I’ve been criticised for writing about borderliners before. Sometimes the criticism comes from the borderliners themselves, other times it’s from the well-meaning but ultimately misguided who are concerned about what they call the ‘stigma’ of having one.
The problem is that so much of the attitude of many towards borderliners (or those with other Cluster B conditions, for that matter) isn’t due to some vague ‘stigma’, but to them having a reputation. People have suffered at their hands, and learnt to be wary of them, and others have either witnessed this or heard their stories. But try and say so, as I sometimes have, and prepare for a ton of excrement to land on your shoulders. A frequent tactic is to say that you shouldn’t say that people with personality disorders are abusers, manipulators, etc. ‘Address the abuse, not the personality disorder, PDs are no more likely to abuse than anyone else, blah blah blah’, is their line. But this deserves a much closer look.
Borderliners (the PD I know best) typically have the following issues –
1) Fear of abandonment. Not so much an anxiety, as an outright terror. As a child, they may have experienced physical or emotional abandonment, or the threat of it, or the loss of a loved one. Or they were abused and manipulated into believing that they’re so ‘bad’, others will leave them. Whichever, they are ruled by this fear on a very deep level.
2) Poor boundaries. Invariably, their own boundaries were constantly violated as a child, and/or the setting of boundaries were never modelled for them. Thus they have no idea how to set their own, nor can they recognise or respect other people’s boundaries either.
3) Emotional volatility. Anger is the one that tends to come to the surface most, and I’ve sometimes been able to identify a possible borderliner by their frequent and explosive displays of anger. Sometimes this is buried under a layer of ‘niceness’, but dig deep enough, and it’s there. But other emotions will also likely be out of control. I believe that their fears are at the basis of this.
4) Warped attitudes. All the borderliners I’ve known have skewed viewpoints about other people, stemming, it seems, from a twisting of their infant psyches at such a young age that they don’t even realise that they’ve been warped. They seem to assume that ‘everyone’ is ‘like that’, or if they do realise that others aren’t, they try to excuse their behaviour in various ways, rather than confronting the underlying issue. It’s as if they’re too afraid to look at themselves.
So I ask you - what is the likelihood that people with poor boundaries, a terror of abandonment, anger management issues and skewed attitudes about others, have a high likelihood of becoming users, abusers and manipulators? I’d say pretty strong. These emotional states drive them to clutch at those close to them, try to control them, manipulate and dominate them, isolate them from others, and generally do anything to hang on to them. Emotional abuse or manipulation, rather than physical, seems to be predominant, but the latter is not unknown.
Of course, it can often mean that they’re likely to be victims of abuse etc themselves – I’ve seen this even in the same person. They might be petty tyrants in their own homes, but unable to assert limits outside it, or with a more domineering personality. And in theory, there could be borderliners who are not abusive, who have more self-awareness than most, and who work hard on not letting their insecurities and emotional problems spill over onto their loved ones. But – and here’s the kicker – I would not take their word for it, because another frequent problem with borderliners is their expertise with lying or twisting the truth. If this sounds harsh, well, I’ve been manipulated like this before, and paid the price for it. And it’s worth remembering that autistics are far more vulnerable to all kinds of abusers, including those with PDs, because of our naivety and difficulty with reading people’s intentions.
Here are just some examples of what I’ve personally seen –
1) A (probable) borderliner manipulate their partner into an emotional ‘divorce’ from their family, working them up to such a frenzy that they eventually physically attacked another family member.
2) This same person constantly spreading vicious lies and rumours about the partner’s various family members, attempting to damage their personal/professional reputations.
3) Another borderliner do a furious rant at me when I attempted to set boundaries, swearing at me, violating those boundaries again, and then, when I eventually blocked them, attempt to manipulate friends and persuade them that I had just ‘misunderstood’, or that I was ‘afraid’ of them, etc, etc.
4) Same person trying to get round the block by creating new accounts, and messaging me from them with a tirade of abuse and spurious claims, years afterwards.
5) Yet another, ranting at me because I was one of the admins for a group they’d been thrown out of for bad behaviour, even though I wasn’t the one who threw them out. Their attitude was that they were discriminated against for not being ‘eloquent’, with no admission of that behaviour. (How eloquent do you have to be to say ‘sorry, my bad’?) No matter what I said, they just got more and more furious, finally abruptly unfriending and blocking me. I heard afterwards that they were complaining about how ‘oppressed’ they were in that group, and how ‘horribly’ they’d been treated.
6) A borderliner spreading vicious lies about their ex to anyone who would listen, and making them feel so frightened that they moved out of their house for several weeks.
7) Another probable borderliner drive others they’d taken a dislike to, off a piece of land they co-owned with them, so that they didn’t return until the borderliner left permanently. Also visitors to the same land refused to come back while that person was there.
And this list is not even touching on my ex’s behaviours, or the damage she did to me.
Do I feel empathy for those with Borderline Personality Disorder? Most definitely yes. I have a huge amount of empathy for their suffering. They are deeply traumatised individuals, with some very Big Issues to deal with. PTSD is not an uncommon co-occurring condition, as are other mental health issues. And I do know that there’s a problem with public attitudes towards those with mental health issues in general. People with PDs do suffer deeply, I’ve seen this, close up, intimately.
The problem is, firstly, how often they make those around them suffer for it too, and secondly, how reluctant they are to both acknowledge this and to seek out the professional help they need. (Not to mention, of course, the issue of what help they can actually access.) It’s this, way, way more than my personal history, that impels me to push back when people talk as though their only problem is this ‘stigma’, and that if people could just get past that, everything would be hunky-dory.
Now, theoretically, you could be friends or even partners with a borderliner, and not be their victim. But you will need a strong sense of self, and strong boundaries, which you must be prepared to repeatedly enforce, right from the very beginning (it’s no use trying to do it later, in my experience, they just get mad at you). Things to especially watch out for include criticisms of you which seem to ‘come out of left field’ and startle you because they don’t ‘feel right’, subtle manipulations of or ‘selectiveness’ with the truth, outright lies, attempts to isolate you from others, and criticism of others which somehow always cast themselves as the ‘innocent’ one, and others as ‘mysteriously’ being nasty to them. Don’t put up with it, be firm, and always check the truth with others.
Because they *will* test those boundaries, over and over and over, like the damaged child they are within. And as with a young child, the effort will probably pay off in the end, giving the borderliner in your life a sense of security that they never got when they were young. You will also help them by insisting that they search out the right kind of therapy. The hand-holding, cups-of-tea, patting-them-on-the-back kind of ‘help’ is not actually helpful at all for those with PDs, as it simply encourages them to believe that they’re the ‘wronged’ individual, and they will not find the incentive to change. It’s an individual choice though, whether you are willing to make that effort (and it will be A LOT of effort), and…. I’m not. I’m burnt out from past efforts in this direction, and I just don’t want to go there again. But, you know, your choice.
What is NOT helpful is denying the potential for abusive/manipulative behaviour, making excuses, or complaining about ‘stigma’. I‘ve been on the receiving end of their behaviour, yes, but I’ve also seen others be their victims, heard more stories of those who’ve been their victims, and read up on the disorders and their treatment. So it’s not just a matter of ‘oh, this one borderliner was abusive to me’. If it was, I’d shrug it off. It’s an entire PATTERN of behaviour on the part of MANY borderliners. (It’s worth noting that other Cluster B individuals also have behaviour patterns that are deeply damaging to others. It’s why they end up with diagnoses in the first place. Or did you think that this is ‘just prejudice’ on the part of mental health professionals?)
Yes, I have emotional reactions to the whole issue, and indeed to those with borderline PD themselves. I admit I am not objective or unbiased. After any encounter, with borderliners, or to some extent narcissists, I feel a mix of anger (how dare they do that to me or others), apprehension (not wanting contact in case I fall back into bad old patterns), and disgust (loathing of their tactics, and feeling like I’ve waded through a sewer).
But THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT ANYTHING I SAY ABOUT THEM IS INVALID, especially when I see blatant fallacies being promoted. And yet I’ve had people suggest this. On one occasion, they even took my words and replaced ‘borderliners’ with ‘autistics’, and said ‘see how bad it sounds?’, as though autism and a deep psychological disorder can in any way be compared or equated. But it’s the attempted silencing that really makes me angry. Would they say that a rape victim has nothing worthy to say about rapists in general? Or that a victim of domestic abuse has nothing worth listening to about domestic abusers? Yet they attempted to dismiss what I said on these grounds.
Enough. Do people with personality disorders need understanding? Yes, most definitely. Should we gloss over their bad behaviour because of their traumatic history? No, also most definitely. Enough of the excuses, enough of the ‘stigma’ talk, enough of glossing over the very real issues of their behaviour. I’m not putting up with it anymore, and I refuse to be silenced again.