sadness may be similar to the way a child feels at being left out by the other kids. When angry, it could be the anger of a teen, outraged at a parent’s refusal to let them attend a party. (As in, “You’re ruining my life!”) There can be a child-like ever-present vulnerability personified in Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe (both of whom had many classic BPD traits).

Five Familiar “Fights” (Relationship Behavioral Patterns)

Having a borderline loved one means having that “it’s déjà vu all over again” feeling much of the time. You may feel get stuck in these five familiar behavioral patterns, or “fights,” with no clue about what’s happening, how you got there, or how to get out.

1. The “It’s Your Fault” Fight

“Once my BP girlfriend snapped at me for looking through some DVDs the wrong way. I asked her in a very even tone of voice, “What are you getting upset about?” For the rest of the day she sulked and gave me the silent treatment.”

For BPs to admit to themselves or others that anything about them is less than perfect would be admitting that they are defective.

2. The “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” Fight

“My mother is the master of double-binds. When I call her as soon as I get home at the end of my day, she is short and rude because she is in the middle of something. But if I wait until later in the evening to call, she says in an accusatory way, “You’ve been home for how long? And you didn’t call me?”

You know you’re in a no-win scenario when you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. People with BPD are consistently inconsistent.

3. The “Projection” Fight

“There’s nothing wrong with me. There’s something wrong with you!

People often try to avoid feeling bad about their own unpleasant traits, behaviors, or feelings by attributing them (often in an accusing way) to someone else. This is a common defense mechanism called projection. people with BPD take it to the extreme.

4. The “I Hate You—Don’t Leave Me” Fight

I am totally confused. My BP boyfriend broke up with me on Tuesday, then on Friday wanted to know what I was doing over the weekend. I remember one night, we had a great time together and had great sex. Then he started a fight over nothing the next morning.”

When people get too close, people with BPs feel engulfed. In turn, they distance themselves to avoid feeling controlled. But then BPs feel neglected, even abandoned. So they try to get closer again, and the cycle repeats.

5. The “Testing” Fight

Before I recovered from BPD I would tell people, “I’m just testing you to see how much you love me.” I knew that I couldn’t start with a full-blown BP rage. So I started softly and slowly. With each test I set forth and the person passed, I upped the ante and said, “If you loved me, you would do this or that.” People usually accepted the most outrageous and inappropriate behavior to maintain the relationship.

You might think that once the non-BP passes the tests, their borderline family member would feel more secure. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, people with BPD think, “Why would a healthy, normal person take the abuse? There must be something wrong with them.”

 
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