Friday, March 8, 2013

Ask Haven: Intentional Emotional Abuse from Nons – Real or Imagined?

Dear Haven,

                      Is intentional emotional abuse from Nons real or imagined?

            You Know Who 

Hello there. Emotional abuse, especially from the emotionally hypersensitive perspective of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is a tricky subject.

  1. Most people get angry, are capable of losing their temper, and say things they don’t really mean (or mean but would never typically say) in the heat of the moment. Especially if we’re currently going through a Pushing phase or Baiting & Picking fights. Let’s face it; even the most patient of our loved ones can only take so much, because like the rest of us, they’re only human…. Also we have a tendency to push buttons and attack the sensitive points when we’re going through these times which can inspire some less than sensitive words on their part. This isn’t necessarily emotional abuse though, often it’s a poor choice of words used in self-defense of an attack we’re provoking on their character. Often when tempers calm down though, if it’s followed by an apology, then no it probably wasn’t meant to damage you intentionally.
    EDIT: As one commenter noted, when tempers get out of hand, even if the person isn't normally cruel, the words exchanged can be emotionally abusive. From both Nons and Borderlines alike. When I'm angry and threatened I can have a very sharp, sometimes cruel, tongue. Not so much anymore, but I certainly used to. See the picture above. If you hear any of those phrases, that's emotional abuse. 

  2. There are Nons, loved ones, or people that we’ve allowed close to us, that are actually just horrible human beings. Emotional, verbal, mental, physical, or sexual abuse for whatever reason is their choice of communication. Some people have deeper issues of their own. Some people are just assholes. This kind of abuse is often intentional.

Neither of these is really what you’re asking about, I just figured I should cover those bases.

3.  ………

Here’s the thing. People aren’t perfect. People say and do things that they don’t consider to be emotionally abusive. They may not realize that what they are saying is in fact emotionally abusive. It’s also not unreasonable to believe that what they say, for most people without BPD, what they say isn’t emotionally abusive, but because we are hypersensitive or they may be tripping an emotional trigger, their words are unintentionally wounding. There’s also the very real probability that we are misunderstanding the intent of their words. Often the Nons in my life will make a statement of general intent, or one that means a certain thing to them, but because of our own experiences, or the tendency to have a bit of narcissistic self-involvement in the heat of emotional turmoil, we subconsciously skew what is being said to be something that is intentionally directed to wound us. We take what they say very personally, internalize it negatively, and that creates an even more emotionally fueled state where we react (instead of responding) more volatilely, with less composure, and lash out in a desperate need to avoid shame, embarrassment, fear, abandonment, etc…. Many of these things are a problem with our perception of that moment though.  

This is why it’s so important to develop an open and trusting relationship with the people we allow close to us. Also it illustrates the necessity of communication. If we are not capable of expressing our issues, our problems, and our emotional states, the Nons in our lives have no way of knowing that what they say or do could be emotionally damaging to us. We need to place some trust in them with our well-being, so that they can understand, and we in turn can take better care of them, by being able to avoid reacting negatively to things that could be avoided and, in turn, not hurt them unintentionally ourselves.

If you develop trust from the beginning, it’s also easier to remember that this is a person that loves you, cares for you, and probably does not actually want to hurt you.

Now, if you do communicate your triggers, your concerns, and let the person in your life know what causes you a great deal of distress… and they continue to bring those things up and push them at you… this is a different story. This may very well be intentional emotional abuse, meant to keep you in a state of distress. If you notice this happening, please seek help and counseling in order to figure out if this is a relationship that you should continue to engage in.

More often than not though, I’ve found that if we have not communicated those personal triggers or wounding experiences, the Nons in my life do things that can be very wounding for me, but they do so completelyunintentionally. They don’t know, because we haven’t told them, so they don’t realize what they’ve done.

Relationships take two. If we don’t convey what our problems are, they can’t avoid touching upon those problems, and we can end up hurting them, and ourselves, more in the process when we react impulsively to what we perceive as emotionally wounding.

Something that I have found is helpful, especially during arguments or heated discussions… when someone says something that makes my blood boil and I want to lash out impulsively, it’s usually time to:

1.      Take a deep breath
2.      Ask for clarification

It’s okay to say: “[This thing you said], it makes me feel [this way]. I interpret it [this way]. Is this how you meant it? What do you really mean when you say that?”

This is a better way to Respond, and not just React. It opens up what could be an emotionally  wounding conversation into a more productive dialogue.  

Hope this helps =)

EDIT #2: I also wanted to add, that even a few years ago I might not have been able to make this distinction. In the moment of an argument or even just when I'm having an insecure day, it's like my brain automatically assumes all the words coming from someone's mouth are meant to attack me or make me feel bad... or even if they don't specifically aim at me, they bring up ruminations in my mind that make me sad, hurt, angry, and panicky... and then I recognize the other person as the source for creating those ruminations... so somehow it feel s like they're doing something to me (even though clearly they are not!). Everything can feel like a jab, an attack, or a subtle undermining of my character. Hell, I still have these days quite a lot... Especially when someone attempts to explain something to me that clearly indicates they don't think I'm smart enough to have already known. Really they have no idea what I know or not, but anything that feels like a criticism of my intelligence makes me instantly angry. They don't really intend it in any way, but it feels like they do. Fortunately I've learned to recognize this in myself and work on maintaining my composure instead of acting on the impulsively destructive feelings and behaviors.


  1. My only critique is that in point #1, you should add that it MIGHT BE emotional abuse from BPDers, just as it MIGHT BE from Non's.

  2. Hi Haven, im newly diagnosed with BPD, so im very overwhelmed at the moment and feel like im living in an aliens body........How do you know what are triggers...........and do you tell your brain not to react.....

    Thank you.

  3. Hi, my mom has BPD and NPD and has been diagnosed about five times from five different therapists, she still won't believe there is anything wrong with her, did you have this problem too?

  4. Hi, just want to add, please, can someone be a little understanding, that the non BDP are themselves the abused ones, and after, say, 10 years of emotional and verbal abuse from their BPD partner ,who doesn't acknowledge their problem, they can react impatiently, angry about this one sided arrangement and the inhumanely, impossible task to constantly receiving abuse and turn the other cheek - so that they say abusive words, yes,intentionally hurting the poor BPD person. If it occurs regularly, then this is the sign for me for the Non BPD person to seek help themselves, and maybe get out of the relationship. But it seems to me, that, quite frankly, too much is expected of people living in this hell. Maybe there is a way to help persons with BPD to take it in that they are very,very,very difficult people to live with and that one cannot expect others to cope with these problems at all times!!!
    (My spouse is just having a spell....)

    1. I absolutely understand your position. What I want to get across is that both people are accountable for their own actions. A relationship takes two people and each person is responsible for themselves. Absolutely I understand how a person with BPD is hurtful, trust me, I've been that person. My disorders don't make my actions okay. I have to take responsibility for my actions. By the same token, being impatient and angry are also not an acceptable excuse for abuse, they are also actions that must be held accountable for.


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

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