Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Aversion to Touch and Borderline Personality Disorder

Something I’ve been experiencing lately is an aversion to being touched. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m losing my attachment to Tech Boy or what, but I’ve certainly experienced this with romantic partners in the past when I’ve fallen out of touch with them before. I’ve actually gone long, long periods of time when I haven’t been able to stand people touching me.

Most people would assume that it’s because you’re just not attracted to them anymore. But as is typical with BPD there’s often a little more to it.

Aversive to Touch

Most sites I’ve seen will tell you that : “Borderlines eventually transfer negativity onto their mates; that is, they lose love, withdraw, and become aversive to touch and sex.” What exactly does that mean though? It doesn’t “just happen”. It’s not like there is No Reason. So what’s going on? Because to just say this and leave it at that, is a cop out.  

I’m going to approach this today as something that comes and goes, or something that eventually manifests, but wasn’t originally there.  I’m not talking about Borderline sexual preferences of sexual avoidance or reckless behavior. It more like when the need for attention suddenly becomes something it no longer is.

He/She’s Just Not That Into You

Sometimes, there is that unfortunate symptom of human relationships where they occasionally fail, people fall out of attraction, and we lose that physical draw to one another. It happens. It’s unfortunate but it happens.

Eating Disorders/Body Image/BDD

Sometimes with us, especially with eating disordered women and men, or those of us with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, if we’re having a “bad day”, being touched reminds of the “flaws” we see and feel. It reminds us of the fats and flubs that we desperately try to burn off, cover up, starve away, and hide. Being touched can be repulsive. Let’s be clear though. It’s not your touch that’s repulsive. It’s that you have to touch something so repulsive that is repulsive. Until we can regain that confidence or that grace or whatever we need to get ourselves back on track to feel okay sometimes we just need to be left to ourselves.

Abuse and Trauma

Other times it’s important to remember that there is often a history of abuse. You may not know about this history, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because you don’t know about it, doesn’t mean you can’t trigger it.

“Many disordered personalities show a splitting and projection. When a client becomes aversive to being touched by a spouse, we can assume that an old abuse is being reactivated, creating a withdrawal of libido from sexual activity with the once-valued partner. The mate may get seduced into helping fix her spouse's serious problems out of unrealistic altruistic reasons. This is common to many psychological disorders. When someone has a serious personality disturbance, expecting an unqualified, untrained spouse to try to fix or correct the person's long standing illness will have disastrous results. This is especially true because emotional involvement with a disturbed person should not include quasi roles of the pseudo-patient and healing-spouse partner. Relationships and marriages do not heal personality, mood, or anxiety disorders. The clinically disturbed person should seek out a professionally trained therapist and not project the need to be cured onto a partner. When transferences erupt into full bloom in these kinds of pseudo-relationships, the consequences are quite unpleasant.” [1]

When there is any amount of sexual or physical abuse in a person’s past this wound may have been triggered or reactivated in some way and is somehow being projected onto the partner. This can be the cause of sexual or physical withdrawal.  

Even if you know that you’ve been triggered, even if you see it, even if you think you’re prepared, you can’t always predict how it’s going to affect you, and you can’t always stop the effects from hitting you. Meh. Take me for instance.  I told Tech Boy about what happened with The One (rape) a couple weeks back. I sort of dropped it out of the blue. The segue was actually appropriate but I hadn’t prepared myself to have this conversation, pretty much ever, with him. He actually handled it pretty appropriately. It’s 3 weeks later and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about. I haven’t been able to contemplate having sex or even being touched at all since. I hung out with Tech Boy last night, I enjoy his company but I didn’t want to be touched at all. I try, but it feels really uncomfortable. I want nothing to do with anyone. I’ve seriously been contemplating not having relationships at all anymore. I’m sure it’s just a phase of thought that will pass, but it’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about.  I digress.

It’s hard. I’ve been in therapy for so long. I’ve talked it through my sexual and physical trauma. I’ve processed it. I’ve dealt with it. At least I always think I’ve dealt with it. But I’m never sure I’ll have ever completely dealt with it because it clearly still affects me. I can feel myself distancing. I hear my speech speeding up. My shoulders hunching up. My words saying that it’s in the past, but I see my hands coming up like I’m physically trying to push the memories away. It’s deceptive. It’s subtle. My front mind. The mind that wants the put on a brave face and be strong and show no vulnerability just wants to wave it all aside and say it’s in the past. The hind mind where everything resides in shadow and safety knows better though. The wound is still there. It’s healing, but it’s not all healed. I’m not the most careful of people, especially not with myself.

I tell myself that I’m okay, that I can deal with this, that I can talk about this, that I can be okay. But then when I’m alone, or when I’m in more intimate situations, my emotions and my emotional response recoil. Clearly I’m not responding the way I want to. This is the disconnected way that is how we often live. The way that we WANT to live, and the way that is the unintended RESULT to what we wish we had.

This is in no way the first time this has happened. This is a relationship I feel pretty safe in. Imagine if it’s a relationship where safety hasn’t been established yet. Or a relationship where you feel actively unsafe or are actively abused with past abused concurrently triggered and compounded. It can be so complicated.


Not only do I feel empty and alone. I want to be alone. I don’t want people to see me. I don’t want people to look at me. I definitely don’t want anyone to touch me. Nothing is comforting and when people trying it just makes me feel worse. Compounding the guilt.

Devaluation and Pushing Away

Then there’s  ye olde Borderline stand by. Devaluations and Pushing Away. I mention this last because this is often a bit more obvious. If there’s a lot of conflict happening. If your loved one is cold and stand offish. If they’re picking fights; baiting you; and generally being confrontational then this is probably what’s going on.

Has anyone else experienced this? What are some of your reasons? 


  1. I have definitely experienced aversion to touch or being touched. But with me it's kind of not a thing that "comes and goes" its rather very permanent. Touching/being touched was always not my favorite thing to do even among family and friends, even simple things like being hugged. It always made me feel uncomfortable. I have issues with my body image (underweight) and am so self-conscious about them that I don't want anyone to touch me. Also a lot of depression and feeling disconnected with myself and my body. I'd need to feel really comfortable with a person to be able to touch them and let them touch me because being touched feels like an invasion to my body and I wouldn't let something foreign invade me. I don't actually know why I have this issue... I'd be glad if you posted about the "non-classical" form of BPD which is more inhibited and hidden therefore hard to discover in people who suffer from this disorder :)

  2. This happened at the end of my last relationship when it hit the stagnation stage. I realized he was a narcissist with a fragile ego, and started to realize that although I'm an empath, I wanted and deserved so much more for myself. For me, when I get to a place where I do not even want to kiss, it's IT for me (though it can be hard to walk away because I don't like to lose anything). I ended it and although he cried, he was with someone else the next week...spoke volumes to what my intuition was trying to tell me. I'm trying to stop ignoring my intuition.

  3. add to my last comment (really I could go on and on...), since I have my own identity issues, I didn't need it to be made worse by someone sucking the life out of me. The other side, of course is the issue of trying not to see someone as all bad. I had to weigh and balance what I was getting out of it and what he was getting out of it, and I was getting much much less.

  4. Haven, does this also happen with women? I ask bcs you have mentioned that your relationships with women are generally different.

  5. So, something that I have run across that I feel has promise (though of course it's a work in progress, for me) is Acceptance and Commitment therapy. There are workbook-type things out there, mostly by a guy named Hayes. It is an interesting combination of buddhism/mindfulness, cognitive behavioral stuff, and personal inventory. It focuses a lot on the way that the actual structure of language and the way our brain uses language distorts how we think and feel and act. It is really intriguing. Then he talks about the process of accepting and embracing our trauma and our negative feelings about it - carrying those things with us - rather than being at war with them. Anyway, I am not there yet, but it brought some real epiphanies for me that are still working. Just from the part of your post about struggling against the fact that you're not over your past trauma (and I think that that is totally to be expected), you may find this interesting, or at least interesting to write about sometime.

  6. Been on the receiving end of this. It was very confusing. Partner with BPD didn't want to be with anyone--not friends, family or me a few days that felt out of the blue--but she seemed to be struggling with it and kept texting me through the day. She just spent time watching TV, reading, nothing big, but I think she was so depressed she couldn't be around people. It was incredibly hard to watch.

  7. Im not surprised it is confusing to be on the receiving edge of this aversion.
    I have had many many times when Ive struggled with this.
    I guess the 1st & most memorable is with my mum. I would put it as strongly as revulsion to contact, even being breathed on was unbearable.
    Sometimes just being in the same room as her, being aware of her presence, smell etc could be nausea & my entire body to be tense & stiff.

    I moved out 17+ years ago & have worked on it since. I allow her to hug me, kiss my cheek, or occasionally place a hand on me for more than a brief moment now. I hate that it hurts her & she doesn't understand. I cant imagine how I would feel if that was my daughter.

    Then again I hate that she abused me too.

    Then there is my husband. I often cant stand any hint of sexual contact, even a peck on the lips was very hard for a while & there was quite a long time when we slept in the same bed & I was stiffly laid on my back with a good gap between us.

    Hugs are ok with him most of the time but on a bad day I don't want anyone near me, Im irritable & it is very hard to be me & function in a family. I sometimes cant even stand my kids near me & if they touch me I snap. I need physical space as well as mental.

    Its much better now. But even after years of working on my issues it still grim. Just thinking about my mum near me can make me feel ill.

    But on a positive not I find it much easier to be intimate with my husband which means he is feeling more secure.

  8. I also went through a similar incident like with The One in my past. Since it involved a "friend" a spent more than a decade avoiding friendships and even spent some time secluded indoors. I have always had a deep dislike for repetitive contact such as poking or shoulder tapping. It does not matter who or how close they are. When it happens I get an anger flash and shove hands away or shout not to touch me. I have also always been uncomfortable with hugging anyone except my children. These things were there before my incident. My mom has said that I was a "boring child" who slept alot and refused to cuddle. She often likened me to a cat, wanting affection only on my own terms. What seems to have changed after the incident is problems with trusting. While I have learned to suppress (mostly) these feelings of discomfort and to interact normally with people again, from time to time I avoid closeness with my husband when I am upset with him. Usually it stems from things that are minor trust violations - changing plans last-minute; trying to tell me I remember something wrongly (all the time; especially whenever I try to say anything in front of his family); being "pushy" with affection; not doing chore requests that he agreed to do, etc. I have never had therapy and I am not sure that I want it for various reasons. But I was surprised to see that others feel something like what I do.

  9. I’m not autistic or sexually abused, nor do I have any kind of post traumatic stress disorder. However I dislike being touched. Like by 90% of people. There are some people I’m totally comfortable with and enjoy hugging them and there are people who touch me on the shoulder and I feel like hundreds of little spiders are walking on my skin. I remember sitting in a bus beside someone (and I have no idea who it was) and literally made my skin crawl and some other day sitting beside some other person and I felt completely fine and comfortable, even liked the touch and warmth. With people I know I’m very selective about who to touch. Of course I can make myself endure it, but usually it is not even necessary since I know after one touch if I like that person touching me or not and if not, I unknowingly avoid any possible situation of this person touching me so in most cases the other person is not even aware of this. I have no problem with this, though some people are not so understanding (like my mother whose touch I dislike as well) especially if I explain it to them.

  10. Getting the help you need can be a big help .... Don't spiral out do your best to take control

  11. I notice a majority of individuals sharing their experiences are female. I am male and I also struggle with "touch-me-not" symptoms. I have a typical male sense of pride which is why I have been skulking the internet for answers instead of seeing a therapist. I'm sad to see I have a lot in common with others. I was raped (seriously, guys can be raped by women), I had a love-limited upbringing, and grew up in an abusive community. I feel inclined to believe borderline personality is an acquired ailment and not genetic, chemical, etc. I believe in time a therapist might help to reprogram the malware given to me and that I might eventually stop flinching when people touch me. I might even stop deliberately alienating people to avoid making friends. But I really should stop skulking the internet. It's just an excuse to avoid seeing the therapist. Ironic. I am afraid of human contact yet the only way to fix me is to see a human. Damn it.

  12. I'm a closed door freak in ways but I haven't even had sex in years. I'm afraid.


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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...