Can a Loved One of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder – a Non Borderline – create a bond with someone with borderline personality?
Borderlines have trouble bonding or attaching to a partner without feeling as if their psychological existence is threatened. Unless those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are successfully treated and successfully address the core wound of abandonment that is so central to BPD, intimacy is just too stressful and causes those with BPD to fragment, regress, act out, cling to others in ways that promote the re-living of the abandonment most feared and that also support ruptured toxic relational styles – and all-too-often abusive behaviour – not healthy intimacy.
Borderlines are unable to congruently bond or attach to a partner in healthy ways because they were unable to successfully master the separation-individuation phase of development in early childhood.
Intimacy with Borderlines is difficult because they wreak so much chaos, drama, havoc, and often abuse, in relationships. When they try to relate to someone intimately the stress creates the rise of a myriad of false self defenses that push others away. Most with BPD have not learned how to regulate or modulate what are dysregulated emotions associated with the flux of distance and closeness that is part of healthier relationships.
According to N. Gregory Hamilton, M.D., in his book, Self and Others – Object Relations Theory In Practice, “Struggles between closeness and autonomy gradually subside as rapprochement resolves. The child finds an optimal distance. The intensity and duration of temper tantrums decrease. Emotions become more modulated, and a new emotional repertoire emerges.”
Closeness, for the borderline, brings with it the terror of annihilation or engulfment – the re-experiencing of the loss of authentic self. Whereas distance is experienced as either pending re-abandonment or threatened abandonment.
Often this propels borderline rage which is at the heart of the borderline need to punish and seek revenge or to wish to annihilate the significant other in his or her life, as a means of defending against the loss of self through other.
It is important to note that there is a common thread of rage in those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Some people with BPD rage outright and their anger is made known and obvious. Others with BPD are known as quiet borderlines who may well not express their anger outwardly. Quiet borderlines tend to internalize their anger, often experience a significant amount of depression and withdraw often into an aloofness or a punishing silent treatment when they are angry.
Whether someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is an quiet acting-in borderline or a more classic and more easily recognized raging acting-out borderline the rage that results from the core wound of abandonment each in his or her own style finds ways through their own presentation and manifestation of elaborate patterns of defense mechanisms to evade any consistent, congruent, or age-appropriate intimacy.
Borderlines need to find their way to the kind of therapy that will make it possible for them to learn how to relate in ways that aren’t abusive, self-defeating, and sometimes even criminal. They need to be helped to heal their abandonment trauma so they can emotionally and psychologically mature.
Some borderlines can do some terrible things and cause untold pain and chaos in their own lives and the lives of those who care about them. Though everyone with BPD is responsible for his or her own behaviour, most deeply regret not only their own pain, but the pain they cause others.
It is not correct to assume that due to the way in which many with BPD treat others, that they have no conscience or remorse or compassion. They can act in ways that are totally opposite to this when triggered to regressed wounded and dissociative past experience, however. This often creates confusion for those in relationship with borderlines.
Self-forgiveness is important for those with BPD so that they can psychologically unhook from the self-sabotaging and self-hating cycle.
If we, as non borderlines, are capable of compassion we have an ethical and moral responsibility to understand the person with BPD without sanctioning abusive behaviour. However this understanding can be a major stumbling block that can hook us into remaining in toxic and unhealthy relationships. As I share in my ebook, Full Circle – Lessons For Non Borderlines it is important to be fully aware of the limitations of the borderline when it comes to age-appropriate inter-personal relating.
If intimacy is a re-play of your borderline’s childhood in your life, detach emotionally. If necessary, end the relationship. Non borderlines, need to get off the unregulated chaotic emotional roller coaster of borderline emotional dysfunction by unhooking from the things that pull them into it and result in toxic and unhealthy relating for both the non and the borderline. I have written about this in my Ebook, The Other Side of Borderline Personality Disorder Mindfulness and Radical Acceptance for Non-Borderlines.
Intimacy with most people who have Borderline Personality Disorder (until and unless they have significant successful therapeutic intervention) is not possible in healthy adult mutual and reciprocal ways.
Regardless of how much the non borderline wants and even tries to create change that one hopes will result in some mutual expression of healthy intimacy the reality is that loved ones of those wit BPD cannot rescue them or change them to be who they thought they were or who they wish and may still hope one day they will be again or will become.
Borderlines struggle with abandonment fear that causes them to often regress to the role of the child in intimate relationships.
The result of this triggered and dissociative regression is that they experience their partners as bad mother or not-good-enough mother. Borderlines are not able to stay in the present when stressed by the re-surfacing of their abandonment trauma. They are not able to regulate their needs or emotions in congruent ways that allow for the necessary moving in and moving out that healthy intimacy requires.
Lacking object constancy borderlines’ attempts at adult emotional intimacy, more often than not, result in intense and unstable push-pull and “I-hate-you-don’t-leave me” behaviour of the borderline false self.
Age-appropriate adult intimacy with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is not possible until and unless they learn to unhook from all of the loaded inter-relational triggers of their arrested emotional development and learn to attach and bond in the here and now congruently with object constancy.
Loved ones – non borderlines – expecting someone with BPD, in its active throes, to be able to relate as if they were not personality-disordered is entirely unrealistic. Believing this illusion causes untold pain for those who are non-borderline and in any type or form of relationship to an untreated borderline.
There are 10 Key Facts about BPD that every non borderline will benefit from learning, remembering especially when it comes to the cycle of hoping and working for intimacy in a relationship only to be heartbroken again and again.
Borderlines do not know how to regulate their emotions in ways that prevent them from re-experiencing the cycling control struggle between dependence and independence – the separation – individuation struggle that they were unable to master as young children.
© A.J. Mahari 2007