Monday, November 19, 2012

Ask Haven: Alone Time

A Reader asks: Is it common for people with borderline personality disorder to avoid being around others?

Sure. I know it seems counter intuitive for someone with abandonment issues to want to be alone, but that one issue doesn’t negate everything else that might be going on in our head.

There are a lot of reasons someone with BPD might want to be alone.

This is pretty typical if we feel someone is getting too close to us emotionally. We often seem to jump into relationships quickly and they can be very intense, but that doesn’t mean we’re ready for the intensity. We may want it, more than anything, but all actions have an equal and opposite reaction. The intense desire to be with someone, is naturally coupled with an intense desire to be alone… in order to protect ourselves from the feelings inspired by that someone.

If you’re in a relationship with a Borderline the sense that they’re being smothered, losing their self or their independence could make them crave some time alone as well. This is often preceded by some kind of pushing away. And just because you don't think you're smothering them, doesn't mean it doesn't feel that way. 

If you tend towards counter-dependency like I do, it’s important for us to maintain our autonomy. Being alone is a way to “prove” to ourselves that we don’t “need” someone.

Anxiety and anxiety disorders are commonly co-morbid with BPD. Social anxiety, unsurprisingly, is included in this. Yes, “social” can mean just one person.

Sometimes when we’re overwhelmed by the world, the noise from outside makes the noise on the inside beat like a brass band, solitude is the only thing that can quiet the din.

If your Borderline is eating disordered or has self-esteem and body image issues, the thought of being seen by anyone else could be the cause of that anxiety and panic. Especially with my own dysmorphic issues, being uncomfortable with how you feel about how you look, is absolutely justification for wanting to be alone…. And being able to avoid the eyes of anyone else on you.

And there are also plenty of non-BPD reasons someone with BPD might want to be alone. Like we actually have stuff to do. I constantly have a book with me, and while I can read with other people around, I feel like I’m failing as a hostess/girlfriend/friend/whatever if I’m not entertaining. There are just things I prefer to do by myself or with only the company of my cat. Including, but not limited to: grocery shopping, errands, reading, painting, organizing my life, spending time with my cat, working out (I hate people watching me while I work out), sewing, other crafty projects… all kinds of things.

For the longest time the guys at work were trying to get me to join the group softball team. I played softball for like 12 years and I used to be pretty good. The practices and games were on Thursday night though. Which is when I have therapy. So I was constantly giving vague excuses and reasons for why I couldn’t play (because apparently flat out stating I wasn’t interested in playing wasn’t enough of a reason). Or join for happy hour after. An explanation of, “well honestly I have to see my shrink and I’m usually pretty sad or upset afterwards, so drowning my problems in a pint of beer isn’t really helpful…” is not something I really feel like sharing with co-workers. One of the things I would say pretty often was, “Eh, I’m not really feeling up to a crowd tonight. I’d rather just have a quiet night alone.” Which, after therapy, was true enough.

Do I feel bad about little white lies like that? Nope, not even a little. Some things in my life (anyone’s life) are private. You have the right to tell people, or not tell people, certain things about your life in your own time. No one is entitled to information about your life, until you’re ready to share, if you’re ready to share. You’re allowed to have some things that are just yours. Including your time.

That doesn’t mean all of us with BPD feel the need to have time alone. But some do. Your best bet is to simply ask. We’re not all the same, despite sharing a condition.  


  1. I identify so much with what you are saying, and I'm trying to reach out and seek help... I used to see a therapist and I really liked her but I know she's very expensive and I really worry about the financial burden that places on my mother on top of my medical costs...
    I don't really know what to do, I can't go out to school, or do any work and the anxiety and stress piles on top of me, and I'm having daily panic attacks which is dangerous because I already have a pre-existing heart condition. I'm failing school, about to be kicked out and am 90% sure I will be kicked out of university in a few weeks and not a single person knows it.. I keep trying to hide everything and I know the time will come when I inevitably have to come clean and the stress of it all is eating me alive. I have to smoke pot just to calm my nerves and pretend for a little while things are okay.
    I guess what I"m looking for is advice on how to reach out... I never knew that my behavior could be categorized as BPD and I feel stupid coming out with some mock self-diagnosis, I feel like I will be judged for blaming my failures on something I supposedly 'can't help'.. I really don't know what to do. I sit alone in my room all day, I've lost touch with almost all of my close friends and I know I need to do something about all of this.
    Do you have any advice? I would really appreciate it.
    love always,

    1. Don't worry so much about a label of self-diagnosis. Even if it's not the overarching disorder, technically, you recognize behaviors that you feel and display and those are real. Recognizing them as something that is hurting you and deciding to do something about them is the first step. Just because you didn't choose to have these things effect you, b/c you "can't help" them, or haven't been able to up until now, doesn't mean you can't learn to control them and overcome them.

      Asking for help is the first step. Most universities and schools have counselling services that are free for students. Do you feel capable of looking into that as an option? You don't have to lead with, "I think I have BPD." Just talk about feeling overwhelmed and the symptoms that you're experiencing. Write down what you're going through so you have a clear idea of what you want to focus on.

      How is your relationship with your parents? Can you talk to them? Maybe you can work out a schedule that is more manageable for you. It's okay to admit that you're overwhelmed. Letting the water rise until you can no longer breathe isn't going to help you. It's okay to do something to relieve that pressure.

  2. Omg get a grip of yourself loveylou! You sound like a desperate cry for self-sympathy!
    Just because you have BPD doesn't mean you can't function at all through life.

    1. Invalidating comments Anon. Not helpful. Having only one life to live, figuring out how to do that is a different process for everyone.

  3. Great article. I don't have BPD, but it is a condition that is in some ways similar to my own. When I avoid people it's because it takes so much effort to act interested in them instead of pursuing my own distractions. I'd like see some of my fave BPD people do a book or something. It's fascinating.


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

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