Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Caring for the Misunderstood

“They’re all assholes. People with Borderline Personality Disorder are all nasty, manipulative, self-centered jerks that are only out to hurt the people that care for them.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people affected by loved ones or past loved ones with BPD express this kind of sentiment. I’m active in a lot of BPD forums and communities. Some places I try to stay out of are the forums arranged for those affected by those of us with BPD but not experiencing BPD themselves; families of, friends of, and loved ones of people with BPD.

I also try to read blogs written by others with BPD, but they can be incredibly triggering for me so I often have to stop shortly after I begin. Hell, even writing my own blog can be intensely triggering for me, but I persevere. Then every once in a while I stumble upon the blog of a parent of a child with BPD. These often create the greatest sadness in me.

It wounds my heart to read. I understand where all of this hostility comes from. It's sad though. 

I’m at a point in my healing and awareness where I can look back and understand the misery, frustration, sadness, and hurt I’ve caused in my younger years. I can understand how horribly I acted and how my parents and siblings must have felt as a response to my actions. I also know how I felt. How alone and misunderstood I felt. When I read some of these blogs and hear seemingly rational statements such as, “I try explaining to my BPD daughter that life has choices and consequences. You need to make better choices, act responsibly, and things will be better for you. But she just won’t act responsibly and I’m fed up. It’s time that she understands we are not abandoning her, just asking her to take responsibility for herself. We can’t do everything for her forever; she must learn to do it on her own…“ I cringe. I understand, but I cringe. My heart aches for the frustration the parents must be feeling. But my heart breaks for how I know those daughters and sons will experience those kinds of sentiments.

Even the most well-intentioned, well-reasoned parents can unintentionally wound their children. Especially when they’re as hypersensitive as a child (even an adult child) with BPD. I read things like that, cognitively I understand their point of view, but I also have a greater understanding of the fact that they really just don’t get it. They’re clueless. They interpret all those actions as manipulative, self-serving acts, to get attention and avoid responsibility willfully… as if we enjoy acting and feeling like this. There’s a fundamental break in the ability to understand that how someone with BPD perceives reality is sharply, often harshly, different from how someone without BPD perceives that same reality.

That isn’t a justification for our disruptive and destructive behavior. But it really and truly is not what most people presume it is through their non-disordered thinking. I can see the frustration in these parents. I can understand it. However I also understand that while they may have poured so much time and energy into “helping” their child with BPD, they probably weren’t using the kinds of tools that work most effectively, or effectively at all. Often what people think is “helpful advice” and a “proper attitude towards maturity” feels like a slap to the face and a bath of icy rejection to someone with BPD.

People don’t understand that there seems to be a neurological component to the way we think and behave. People often refuse to see their own part in the environment that contributed to the hypersensitivity we experience. This doesn’t mean it’s all their fault. This doesn’t’ mean we shouldn’t take responsibility for ourselves. Only that what creates and contributes to BPD is not simple, and cannot be expected to heal simply either.  

There’s no common language. There’s no common sense of perception. Which often ends in a common pain shared by all.

There’s such a harsh judgment that we’re unfeeling, uncaring, only out for ourselves… it’s so hard to hear. Especially when it’s so untrue. I absolutely understand where these sentiments come from. But I also know that we are capable of great caring.

This is especially pronounced in forums where we support each other. We, who understand what each other are experiencing and going through. It’s so obvious the extent to which we can care when we’re shown a similar amount of understanding and compassion.

I know this isn’t true of everyone with BPD. But it is something that I have seen A LOT of. Something that I don’t think many other people without BPD take the time to find out.

I’m not talking about just reinforcing behaviors (because reinforcing fears and behaviors is not what we need and we often know it). I mean supporting each other through difficult times and reminding each other of techniques from DBT or therapy that we should be practicing. Reminding each other that we’re not alone. That we’re not unheard. It’s often quite intense. Quite sad. Often tragic. Because you see how extreme the struggles are, but also how desperately many of us are trying to get through it in ways that aren’t destructive. 

Other people with BPD are uniquely attuned to one another because we absolutely understand the pain others are going through. That doesn’t mean we’re always able to help each other. We’re all dealing with our own pain, surviving our own lives, and healing our own wounds. So we’re not necessarily great for being there all of the time one on one. When you travel the forums and have many people to discuss your issues with, there’s more chances to find helpful support. Support from people that do understand. This is probably one of the reasons DBT uses group therapy. It’s important to know you’re not alone. It’s important to understand there are others struggling the way you do. There are other people that understand.

When you walk through the world feeling so alone, and misunderstood, something as simple as understanding, a nonjudgmental ear, is invaluable.

It’s important for us to find support. It’s why I think therapy for those of us with BPD is so necessary. I also think it’s also important for families and loved ones to seek counseling as well. For as much love, and energy, as I know my family tried to put into me, they weren’t equipped to deal with me in a way I could be receptive to. But they didn’t give up. Now, in hindsight, that’s one of the greatest gifts I know I gained. For as hurt, frustrated, and angry as they were they never gave up (even if they did occasionally need a break).  I think it might have been easier on all of us if they knew some DBT skills to help us communicate more effectively as well. I imagine they would have felt better knowing what was wrong with me to begin with (I wasn’t diagnosed until after I moved out). 

It’s obvious how BPD affects us. It’s equally obvious to anyone who has had a loved one diagnosed with BPD how we affect them too. It's important we all get the healing and understanding we need from each other. Relationships take two. I think in order to maneuver in a world together, everyone involved should consider making an effort to work together… not just place the responsibility on the shoulders of one or the other. It's helpful for everyone involved to learn the tools necessary to aid in healing ourselves and the pain we can cause one another. 


  1. I really enjoy your blog. But something keeps nagging at me about your writing. It seems like you put so much of the onus on the loved ones of the BPD person, so much of the burden on them to be constantly reassuring, understanding, supportive, forgiving - while at the same time saying they'll never really understand the BPD mind, emotions, and motivations because they have never experienced these things. It feels like a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. Your expectations for other people are so high. But for yourself, it's like you get a bit of a pass because you have BPD. Are you (not you specifically, but BPDs in general) all of those things - constantly reassuring, forgiving, etc. - for your loved ones? How you can expect them to be that way for you, especially when you consistently abuse/lash out at them?

    You acknowledge that the BPD person can cause great pain and destruction in the lives of those that love them. But it seems like you are sort of flippant about their pain, because it presumably pales in comparison to your own inner pain and self destruction. To me the tone feels like, "Yes, the BPD person causes pain in other people, but these other people should be able to deal with it because they are neurotypical and the BPD is not. It's harder for the BPD." I think that's unfair. Everything else stripped away, it's true that healthy emotions & behavior are more difficult for the BPD. But when you add regular turmoil, manipulation (or whatever you want to call it), and emotional volatility into the mix, it becomes very, very difficult for the neurotypical to manage their emotions and behaviors as well. Especially when a person feels like she can do nothing right and everything she does gets twisted into something she didn't mean. It hard to be there for someone who is constantly pushing you away and pulling you back. It is extremely painful, and the person not being BPD does not diminish that pain.

    You say you are not justifying behaviors, only explaining where they come from. But what is the takeaway? At some point, if they continue to do it, does it even matter?

    Sorry if this message is kind of convoluted. I'm having a hard time articulating my thoughts the way I want to. But thank you for your blog. I really do enjoy it.

    1. I understand your perspective.

      It is not my intention to put the bulk of the responsibility on anyone else.

      I'm also not at all flippant about the pain of those without BPD. I am not them though, so I can't actually tell you how they feel. I know suffering from my perspective which seems to be similar in many aspects to others with BPD. While I have loved and cared for others with BPD, I myself still feel as I do, so I don't try to give an interpretation of an experience (life without BPD) that I don't experience myself.

      No two people in this world will ever truly understand one another because we can not get inside the others brains and experience through their skin. All we can do is try. Learn the tools we can to understand one another and go from there. All relationships take two. One person can not do all the work. We may not be able to understand each other perfectly, but we can learn to communicate, love, and heal effectively. I know it's not a very romantic notion, but until we can get to a place of healing where our disordered thoughts aren't what rules our reason, it's still important to seek.

      If you want to have a relationship with someone, then it's the responsibility of both people to contribute.

      It's funny, because whenever I read what others write the responsibility is always on the person with BPD. For me personally, the responsibility is always on me. I think in over 500 posts this is the only time I've ever suggested that the Non in the relationship also consider finding the tools to interact more efficiently with the Borderline in their lives.

      That doesn't mean someone without BPD is responsible for someone with BPD. This entire blog is dedicated to understanding what it is we deal with, so that we can recognize it in ourselves. Once we recognize it, we can begin to take responsibility. That responsibility is no ones but our own. But if we are surrounded by people that do not support us, or contribute in a way that is detrimental to what works as real healing, then it's impossible to make the most progress.

      Everyone effects each other.

      I don't recall anywhere saying that the pain of people with BPD is greater than it is for someone without BPD. All I've said is that how we experience things is different. I've also never said it should be easier for them to deal with. But being in a relationship with someone means that you need to develop a method of what works for the two of you.

      I'm trying to explain it so that we can recognize it. Often with BPD we don't even realize what it is that we're doing or why we are doing it. It's impossible to change behaviors you're not aware that you have. Once you realize it though, and if that person is at a point where they want to make a change towards healing, then it becomes a tool to stopping that behavior.

      If they continue in that behavior, because they don't believe it's what they do, or because they don't think it's dysfunctional for them, I don't really know what to tell you. Every person is ultimately responsible for themselves. If a someone with BPD isn't ready or willing to work on their behaviors than there isn't much a Non can do except make the decision that is best for themselves.

      Everything I discuss here doesn't apply to every Borderline. I'm sure there are issues that other Borderlines experience that I don't. Each person, Non and Borderline alike, should be treated as an individual. But as two people in a relationship, if you want to have a more productive relationship, it's helpful for both people to learn the skills and tools they need to work together most effectively or risk perpetuating the cycle.

  2. I think the takeaway is just this; bpd behaviour looks toxic, deliberate, malicious and attention seeking - and it is NOT. It's a maladaptive response to situations a neurotypical would handle differently (not necessarily better). If you are on the receiving end you may assign motives that simply aren't there.
    Haven - am I close? That's my reading, fwiw.

    1. Yes, this is it in part. There's a heavy stigma that has misconceived notions attached to it.

      But also that in relationships we function differently. It's helpful for everyone to develop the tools they need to aid that healing... Borderline and Non alike.

    2. I 100% agree with you. Personally im the most UNtoxic person you could meet! My problem is im too soft :(

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  4. The pages of your book are filling faster by the post, young sith. As is your knowledge. Keep fighting the good fight. I pray that this finds you well and that things are normalizing for you after the past few weeks.

  5. I love this post, haven. For myself, I have made two choices. First, I choose to love her. And second, I choose to look at myself. It is simply the case that I will be hurt deeply by her actions if I stay close; that she does it to protect herself or from fear; and that knowing that, I still choose to love her, to stay close, and to try to look at my own reactions, ways to get through the pain, and ways to take care of myself. Pain is part of life, and finding ways to accept that and sit with it rather than running away from it has been my best lesson. I also hurt her, too, and try to understand how and why. We all have equal responsibility in this scenario and we have choices. --chicadina

  6. This was another good one. I've been reading your blog for a couple months and I am consistently impressed with your honesty and self-insight-- it displays the sort of understanding of ambiguities and seeing-things-from-the-perpsectives-of-others that borderlines are supposed to be incapable of, so I can only assume this level of awareness has come from a lot of hard work on your end.

    I wanted to add to this post that often the parents of borderlines have a less severe version of BPD themselves. Those who end up actually being diagnosed with BPD can assume the role of the genetic corner an entire family has painted themselves into. Susanna Kaysen describes this brilliantly-- "Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can't go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling, that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family's mental health."

    Since everyone has emotions and everyone has to cope, it's hard for the non-disordered to accept the excuse of BPD, bipolar, or anything else, especially if they are borderline borderlines themselves, suffering from extreme, but not extremely extreme, emotional responses, and have kept afloat all their life through intense effort that has gone unnoticed. Seeing us activates the chip on their own shoulder like Harry Potter's forehead scar burning in the presence of that-which-must-not-be-named. They are almost jealous of us, it seems to me sometimes. Even though we claim to live in a secular society today, we still labor under a medieval notion that emotional disorders are moral failings, refusal to assent to discipline. People with mood disorders just like seem people who, out of apathy, narcissism, or what have you, just don't want to "play ball" in society.

    The disordered, as well, often ache for this to be true-- after all, at first blush, it seems it would be better to simply be a failed "neurotypical" than accept the eternal alienation from the mass that comes with the realization that you are fundamentally different, on a genetic level. BPD seems almost like a the flip side of Asperger syndrome, or the other extreme of a spectrum-- instead of being hyper-rational and systematic, unaware of social cues, and naturally solitary, we are hyper-emotional and intuitive, painfully sensitive to social cues, and often desperately other-seeking. And yet the alienation we suffer from having genuinely different brains is not that different. It is an irony of BPD that our sense of persecution, though mostly pathological, often finds genuine justification in the contempt of others for the "excuse" our illness confers. This only makes things explode further. If they only knew the price we've paid for it-- it's a horrible trade!

    Fortunately, as you said, we have each other to commiserate-- and thank God, Buddha, or what have you that we are not so rare as to be ENTIRELY unique...

  7. I realize that this comment is a whole year after the fact & no one may read it, but I feel like it's. important regardless...

    I only just stumbled on this blog today, but here I am reading posts from a year ago. I have, in fact, been reading this entire blog pretty much all day. Why? Because it recently came to light that my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years, who i love dearly, is suffering from BPD.

    My IMMEDIATE reaction was to hit the internet and learn as much as possible. I also called a good friend of mine who has BPD. (As a side note, reading this has done more for me in regards to understanding than any of the informational websites I found even came close to.)

    We are at a point in our relationship where he has done many things that have caused me pain, but somehow we've still gotten through. Somehow I've always loved him anyway...Now that I know some of the reasons behind those things, my reaction is: What can I do to help? How can I change my reactions to be supportive. How can I be supportive and calm his fears of rejection & abandonment? I don't even feel hurt or resentment anymore for the things he has done because I know that there is fear and pain behind it. I've cried a hundred times today for him, and for you, and for everyone who suffers from this.

    I have demons of my own. I'm bipolar. But it's not the same. While I know that a lot of people with bipolar have experienced BPD as well, I haven't. And I long ago found a medication and treatment plan that works so well I rarely even experience the bipolar anymore. I do remember what it was like before that point, when I was lost & my emotions didn't make sense, and even happiness was painful. But that doesn't mean I know what he or you are going through.

    Anyway, I DO feel like it is MY responsibility, as someone who loves him, to understand as best as possible what he's going through & learn how to make life better for him as much as is possible.

    To me, I feel like NOT doing what I can for my own part would be like shoving cake in a diabetic's mouth. It's that simple a choice for me. If you truly love someone, it IS your responsibility to do whatever you can to help them when they are struggling and not contribute to their suffering. It IS your responsibility to take a step back and put aside the momentary slap on the cheek they may have caused you when it came from a place where they feel intense distress, especially when that distress is probably a fear of rejection or loss. Why WOULDN'T you want to do everything you can ease your loved one's pain?

    Anyway, thank you for writing this. While I know I can never fully understand something I don't experience, you've given me an invaluable window to help me help him, and hopefully my friend as well. While I may not be able to make their burden lighter, at least I know how not to add to it.

    1. I think you've done a tremendous amount already. You wouldn't believe how uncommon your reaction actually is, but let me tell you how delighted I am by it. Just the act of wanting to learn to help ease the pain, or even learn to ease what might trigger the pain, that's huge. You're a blessing.

  8. I just stumbled onto your website. I googled self-centerdness and eventually clicked on... until 20 minutes ago, I had never heard of BPD. My son, whom I love DEARLY (!) is, and in retrospect always has been, self-centered to an absolute extreme. I have done my best not to "wound" him and after reading your blog, realize I have done exactly what I feared...where do I go for developing tools? I am DEFINITELY willing to take it on the chin until my skills and our communications are honed by an expert...where do I go?

    1. Did you get a response to your 4/11/14 5:37 AM post? Your words sound exactly like what I would write. I feel for you and your son!

  9. I think that those poor folks that suffer from BPD need all the support and love in the World. We need to accept them for who they are but also set firm boundaries to protect ourselves from their abusive natures. I really like this blog as it provides amazing insight into the World of BPD and how those inflicted with this painful disorder are forced to live a life of dissociation, delusions of entitlement and grandeur, and a whole


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