Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Empathy and Me: Part 3 - Self-Destructive Empathy

Or… A Borderline in Love.
There is nothing more beautiful (or scary) than a Borderline in love. When I’m in love the rest of the world stops. There is you. I live and breathe to make you happy. To hold onto your love.
Even at the expense of losing myself. But this comes later.
When I’m wrapped up in you, I feel everything for you. Your smile is my smile. Your pain is my pain. Your sadness is my misery. Your happiness is my euphoria. My empathy for you has surpassed any normal level of empathy. It’s heightened beyond reason.  How you feel is more important to me than how I feel.
My own happiness is dependent on yours. Therefore I will do anything I can to ensure you are happy.
If I perceive that I have done any small thing to upset you, or mildly inconvenience you; I panic. This may be something you barely think twice about, but it will create an anxiety that grips my stomach and shoves it up into my throat. I may even feel the need to punish myself emotionally, even physically, until I can rectify it. If I do something that makes you smile, any small thing, the sun becomes a thousand times brighter. Everything seems amplified. I will go out of my way, exhaust my time and resources to provide, do, show, create the key to making you smile. The key to bind you to me. To secure your love for me. I’ll put my needs aside, for yours. I will feel so intensely about those things that you feel for that I begin to confuse how you feel about something, for how I do. Things I never had much of an interest in, or just a normal level of interest, are now points of focus and excitement. It happens so gradually I don’t even notice it happens.
How I feel is entirely dependent on how you feel.  
My empathy for you has become destructive to me. Cognitively I think my perception of how I feel is skewed, I'm being much too hypersensitive, but in the moment I can't help but experience it.
That I can become this way actually fills me with a huge sense of shame. I pride myself on my independence, so to be so thoroughly consumed by someone with so little regard for myself wounds me. There should be a balance. It should not be all or nothing. Black and white.
Slowly I begin to realize I’m at risk of losing my own identity. I can become so wrapped up in another person that I begin to lose hold of who I am. At first it just seems like we’re sharing interests and experiences, then slowly things become more and more about you. Less about me. Until everything is about you and I fear that asking anything for me will be the inconvenience that pushes you away. I won’t even voice my concerns to potentially alleviate the dread I’m beginning to feel. I have become so in tune with what you like, my identity has slowly slipped into who you are.
*** We really need to learn to work on communication skills!***
Not for nothing, but I like who I am. My crazy mood swings aside, I have a lot going for me that I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to forget who I am.  But you’re letting me.  In fact, by continue to take, and take, and take all that I am willing to give, without reciprocating in a way that is nearly even, you’re encouraging this change. Forget the fact that you never asked for all the things I do for you. Forget that no normal person would consume themselves this way. Forget that you may have no clue that this is even going on. It feels like you’ve been taking advantage of what I offer so willingly, at the expense of my own identity, and I will begin to resent you for it.
This is too much. For as much as I crave having someone else so close to me, I’m also afraid of relying on someone so much. The closer you allow someone to get to you, the more you love someone, the greater the risk that they will eventually hurt you. I’ve been hurt enough. It’s like my Fight and Flight response has been triggered at the same time. My desire to protect myself suddenly overwhelms my need to take care of you.
I’ll flip from idealization to devaluation.
I don’t feel emotions simultaneously. I don’t feel worry and love and sadness all at once. I feel suffocation. I feel fear. Then panic. Then isolation. I miss you. I hurt you. I’m sorry. In the midst of each separate emotion, that’s the thing I feel the need to fix. This causes an impulsive reaction to each mood.
The Push-Pull cycle plays out. Until I’m right back head over heels. Rinse and repeat.
Fortunately this can be tempered. It takes time and some definite effort, but just over the past year I’ve noticed a big improvement in my own emotional impulsivity.  Now I know how this all sounds. I don’t actually run around with big moon eyes like a simpering submissive love struck teenager. I look just like anyone else in love. It’s more in the form of excited experimentation for me. Of course we can do that! Yes! Let’s try that. More often then not I take the lead and have the more dominant personality given the energy I exude. I don’t know if that makes sense.  I maintain a fa├žade keeping the wildness in check, keeping my fears and worries inside… until I can’t. So when I do flip to a new mood it probably seems like you’ve been blind-sided.
I can only imagine what this must seem like from the other persons perspective. It must be baffling. And ultimately destructive and hurtful. I never do this on purpose. I don’t want to hurt someone I care about. I’ll end relationships just to avoid hurting someone before they even know what happened. It’s lonely. Very, very lonely.  There has to be a better way.
I’m not trying to justify this behavior, just provide a look at what it feels like.
As for everyone else around me, they usually get a reflection of the mood I’m in as well. The more in love, the more empathic I am towards everyone. Everything moves me just a little bit more. No one else will matter quite so much as my significant other. Everyone else won’t rank quite so high on the empathic totem pole, but everything is still at its empathic height. Opening up that much, however, has its drawbacks. You can become vulnerable to all the destructive and overwhelming emotions of those around you. It’s hard to feel so much on top of everything else you’re already trying to juggle.  When I am open, people are very receptive to this. I am the one that everyone seems to turn to to confide in. For advice. For a shoulder to cry on. And I let them. Until I either let it consume me, or it shuts me down. With my dissociative disorder I almost always shut down now, but this wasn’t always the case. The panic attacks, the feeling of helplessness, the sense that I couldn’t do enough for anyone else, it was all too much. I’m only one person.
Emotional extremes impair my empathy. Unsurprisingly it’s a very split all or nothing. I am extremely emotionally turbulent and have no empathy for you. Or I am completely in love, bordering on obsession, and I feel everything for you, at the expense of my own self.  Then for me I also have periods of dissociation where I simply don’t feel at all.

But wait! That’s not all! Really? Of course not. There are times when the empathic line is a little blurry, and happily, times when empathy is quite normal….


Part 1 - Borderline Dissociation

Part 2 - When Empathy is Beyond Me

Part 4 - Grey Area in Empathy

Part 5 - Yes, Borderlines do feel Empathy


  1. I found this to be a fascinating little look into your world.

    Don't think my profs could have ever described it this way.

  2. Very insightful, very. I'm not convinced mine loved me, but I definately saw these cycles, the periods of idealization/devaluation, and how they definately swung his display of empathy and apparent capacity for empathy. And it they became much more distinctive and dramatic towards the end of things. I used to refer to the "devaluation" periods as him punishing me. After it had cycled and we were back to "normal", I would refer to it as that and he always laughed and agreed with me. The most hurtful part of our cycles was that I was so replaceable. There was always somethere there to fill my space, with not so much as a glance my way. I think that's what hurts a girl's heart so much.

    "If I perceive that I have done any small thing to upset you, or mildly inconvenience you; I panic. This may be something you barely think twice about, but it will create an anxiety that grips my stomach and shoves it up into my throat until I can rectify it". This is really interesting you say this! I could usually always figure out exactly what had upset him and that triggered a period of devaluation, where he would suddenly ignore me and dissapear. His first correspondence to be after an ignore cycle would be compensating for it, and it would be pretty clear. For example, we were doing so good. Friends, hanging out, talking casually, sharing. He was sweet - the sweetness that I loved. I was talking about my holiday dinner I was having and I was nervous and excited. I was really nervous - doing a big ass meal all by myself! I felt at the time he didn't know how to respond, like he paused. I knew he felt awkward. Then he made an ass-hole remark. About how I'd probably burn the turkey or something, or I'd cook something but who knows what. It was an anxious response I knew and I didn't think anything of it really. He left my house, and dissapeared for over a f-in week. No correspondence, nothing. But the first time he got a hold of me after that , it was non-stop encouragement on the dinner. How great it will be. Then another time I wanted a peice of his birthday cake and he said no. Again, I truly didn't give a shit. If you understood the context and mood of the conversation, it's not even really that mean of a response. But after a week-long episode of total isolation, he frantically texts me and wants me there immediately to have cake with him. It couldn't be tomorrow, an hour from then, it had to be right then. After those two deals - I realized how those periods of "punishment" weren't always for me, they were often for him. To me, that is empathy. Em

  3. He felt bad that he couldn't make me feel good, or felt bad that he may have hurt me, so the punishment was for him, not me. I think that's empathy. Em

  4. Everything you say about him making dumb remarks, dropping off the earth, freezing, and then frantically trying to compensate for it... I do this to. That waiting cycle happens with friends, people I care about... but this is slightly different than for someone whom I'm in love with. If I'm in love I have to FIX IT RIGHT NOW, or the anxiety will drive me to devastation. If it's someone I'm friends with, care about, but not in love with... it's a little different, and I'll talk about taht tomorrow or the next day.

    If it's someone I love, it's all about them, almost to the exclusion of everyone else at times. If it's someone I'm not in love with, there's a little more selfishness and inner-directedness in those instances. This is kind of what it sounds like with your friend...

  5. "He felt bad that he couldn't make me feel good, or felt bad that he may have hurt me, so the punishment was for him, not me. I think that's empathy."

    This is definitely something I do if it's someone I love. I'm very severe with myself if I feel like I've failed someone.

  6. It's okay to feel that way, it's what love is. It's the most self-less feeling most people ever know. I certainly have felt it multiple times.

    Btw, -B-ook of The End is finished!

  7. Yeah and with my friend, even after the devaluation phase ends, there's no formal apology for anything. It's just a gradual easing back in. A sorry would go a long ways, but there was never one. There were those little things that he would try to make up for, but never a formal sorry for some of the really drastic things he did. The first sorry I ever got from him was in a letter he left in my mailbox, after I'd blocked him from everything. Again though, his awareness is negative. em

  8. ::hugs:: Em. I don't think I've ever met a male Borderline honestly. I don't know if that apology thing is just him being male or if he has some inability to admit his mistakes. I apologize. If I know I've fucked up, I'll say so. Admitting I'm wrong doesn't wound me like the thought of losing someone I care for does.

  9. Very good point! :-D Could very well be a male thing. His deal is- he is in a constant cycle of delayed regret. He's realizes this too, has acknowledged that at least. He can't let people from his past go - people that he's hurt. The relationship will sour, leaving the Non baffled. He walks away feeling very little in the immediate. Then weeks or months later, he starts obsessing about them, thinking they're the one that got away. He really doesn't mind the thought of losing anyone as he's losing them or immediately after - it's always later. Em

  10. I'm very different then him in this sense. I freak out about losing people in the immediacy. If any significant amount of time passes my feelings for them completely dissociate and they're a photograph in my memory with no emotional attachement.

    I can have thoughts of "I regret that this turned out that way" but I won't feel emotions of regret in relation to it after time has passed, if that makes any sense.

    I regret right away, obsess right away (days later at most) or not at all.

  11. Like looking in a mirror again . . .

    I don't know if the lack-of-apology thing is a 'male' thing or not but I am male and BPD and used to and still do at times struggle big time with apologising but for me it's because of the shame attached. The need to apologise suggests a failure or mistake, imperfection if you like and particularly in an 'in love' type relationship accepting that you have failed in some way is devastating. Just accepting my humanity, my imperfections in normal life was a real battle for me, in loving relationships the emotional weight is increased a hundred fold. So, the lack of apology for me is not because I don't regret what I've done it's much more an attempt at denying the failure, hoping that in so doing the imperfection will be swept aside along with the need to take responsibility for imperfect behaviour.

    This apparent lack of giving-a-shit has really hurt my partner over the years as it has hurt you, Em. I am really working on the whole accepting myself as an imperfect human who is allowed to fail and I am now sometimes irritatingly apologetic!!

    Gotta go but thanks again, Haven . . . you should stick this all in a book, I'd buy it!! ;-)

  12. "He can't let people from his past go - people that he's hurt. The relationship will sour, leaving the Non baffled. He walks away feeling very little in the immediate. Then weeks or months later, he starts obsessing about them, thinking they're the one that got away".

    My wife was diagnosed with BPD, we have been separated for 3months, with absolutely no contact on her part, I on the other hand have tried numerous times to make contact as there is a baby involved.

    I have since found out that she went back to her ex girlfriend (the women she left for me) 3 weeks after we broke up. This is a women she demonised while we were together, didnt have a nice word to say about her, said she was abusive, repulsed her sexually etc.
    My wife told me Im the only women she has truly loved and the only one who has treated her well, for me to find out now that she has been telling others that I abused her and treated her badly...the hurt is unbelievable! I left her because she cheated on me with a man 4mths after our civil union.
    My question is... How could she go back to someone who sexually repulses her etc???

    1. Upon reading this brief few paragraphs my first question is... if she once demonized this woman said she was repulsive and abusive... and then you find out she's saying you're abusive (and I'm assuming this is a lie)... then it may be possible that she was also lying about the severity of the past relationship and the extent of her distaste for this ex.

      Lying to create sympathy, unfortunately, is not uncommon. It's manipulative and used to sway a person to make them want to protect them.

      It's pretty common to fall back to someone you know has found you attractive or has cared for you in the past. There's comfort in the familiar.

      If she believes you harbor ill feelings for this woman, then she may also be doing it out of a streak of spite or vindictiveness. She may feel misunderstood or like you just don't know what she was going through at the time... Like leaving her is a punishment that she needs to retaliate against. Which doesn't make her actions justifiable at all. She hurt you terribly and you don't deserve that.

      That's all I can come up with based on your brief description.

  13. We were together for 2yrs and during this time whenever we bumped into her ex my wife would cringe and make terrible comments about her and would ignore the ex. I have read up on splitting but am confused how once someone is split black to the extent that the ex was how can they then go back to white? Will and can the relationship truly start from scratch without their past issues effecting the present? I am also confused about how my wife has now split me so black that she has made up stories about the abuse I put her through and has cut me off completely, to the extent that I have had to go to a lawyer to try and get visitation to our daughter, as I am now that demonised by my ex that she now thinks I am unsafe for our daughter to be around. Can you please try and give me some insight into this?
    Thank you

    1. Here's the thing with splitting. Just because we're really angry with someone doesn't mean we've split them. If things weren't quite the extent of the issues she had once claimed then she may have been Acting Out in her accusations, know it, and forgotten how much of it was real and how much she fabricated to gain sympathy. With a great deal of time as well, the intensity of those original black feelings may also diminish or be forgotten so it's possible to reconnect with someone.

      The relationship won't be able to truly start from scratch. Things may be in a highly idealized honeymoon stage now, but eventually the past will catch up and all those insecurities, doubt, and hurt will cause her to react and bring them up and disrupt the relationship.

      As far as the lawyer/daughter stuff... she's trying to make herself feel better. If she can demonize you, then she can justify her actions and not feel as worthless as she probably feels. It's not you, it's her. She's trying to convince herself that her poor behavior is not the bad thing it actually is.

    2. I really do hope things weren't to the extent that she claimed as our daughter is now in that situation too.
      I have to wonder if/when her anger towards me calms if its possible for her to have a good parenting relationship with me for our daughters sake. The lawyer has said I will get visitation legally to bubs....is this likely to make her hate me more?

      It does still confuse me as to why she has cut me off completely to our daughter as this is one thing she said she would never do and she has strong thoughts/feelings on others who do this to their children. Could it be that she just cant stand the thought of me still being in her life even if it is only for our daughter? Can't face me etc
      Thanks, Kim :)

  14. I just got your response as I sent the above. And yes I have wondered about lies!!! She did however have a few friends that backed up her stories of abuse by the ex.

  15. When we separated I told her I still loved her and would always care about her but had to leave out of respect to myself as I couldn't keep living the way we were, I couldn't handle being emotionally abused, lied too, cheated on and taken for granted anymore. The push/ pull cycle became unbearable for me as I loved her and it broke my heart everytime I was pushed away and ignored for days, sometimes a couple of weeks.
    I suggested she gets help and perhaps then if we both got help together we may have a future, she agreed. Then cut me off and went back to her ex.
    Her ex has been telling mutual friends that they are so happy and that its like she is seeing a new person and that my ex wife has changed so much from what she used to be like when they were together 2yrs ago.
    I also don't understand this...how could she of changed, she hasn't received any help.
    How could she go from wanting to get help to work out our issues to demonizing me and being so happy with someone she used to demonize within such a short time?
    I really am just so confused and hurt.

    1. It's completely understadable and justified that you would leave to take care of yourself.

      The change in personality is not unexpected at all. Especially at the start of this "new" relationship ("new" meaning, current). We tend to have a very flexible sense of self and especially at first easily pick up on what the new partner needs or desires and we seemlessly taylor ourselves to fit that image. It's not even something we do consciously. It's a natural way to create attachment.

      You have every right and reason to be hurt and confused. I know how foreign this kind of mentality and action is to most people.

      I don't know if she has object constancy issues, but I know I may often have the best of intentions in regards to someone, but if they are no longer a part of my physical environment I lose my connection to them and am unable to maintain my feeligs or thoughts concerning them. Whoever is actually in my environment is who I begin to focus on. It's a defense mechanism.

    2. Thank you so much, this has certainly helped me understand things a bit more.
      I think she does have object constancy issues as at times when I have had to go out of town for work or study she has cheated on me.
      Kim :)


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