October 12, 2021 (Rehabilitation: BPD)
I did a Google search, I have BPD and want to be a good partner, and almost every search result is an article about loving someone with BPD. Not having BPD and being a good partner. I'm curious why that is. Is it because people with BPD lack the inner reflection of opening up publicly about the ugliness it presents behind closed doors? Are they afraid? I thought it would be good to go through one of these articles and talk about being a person with BPD and give my experiences. I think it’s important for people with mental illness to talk about what it is like to be in relationships.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the resource mental health professionals refer to when making a diagnosis, symptoms of BPD include intense, unstable, and conflicted personal relationships.
In essence, people with BPD are often terrified that others will leave them. However, they can also shift suddenly to feeling smothered and fearful of intimacy, which leads them to withdraw from relationships. The result is a constant back-and-forth between demands for love or attention and sudden withdrawal or isolation.
This is true. Throughout my life, before I started treatment, I had a crippling fear of being left in relationships. To the point where I was unhappy with them but that abusive feeling of control was incredibly prevalent. I couldn’t let people go, because I couldn't be alone. I remember having conversations in my past of telling a partner off and using hurtful language and then immediately calling them back and trying to apologize and tell them I love them. I would do this literally hundreds of times. I would require an ever changing respect of boundaries for myself and not respect theirs at all. These behaviors are dangerous. I had the toxic attribute of fighting with someone, spending days winning them over, and immediately isolating them and myself.
Another BPD symptom that particularly impacts relationships is called abandonment sensitivity.1 This can lead those with BPD to be constantly watching for signs that someone may leave them and to interpret even a minor event as a sign that abandonment is imminent. The emotions may result in frantic efforts to avoid abandonment, such as pleading, public scenes, and even physically preventing the other person from leaving. Another common complaint of loved ones in borderline relationships is lying. While lying and deception are not part of the formal diagnostic criteria for BPD, many loved ones say lying is one of their biggest concerns; this can be because BPD causes people to see things very differently than others.
This is also very true in my experience with BPD. I have abandonment sensitivity, and would try to control my partners from leaving. I remember when I was younger, there would be instances of fights in which I would threaten to break up with my partner because I wanted them to say they didn’t want to, and would push it until that person wanted to break up, and then would become manic in trying to save the relationship because I didn’t want to be alone. I would try to use manipulative language and behaviors to get them back, not because I truly loved them, but because as soon as they would say they were going to leave, I couldn’t handle the feelings of abandonment. It is a disgusting shameful behavior, but one that is exhibited by BPD, and requires treatment for. Lying was another thing that was incredibly accurate for me. Trying to control situations with lies and creating false realities, and even lying about my own intentions. These are behaviors that need therapeutic treatment. They aren’t fixed just by making a choice overnight, because they are learned and in my case a daily routine.
Impulsive sexuality is another classic symptom of BPD, and many people with BPD struggle with issues of sexuality. Also, a large percentage of people with BPD experienced childhood sexual abuse,2 which can make sex very complicated. Finally, other symptoms of BPD, including impulsivity, self-harm,1 and dissociative symptoms, which can have an indirect impact on borderline relationships.
This is very accurate to myself. I have written most of my art about my struggles with my sexuality and attraction to men. I was raised in a home where I learned that sex and women were evil, so those feelings projected themselves onto my relationships. In my previous blog, I discuss the behaviors and language learned from that abuse and the struggles they created. You can find that here:
It is interesting to me that this article states,
In terms of sex, research has shown that women with BPD have more negative attitudes about sex, are more likely to feel pressured into having sex with their partner, and are more ambivalent about sex than women without BPD.5 Unfortunately, little research has been done on sexuality in men with BPD.
*Trigger warning: This is an embarrassing subject and probably why there isn’t much on it, but I want to be honest about how my BPD affected my view on sex before treatment. GRAPHIC LANGUAGE IS USED HERE*
For me, BPD makes sex incredibly complicated. Feelings of jealousy are what I struggled with most as I started having sexual relationships. I would have graphic imagery of my partner having sex with their exes, and imagining they were bigger than me and made them cum harder than I could. Just really insecure thoughts that were destructive to my relationships because I couldn’t even have sex without thinking about those things, and that jealousy would make it so I couldn’t connect emotionally with my partner. It also made me cruel and hurtful during fights. I would say things along the lines of, “Well if you are so unhappy why don't you just go back and fuck (insert name)” I think this type of insecurity destroys many relationships because men are too egotistical to admit these kind of thoughts and get help for them. Sex is a complicated thing, and being abused around sex makes it even more difficult to adjust to in a normal way. It took me a long time and treatment to change those core beliefs, and see sex as a positive normal thing. It is something I am proud I have conquered, but it was something I struggled with. I struggled with my sexual identity too. I remember the first time I looked up gay porn was on an iPod touch I had gotten, and I remember after how I locked the iPod away in my drawer and got on my hands and knees and prayed about it. I was raised in a home that shamed sexuality and I struggled with all aspects of it. I also would get jealous of my partners exes because I am attracted to men and would think about how they were more attractive than me. Having struggles around sexuality are very intense with BPD, but with the right therapy and understanding, it is possible to become educated and change those core beliefs. It also helped me become more content with myself and my own body.
The key to maintaining a relationship with someone with BPD is to find ways to cope with these cycles and to encourage your BPD partner to get professional help to reduce these cycles. Sometimes partners in BPD relationships are helped by couples therapy.
The language used here bothers me. “Encourage your BPD partner to get professional help.” We as the individual with BPD need to be the one encouraging ourselves ro get help. BPD is too much for the partner without it to be trying to get the person with it into therapy. If we as the people with BPD aren’t trying to get help, then the journey has not even started yet. Treatment for BPD is an ongoing thing, allday, everyday. It has become my entire life. I failed my partners and past relationships because I wasn’t in treatment. I didn’t even know what BPD was, and I don’t think my past self would have cared, so I can see the sadness and fear in that statement.
If you have mental health struggles, how do you navigate your relationships? Is it possible to have safe, fulfilling relationships with BPD? For you and your partner? I think it is, and it is something I have been able to do with my partner. I am so thankful for them and their love. They have changed my life. There is no timeline for how long it takes a person to conquer and grow with their mental illness, but it is up to us to take the first step.