LOVE IS JUST A FOUR LETTER WORD
Understanding the Borderline Personality
By Shari Schreiber,
you've ever been involved with a borderline disordered individual,
you've struggled with massive confusion. The great disparity between
their words and actions alone, has you running in circles, and trying
to make sense of it all. Should you believe your lover
when he/she states they "love you more than anything, and
all they want is your happiness" ~or should you accept
their destructive, diminishing behaviors as proof that
all those declarations aren't actually true? You'll reluctantly
doubt their emotional health and sanity, because one minute they're
adoring you, but just an hour or so later they're shutting down,
cheating on you or wanting to break up!
to this, the Borderline could make statements to you about needing
to break up~ but the very instant you agree that this is possibly
a sound choice, they'll accuse you of wanting out!
had this happen with a Borderline
client who engaged my assistance. After only two sessions which
went very well, she phoned to say that she didn't feel comfortable
pursuing this work with me. As I validated her concerns and addressed
how my methods might not be a fit for her (based on what I'd sensed
was her resistance to even consider healthy change), she accused
me of wanting to terminate her as a client! That was her
she needed me to be 'the bad guy' and abandon
her, so she could retain her inner-narrative;
"nobody can help me/everyone leaves," and managed to find
serious fault with me, just as she had her former therapist.
probably gone through this in your own dance with a Borderline,
but do not take it personally, or try to convince
them that they authored the upset between you. This is
distortion at work, and you're not gonna change that. Many Borderlines
who call me looking for "healing," reject it as soon as
they discover that emotional growth is the central part of this
process. Growth brings change, and change is terrifying for them.
Thus, they generally remain pitiful, tireless seekers of
something they cannot accommodate, and don't actually want.
are deeply insecure. They'll act-out their ambivalent feelings
and fears surrounding attachment, with anyone close, even
the professional they're engaging for help. They will do with
their clinician, precisely what they've done with you. A solid/meaningful
therapeutic alliance jostles their defenses, and makes them want
to retreat. They'll solicit constant reassurance that you won't
kick them out of treatment~ but they'll test this
relationship to see how far they can push the envelope with last-minute
rescheduling, missing appointments, self-sabotaging (to avert growth),
ignoring productive suggestions, etc.
bandy about the word 'love' with casual abandon. You'll want to
believe them when they say it--but not only do they have a distorted
sense of what love is supposed to feel like, most are pathological
liars~ it's simply become part of their survival strategy, since
early childhood. They can easily hide sexual and emotional affairs
from their partners or spouses, and if you're stupid enough to think
it won't happen to You, think again!
the 1964 movie My Fair Lady, Rex Harrison's character sings this
plaintive lament; "Why can't a woman be more like
a man? Men are so honest and thoroughly square, eternally
noble and historically fair." Truth is, Borderlines are
more like men~ at least at the onset of their romantic endeavors.
They present as comfortable or at ease with their sexuality (and
what man hasn't wished for that his entire adult life?!).
There are facets of the Borderline that can make you feel like you're
with one of the guys. She's forthright, open, easy-going
and fascinating, all encased in one lovely package. She adores all
the things you do, and it feels amazing that this delightful
creature is so into you.
is The Hook of course--the honeymoon phase of your relationship,
which has you wanting to excuse and overlook her debilitating, castrating,
abusive behaviors once you're securely on her fishing line--and
that barb is so deeply imbedded in the roof of your mouth, you can't
even think of struggling free, for the injury it will cause
drop your guard when she says she's "just into something
casual--and you've no cause for concern." You want
to believe it, and so you do. I mean, who the hell would turn down
this gorgeous creature who wants to spend his/her days worshiping
at your altar? The trouble is, those painful, crazy episodes soon
begin multiplying, and now you're right in the thick of it. You're
hooked, and there's no turning back, despite their push-pull emotional
gymnastics, love you/hate you antics, etc. One of my favorite films,
(500) Days of Summer
epitomizes your struggle for emotional consistency and solid grounding
with a Borderline lover that you'll never have a chance to experience.
PICTURE'S WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS.
that you're sitting in a boat having baited a fishing lure, and
you're waiting for your next dinner meal to swim along and chomp
on that hook. That would be your normal expectation, wouldn't it?
Well, the Borderline ignores that lure in the water, and hoists
herself out of the water and into your vessel! This is utterly
fantastic for any guy who's insecure, and wants to avoid the possibility
of rejection if he makes the first move with a gal. It's also a
sure thing you can expect a train wreck up ahead, with a borderline
disordered girl. They're predatory. The only
cure for attraction to Borderlines, is growing genuine confidence
and self-worth, so you're not dependent on being seen like
you walk on water.
inch of you has been craving that glorious beginning you had together,
and I know how much you're wanting it back! It's tough to let that
fantasy die~ but you must. Truth is, there may be moments
you think it's recaptured, but it will never
be what it was at first, because you're already seduced.
there's no challenge or chase, the capture means nothing
to a Borderline, which is why so many males get dropped on their
heads immediately after leaving their
wife and family for one of these gals! No matter what she says
to the contrary, the very moment you're solidly Hers, she doesn't
want you anymore (sexually
a well-fed, contented house cat will chase a mouse just for
the sheer sport of it. Once the rodent is captured, if it's
smart enough to stop moving and play dead, the kitty loses interest
and walks away. If the mouse struggles to get free of the cat's
grasp, our feline holds on tighter and unwittingly kills its new
favorite toy. This is exactly what happens in your dance with a
Borderline. When you're actually available, he/she is no
longer intrigued with or excited by you.
IT HIM/HER WHO IS CRAZY, OR IS IT ME??
have major difficulty trusting anyone. This issue is left over from
infancy and early childhood due to poor parenting, so don't personalize
their lack of trust in you! You can't make this person
trust you, which has nothing whatsoever to do with how dependable
or loving you are. This issue existed way before you
came along, so stop holding yourself responsible for it.
the Borderline mirrors for you absolutely everything you've always
wanted to believe about yourself. This is the crux of infatuation.
As the relationship gets underway though, they echo how you really
feel about yourself, deep down beneath the markers of your success
or props (the fancy houses/cars, your prodigious
skills in bed, your thriving business, your splendid physique, etc.).
You keep trying to revive that first image
of yourself at least, in their eyes~ but it's futile, which
triggers core shame. This icky sensation of shame drives
your feverish efforts to win him or her back, so that you can feel
okay about yourself again.
Borderline makes you feel responsible for their deceitful
and manipulative behaviors; they could make you believe that if
you just married them, they'd be devoted only
to you, and life would be marvelous--but don't
buy it! The truth is, the closer you get to a borderline disordered
person, the more they freak-out and push you away. This paradox
is due to attachment fears they've carried for a lifetime.
act highly indignant if you question their actual motives, or even
hint that they've behaved without the
utmost honesty and integrity, but this is their defense
against failing to
be perfect ~which for them too, triggers toxic core shame.
might not have had much experience with real Love during
the course of your life, so these contradictory messages can feel
horribly confounding. The initial stages with a Borderline are sublime,
and quite unlike anything you've ever experienced before. You start
feeling as though you've finally found what you didn't even know
you've needed, your entire life! Hence, when he/she begins pushing
away or finding fault with you, you'll be thinking; "this
is only temporary--and I'll just fix the problem, or wait until
it blows over. Surely they really love me, so this
must be a simple misunderstanding, or glitch in communication."
you know it, sorting
through this difficulty takes center stage in your world, and
you're committed to doing whatever it takes, to rectify
it. Even if you're not sure you've made an error, your partner's
reactions are sufficiently intense and volatile, to suggest that
you must be the one who's at fault.
matter how much you try to resolve or work through this conundrum,
your lover has his/her own spin on it, and keeps needing to put
the blame for this rupture on you! They'll never be able to see
this issue from your perspective, nor will they accept
your explanations of what you think actually happened. They begin
bringing up things about you and your personality that just aren't
true, and you start having to defend yourself in the midst of trying
to repair the original upset. Now, you're completely thrown
off your game, and there's no end in sight. In short, this little
'speed-bump' has turned into a gargantuan hurdle~ and to make matters
worse, your character is being impugned!
ROOTS OF A BPD ATTRACTION RUN REALLY DEEP!
you've learned as a kid to be an accommodator, and you're
accustomed to always putting another's needs/feelings first, you
may find yourself apologizing for crimes you haven't commited, just
to restore harmony and peace to this relationship.
knows, your partner isn't willing to own their errors--and
you've learned that days or weeks could pass, before he/she stops
punishing you by withdrawing/shutting down, and this cold war
is finally over (for awhile, anyway). You might be tempted
to "take the higher road" and bridge this chasm, but has
anyone ever done this with you~ or has always been your
job to make things right, even in childhood?
person who contacts me for help to recover from these relationships
is immersed in guilt and shame. This doesn't feel like any other
break-up, and you can't just walk away--not with your ego intact,
anyway. You're raw and hurting--and the worst part is, you're beating
yourself up for it! A long-held belief might be;
"If I feel bad in a relationship, it must surely be my
fault" but that's an erroneous assumption you cultivated
as a child, due to extremely faulty parenting.
of your confusion and torment might have begun as a child, if you
had a harsh, abusive, critical mom or dad, and the other parent
convinced you it was "their way of loving you." Being
wounded by a mother or father, and having the other spouse routinely
offer 'comfort' by convincing you that this pain you felt
was really Love, distorts your sense of this emotion, and
screws you up for a lifetime! Should you doubt your own parent on
this point, or not accept the lie they fed you? How might you do
that as a little kid, with no alternate frame of reference??
you unquestionably loved your parents, even as they were the source
of your pain, you learned to accept that 'loving' came with anguish--and
this became your relational blueprint, from which all your adult
attachment bonds have been constructed. Borderlines were very similarly
influenced, and all those painful childhood experiences frequently
give rise to addictions.
LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
is an abstract concept for somebody with BPD (and a whole lotta
other folks, apparently) and it's associated with pain. The Borderline's
yearning for love is experienced as dramatic, painful emotions
that were confused with affection for an unresponsive,
emotionally unavailable parent throughout childhood. These difficult
sensations in the child were spawned by unrequited
(or un-returned) love. Could this have also been true for you?
Borderline carries tremendous toxic shame from never having
felt worthy of love since infancy/early childhood. They've lived
with sensations of having to buy a parent's
love (getting 'em expensive gifts, visiting when they really don't
want to, etc.) to gain approval and acceptance. Perhaps they've
done this with you, as well. Each time they've acted adorable, generous
and seductive, it's to get their deep need for validation
met--which has nothing whatsoever to do with loving feelings for
nature of a Borderline is difficult to wrap your head around, as
their reactions are often the opposite of how you'd think someone
should respond, and it messes with your mind. For instance,
the closer you get to him or her, the more they need to distance.
For healthy folks, love and trust grow with time, and intimacy
deepens. With the Borderline, as soon as they feel safe and good,
abandonment concerns are stirred, attachment fears are right behind
'em--and they have to push you away. Their survival depends on this,
for they've learned in childhood that to really love,
means devastating pain will follow. You can't change this.
Borderline's deep hunger for love doesn't go away, but when you
actually feed and satisfy it, dramatic feelings associated with
love instantly evaporate! Infatuation is exhilarating,
but fleeting. Real love is a rich, highly sustainable, consistent
emotion, which a Borderline cannot tolerate.
an analogy, you might crave a favorite food. You're needing this
appetite satisfied, and nothing else will quite hit the mark. After
you eat that meal, your craving is appeased, and you're feeling
sated. With the Borderline, as soon as you gratify their craving
for love, the sensations of "love" vanish. Given that
love and pain have become entwined for them, someone with BPD believes;
if it doesn't hurt, it must not be love--so folks who are
capable of providing the love they really need, are taken for granted,
punished or cast aside. Can it be, that you've
also done this with others you've dated during the course of your
matter of paradox can be nothing short of excruciating, if we've
always sought a parent's or older sibling's approval and affection,
and keep coming up short--no matter how much we've contributed
to those relationships! Ties that bind can also feel imprisoning,
when our self-worth has depended on the distorted reflections
from dysfunctional others. This is like daily looking into a warped
Fun House mirror, and coming to accept that
image of yourself as accurate and real. The Borderline simply retraumatizes
old, childhood wounds to your sense of Self.
might come to surmise that you're both core-damaged, so
why can't this make for a compatible,
successful relationship? Have you ever observed two little children
playing well together, but if there's an upset between them, they
lack conflict resolution skills, and it takes an adult
to intercede? Lack of adult development means that conflicts escalate,
and there's no such thing as problem-solving, which
is why couples therapists thrive! Perhaps
you've experienced this with your borderline partner, and you either
gave-up/gave-in, or had to break away until all that tension eased--only
to return to find it had blown over with no resolution,
and this cycle repeats over and over.
DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE ON LOVE, LOSS AND LOATHING:
isn't that Borderlines haven't wanted love--it's
that they have never been able to trust it. Partners who
occasionally meet their need for closeness are less threatening
than those who can provide it on a routine and consistent basis.
to gain the upper-hand by being someone you're not
just to keep your Borderline interested in you, never works.
The roots of this are deeply
buried in your childhood where you learned to surrender huge
chunks of yourself, for the sake of getting a little care, approval
or affection from your folks. If you think you can control this
relationship by protecting your heart, you're still in for some
debilitating pain. You cannot win with
a damaged/dysfunctional individual, but your ego will demand
that you keep trying even against all odds, as you were programmed
to do this as a child.
a Borderline means you're always walking a high-wire, which is based
solely on their emotional comfort, feelings or needs, and
there's zero room in that relationship, for yours!
You'll spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how to balance
on this tightrope, so you don't fall and crack your head open, but
it's a futile exercise. In truth, the more you give-in to this person,
the less they respect you. How can they, if you can't respect yourself
enough to take a firm
stand for your own needs and desires??
DANCE OF THE DIVA
occasionally contacted by psychotherapists needing help with a particularly
difficult BPD patient
or client. These clinicians have given over control of their
therapeutic relationship to the client who's borderline disordered--and
there's intense drama, chaos and abuse that comes their way within
our consultations, I coach them on setting very firm limits and
boundaries, and taking back their power. A rageful, abusive Borderline
is literally screaming for containment.
The therapist must be willing to treat these patients differently
than others, and protect themselves during the entire process--even
if it means leaving his/her office for a few minutes throughout
the session. Bottom line, there's no excuse for abuse--and
there's no "reasoning" with a three year
might be concern that a waif-type could self-injure, in response
to this firmer and more direct treatment, but quite the opposite
is true. As I have mentioned in some of my other BPD literature,
the Borderline is much like somebody without a skin holding
them in. Like a good/solid parent, you must provide the
container for them, and not put up with any nonsense. It's the only
way they feel more secure and safe. When husbands learn to do this
with BPD wives, their home life becomes a lot more bearable, and
can even start to feel calm and pleasant.
Diva is emotionally a toddler who lacks impulse control
and boundaries. Don't
believe me? Ask any film director. Expect rebellion
from your spoiled, obnoxious brat, but stay firm.
small child cannot hold feelings for very long, and emotional dysregulation
is natural to this phase of development. They're monumentally disappointed
if you've promised something you can't deliver--and they'll hate
you, throw a temper tantrum or pout, when they don't get their way.
It's usually a pretty short period before their temperament shifts,
and they're giggling and loving you again--and if you've spent any
real time around a toddler, you know how easy it is to cheer them
up. It might only take a lollipop!
of this acting-out involves their need to learn where your limits
are, and how far they can push the envelope with you, before they
get punished. This stage is usually referred to as 'the terrible
two's,' but it lasts for awhile--and you'll get so frustrated at
times, you might find yourself thinking; how can I flush this rascal
down the toilet?!
Borderline hasn't developed their own container--and like a small
kid, they're dependent on you to make
the rules, so they can feel protected. They're continually having
to test these limits, because they haven't grown any of
their own--and their absence of impulse-control is what Dr.
Sigmund Freud termed the "Id" or infancy
impulses, that define their need for instant gratification.
infant is ruled solely by instinctual, libidinal urges.
There is no capacity for mood regulation, empathy, higher order
thinking or sensing right from wrong. Their needs are primal and
selfish, because their very survival depends on
it. If adult development hasn't been successfully acquired, narcissism
typically results. An emotionally underdeveloped person continually
wrestles with relationship difficulties, addictions,
personality disorder traits, low self-esteem and poor tolerance
for delayed gratification.
Borderlines within the psychotherapeutic community,
might have developed solid clinical skills--but they frequently
maintain erratic push-pull dynamics in their romantic relationships.
Nourishing friendships and collegial attachments are often sabotaged,
when another is viewed as wiser or more gifted than they, because
their core shame relating to feelings of inadequacy ("I'm
not good enough") is inevitably invoked.
materials on the Internet speak about 'hoovering.' It's a derivative
of the vacuum cleaner brand that's been around since time began.
I generally resist using hackneyed terms associated with this disorder,
but this one perfectly describes a Borderline's basic nature to
want or need you, as soon as they're aware they can't have you.
The challenge of sucking you back in when their craving for
distraction from empty feelings erupts, is what that word encapsulates.
Once their immediate appetites are mollified, they're done with
you all over again--and this repetitive cycle continues, until one
of you literally gets sick and tired of it.
might want to escape this toxic relationship, but you just can't
imagine "abandoning" your Borderline. Let's be clear:
A Borderline's troubles started long before
you came along, and you're not going to rewrite their history, no
matter how hard you try! You are not 'abandoning' this person (their
parents did a stellar job of that), you're
simply leaving to take better care of You, and try
to save your own life.
weren't able to form solid bonds of trust during infancy with their
mothers. They couldn't get enough attention, mirroring and nurturing
in the earliest stages of life. Every child needs these crucial
emotional supplies to believe they're lovable, and build a sturdy
sense of Self. Children who grow up without these elements, assume
the deficits they feel are their fault--and they must be
defective and unlovable. If you've become a People
Pleaser, this could also have happened to you! In truth, you've
both wrestled with similar
core trauma wounds, so it feels like his/her puzzle
piece fits perfectly with yours, and vice-versa.
you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod this app will let you hear
here, to determine if you're in an abusive relationship!
MY BPD LOVER BE RIGHT ABOUT ME??
may phone for assistance, but I
do not offer online/written therapy. Only emails under
150 words are read, due to time constraints. Please
be clear/concise, and expect a straight answer within four to six