BPD this subject still makes me feel raw, years after the fact. Once you have been intimately involved with this condition, your life will never be the same. Remember that song by the Clash that goes like this?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An if I stay it will be double
That pretty much sums up the dilemma of living with a borderline personality disordered partner. Either way its going to be painful. If you leave, it will be messy but if you stay, it will get even messier. If I had to do it all over again and could speak to my younger self, I would have just one word to scream and that would be: Run!
But I didnt know then what I know now, did I? And I probably would not have listened anyway. I was young, nave and in love. Actually, I didnt just love my spouse, it was more like adoration. My spouse was funny, smart, talented and gorgeous but unfortunately, also broken in ways that could not be fixed. I didnt notice at first because I was also broken, but in different ways. And theres the catch we dont attract people by accident, we attract them because they perfectly fit our dysfunction. Like the right key in a lock.
Borderlines dont make us feel anything we dont already feel deep down inside. They are the miners and we are the mines with rich veins of emotional ore. We are the rescuers, the helpers, the empaths, the caretakers, and our shoulders are so broad. We can take it. When they blame us for everything and anything, thats ok, because we feel responsible anyway. When they violate our boundaries, we allow it because we dont have many boundaries to start with. Either we have never learnt to establish them or we grew up with a parent who violated ours.
A friend of mine once asked me why I was willing to accept mere scraps in my marriage. I denied it, made all sorts of excuses and generally skirted around the issue but my lack of self-esteem was obviously a big part of the problem. I was too busy turning myself into a pretzel trying to preserve peace and harmony to think about stuff like that. I lived in constant fear but because it was my normal I didnt even recognize it.
If a relationship with a borderline were a person it would be diagnosed as manic depressive or the more polite and pc term, bipolar. There are high highs and low lows. The highs can be pretty awesome and addictive, despite or maybe even because of the fact that the lows are so terrible. If you are used to living on scraps, the highs can feel like a feast.
Borderlines are by definition needy. They desperately need reassurance, pampering, bolstering, unconditional love and unconditional support. Its a one way street though. They are also brimming with the fear of rejection and abandonment. Because they cant regulate their emotions very well, they have hair-trigger responses where they erupt like volcanoes; spewing molten anger on the very person they are terrified of losing.
BPDs have enormous reserves of this anger which they can access at a moments notice. Its unlike other peoples anger though because it seems to feed on itself and becomes an orgy of negativity directed squarely at you, the nearest and dearest. When you are on the receiving end of this kind of abuse, it can be exhausting, confusing and debilitating. You begin to lose your sense of self which, ironically, is at the root of the disordered personality.
Borderlines are abusive, not because they are bad people but because they have a fractured sense of self. They dont know who they are and their internal world is like constantly shifting sand so they keep trying to reinvent themselves. If you dont know or understand this, (and lets face it, most of us have no clue) the only reasonable explanation for the nonsensical, contradictory and erratic behavior is that the person is nuts. One day I blurted this out, not realizing it is the worst thing to call a borderline because their sense of self is so terribly small to begin with and now I was calling it crazy to boot. My bad.
People with BPD are also called splitters. They generally dont see anything in shades of grey its black or white, you are either for them or against them, they love you or hate you, something is good or its bad, they talk about themselves as fantastically marvelous or a complete failure, and this can happen all in the same conversation. They can be apologizing sincerely to you one minute and then accuse you of some awful crime the next. They are remarkably gifted at wounding you with words.
There are no nuances in a relationship with a splitter and everything is always and forever about them. EVERYTHING. Even when something is clearly about you, they will find a way to make it about them. You soon learn the wisdom of the saying Dont go to a cactus for a hug.
Living with someone who has BPD is like having your life and soul sucked right out of your body, bit by agonizing bit. Its like living in a twilight zone and if you stay there long enough you start to think you are the crazy one. You have to be the grown up but you get treated like a child. You spend your life feeling almost faceless but at the same time you are the one doing all the heavy lifting keeping the relationship afloat, trying to fix the unfixable and win the unwinnable war. By the time you wake up and smell the coffee, years could have passed you by.
Theyll push you away and then accuse you of being selfish or not caring. Theyll make unilateral decisions without consulting you or fly into a rage if you suggest another path and then later blame you for those same decisions. Any and every decision you make will be countered with criticism but you will be expected to offer undying loyalty and admiration in return.
Its all about control
One of the most frightening aspects is the control. Splitters know that something is not right in their psyche but unless they admit that they have a problem, they will find someone else to blame. The easiest and softest targets are those closest to home their spouse and even their children. The result is pure chaos, mayhem and destruction. The more denial there is and the more out of control their world gets, the more they will try and dominate, manipulate and control you.
Resistance is futile and compliance is futile. Basically, you are damned if you do and damned if you dont. Its a bit trying to dance the tango by yourself theres no growth and it gets very lonely. Your partners arrested development becomes your arrested development.
Added to this is the fact that often BPD s are quite personable and charming in public. They can be high functioning and to all intents and purposes appear like everybody else. And of course they can be delightful, loving, tender and considerate which becomes ever more difficult to reconcile with their undoubtedly crazy side.
There is an endless procession of good days followed by many more bad days. On the good days, you cling to hope everything is going to be all right after all. On the bad days, you despair. If you can step back from this train wreck in slow motion, you will eventually notice that this is a cycle and what goes up must come down. There is no hope and things are never going to change. A relationship with a significant other should be a haven or a refuge otherwise theres no point but a relationship with a BPD is a war zone and the only guarantee is that there will be casualties.
So should you go or should you stay? At first blush, I would say go. Really, just GO. But theres no right answer to this because it is ultimately the wrong question. A better question to ask yourself is why you landed up in the relationship in the first place. Some people can recognize the signs of BPD very early on and get out while they are still intact. They might not be able to diagnose the condition but their tolerance for the irrational, the weird and the unpredictable is low and their survival instincts are high.
The rest of us are slow learners. Whilst the borderline makes the relationship all about them, it is really all about you, your beliefs and the relationship you have with yourself. They say if you want to know how you feel about yourself, take a look around at your life.
Pema Chdrn said: nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. Every relationship is really just a great big mirror. Of course that is not to say that a bad relationship is your fault. It isnt, but it is your responsibility. In other words, whatever your circumstances, you have the ability to respond.
Respond by being selfish. This is not about being selfish in a grabby way, its about being selfish in a healthy way. Whether you decide to stay or go, you are of absolutely no use to anyone, yourself included, if you sacrifice yourself on the altar of martyrdom to save someone else. You cannot love a splitter right. Read that again.
Amanda Wang, a BPD sufferer, says: When all the love in the world tries its best to keep you afloat, and still love is not enough. You find yourself standing on a ledge so afraid to hurt the ones you love even more, and at the same time, unable to tolerate the torments of the person you have become, and you ask over and over again, when loves seems to fail, where is the answer?
Even in the best conditions, love is not strong enough to take on the gripping, thorny reality of an untreated and undiagnosed illness.
Respond by making yourself a priority. You have one life to live and you do deserve to be happy, fulfilled and loved. If that means divorce or escape, so be it.
Respond by getting some help. Not help for your partner but help for yourself to try and understand how you might have contributed to the dynamics of the relationship. By staying you might be enabling the behavior and reinforcing the denial, thereby preventing your partner from getting help.
Respond by taking care of your children. Growing up with one parent who has BPD and another who is emotionally exhausted can be enormously detrimental. Watching one parent have repeated explosive episodes while the other parent compensates or just shuts down creates confusion and future dysfunction. It also leaves scars. Children deserve at least one happy and functional parent.
Respond by demanding more of life. It is absolutely amazing what happens when you decide to take charge of your own happiness. Sometimes it forces you to wake up and admit how intolerable and unacceptable the situation has become and recognize that leaving is the only sane thing to do. Sometimes it makes people leave of their own accord. And sometimes you dont have to do anything at all and the universe responds in some spectacular fashion. But you have to make the decision first.