Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ask Haven! Episode 2: Unstable Relationships

Question from a Reader:

Can someone with Borderline Personality Disorder only have unstable relationships if they are intimate/romantic relationships and not  platonic relationships?

While intimate and romantic relationships are often the most unstable for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, it is very likely that any relationship will be affected. That doesn’t mean all relationships will be affected, though it is certainly likely, but it is definitely not limited to only romantic or intimate relationships.

Growing up my romantic relationships were always short lived and very turbulent. These were almost tame compared to the instability I had with my own family though. My brother and I fought constantly, my sister was actually afraid of me, and my parents and I probably woke the neighbors every night with the magnitude of the screaming matches we would have. Discipline didn’t work with me. I would always find a way around it. Things got so bad at one point that my father actually gave me an ultimatum; start paying rent or get out. I immediately went to my room, packed a bag and tossed it out my window. When I went back downstairs to leave my father asked where I was going. I told him I need to go to the bank if he wanted rent. He let me go. I didn’t come home for 4 days. I only came back because I thought my parents were at work and I needed more clothes. While I was getting my things my mom came home though. She’d been paging me incessantly for days. When she saw me she hugged me so hard and dissolved into tears. I remember my heart breaking for her while at the same time being pissed off that she caught me. I couldn’t leave again. Not after that. My parents never tried threatening me with things like that again. I was much too unpredictable.

They never gave up on me though. I know how rebellious, how vicious, how destructive I was. And they still loved me, even though I made them beyond angry. They never gave up on me. Something I am incredibly grateful for. I know how hard I was to deal with.

So, no, BPD doesn’t just affect romantic relationships. I would say it affects those relationships that are most intimate in the sense of closeness though. Family, friends, lovers… no one is immune if they are very close to us emotionally.

Roommate is one of my best friends. She sees me more than almost anyone and we are actually very close. She’s seen me melt down, she’s seen blood dripping from my arms, she’s held me as I dissolve in a puddle of despair. She’s seen this. But I’ve never, not ever, have I taken out my anger or aggression or hurt on her. I know I worry her sometimes, but I’ve never acted out against her. I’m not sure it’s possible to always hide the symptoms of BPD from someone close to you, but it is possible for us to have relatively stable, healthy relationships where we do not take out our emotions on other people. Of course, she’s never given me any reason to hurt. She doesn’t place pressure on me, I’ve never felt that she needed me to be something other than I am, she’s always supported me and been very understanding when I did need an ear. She’s an exceptional person and I’d venture to say, more understanding than most.

I also have many ‘friends’ that I am not close to, that would never guess I had a mental disorder at all. This goes for my coworkers as well. They see me every day and I’m able to maintain my professional masks. They’re not emotionally close to me though. They don’t know the real me.

I think what triggers unstable behavior in relationships is the magnitude of intimacy. The closer the relationship, the more invested we are, the more frightening the possibility of it ending becomes. Funny, that this is almost always a self-fulfilling prophecy. We become frightened something will happen, we act in ways to push people away, to distance ourselves from them, before they can hurt us, and this very act is what starts the downward spiral into the destruction of the relationship. It sounds clean cut when you look at it like that, but it never is.
The pushing away is gradual. Often we don’t even recognize the things we do that manifest as pushing people away. Our thoughts and actions seem quite rational to our traumatized mind. No one sees it coming, not even us most of the time. 


  1. most of my unstable relationships have actually not been romantic by nature. when i was in high school it was my mean-girl friends and my toxic parents. In college it was my roommate and a few left-over mean-girl friends from high school. After college i met my husband and he was my saving grace in a way. i had about 10 years with very few to no BPD symptoms and characteristics. We ended up moving across country and left all our friends and all i had built of my stable life behind which started a snow-ball effect causing my down-ward spiral that i am still struggling to get up from 6 years later.

    within the past 6 years i was involved in my first/only lesbian relationship (with my husband's tentative approval) that was very unstable... maybe because she is bi-polar? i have since stopped said relationship and am trying to get closer to my husband. the only unstable part of our marriage currently is that i hide as much of my BPD from him as i can. I am not the explosive type, i turn all my anxiety and anger inward and for some reason i have never taken anything out on my husband. i am currently working on not being so secretive with him and letting him see me BPD and all.

    I think it's like Haven said, it's whoever we let get close to us, but it doesn't have to be romantic. People at work and friends that i am starting to make here in my new-ish town would never imagine what i go through and live day-to-day.

    1. I always try to hide my BPD from the people I'm with. It usually backfires in one way or another. Either I can't hold it in, or people don't believe me when I say I'm suffering with something because I appear so held together.

      Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I'm a serial relationship-ist. Now that I know that "this" is BPD I look back and see how I destroyed many relationships, including friendships, solely based on the fear of being abandoned.

    For years I deflected it all and figured I was the "once a victim, always a victim" type but now I see that I did it to myself. And I hurt a lot of people in the process.

    Your last paragraph really hit home for me, Haven. As my five year marriage crumbles around me I'm left dealing with the fact that it's not because my husband is the bad guy. It's because I still haven't learned to function in a relationship. Stability scares me, I'm constantly waiting for the bottom to fall out.
    So much so, that I push until it finally happens; proving to myself that I'm right. I'm good enough to fuck, but not good enough to love.

    1. " I'm good enough to fuck, but not good enough to love."

      I struggle with this sentiment everytime I am with a man. Women it's not an issue, but men I can not help but believe this.

      I've never been good with the back to back relationship thing. I usually get into a long term thing, and then swear off dating ever again once it finally implodes, haha.

      I think I've always viewed myself as the 'once a victim, never again!' type. I actively push away before they can leave me. Can't make me a victim if I do it to myself after all =/

    2. "I struggle with this sentiment everytime I am with a man. Women it's not an issue, but ment I can not help but believe this."

      I can sympathize with that.

      While I've only had one semi-serious relationship with a woman, it was (while it lasted) less of a mind-fuck than EVERY relationship I've ever had with a man.

      I wonder why that is?

  3. thought you'd have mentioned the oxytocin thing here... the more the love the less the trust with a beeper.

    1. That's a really good point actually. Maybe I'll do a quick edit.

  4. So what is the best course of action for the person who is being pushed away? It puts us in that nasty no-win position and it is a frustrating and painful place to be. I have been nothing but supportive and understanding and I feel that being that way just makes the situation worse. I don't know whether to push back and show that I can't be taken for granted, or whether to continue to be a constant and caring friend and endure the pain of push/pull behavior.

    1. It's important to set boundaries. You don't deserve to be walked over, but if you care about someone I think it's best to try and work things out. Try to encourage communication about what is really bothering the other person. Let them know when they do things that are not acceptable, but also reassure them that you;ll still be there for them if they're willing to talk to you about what is going on.

  5. If you are smart, you will just leave and dont look back.

  6. This is a funny story, or maybe not so. My mum has bpd too. When I was 17 I told her I was moving out in 4months to a shared house with my student friends. She flipped out (cos she didn't really want me to leave) and gave me an ultimatum. If i was leaving I had to leave right that second and anything I didn't take would be chucked in the street or something to that effect.

    So I wrapped all my belongings in my duvet and got a taxi to my friends house and slept on her sofa for four months.

    I love my mother now, so much especially cos I understand her, but the past was difficult - looking back - quite messed up at times.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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