It?s not their fault you were standing in front of the barrel of their gun when they pulled the trigger.
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The following piece is based on my experiences living with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder. It will include somewhat fragmented recollections of emotional abuse, and I recognize that some of this may be uncomfortable to read for those who have BPD. However, these are still my experiences, and it is worth noting that the individual in question vehemently refused help at all costs, going so far as to make up a therapist to try and convince me that I was crazy. I hope that readers will allow me the space to convey my experiences without judgment.
People with Borderline Personality Disorder sometimes feel like children on a perpetual hunt for the boogeyman. Crippled by feelings of helplessness and fears of abandonment, they can become their own kind of monster with an immeasurable capacity to blame others for just about anything and everything. They are people of extremes: entirely selfish or entirely selfless; profoundly insightful or diabolically childish; full of optimism and energy or utterly pessimistic and depressive. The victim-martyr is very real.
My experience with Borderlines is that they can be out of touch, sometimes dissociative, self-sabotaging, and frighteningly unstable. They are also anxiety-inducing, and occasionally nightmarish to deal with. Being close to a Borderline has left me feeling inadequate, angry, guilt-ridden, shameful misunderstood, confused, hurt, and like I am simply less than.
A word of advice: If you find yourself considering that there really is something deeply wrong with you as the result a single person?s views, there probably isn?t anything wrong with you. You are just dealing with someone who is deeply wrong about you.
Living with a Borderline, you grow accustomed to projection. If they feel ashamed, then someone else has to be guilty for their shame. Their flaws become your flaws. You think they never accept responsibility? No, no, it?s you. YOU never accept responsibility. You think they are oversensitive? Nope. It?s you. You?re just overreacting. You think they are being mean-spirited and vicious? Your fault. You made them do it. You failed to see the warning signs. You did not meet their expectations or learn them well enough. You lashed out first (no you didn?t), so they were only rightfully reacting to your outburst. They make a joke. You joke back. But your joke is an intentional, underhanded attack for some perceived insult.
You just happened to be standing in front of the barrel of their gun when they pulled the trigger. It?s your fault.
The nuance of reasons that lead to an argument are overlooked and replaced with sweeping, reductionist explanations about why it?s your fault. Unless they think you might leave. Then they will readily take the blame, tell you whatever they think you might need to hear. Anything to stop you from leaving.
Sometimes you wonder what part of them is real. Their sense of identity is erratic, shifting with the wind and sometimes altogether absent. Before long, you?re not entirely sure who it is you?re dealing with.
Before you become a part of the issue, Borderlines may seem like constant victims of unfortunate circumstance or other people?s selfishness.The pain they endure on behalf of the world around them appears unfathomable. But eventually, you end up being on the side of that unfathomable world.
You learn that anything you say can be misconstrued. Your behavior is persistently understood through their feelings, but anything you feel is the result of your baggage. It doesn?t matter how much you apologize, or how many times you remind them that you never intended harm. They are not satisfied until they?ve convinced you that you really did intend harm. If they intuitively sense even an ounce of frustration in you, they will take it upon themselves to attribute all your ?malicious behavior? to your apparent hostility.
You may hear them lament that they are overlooked, underappreciated, abandoned and uncared for ? yet no amount of gratitude and attention ever seems to be enough. They can be incredibly sweet and caring, then treat you like their worst enemy. In fact, sometimes you might be convinced that they are trying to make an enemy out of you. They constantly make you question if you?re the one using them.
They can be theatrical, excessively dramatic, and unabashedly manipulative. They know how to hit where it hurts to maintain a sense of control, and attribute difference of opinion to personal shortcomings.
There is absolutely no situation in which you can win. If you disengage from a conflict, you are accused of withdrawal and abandonment. If you express your hurt, you are overreacting, being selfish or oversensitive.
You are always at fault for the hurt inflicted on you.
No matter how politely or gently you ask for change, it blows up in your face. If you ask them not to do something that appears trivial, the tidal wave of their guilt and shame will sweep you into submission. Maybe it?s not such a big deal after all?
If you bring up a larger issue, they will accuse you of maliciously trying to hurt them. Your criticisms are cruel, unwarranted, and potentially life-ending.
I once dealt with a Borderline who was experiencing a shift in their gender identity. They wanted to be a man, and to emphasize their manliness, would persistently impose on conflicts between me and my boyfriend. They had to be a part of it at all costs. ?Let me talk to him, man to man,? they?d say. ?You can?t do it because you?re a woman. He won?t get what your problem is.?
I told them that I didn?t appreciate being described as inept because I happened to be a different gender from my partner. I told them it felt quite sexist to suggest I couldn?t communicate with a man just because I was a woman.
Their reaction was so violent, I was left shaking in the corner of the room biting back tears and bitter rage. They accused me of trying to invalidate their gender identity, of prioritizing my petty arguments over something that was deeply confusing for them.
I apologized, because I didn?t know what else to do. But deep down, I wondered, ?Why is my relationship a prop for you to validate your identity??
Borderlines are notorious for being unable to separate their own feelings from the feelings of others. If they agree with you, it?s like they forget you?re separate people; they don?t want boundaries, and they resent any attempt you make to enforce them. They over-empathize to such a degree you start to wonder if they?re actually psychic. But if you disagree with them, their empathy can bleed out in a matter of seconds. Your perspective is suddenly so foreign it?s offensive.
Fear of abandonment appears to be the driving force behind it all, and it is tragically pervasive. I remember the guilt-tripping, the suicide threats, the compulsion to ?talk it out? until I had been drained of everything I had, and then some.
But the suicide threats were always the worst.
?It took everything not to step in front of a truck on my way here.?
What I want to emphasize, however, is that this behaviour is the result of profound and genuine pain. It?s not constant, but might flare up during a time of personal crisis, both real and imagined. There may be moments of clarity, accompanied by regret and shame ? but their regret and shame ultimately lead to the re-emergence of a cycle of dysfunctional tactics used to protect themselves.
?It?s not me, it?s just my life.?
?I don?t want to go to therapy. If I do, then I might just kill myself.?
?I?m just an extrovert. There?s nothing wrong with that.?
?If I don?t see people for more than a day, I feel like I?m not real anymore.?
?Why is your need for space more important than my need for interaction??
?But I can?t make new friends because then they?ll realize how boring and broken I am.?
?I love everyone in my life more than I love myself. Why are you so selfish? ?
?My feelings are just surreal. If I go to therapy, I?ll just lose that.?
The kind of person I am describing here is in a lot of pain, struggles with crippling fear, and is impossible to satisfy. The more you meet their needs, the higher they set the bar. One might ask, why would anyone stay in a relationship with this kind of person? Unfortunately, the answer is not so straightforward.
If you know someone who matches this description and you aren?t close with them, it?s probably best to keep your distance or cut your losses. But many people grow up with Borderlines, or have bonds that go deeper than the pathologies that threaten them. If you are in the latter situation, I would not presume to tell you what to do.
The people who struggle with BPD genuinely feel every ounce of misguided anger and pain they throw your way. Beneath what can sometimes feel like monstrosity, there is an ocean of shame and self-loathing. But unfortunately, you cannot force them to change, nor can you make them see the world from your eyes.
Remember that you are not responsible for their pain, and remember that you can only change how you react. If you are close with someone who you think might have BPD, remember these 5 things:
It?s got nothing to do with you.
It?s hard, but don?t make their issues yours. No matter how much they blame you or try to make it about you, remember that at the end of the day, you are guilty of nothing but trying to be a good friend/spouse/partner/family member. It?s not about you.
We are all responsible for our own happiness.
Sure, someone might say or do something to ruin your mood for a day, a week, or maybe even a month. You are not at fault for someone else?s malicious behavior, but you are also the only person capable of managing your own feelings. If you allow other people?s problems to take an excessively negative toll on your life, you are doing yourself an injustice. Everyone gets upset when wronged, but don?t let it become an overarching theme in your story.
You are more in control than they are.
I know it often feels the other way around ? like you are helpless and they have all the power to bend you to their every whim. This is an mirage. It?s an illusion they create to protect themselves. Remember: solid, healthy people don?t need to hurt others to protect themselves. Borderlines are controlling because they are out of control.
Don?t blame them.
I once read a great analogy: that a borderline is like a drowning person who grabs onto someone?s arm, and in their desperation, they pull their savior down with them. They don?t intend to cause pain. To demonize them for their behavior takes you out of the space of compassion and understanding and onto a dangerous road to resentment and anger. It?s not just bad for them, it?s bad for you too. Give them space for their truth without denying your own truth.
It?s not your fault.
I know this is a repetition of previous points, but I can?t emphasize it enough. You are not responsible for managing their feelings. You are not responsible for healing them. And you are certainly not responsible for changing yourself to meet their expectations. You can only manage your own.
One good way to affirm your reality when it?s being tested by someone with a personality disorder is to look elsewhere. Do you have other people who love and appreciate you for who you are? If so, don?t jump to the conclusion that you are doing something wrong or are even partially to blame for someone else?s misery.
Sometimes, it?s tempting to take the blame because it gives us a false sense of control; if we can change whatever it is about us that is upsetting the other person, maybe things will improve.
Unfortunately, this is never the case with BPD, because there will always be something wrong with you. More importantly, I want to emphasize that if you find yourself even entertaining these sorts of ideas, I can almost guarantee that you are not the problem.
Problematic people do not introspect. They just know ? and wrongly so.
If you are uncertain, it?s a good sign that you are a healthy, functioning person capable of loving and trusting relationships.