It’s so easy to fall in love with someone suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The early stages of the relationship are so passionate and intense. Initially, she adores you and idealizes you completely. She is much more vulnerable and creative than the other girls you know.
Very soon though, you are the source of all her pain and suffering. You are everything that is wrong in the world. You are not entirely sure what you did, but somewhere between breakfast and supper, you went from knight in shining armor to devil incarnate. You are left feeling bewildered and confused. You try everything to make it right. After all, it is your fault that your loved one is upset. You cajole, you bribe, you beg forgiveness. Instead of restoring harmony, the crisis escalates and with it the abuse, which can be exceptionally vindictive and even violent.
Maybe it all gets too much and you decide to leave. At this point in the Borderline dance, your girlfriend becomes desperate and begs you not to go. In her desperation, she might even attempt suicide. Your confusion sets in again – surely, she must love you deeply, to go to such lengths. It is very flattering to be needed so much. You stay, and harmony is briefly restored.
You try to talk to her about how unfairly she has treated you; you want to discuss some of the awful things she has said to you. You are trying to be reasonable and kind, trying to figure out what on earth happened. This conversation triggers in her such profound shame and self-loathing that she cuts herself. You are alarmed that once again you are hurting her so deeply.
Pretty soon all your energy is focussed on repeated cycles of crisis or conflict. You are tired all the time, your sense of self-esteem gets eroded. Your other relationships, with your family and friends, become increasingly distant as you don’t have time for them and they become more critical of her. You are distracted at work and worry about working late or about work functions because you can’t predict how she will react. You spend your days walking on eggshells.
You might wonder how I know your story so exactly. Certainly, my patients in your shoes ask “how did you know that she would react like that?” It’s not sorcery; it’s part of the definition of a personality disorder. Personality disorders are rigid and enduring and as such, predictable.
So, what are you supposed to do to disentangle from the web? Most importantly, pay attention to your life again. Reconnect with your work and family. See a therapist if you need help reconnecting to yourself.
You cannot change your girlfriend. She is as she is. You cannot cure her, make her happy or stabilise her behaviours. If you can accept this, then your relationship might have a chance.
If this is unacceptable to you, then you do have the right to leave – suicide attempts or not. You may walk away and reclaim your life.
She will not change. If you decide to stay in the relationship, you have to change
I am not saying that there isn’t help for BPD. There is a lot that can be done. Somebody suffering from BPD who gets to the place in their lives where they are tired of self-destructing can learn very effective techniques to help manage the chaos. But you as her romantic partner cannot effect the change. If she says that she will go to therapy for you, to keep you, it is doomed to fail.
If you do decide to stay, then you need to get an education on BPD. You have to change, to handle things differently because she will not. Some of the basic tenets of being in a relationship with BPD is to stay grounded and have a rigorous sense of your boundaries. Your aim is to stay sane while containing the crises and chaos. It is very hard work, and I would recommend support groups and personal therapy.
If you’re looking for the word that means caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want no matter how much it destroys you, it’s love. And when you love someone you just, you…you don’t stop, ever – Ted