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Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Trying to determine if you or someone in your life may suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder? You will soon find out, however, that this is a complex question. There are no simple behavioural checklists; no definitive tests. Identifying Borderline Personality Disorder requires having a working knowledge of the disorder and some insight into the past life of the person in question.

Borderline Personality Disorder is a disorder of the emotions. Imagine a person who is extremely sensitive to rejection (fearful of even perceived or anticipated rejection) and has a limited ability to modulate their emotional impulses (love, fear, anger, grief, etc.). To protect themselves from their own feelings, they are prone to adopt a multitude of dysfunctional rationalisations and cover-ups.

For example, a person suffering from BPD may so fear rejection in a new relationship that they recreate themselves in the image of a person they believe would be lovable. When the negative emotions for making such a sacrifice surface - and not having the ability to modulate them, they lash out at the target of their affections for "making them do it" - rather than face their own feelings of inadequacy / fear of rejection, ultimately damaging the relationship they so fear losing, and reinforcing their feelings of inadequacy / fear of rejection.

What is going on in a Borderline Personality Disorder sufferer's mind and how they are acting can be two entirely different things. To the sufferer, BPD is about deep feelings, feelings often too difficult to express, feelings that are something along the lines of this:

  • If others really get to know me, they will find me rejectable and will not be able to love me; and they will leave me;

  • I need to have complete control of my feelings otherwise things go completely wrong;

  • I have to adapt my needs to other people's wishes, otherwise they will leave me or attack me;

  • I am an evil person and I need to be punished for it;

  • Other people are evil and abuse you;

  • If someone fails to keep a promise, that person can no longer be trusted;

  • If I trust someone, I run a great risk of getting hurt or disappointed;

  • If you comply with someone's request, you run the risk of losing yourself;

  • If you refuse someone's request, you run the risk of losing that person;

  • I will always be alone;

  • I can't manage by myself; I need someone I can fall back on;

  • There is no one who really cares about me, who will be available to help me;

  • I don't really know what I want;

  • I will never get what I want;

  • I'm powerless and vulnerable and I can't protect myself;

  • I have no control of myself;

  • I can't discipline myself;

  • My feelings and opinions are unfounded;

  • Other people are not willing or helpful.

To the family members, BPD behaviour is often very frustrating can feel unfair and punitive - something like this:

  • You have been viewed as overly good and then overly bad;

  • You have been the focus of unprovoked anger or hurtful actions, alternating with periods when the family member acts perfectly normal and very loving;

  • Things that you have said or done have been twisted and used against you;

  • You are accused of things you never did or said?

  • You often find yourself defending and justifying your intentions;

  • You find yourself concealing what you think or feel because you are not heard;

  • You feel manipulated, controlled, and sometimes lied to.

As such, the most obvious "symptom" of Borderline Personality Disorder is a lifelong pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions.

Do I Have Borderline Personality Disorder?

“About a year ago I went to my doctor and told her how I was feeling, she told me I had symptoms of BPD and to maybe see a therapist. I never ended up going but I did look it up and a lot/almost all of it related to me. I never thought much of it because I just thought I was a normal teenage girl who liked to party a little too much, didn’t really know who I was, and was sad & insecure sometimes.

I recently got into a relationship, about 4 months ago, I’ve never been in one before. I don’t even know how to act in a relationship because I usually push the other person away in fear that once they get to know me, they’ll leave me, so I leave first. He’s the first guy I’ve ever had any sort of real connection with, but we fight a lot. For the most part we usually fight because of me, I get these feelings and emotions that come out of nowhere and I freak out about. For some reason they made me look up borderline personality disorder and I relate more than ever.

I don’t know if it’s all coming out because I just have no idea how to function in a relationship or because something really is wrong. I just don’t think it’s that hard to learn how to be in a relationship and I don’t think most people go through this. I constantly need reassurance that he likes me, that he thinks I’m pretty, that he likes my body, that I’m important to him. When he’s not around, all I can think is that I could be single, that it would be better that way. When he’s with me all I can think is that I never want to be alone again.

Every little detail I found myself getting upset over, I start fights over stupid things. I also find myself thinking; If he’s not with me and he’s not texting me I think he’s cheating because why would someone like him want anything to do with someone like me? But then sometimes I think I could get a way better looking guy then him, that I’m too good for him.

I’m sure I could go on, but this is the gist of what’s going on. Everything just seems so black and white. Either I think things are perfect or everything has going to shit. Is something wrong with me, I keep wondering? Maybe I’m too insecure or jealous or something. I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know why I can’t let things just be.”

I Have Borderline Personality Disorder

“It is not the same as being borderline psychotic nor is it the same as having bipolar disorder. While people with BPD do suffer mood swings, they rarely last more than a couple of hours and change from one emotion to the next rapidly encompassing the entire realm of emotional experience, whereas people with bipolar disorder go through manic and depressant phases lasting three to eight days.

BPD is a disorder that a great deal of the population is ignorant of, and those who have heard of it are often misinformed, even though an estimated two out of every one hundred people suffer it.

When you are with someone who has BPD, you will notice definite patterns in their behaviours, that may or may not be extreme; people with BPD can be excellent at hiding their cardinal traits from the average person, and only once you really get close to someone can you discern that there may be something different about them. This makes it exceedingly difficult for us because we live in terror of being rejected and abandoned, and when we let someone in, they see one side of us, and when we make them aware of our BPD and they get freaked out and leave, they are fulfilling our never ending cycle of fear.

In every relationship, small or large, having BPD feels like lying with your belly face up waiting for someone to stab you in it. Instead of dealing with the abandonment we feel is inevitable in a relationship, we will often reject you first, even if we are quite fond of you. If we do not openly reject you, we create patterns and environments that make you uncomfortable so you leave, even though that may be the last thing we really want you to do.

In times of unusually high stress, when we feel more out of control than usual, our brains may respond by temporary psychosis, or the loss of touch with reality. This scares us just as much as it scares you.

People with BPD are prone to self-destructive behaviours (reckless driving, financial irresponsibility, cutting, etc), suicidal tendencies or ideation, severely damaged self-image, paranoia in relationships and social settings, extreme trust issues and fear of abandonment, hyper-sensitivity to judgment and other people’s emotions, increased sporadic aggression, defining people in black and white terms (and variations between co-dependency and total dissociation with the people around them. People with BPD also have the tendency to compartmentalise memories, experiences, and events within their brain, in order to better cope with their emotions. All of these traits can make a romantic relationship, or even a friendship, with someone very difficult and are usually the cause of the breakup or break down.

Not all people with BPD are “crazy,” nor should you stay away from us if we trust and love you enough to tell you about our disorder. Understand that our trust does not come easily, in any way, shape or form and we are giving you a very precious gift. Do not assume we are incapable of living normal, happy lives, or that we are incapable of holding down jobs. We can succeed just as well as the other ninety-eight out of one-hundred people who do not have BPD —it just may take us a hell of a lot more perseverance.”

*Artwork by Ray Ceasar

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