Thursday, May 24, 2012

Characterizing Borderline Behavior: The Hermit

Today we're moving onto the next characterization of Borderline Parents as discussed by Christine Ann Lawson in her book Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship.

The Hermit
Typical Thoughts
"It's a dog eat dog world out there and I'm a cat. Everyone out there is for themselves and no place is safe. Since people will always end up betraying me, I must be alert for hints or hidden meanings in things others would consider innocuous."
Typical Feelings
Terrified of not having control, fear of engulfment keeps them from obtaining comfort. No wonder they see potential disaster everywhere. Hermits take criticism as a global condemnation of themselves and depend upon work and hobbies for self-esteem. Their inner shame is expressed through continual criticism of others.
You had me right up until the continual criticism of others. I can put myself down, but in another vein I know how hurtful it is for me to hear criticism from others so I don’t want others to feel that way and won’t criticize unless it’s a constructive critique and specifically asked for.
Typical Actions and Central Dilemma
The hard shell makes these Borderlines appear confident, determined, independent, and even socially graceful. But it's a veneer. Like many Borderlines, hermits show one face to the world and another to everyone else. Close family members experience, "distrust, perfectionism, insecurity, anxiety, rage and paranoia" (2000). They hold everyone to same ideal of perfection, punishing others by raging or shutting them out. Hermits fear losing themselves, which translates into possessiveness about their belongings.
This sounds so much like me with one glaring difference. I am so incredibly hard on myself, I hold myself to these perfectionistic standards, but easily accept the “flaws” or “imperfections of others (unless they’ve been devalued, then they’re just awful in general). I put the words “flaws” and “imperfections” in quotes, because these things that I judge about myself, don’t register as unacceptable for other people.
Typical Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions of Family Members
·         "Like the Borderline says, the world is unsafe and I should not risk trusting people."
·         "I need to protect the Borderline from the terror of the outside world."
I become incredibly resentful of anyone challenging my independence and trying to “protect” me.
·         "I am a faithful, loyal person and would never leave the Borderline to fend for herself."
·         "I feel trapped and isolated by the Hermit's fear."
·         "I have trouble trusting and making mistakes because I know the Borderline will say, 'I told you so.'"
·         "I'm giving up my social life because it's too hard to maintain one and be a helpful person to the Borderline, who doesn't want to go out or make friends."
·         "I will make excuses for the Borderline so no one will suspect the real problems."
The Effects of the Hermit's Behavior on Children
During adulthood, they suffer from many maladies stemming from trapped feelings such as panic attacks or phobias.
Children not encouraged to explore and learn can become anxious when faced with new situations. They may not learn appropriate coping skills, give up control too easily, have a hard time trusting, and be less capable of naturally moving away from the parent. [source]
Dr. Lawson writes :
"The borderline Hermit seeks solitude but paradoxically longs to belong." p. 81
            Geez this is already starting to sound like me.
Like the Waif, the Hermit also often has trouble sleeping at night ruminating about the safety of her children, her husband, her job, her heath, and any number of other things. Hermits can be extraordinarily sensitive. She looks for hidden meanings in greeting cards, gifts, invitations, and innocent comments.
This sounds like a problem of hypersensitivity coupled with paranoia. I know I’ve definitely had my share of, “What did she really mean by that,” or, “Is he doing that just to spite me or make me uncomfortable?” The problem is, often for me it’s been true. But definitely not always.
The predominant emotion of the Hermit Borderline is fear and so they often shut out the ones they claim to love. It's as if they have been hurt so much in the past by people who were supposed to love them that they have made a pledge to themselves not to let anyone ever hurt them again. They, therefore, protect themselves by putting a wall around themselves which can be cold and stoney or accusatory and wrathful.
In a similar vein, to project an exterior of invincibility, the Hermit borderline will never admit she is wrong, never say she is sorry, never apologize or take responsibility for her part in hurt and injustice. She dreads being understood by others because it indicates a loss of protective seclusion and so usually refuses any psychotherapy or counseling.
I’m pretty good at apologizing and admitting I’m wrong. It hasn’t always been this way, but I don’t usually have a problem with this.
Hermit borderlines can be relentless in their criticism and denigration of the no-good child because there is tremendous fear that the child's imperfections will reflect on her. To bolster her self-esteem, the Hermit borderline will often cling to the “all-good” child giving the “all-good child” a sense of being trapped, drained, and upstaged.
For the Hermit borderline suicide often will be seen as a victory rather than a defeat because it is a way of maintaining control. This type of suicide is characterized as the Queen of the Mountain type because the person looks at life as something like "If I can't have it the way I want it, then I'd rather not have it at all." It is in the loosing of control, or in the feeling of being boxed into a corner that the suicidal behavior will manifest in its most deadly forms.
The Hermit borderline is often depressed and filled with a sense of impending doom. Her view seems to be, "People are out to screw you, and if anyone can take advantage, or anything can go wrong, it probably will." This view often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the family gathering is not over until the fight has broken out or some sort of high drama has occurred. If nothing negative happens there is an increase in tension because, as one client told me, "It's only a matter of time."
It’s a funny contrast to fear something occurring, but at the same time, there’s a sense of relief when it has happened because at least it’s over.
With a Hermit, there is rarely a happy holiday. Children are filled with anxiety hoping that Mom will be happy and "nothing bad will happen to ruin the holiday." In a similar matter, vacations become difficult with invariable snags and problems which can quickly escalate to abort or change plans at the last minute.
            Hm. Family gatherings create the most tension for me. My family is very triggering because I’ve never felt accepted. I usually try to literally hermit away. My explosions and break downs usually occur before the gathering though. I’ll have a full on, full blown panic attack in anticipation of a gathering. At the gathering I can usually put on a pleasant face though and just try to stay as quiet as possible.
Plans are difficult to make with the Hermit Borderline because she is constantly changing them or finding reasons why they are no longer viable to being carried out.
            Hm. I’m saying “hm” a lot. I often back out of social plans but not because I don’t think they’re no longer viable. It’s usually a response to my social anxiety or my body dysmorphia.
For example: One husband said that he and his wife and their 5 children planned to go camping with another couple and their two children. Plans were made to meet this couple at the camp ground about 200 miles away by mid afternoon. After working all night, the husband said he arrived home at 8: 45 AM expecting things to be packed and everyone ready to go. The wife had let the eldest daughter go baby sitting and she was to arrive home at 11:00 AM, but then was delayed and there was no way that they could rendezvous with the other couple successfully at the camp ground. When the husband brought this to his wife's attention she became outraged and blamed him for being inflexible, nonsupportive, and always ruining everything. She told him to take the other four kids and go by himself. Not knowing what else to do, and not wanting to stand up the other couple and disappoint both his and the other couple's kids, he took his four kids camping by himself for a week. When he returned home, his wife seemed happy to see him and the kids, and acted as if nothing unusual had happened.
            Ah, the blame game; turning the situation around on the other person and placing the blame on them. Subconsciously the person knows they weren’t right, but at the same time is terrified of rejection for messing up so can’t imagine that accepting that they’ve done something wrong won’t result in a rejection or abandonment.
Dr. Lawson says that the motto of the Borderline Hermit is: "Life is too dangerous." [source]

Ok, I see a few of these traits in myself. However, I also see a lot of differences. I don’t trust the world, so I’m independent, not a dependent shut in that needs others to take care of me. I don’t trust others, so I learn to step out on my own. I’m not stopped. I keep going and trying new things. I can’t imagine holding someone back and not allowing them to pursue their interests or try new things. My own heart is too adventurous… just not when it comes to people I guess. So while I may have some Hermit traits that apply to me, I don’t externalize and project those issues onto the people around me. That’s good at least.

Usually when I find resources like these I do exactly what I did with this post… compare and contrast what I agree with and don’t agree with, or note what applies and does not apply to me. I haven’t done this with The Witch or The Queen so much because there just isn’t much there that I relate too. YAY! By seeing what I’m not, it brings more into focus the things that I are applicable to me and I can learn to fix that stuff. Or not.

Because frankly, there are some things that I’m not willing to give up. It runs counter to my brand of common sense to not be mistrustful of people in the world. That doesn’t mean people can’t earn my trust, it’s just not something I’m going to give away freely. I could not imagine myself ever teaching a child to just be trustful of anyone either. Hell, growing up one of the first things your parents teach you is to not talk to or take candy from strangers. The fact of reality is that there are bad people and bad things in this world and it’s important to be aware of those dangers. I guess the trick is to not apply that mentality to those people and things that don’t deserve the mistrust. Find an appropriate balance.
I don’t think my independence and skepticism are necessarily bad. This begs the question where does the Personality Disorder end and where does the part that is just your Personality begin? Because I don’t think these things have anything to do with my BPD. They’re just me.
For me: Life isn’t too dangerous, people are dangerous. Too dangerous to trust completely and completely rely on… but that doesn’t mean some of them aren’t worth letting into your life. I’m learning that some of them can even deserve that trust. Maybe this is a contradiction, but I’m not afraid of people. I’m afraid of the heartbreak and devastation that comes with trusting people. If I don’t trust them, I won’t place that power into their hands. If I get hurt, I feel responsible; I hurt me, while at the same time being pissed off at the other person that “caused” my hurt. It’s a complex mix of internal and external loathing.
So maybe what it all boils down to is I’m afraid of me.


  1. Hi Haven,

    Thank you for sharing a bit of yourself in this post.


    1. You're welcome =) I think it's important to recognize where there is a correlation.

  2. I have similar thoughts,be positve about your great qualities,affirm yourself,and know life gets better because of YOU!!!!!

  3. Wow, it's my mom!

  4. Hello Haven,

    I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask for advice, but my mom is a hermit and I'm the bad kid... I have Dissociative Identity Disorder myself along with a rabid eating disorder as one of the alters, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, OCD, and kleptomania. My mom has really been at it lately, to the point where even my dad is starting to intervene (which is something he never does). So I'm not really sure what my question is, I guess just, what should I do? Most of my alters have rejected her as a mother and are waiting for the chance to rip her apart. She thinks DID and other personality disorders don't exist, which has dissuaded the alters who get along with her from ever coming out around her. She wants me to stay home all the time but I can't do that because that is where my binge-purging is at it's worst.Plus the house is haunted by a ghost that feeds off the eating disorder's negativity energy (not sure if you believe in ghosts or not but after a life of living in haunted houses I certainly do). So yeah, this was kind of rambling but I'm so lost and I don't know how to keep my family from falling apart...

    1. Egads. Do you have the option of counseling or a therapist? For you or your mum? It sounds very necessary.

      First, you can't save your mom. You are only responsible for you. Your mom is responsible for her. Your mom sounds incredibly volatile and may be making things worse for you and be triggering your own episodes. Don't allow your mom to put her issues onto you.

      Do you have anyone else to lean on? Any other support system? It sounds like you need to find a healthier environment to surround yourself with. One with more positive energy.

    2. Thank you... she won't go to treatment, she believes she's had enough therapy in her life. My boyfriend is amazing support, but other than that I just have to wait it out till I'm eighteen I guess... My dad basically gave me permission to leave before graduation in therapy today and is trying to help the situation as best he can, even getting me a car so she can't use that as leverage anymore.

  5. This matches me to the T... and i don't want to be protect because i feel like my independence is being taken away.

    I read this is a recent workbook i got for BPD.. to help people understand me a bit more.

    -Cherry Blossom

  6. I think I have just discovered I have BPD, but didn't know it. I had an expericene with my inner child 20 years ago when I was left homeless and penniless after wasting 250,000 and not paying off our home for our 5 children. I was Hypomanic, had OCD, dependent personality, Fatherless Daughter Syndrome, etc. , but at the same time felt my shy and anxious inner child who was sweet and loved her two babies. I was realizing my rage, but could not control it, but no one took me to the hospital, so I was left in that state. My kids think I am a liar and have had to live with a lot, but so did I. I think I had this kind of Mother and I wanted to be the one to break the mold. I am compliant with my meds and go to therapy, but don't have relationships with my 5 children as I wasn't diagnosed properly. I have been ignored, stigmatized, yelled at for being sick and really wanted a Mother of my own and to be a Mother. I have been homeless for 20 years and hide in other people's homes for a room. I am the one walking on eggshells now and don't like it. I want a place of my own to write and live out my life, but can't afford it. I was not hospitalized 20 years ago when I couldn't take care of my kids and I resent being left there to die. I was trying to get on a budget and raise my babies, by getting 3 jobs and a Real Estate LIscence, but it backfired on me. I got so Hypomanic, I was screaming at everyone and had no love in my heart, but couldn't feed myself and belonged in a home with room and board and to be treated. I am tired of being abused and not being able to love as I have so much stress and PTSD and anger. I am praying to God for his Holy Spirit to heal me and have found a new church, but I am trapped inside myself. Dr. PHil wants me to come on the show, but none of my 6 sisters will go with me. They and others have been so mean to me and then I am mean to them, so it's bestr to stay away from them, but I don't want to stay here. it's hard to be alone, when you really want to be nice and loving, but it has been so long, I don't know how to love in poverty. I will contact my kids now that I know what it is and hope they will stop ignoring me. my second daughter is bi-polar and we never talk about it, but they think I like being this way and I don't.


  7. Woah...the beautiful borderline I love is def Hermitesque...


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

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