Wednesday, 7 August 2019

More on Borderliners


I’ve written here before about my problems with those with borderline personality disorder. It’s a special kind of hell they can put you through. Yet there seems to be a growing movement to somehow sweep all that under the carpet, and complain about the ‘stigma’ surrounding them. The latest such post I’ve seen even says that ‘if you get abused, don’t blame it on them being a Cluster B personality disorder’. (Apparently, there are heaps of similar YouTube videos too. I don’t dare look.)

The problem with this is that the very roots of their abusive patterns lie in their untreated disorder.

Their personal histories mean that they have almost no concept of boundaries, or of what constitutes a ‘healthy’ relationship, or friendship, or any kind of connection for that matter. (Because of this, they’re almost as likely to be victims of abuse as perpetrators of it, and in fact often switch back and forth between the two states.) Hence, they consider any emotional tactic as okay if it controls the other person, and alleviates their terror of abandonment.

And their victims? Because they’re the ones forgotten in this ‘rehabilitation exercise’, their very existence almost denied by this ‘removal of stigma’. What are their lives like?

Imagine for a moment, that you’ve struggled through years of emotional abuse from your partner. You’ve endured temper tantrums, hissy fits, massive sulks and cold silences that can last for hours or even days. You’ve suffered through long rants about just about everyone you know - your family, friends, etc - effectively isolating you, and making you entirely dependent on them. You’ve been torn apart by the endless and relentless criticism of every aspect of yourself, worn down by the list of your personal ‘failings’, and how everything is Your Fault, and nothing you do is ever good enough.

Eventually you’ve come to believe you’re deficient in every aspect of your personality, worthless and useless, not even a proper human being. You’ve been manipulated so much, gaslighted so much, tossed around so much, that you no longer know what the truth is, about anything, but most of all about yourself. And when you tried to express your feelings about anything, those feelings were discounted, scorned, or just ignored altogether, because they make it plain that only their feelings matter. Everything must centre around them, or there’s hell to pay. So you’ve learnt to repress your real feelings, and tried to keep your partner happy at all costs. You’ve become psychologically beaten down. Self-esteem shredded. Shamed. Silenced. Disappeared.

Eventually, you’ve realised that nothing you do will ever appease or please them, and scraped together just enough self-respect to get out. After a while, your head cleared enough that you slowly realised that you’d been emotionally abused, and a small iota of relief seeped into you. Maybe it wasn’t you, it was them.

And then. Somewhere, somehow, you stumble across a list of characteristics of this thing called ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. (Or maybe it’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the two have very similar characteristics.) And something in your head goes, OMG, tick, tick, tick, tick! That’s THEM! And you realise, no, you’re not crazy, or lazy, or stupid, or worthless. It really WASN’T you! A wave of relief washes over you, and your deep self-hatred begins to lift. Maybe you’re not so worthless after all…

Or perhaps you’ve had to watch helplessly as another such person created havoc, brainwashing and manipulating their spouse, turning them against the spouse’s own family, spreading malicious gossip about other family members behind their backs, running down their personal and even professional reputations, and finally so egging the spouse on, that they commit an act of violence against another family member. They end up effectively divorcing that spouse from their family – which of course, you finally realise, was their objective all along. And you feel sickened by it, and them.

Or you blindly trust a so-called friend, who seems okay to start with, but then begins to increasingly scorn you, disrespect you, boss you around, telling you what to do and even what opinions you should have. Meanwhile, they’re also isolating you, ranting at you for hours running down pretty much everyone else you know, and leaving you increasingly dreading contact with them. And when, eventually, you’ve had enough and decide to set some boundaries with them, they explode. How dare you set limits! Wearied beyond measure, because you’ve been here before, you distance yourself from them, but this doesn’t stop them doing their damndest to run you down to all your friends. You consider yourself lucky to have gotten away from them, but the mere mention of their name makes you feel like you’ve been wading through excrement.

After any, or all, of these experiences, you finally feel like you’re starting to get some clarity, get your life together, your self-respect together… and then. And then. You stumble across a piece like the one I mentioned above. One that talks of abusers like your ex, or your ex-friend or someone else you’ve known, as ‘unfairly maligned’, as ‘victims’ of ‘discrimination’ and ‘stigma’ against the mentally ill. And that people need to ‘accept’ them, even embrace them, as they are. That gosh shucks, they’re just people like anyone else...

And you’re cast right back into it. BAM. Into feeling like the worst of the worst. Into self-hatred, into wondering if you’re a worthless failure, a nobody, a nothing. Again. You’re triggered, again.

Traumatised, again.

Shamed, again.

Silenced, again.

Disappeared. Again.

Because you know you’ll never be able to forgive the harm they’ve done, and you feel sick to your stomach at the thought of ‘embracing’ anyone even remotely like them. Are you a ‘bad person’, you ask yourself? Is your anger, your fear, your loathing and pain a personal failing on your part – again?

NO. It isn’t. Because these ‘stigma removers’ are going about it the wrong way, albeit for the right reasons. The Cluster B disorders are not like other mental illnesses, some even dispute they are truly mental illnesses. They are viewed by professionals, rightly (I’ve seen borderliners complain that mental health staff ‘treat them badly’, which can be translated as ‘they know all my tricks’), as the most difficult disorders to treat – precisely because they so often refuse to face up to themselves, or admit that they’ve done anything wrong. That they are mostly able to function in society, ‘pass for okay’, only adds to that. And increases the likelihood of them doing it all over again, sooner rather than later.

Patting them on the back and saying ‘there, there, it’s okay, we understand you had a rotten childhood, it’s not your fault’, not only scapegoats and re-traumatises their victims, but it doesn’t actually help the borderliner. At all.

They don’t need pats on the head, or more love, or whatever. That, I can tell you from bitter experience, is pure enabling. I tried it, for many, many years. I worked on being ‘supportive’, on being a good listener, on helping them ‘work through their issues’. It didn’t work. Their behaviour only got worse and worse. It wasn’t till I stopped doing all this, that things improved even a little – and I though, wow, I should have done this years ago! But it was really too late, I was done, out of there, gone and gone.

So to those borderline apologists, I say this - NO. They don’t need their ‘stigmas’ removed. Instead, they need to have firm limits set with them. To be told ‘your behaviour is not on, you need help’. And to be made to get that help – specialist help, such as Schema or Internal Family Therapy, not just some poor dupe of a regular counsellor who they can fool into believing that there’s Really Nothing Wrong With Them. Because they are so good at that, often possessing a good deal of personal charm and manipulative ability.

And to the borderliners themselves, I say – if you truly want to be ‘rehabilitated’, get your act together. Both individually and collectively, acknowledge the harm you’ve done – all of it, not just the select bits that don’t make you look so bad. Get serious help of the kind I mention above, and stick at it, for years if necessary, until they say you’re done. It may take years, but it’s worth it. You can be healed. You can have healthy, functional relationships as a result. Do it.

Because I don’t want to keep writing about this. I’d rather be writing on autism and autistics, or working on my next book, or completing any of the many unfinished paintings I’ve got lying around. Hell, I’d rather even be dealing with the ants in my kitchen than talk about this again.

But these posts keep popping up, and someone has to say something. You can dismiss me as ‘full of hate’, or as too ‘damaged’ to be worth listening to, or whatever. I don’t care. If it was only me, if it only happened one time, with one person, I wouldn’t say anything. I’d write my experiences off to bad luck. But it wasn’t only once, and isn’t only me. There are a lot of others out there, still reeling, still suffering in silence, licking their wounds and wondering what’s wrong with them. I speak for them, because someone has to speak up for the victims, and for sure it won’t be the enablers and reputation ‘cleaners’.

PS – I know that many autistics are wrongly diagnosed as borderline before their autism is recognised, my post isn’t about them. I feel for them, it must be a horrible experience. I’m also aware that some ‘anti-borderliner’ websites are written by male survivors of female borderliners who are using it to fuel misogyny. I know this. But it doesn’t cancel out any of what I’m saying.

PPS - I suppose it might be possible to have a decent relationship or a friendship with a borderliner, if you set firm boundaries right from the start, and keep reiterating them. But frankly, I don’t want to have to work that hard. I’d rather associate with people who respect me from the beginning, without having to be pushed into it. People who are restful to be around, not constantly creating drama or discord. I try to be someone who is inclusive and accepting of difference, but there have to be limits, and this is mine.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

A Word About Baby Boomers

Something which lately has begun to make me really mad, is how often baby boomers get blamed for so much by younger generations. It seems they look around, see the world in a mess, realise that many of the world’s leaders are of my generation, and go “oh, it must be all the baby boomers’ fault!”

Ah, no. We didn’t create this world, we inherited it, and blaming us for the state of the world is like blaming someone for the state of a 400-year-old house they’ve been left. Maybe if more of the previous generations were still around, you’d be dumping on them too. But they’re not, so it all – unfairly – lands on us.

So, for the record, let’s look at some of those accusations.

SOCIAL CHANGE. Boomers are often described as ‘entitled’. ‘Confident’ is actually a better word. When we were young, we looked at our parents’ world and found it stodgy, straitlaced and restrictive. We thought we not only could, but should, change the world. It’s no coincidence that a whole heap of fervent social movements cranked into high gear around the time we started coming to young adulthood, everything from feminism to gay rights to black power and indigenous rights. (What? You thought the baby boom was only a white, middle-class, American thing?) And yes, I know that plenty older than us fought too, just as some of us didn’t, but we had the numbers and the youthful fervour to carry things through.

Ever enjoyed a women’s/indigenous/black studies course? Gay and married? Out and proud? A single woman who’s adopted a child or taken out a mortgage, or married and didn’t have to ask your husband for permission to start a business or take out a loan? Used the services of a rape crisis centre, sexual health service, or battered women’s shelter? Pierced a ‘glass ceiling’, or forged a career in a field not traditional for your gender? A stay at home dad? These and many more are things my generation fought for. You’re welcome.

And that struggle, the sheer societal and political inertia, was way more immense than anyone younger than about fifty can now imagine. It wasn’t even the active right-wing push-back of recent years, but rather a total ignoring or just blocking of us, no doubt in the hope that we’d just go away. The sheer energy it took to chip away at this, year after year after year, saw many of our finest burn out. And no, we’re not asking for a medal or anything, but we certainly didn’t expect that forty years later, younger generations would turn around and call us ‘selfish’.

TECHNOLOGY. I recently saw a post sneering about a female baby boomer who was obviously something of a technophobe, and the implication seemed to be that all of us are. Nope. You want technophobes? Look at my parents’ generation, in their 80s and 90s if they’re still alive. And personally, though I’m hardly a genius or geek, if I get my hands on any new tech, I can usually figure out how to use it without much trouble. Several years back, for instance, I sussed out my mother’s new cellphone in about fifteen minutes – by the time she died, she still hadn’t figured out how to even check her texts. She wasn’t alone in this, and I’m not alone in being a baby boomer good with technology either.

And please remember, a lot of this technology was invented or developed by baby boomers. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak are or were all boomers, and goodness knows how many of those early technicians, programmers, and other inventors were of our generation too. Quite a few, I should imagine.

ECONOMY. Despite what some think, we didn’t single-handedly create the current destructive economy.  Capitalism has been around for centuries, and the toxic mess that is modern neo-liberalism was dreamt up before boomers were even born. And it was during the 80s, under leaders like Thatcher (UK), Reagan (US), Bob Hawke (Australia) and David Lange and Roger Douglas (NZ) – NONE of whom were boomers – that these policies were put into practise. Plenty of us protested and campaigned against those policies, alas fruitlessly, and now it’s considered ‘business as usual’. NOT. OUR. FAULT.

As for whether some of us are now ‘plundering the world’s economic resources’ to feather our retirement nest, a few might be, but let me assure you, way more of us are in the struggling or desperate classes. And a lot of the most obscenely rich aren’t actually of our age cohort - of the top ten, only Bill Gates (1955), and Bernard Arnault (1949) are definitely boomers. (Jeff Bezos, born in 1964, is only marginally one.) And of those boomers who are ‘plunderers’, they’re not doing it because they’re boomers, but because they’re rich people doing what rich people always do, given the opportunity. Seems like lots of people are just in it for themselves these days, and you can thank those neo-liberals for that.

In a world where our numbers mean not only has the economy grown (as it tends to do with a larger population), we’re perhaps more visible, and the wealth of the wealthiest boomers more bloatedly huge, so it seems like we’re everywhere. Plenty of us don’t like them anymore than you do. I for one would gladly see those obscene inequalities disappear.

ENVIRONMENT. FYI, we didn’t single-handedly destroy the environment either. The damage that’s starting to be really visible now, is the result of trends that began long before we were born (think Victorian factories belching smoke, rivers choking with pollution long before World War Two, plastic introduced while we were still babies). Rachel Carson’s seminal book ‘Silent Spring’ was published in **1962**, when even the oldest of us were barely in high school.

To take just one environmental issue as an example – New Zealand has a problem with its old rubbish tips. We have a long coastline, and in the past, local councils have used many pockets of it to dump rubbish in. Just this year, one of these old tips, previously thought safely capped, was washed out during a storm, and the clean-up is still underway months later. And it’s just one of many such former tips around the country which are now threatened by rising sea levels – and most of which date back before we were even born. Get the picture?

I grew up in a world where the height of environmental consciousness was being a ‘tidy Kiwi’ and picking up our litter. A lot of us moved on from there, joining Greenpeace, marching for a nuclear-free zone, some even became back-to-the-land hippies. Speaking strictly for myself (though I know I’m not alone in this), I’ve been ‘reducing, reusing, recycling’, not to mention composting, since long before it got fashionable. I consciously work on ways to further reduce my impact on the planet, as I’m quite sure many others do.

We may not have done as much as younger people would like, but we’ve not been idle either. And though I can’t prove it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that real efforts to clean up the environment have only begun as we’ve gotten older and at least some of us have gathered power and influence. If those efforts aren’t going to be enough, blame those Victorian factory owners, the 20th century industrialists, the generations who created those sorry rubbish tips, and everyone who ignored all the warnings as far back as the 60s. The damage is cumulative, and the world has certainly reached a tipping point, but humankind has been ruining the planet for the last two hundred years, there’s no way you can put all the blame on us.

POPULATION. I’ve even seen assertions that we’re also to blame for the falling birth rate in Western countries. (Supposedly, we’re too selfish to have kids. Never mind that many of us, including me, have.) But the birth rate has actually been steadily falling in most of the developed world for over a century, the baby boom was actually just a temporary blip in this. It’s an inevitable process, that as a country becomes more industrialised, religion loses its grip, improved medical care ensures greater infant survival, and people can get their hands on better birth control, family sizes always shrink. It’s worth noting that it was our parents’ generation who were the first to use the Pill, which in many countries was initially for married women only.

CHARACTER. Every time someone of my generation is rude or selfish or whatever, it’s blamed on them being a baby boomer, not just because they’d be a nasty person whichever year they happened to be born in. We’re not perfect, but all the worst traits we display I can see in other generations too. We vary in our politics – yes, the Trumpf is technically a baby boomer (b 1946), but so is Obama (b 1961), and let’s face it, Trump would be an arrogant, narcissistic arsehole whatever generation he was born into. Andrew Wakefield is a boomer, but so is one of his major opponents and critics, Dr Paul Offit, and anti-vaxxers seem to be mainly of childbearing age. And need I point out that it’s not my generation who’ve brought back the Nazis and made them socially acceptable in at least some quarters? Personally, I’m as horrified as any else is by that, as are many of us who grew up when ‘Nazi’ was the worst insult and the ultimate evil.

Being greater in numbers may mean we’re more visible, but we’re still just human. A lot of the things said about us seem to basically boil down to ‘I hate that there are so many of you’, which is of course nothing we can help! And that many of those who did the biggest damage are now gone or going is no excuse for jumping all over us!

I’m hoping I don’t sound apologetic here, because I refuse to apologise for the year I was born in. We are not The Enemy, not some kind of malevolent selfish force hell-bent on using up the world’s resources for itself, and to hell with the future. So please, stop blaming us for everything bad about the world. That’s as ridiculous as blaming everything on millennials. It’s a prejudice, a kind of ‘ism’, and like all such, it’s intended to shame and silence an entire group, and alienate anyone who might take their part. And that’s not on. Quit with the hate. We’re all in this world together, and we all bear the responsibility of making it better.