Borderline = Person with Borderline Personality Disorder
by Randi Kreger, the co-author of the book "Stop Walking On Egg Shells"
Before you knew about BPD, you were probably very confused about the behavior of the person with BPD (BP) in your life. Now that you know it is a treatable disorder, it‘s understandable that you want to help that person and get them into the best treatment program available.
If the BP acknowledges that they need help and wants treatment, you can help them find the most knowledgeable, experienced treatment program available. You can also recommend books about BPD such as "Lost in the Mirror" or "The Angry Heart."
But if the BP in your life blames you for all the problems in the relationship; constantly criticizes you; or is physically, sexually or emotionally abusive, I recommend an entirely different tact.
First, I do not recommend that you tell them that you suspect that they have BPD. This is difficult advice. It seems logical that your friend or relative will benefit from the information as well. The fantasy goes like this: The person will be grateful to you and will rush into therapy to conquer their demons.
Unfortunately, this doesn‘t usually happen. Your loved one will probably respond with rage, denial, and a torrent of criticism. Frequently, the possible borderline will accuse you of having BPD.
The complete opposite may also happen: the possibly borderline person may feel such shame and despair that they attempt to hurt themselves. Or, they may use the information to deny responsibility for their behavior--"I can‘t help myself; I‘m borderline."
You cannot force someone to want to change their behavior. After all, they are not just ‘behaviors‘ to the person suffering from the disorder-they are coping mechanisms they have used all their life. Generally, it‘s preferable that the person learn about BPD from a therapist--not from you.
When people say they want to "help" the BP, they usually mean they want to change the BP. This is impossible--people can only change themselves--but that doesn‘t stop people trying the same things for years and years. Following are some of the methods people use.
Although some of these methods may sound illogical, they‘re extremely common and part of human nature. Read these and be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you have been doing some or all of them. The purpose of the exercise is to make the unconscious patterns conscious decisions, not to berate you for faulty thinking. Ask yourself:
* Do you want to keep doing this? How has it affected you, the BP, and any kids?
* Has any of this actually worked in the long term? More than a day, a week?
* If no, why repeat the technique when it has not improved the situation?
* If yes, think hard: Was it really you who changed the BP, or did the BP make the decision (for whatever reason) to make a change themselves?
Here are the techniques:
* Explain all the logical reasons for the BP doing what you want/don‘t want. Repeat.
* Explain all the emotional reasons for doing so. Repeat.
* Make threats for the hundredth time. Do not carry them out. Do it again.
* Pay no attention to your own life. Fixing the BP is what matters. Then you will be happy.
* Wait for a miracle to develop on its own without clinical intervention. You never know.
* Remind yourself that the BP you fell in love with is the real, true BP and that you can change this "alien person‘s" behavior if you discover the right formula.
* Ignore behavior you find totally unacceptable. A person like you would never have fallen in love with someone capable of this, so it can‘t really be happening.
* Keep changing yourself according to the BP‘s wants and needs until you make them happy. If they are unhappy, you must not have changed yourself in the right way. Try again. Repeat.
* Break up with the person. Come back when they tell you they will change. Break up with the person when the behavior this time. Break up with the person when the behavior starts again. Come back when they tell you they will really, really change this time. Repeat for the next several years.
* Try to convince them they really have a disorder. Argue endlessly about the fact that they think you‘re the sick one. Repeat this conversation in a variety of ways, places, and circumstances. See who can get the most people on their side. Repeat.
* Stop asking for anything in the relationship. Stop talking. Don‘t make comments or let the BP know what you think. This will avoid a variety of fights and work for you in the long term.
* Make sure everyone thinks you have a wonderful relationship and that everything is OK. If you say it enough times, it will be true. Besides, a bad relationship would make you look bad. If you ever do separate or divorce, this will also ensure no one will believe your partner could be capable of such things.
* Repeat this like a mantra: a bad relationship is better than none at all. To be by yourself shows you‘re a failure and would really make you intolerably unhappy. This thought is especially useful during BP raging.
* Whatever the BP does, escalate it. If they yell, you rage. If they push, you shove. If they hit, you smack. It feels good and they deserve it anyway.
* Remember, no one will ever love you as much as the BP. They have demonstrated their love repeatedly. And no matter what they do, they are not responsible for their behavior (after all, they have BPD) so no one will ever love them as much as you do or be able to change them and make them happy.
* When the BP calls you on the phone, rages, shows up at your door, or acts abusive when you‘re with them, remember you have no choice but to sit there and take it. Keep listening. Listen some more, no matter how it makes you feel. If it doesn‘t make sense, it will soon. Either that, or you will be able to rationally convince them of the truth. Besides, if you set a limit or left you‘d only get into more trouble when they accuse you of "abandoning" them.
* Seek professional help from people who know less about BPD than you do. They are the professionals and should know. Do what they say even if your intuition tells you its the wrong thing.
* When your friends and family all tell you the same thing about how negatively they see the relationship and how worried they are, ignore them. They don‘t understand how wonderful the BP really is and how great the relationship can be. Don‘t try to remember the last time it really was like that.
* Never question the essential rule of the relationship: the BP‘s needs are more important than yours, or even those of your children. It is your responsibility to make things work and your fault if they don‘t.
* Remember: You‘re a victim and have no control. Somehow, things ended up this way. Why? An act of fate. God. Nature.
* You may try the techniques above. But don‘t make any real, threatening, scary changes or take real risks.
So now you know what doesn‘t work. What does? Simply put, look at BPD behavior as a method of coping that the BP has learned to use over a period of many years. At some point, they may have worked. If it continues to work, the person will continue the behavior. Your job is to stop letting the behavior work.
Yes, it is frustrating and heartbreaking to watch someone you love act in ways that hurt themselves and others. But no matter what you do, you can‘t control anyone else‘s behavior. Moreover, it‘s not your job--unless, of course, the person with BPD in your life is your minor child. Even then, you can only influence the child‘s behavior--not control it.
Your job is to know who you are, to act according to your own values and beliefs, and to communicate what you need and want to the people in your life. You can always encourage people to do what you want through subtle or blatant rewards and punishments. But it is still their decision how to act.
What motivates people with BPD to seek help? In general, people alter their behavior when they believe that the benefits of doing so outweigh the obstacles to change. People with BPD are the same as everyone else in this regard.
The specific catalysts for change, however, vary greatly. For some people, the unbearable emotional turmoil of living with BPD is worse than the fear of change. For others, it is realizing how their behavior is affecting their children. Some face their demons after losing someone important to them because of their behavior.
You, that important person, can change by acting like a "mirror" instead of a "sponge." It is common for the same person to react both ways-sometimes absorbing, sometimes reflecting.
Some non-BPs absorb their BP‘s projections and soak up their pain and rage (sponging). These non-BPs may be under the illusion that they are helping the borderline. But in fact, by not reflecting the BP‘s painful feelings back to their rightful owner (mirroring), they are rewarding them for using these defense mechanisms and making it more likely that the borderline will continue to use them in the future.
People who act like sponges say they feel like they are trying to fill a black hole of emptiness inside the BP. But no matter how much love, caring, and devotion they pour into the hole, it is never enough. So they blame themselves and work even more frantically to fill the hole.
At the same time, the BP feels the very real and terrifying pain of the aching cavity and urges the non-BP to work even harder and faster at filling the hole. The BP may castigate the non-BP for being lazy or indifferent to their terrible anguish. Or, the BP may tearfully beg the non-BP to do something-anything-to end their suffering.
But it‘s all a diversion to keep the BP and non-BP from addressing the real issue: The emptiness belongs to the person with BPD, and the only person who can fill it is the BP themselves.
Don‘t get caught up in the borderline‘s accusations, blaming, impossible demands, and criticism. Instead of soaking up the other person‘s pain, try to maintain your own sense of reality despite what the other person says. Reflect the pain back to its proper owner-the person with BPD.
Express confidence that the BP can learn to cope with their own feelings. It is important that you offer your support, while making it clear that the BP is ultimately the only person who can control their feelings and reactions. Show by your actions that you have a bottom line: there are limits to the type of behavior that you will and will not accept. Communicate these limits clearly and act on them consistently.
You may also need to take steps, if necessary, to protect yourself or your children--not because you are judging or labeling anyone else‘s behavior, but because you value yourself and your feelings.
These steps might include removing yourself or your children from an abusive situation, letting the BP take responsibility for their own actions, asserting your own feelings and wishes, disregarding name calling or provocative behavior, refusing to speak to an enraged person, declining to let anyone else‘s public behavior embarrass you, or simply saying no.
You must know your own bottom line for different types of situations. This will help you in all your relationships--not just the one with the BP. Remember, the only person you can change is yourself. Once you really realize this and stop taking responsibility for the BP‘s life, you will start to feel better.