There is a person in my life that when I was first introduced to I was warned that, “X is crazy but it’s subtle, you won’t notice it at first but one day X’ll say something and your perspective will shift. You’ll then look back on what has happened previously and realize that X’s crazy”. On first meeting X, all seemed normal and for months I didn’t understand the warning. Then about nine months after that first meeting an interaction occurred that made me go, “Huh, that was weird” and then I realized that my perspective shift had just happened as I was told it would.
Like many relationships this one is complicated and for a variety of reasons walking away is not truly an option for me. For better or for worse X has been a part of my life for over a decade now and I have struggled with how to have a relationship with this person. It had gotten to the point that all interaction with X became fraught with peril. If I wasn’t talkative enough, I didn’t feel comfortable around X and therefore didn’t like X. If I was too chatty I ran the risk of inadvertently offending X by what I perceived as an innocuous comment. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t and it left me in a constant state of stress and exhaustion when interacting with X.
Several years ago a major blow up occurred and we stopped speaking with each other. At the time a friend suggested looking into borderline personality disorder to see if it rang true with my experiences. Looking at the DSM IV definition a lot of behaviors lined up. However that was brushed off by a professional who declared X a “highly sensitive” personality. I let it go, the gears of our relationship ground forward and we resumed speaking once again.
Fast forward a few more years and another incident occurred that caused X to declare a termination of our relationship. I was stunned but this time could see a pattern that had been recurring over and over again. Realizing I could not change X and could only change how I responded to X’s behavior, I sought out help from a different therapist who went through the DSM diagnostic criteria:
“A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects (moods), and a marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in (5).
2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
3. Identity disturbance: Markedly and persistently unstable self image or sense of self.
4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, shoplifting, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in (5).
5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.
6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dsyphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.
8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.”
More than five of those criteria rang true for X. The therapist strongly encouraged me to get the book “Stop Walking on Eggshells” and to do more research into borderline personality disorder (bpd). Reading this book was an epiphany. For years X’s behavior has been chalked up to “crazy” with no rhyme or reason to the way X interacts and responds to situations, which is incredibly frustrating when all you want to do is keep the peace. With the label of bpd and knowledge gained from this book I have been able for the first time to understand the driving motivators behind the behaviors I have found so bewildering all these years. It has also given me new sympathy for X that has changed my perspective. X isn’t crazy, X is a person with bpd and suffers greatly as a result (though I’m still working through my frustration with the whole situation, after all I’m only human).
“Stop Walking on Eggshells” is an amazing handbook where the first part walks you through describing borderline personality disorder and helping the reader to understand what thought processes and life is like for the person with bpd. It does not excuse the behavior of that person but with quotes from people with bpd, as well as non-bp’s who live with/have loved someone with bpd, it gave me a new understanding of what has been going on and why things have happened the way they did. The second part of the book is how to take back control of your life and has been a work book to help me retrain my patterns of thinking and how I react to X’s bpd driven behavior. While I can’t change X’s behavior, I can set boundaries to protect myself. For so long I have felt powerless, buffeted by situations I felt I had no control over. This book has helped me to see that I am not powerless but I am also not blameless. At times I have been an unwitting contributor to feeding the bpd behavior. Now that I know, I can change.
“Is this book for you?
- Is someone you care about causing you a great deal of pain?
- Do you find yourself concealing what you think or feel because you’re afraid of the other person’s reaction or because it just doesn’t seem worth the horrible fight or hurt feelings that will follow?
- Do you feel that anything you say or do will be twisted and used against you? Are you blamed and criticized for everything wrong in the relationship – even when it makes no logical sense?
- Are you the focus of intense, violent or irrational rages, alternating with perfectly normal and loving behavior? Does no one believe you when you explain that this is going on?
- Do you feel like the person you care about sees you as either all good or all bad, with nothing in between? Is there sometimes no rational reason for the switch?
- Are you afraid to ask for things in the relationship because you will be told you are too demanding or that there is something wrong with you? Do you feel that your needs are not important?
- Does the other person denigrate or deny your point of view? Do you feel that their expectations are constantly changing, so you can never do anything right?
- Are you accused of doing things you never did and saying things you never said? Do you feel misunderstood and, when you try to explain, do you find that the other person doesn’t believe you?
- Are you often put down? If you try to leave the relationship, does the other person try to prevent you, using anything from declarations of love and promises to change to implicit or explicit threats? Do you make excuses for their behavior or try to convince yourself that everything is okay?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, we have good news for you: You’re not going crazy. It’s not your fault. And you’re not alone. You may share these experiences because someone close to you has traits associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD).”