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.
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.