So Ive been thinking a lot about BPD lately. Ok, thats a lie, I think about it all the time mostly to try and understand it and come to terms with it. A close relationship with a borderline turns your world upside down and inside out and it can take years to recover from it once it is over. With hindsight, there are all sorts of could haves, should haves, would haves, ifs and buts to deal with.
Could I have responded differently? Should I have tried harder? If I had known what I was dealing with, would I have done better for myself and for my partner? You can drive yourself crazy with this line of thought but sometimes, when you get the answers, it can bring a measure of peace.
I was listening to Bren Browns talk on vulnerability and she said a couple of things that lit a few light bulbs for me. She was talking about blame and mentioned: You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort. Whoa.
We all play the blame game, because we all have some pain and discomfort. Borderlines, however, take blame to epic proportions, which must mean that they experience epic amounts of pain and discomfort. When you are on the receiving end of this near constant barrage, it is deeply unpleasant because it causes you such pain and discomfort. It is very difficult not to blame back in self-defense which only leads to more of the pain and discomfort the borderline was trying to discharge in the first place.
If I had realized this, would I have responded differently? Of course I would have but the blame sparked off all sorts of things that were already lying dormant within me, so I took it to heart and was offended and wounded. Nothing happens by accident relationships, events, disease, encounters everything is a lesson. I found this lovely little quote that explains it so well:
Your perception of me is a reflection of you; my reaction to you is an awareness of me.
Now I can see the blame for what it was a cry for help. Im not saying I could have changed anything and I dont beat myself up for it. Even therapists find borderlines a challenge and most of them wont touch BPD with a barge pole so that lets us amateurs off the hook. The diagnosis is notoriously difficult to pin down and is often accompanied by other disorders.
But I do wonder what would have happened if instead of acting from my own wounds or running for cover, I had stepped away from myself and said I see your pain, I hear you, I see you. I realize now that people who feel good about themselves dont find it necessary to make other people feel bad.
And then theres the shame. Its so easy to see a borderline as a psychopath, schizoid, emotional vampire or write them off as just plain nuts. BPDs and psychopaths actually share the same sense of distorted self-image. Psychopaths however, have no conscience and do not feel shame. Borderlines, on the other hand, feel too much. Shame is their core.
My next light bulb moment was when Brown said that Jungian analysts call shame the swampland of the soul and The things I can tell you about it: Its universal; we all have it. The only people who dont experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. This got me thinking if borderlines operate from such enormous amounts of shame, their capacity for empathy and connection might be similarly enormous but they just dont know how to express it appropriately. They crave connection but paradoxically push people away at the same time because they are too busy fighting their own internal demons.
You know youre borderline when you fluctuate between fearing abandonment to encouraging it
~ Jaen Wirefly
When something goes wrong, or they perceive it as going wrong, borderlines lack the ability to soothe themselves. They have no baseline self to revert to because its shifting all the time. They catastrophize everything and the way they deal with shame is to blame and control. The way partners generally respond is fight, flight or fix. None of these appears to be the answer.
Therapist Marc Miller, Ph.D. says When partners blame each other, neither person feels heard or understood, both are too busy defending themselves instead of listening to what his or her partner is saying. Mutual blaming leads to an escalation of shame and more blame, increasing the tension and distance between partners, thus making communication and intimacy more and more difficult. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and it wasnt a pretty one.
This is when you call it quits and try to end the relationship or when you capitulate, efface yourself and your needs to maintain an uneasy peace. The former might be life-saving but its not particularly satisfying and the latter is an ongoing battle that cant be won.
This is probably the most damaging, soul sucking option. Its when you think that if you can just love your partner enough, you can make it all better. Love cant heal a borderline. No matter how much love you try to pour into them, they are a bottomless pit because they dont know how to love themselves. In fact, because they hate themselves so much, in their eyes, in some twisted way, your loving them just confirms how stupid you must be.
Back to Bren Brown on shame: No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it, the more you have it..The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability. This idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen. Shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is I did something bad but shame is I am bad.
Borderlines are not that different from anybody else except in degree. They feel everything we feel but at extremes that are hard to fathom which makes them appear heartless, delusional and illogical. And heres the crux as much as being vulnerable is difficult for everybody, for the borderline, its like death. From a person with BPD: . . . it is very difficult for me to let other people get close to me. I am simply too afraid that they will discover that I am nothing at all, that I am nobody, a shadow, a ghost. This agonizing lack of identity has also been described as not knowing where they end and the other person begins.
Brown says of her research: There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe theyre worthy of love and belonging. Thats it. They believe theyre worthy. And to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that were not worthy of connection.
For a borderline, this fear is so intense that it is unbearable. Borderlines are so exquisitely vulnerable emotionally they are like the walking wounded but you cant see them bleeding, its all on the inside.
Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.
~ Marsha Linehan
When they erupt, it happens so fast it can give you whiplash.
So what can we deduce from all of this? BPDs are in pain and what do hurt people do? Hurt people hurt people. The more hurt they feel, the more hurt they inflict not on purpose, but to try and alleviate their own pain. Borderline personality disordered people are 400 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. They dont necessarily want to die, they just want the pain to go away.
In Power vs. Force, David R. Hawkins M.D. Ph.D., maps out the levels of human consciousness from zero to 1000. Death is at the bottom and enlightenment is at the top. Shame is right down there at 20, hovering just above death. The level of shame is perilously proximate to death
My question has changed from why do borderline personality disordered people act the way they do? to how do they function at all? How do they even get up in the morning and go to work? How do they drag that enormous emptiness around with them and not fall apart completely? A writer in the New York Times put it: No one knows how many people with severe mental illness live what appear to be normal, successful lives, because such people are not in the habit of announcing themselves. They are too busy juggling responsibilities, paying the bills, studying, raising families all while weathering gusts of dark emotions or delusions that would quickly overwhelm almost anyone else.
I dont see them as manipulative, egotistical or cruel anymore even though their actions can be manipulative, egotistical and cruel. I see them as warriors battling against immense odds. Having a borderline in your life is not some nasty twist of fate its an opportunity to reveal how deep your own hurts are.
Jung said: A good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctors examining himselfit is his own hurt that gives a measure of his power to heal. It is estimated that about 6% of the American population is affected with BPD and that the percentage is rising. Thats an awful lot of people, 18 million and counting, that are suffering. Instead of sidelining these millions as disordered and fragmented, perhaps we should examine what they reflect about our society in general, which is equally disordered and fragmented. Maybe BPDs are the canary in the coal mine, warning us to get our collective act together.