Monday, April 22, 2013

Smothered – Too much of a good thing

One of the {many} things that is confusing about some of us with BPD is that we have these intense fears of abandonment and of being alone, yet we still need time to ourselves without company. Frankly I think this is human nature. While some people with BPD do have a more co-dependent need for 100% human contact… many of us still have fairly normal levels of needing to be with someone while needing to balance that with needing time to ourselves.

These fears of abandonment and these fears of being alone are very psychological. Ask any person with a proper sense of connectivity to their loved ones and they’ll probably tell you that they can feel Not Abandoned even when their loved ones aren’t in the immediate area. Even if this isn’t true for those of us {some of us} with BPD that doesn’t change the fact that as human beings, sometimes we just need time ourselves. Too much contact can be too much. In fact, it can be pretty darn smothering.

Sometimes people hear “fear of abandonment” or “hates to be left alone” with BPD and automatically assume that the best way to alleviate this is to constantly be physically present. To literally never abandon them or leave them alone. I can see the thought process there, but that’s not really the problem. The problem is not having an internalized sense that the other person is emotionally connected and being able to hold onto that feeling. It’s psychological. What we really need to is develop a proper sense that relationships extend even when they’re out of sight. That’s actually not easy to verbalise, or even to realize. Which is probably why we can always want to have someone around, but simultaneously go a little batty when they’re always around and doing things for us, near us, or around us.

It can be very difficult to reconcile the feeling of needing constant reassurance and availability on the part of our partner, but also recognizing that when they’re always their it can be irritating, maybe a little claustrophobic, or even completely suffocating. They don’t even necessarily need to be doing anything to cause this sensation, but having too much contact, even with BPD can be a bad thing.
Talk about ambivalence.

It’s important to work towards a balanced relationship, not to just try to alleviate the obvious symptoms. Many, maybe most, of us don’t know how to really be close to someone because we never learned. We were never taught. So we can reach for something, think we want something, but not be prepared for how it feels, or doesn’t. We can know we don’t want to be alone, so naturally it seems we should always have someone around… but the problem isn’t really being alone, it’s not having a healthy sense of attachment and constancy. So that constant attention, even if we/they think it’s what we need, it can suddenly seem smothering! Instead of literally, always being 100% present (which really is unreasonable for most people), it’s important to develop a relationship of communication and trust. We should try to develop a psychological & emotional attachment that is 100% present, not necessarily a physical one where we don’t give each other any space.

For me, there are a few different scenarios that can make me feel smothered. Especially in a new relationship.

If someone comes on too strong, too fast it’s often like sensory overload. When someone wants to spend all of their time with you and see you constantly, it’s a lot of pressure and can even feel controlling. You no longer have time to do the things you need to do, or want to do, that require time to yourself.

Sometimes it can be about control. If someone always tries to plan, or pay, or take charge, it gives me nothing to do. It can feel controlling, or like I’m being controlled, even if that’s not the intention. If you’re like me, you’ve felt out of control, or like you’ve had too little control over the things in your life. Not having a say with someone that comes on too strong, can feel like walls closing in.

It can often seem like if we’re not getting enough attention, our partner doesn’t love us. But on the other hand if they give us all their time, shower us with gifts, want to do all of these cute things for us, it can feel smothering. Lose-lose. I’m not very good at people showering me with gifts or doing things for me. I’m the type of person that has to do everything for everyone else so I feel useful, like I have a purpose to them so I can rationalize why they would want me in their life. I don’t believe someone could really want me around if I didn’t “bring something to the relationship”. Whatever that relationship may be. So when people shower me with tokens of their affection, want to do things for me, it makes me a little uncomfortable. It’s like they’re doing my role. They might not need me if they are capable of doing all of these things for me, and therefore for themselves.

There can also be an intense amount of pressure that comes with it. When a loved one begins to shower me with attention or gifts or something, I feel like I’m not worthy of that kind of expression. Like I’ll screw it up somehow. It makes me feel like I have to live up to having earned that kind of attention. Live up to a standard of perfection that I don’t feel emotionally equipped to do all the time. If I can’t do that, I’ll let them down, and no longer be worthy of these gifts. Almost as if they were a reminder of my own shortcomings and inadequacies. Clearly this is not the intent of having a loved one shower you with gifts and loving attention! However it can feel like it, and feelings are intense personal things. Feelings of low self-worth and self-doubt, feelings of being a failure for your partner, not deserving… these are real feelings and very real problems.

Intimacy, emotional intimacy, makes us feel smothered. Most of us, if not all, have never learned how to be truly intimate. We don’t have natural brakes or a natural sense of emotional progression in relationships. It’s classic borderline behavior is to feel smothered by intimacy whenever others come close and to feel completely terrified about being abandoned if they move back. A classic borderline move is to dump anyone who wants you and cling desperately to anyone who wants to get away from you. (Hell, I’ve been starting to feel this right now!) Emotional intimacy is frightening for us, because intimacy and love is often equated with pain and suffering. So we want the beautiful healing idea of love and intimacy, but we rarely have an internalized concept of it. In its place, we have an abusive, destructive concept of it. So while we want this thing, or try for this thing, this fear of what we know often wins out.

It’s important to understand that these feelings of emotional suffocation aren’t intentional. No one looks at someone and thinks, “Wow, they’re being too good to me, well time to start holding my breath”. 

It’s like the more emotional space someone takes up in the room of your heart, the less room for air there is for you to breathe.

The causes for this are our many maladaptive defense and coping methods that have been ingrained in us. When something becomes too good, the fear of losing it becomes even worse. So subconsciously we prepare ourselves for the loss of it. It’s like our psyche is rejecting the implant of love and affection someone is trying to penetrate our mind with. We need to unlearn these maladaptive mechanism and replace them with healthy adaptive ones.  

Some of us also just don’t like surprises. People can think that surprise displays of affection are romantic. For me they’re panic inducing. I’ve had friends that just liked to show up because they were thinking about me. I hate this. It sets my nerves on edge and I just want to push them right back out of the door. I’m not ready, I’m not prepared, mentally, emotionally, and physically. I have body Dysmorphic problems, you can’t just sneak up on me and expect me to be receptive. I need to prepare myself. When people just show up, with no warning, it feels like I’ve lost control of my day. I’m very independent, which sometimes I think means I need to have more than your average amount of control in my life. When someone else pushes on me like this, I feel pressure to not be ungracious, but also needing to reclaim the structure that my day had previously held. This often results in a lot of thinly veiled anxiety and irritation.

Probably one of the biggest issues of relationships is the sense of our loss of self. Relationships are consuming. The dynamic can take over a lot of time that was previously spend doing whatever the heck you wanted to do on our own. Where there used to me Me and Him. Or Her and Me… There now becomes We. In a relationship you need to pay attention to the needs of both people. Often we can become so focused on the needs of our partner that we forget about our own. Or alternatively, we can be so wrapped up in our need issues that dedicating the time that our partner demands can be too much. Everything is about “us together” which leaves very little room for personal expression and personal experience. In short, it can feel like you’re losing a part of yourself, like you’re disappearing into the relationship. Before you know it the attention of your partner can feel more like a weight stifling your individuality.

I think the root of this is when something is moving faster emotionally than we are prepared to deal with; or we perceive our partner is moving faster emotionally then we are. What may be a fairly typical emotional development for many relationships is going to feel very different for someone with BPD. It can feel like a lot of pressure that we don’t feel equipped to live up to for all the varying reasons of low sense of self-worth, self-esteem, fear of failure, abandonment, etc. 

We don’t always know how to ask for space though. Hell, it’s not always clear why we feel so irritated or suffocated. We have a fear of aloneness, so we have someone around, but then it feels bad, like to can’t breathe, panicky, and when we become emotionally panicky instead of responding with reason, we simply react and push away. We don’t always know the reason, but we know the feelings we’re experiencing. Instead of simply reacting to the feelings, we need to figure out the reasons behind the feelings and then learn to communicate those feelings in a productive way. It’s okay to not have a solution at first. You can work on that together. Write down what it is you’re feeling. Don’t judge the feeling, just write them down. Then look at each line and brainstorm from there. You can do this on your own first to get an idea of what you need to talk about and help yourself identify the triggers and things that make you feel smothered, first. When you’ve pulled together some of your thoughts and feelings then you can bring it to your partner and try to figure out what can work for both of you, as individuals, together. 


  1. Wow!!!!
    Just WOW!!!!

    This explains my previous "friendship" to a T. On a side note, is it common for people with BPD to continuously find romance in the office? This seems to be a common thread in the material I have read.

    1. I don't know if it's common. This is the first time I've ever done it in my life. I don't recall either of my BPD friends having done it before either. But it wouldn't surprise me. When you're around people everyday you form connections with them.

  2. I have many days home with my family when I feel utterly alone, as if im inhabiting the world on a different plain to them entirely.
    I struggle when Im by myself too, unless im busily engrossed in some activity, even then the anxiety can build and build and I can get really upset.Then my husband will try to comfort & reassure me but he just doesn't 'get' it. It must be really tough to live with me.

  3. so what does the non BPD do then? I really like someone with borderline that I have met and the idea of scaring her away terrifies me yet at the same time I want to know that I really do care.


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

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