IF LOOKS COULD KILL
Anatomy of a Borderline
Anatomy of a Borderline
By Shari Schreiber, M.A.
My other articles on Borderline Personality Disorder speak to elements in the Borderline that seduce you and keep you enraptured, despite their push-pull emotional gymnastics, disruptive come here/go away cycles, and confusing, crazy-making behaviors. This piece exposes the volatile, frightening dark side of this individual who has gotten you under their spell and won't let you go, but also uncovers the root cause of these issues. There's a comprehensive list of features/traits at the bottom, which can help you determine if you're involved with someone who has BPD--or it may serve as a self-diagnostic tool.
While many BPD people have killer looks, not all Borderlines are beautiful or handsome--but that doesn't make them any less seductive or diabolical. It's much easier for a great looking man or woman to find continuous streams of narcissistic supply via adulation and romantic pursuit from others, and until this ego fuel isn't obtainable, they won't consider therapy. Why should they? Humans don't change, until what they've been doing doesn't work for them anymore--or they're in enough pain, to re-direct their energies and efforts toward seeking the help they need to get truly Well.
I'm often asked if borderline disordered individuals can commit murder. The answer is yes, depending on how deep their pathology runs. They're capable of acting-out unresolved anger (from childhood) by inflicting physical harm to anyone who's close--which can include their child or partner. They are lacking in empathy and impulse control, which allows these violent acts to happen, and our prison system houses many Borderlines who've killed during a fit of rage.
In the midst of mending from these intoxicating but dangerous relationships, hundreds of men have described a terrifying "demonic" influence that appears to inhabit their beloved when she's confronted with her lying, manipulations and betrayals--or some sort of (minor) infraction on their part, has catalyzed the most horrifying change in her facial expression. Many have reported; "it's like sparks flew out of her eyes," or "there's such a cold and hideous mask" that showed up, they couldn't recognize the woman they've loved so deeply. If looks could kill, they believe they'd be dead after one of these episodes!
A female client recently expressed that her (male) borderline friend "looked like the Devil himself," during vitriolic rages where his terrible verbal abuses were spat at her, like molten lava spewing from a suddenly active volcano. Other times, she says his demeanor was very peaceful and "cherubic"--a man you'd never suspect, was capable of such volatility. But how does this facet of "pure evil" manifest in somebody we've felt so close and loving with, just minutes or hours earlier? Would they recognize themselves, if we held up a mirror when this vile darkness descends on them? Might they see the distorted face of their rageful/punitive parent, instead of their own? Could it be that's what you have seen in them??
Jazz singer/pianist Diana Krall epitomizes this issue in her song, Lost Mind from the Love Songs album. Take a moment and listen (if this You-tube link is still active).
The duality of a Borderline is perhaps the most confounding issue one faces at the onset of their courtship, and throughout the remainder of this dance. Some folks have asked me whether MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) is a factor in their experiences with a Borderline, and while 'dissociative identity' fits under the same BPD canopy that houses a panoply of other diagnosable issues, the Borderline vacillates between being the either all-good or all-bad partner. Basically, there's no 'grey' area with these individuals--which means they're frequently misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Mood disorders keep someone fluctuating between feeling extremely depressed or elated (and/or agitated) during manic or hypomanic episodes. Bipolar disorders frequently coexist with BPD--but irrational jealousy, physical volatility and abusive or cruel/diminishing interactions are not part of a bipolar diagnostic picture!
Some spouses or long-term partners of Borderlines prefer to think that the darker aspects in their lover are an aberration, and not an integral, real part of their personality. This is untrue. Even if that facet only emerges when they've consumed alcohol or they're under a lot of stress, it's the other side of who they truly are, and you must allow yourself to accept that.
As for clinical BPD terminology, 'splitting' isn't just an issue that Borderlines demonstrate with you--they also experience it within themselves. At times, they might view themselves as powerful, seductive, brilliant beings. At other times, they'll feel worthless, unlovable, invisible and defeated. During these periods, their own lack of worth and sense they're defective is projected onto you, because the shame these feelings invoke in them, is literally unbearable.
A lot of folks apparently want you to believe that Borderlines are incapable of "regulating their emotions," and that's what causes the splitting reflex (or the love you/hate you stuff). While a Borderline's emotional age echoes that of a three year old, and emotional dysregulation is a developmentally sound postulate for very young children, this convenient, presumptive theory isn't accurate. Borderlines can and do control and modulate their emotions during the seduction phase of your dance, when 'best foots' are put forward and they're trying to win you over. During this time, you're treated like you walk on water, and you can do no wrong. This infatuation phase is fleeting, as are all the Borderline's other feelings~ but real Love is a totally different matter, as it's a sustainable emotion.
Borderline Personality Disorder is not a mental illness or disease! BPD is spawned by arrested emotional growth, which renders a person incapable of impulse control, adult reasoning, capacity for empathy or ability to self-soothe. I'm always asking partners of Borderlines to think of them like a toddler in an adult body--and when you're living with a Borderline, setting firm limits and boundaries is the only way you're gonna survive that relationship.
Many people ask if Borderlines have the capacity to love, and this appears to be a very central concern during the course of these relationships--and afterward, when the discarded partner needs to cling to the ideation that they were in fact, truly loved. Borderlines felt anguish in relation to yearning and striving for their parent's affection throughout childhood--and learned to interpret these difficult, dramatic feelings as "Love." Chasing after partners who are emotionally or physically unavailable or married/attached, keeps this yearning vibrant, and inhibits them from embracing a partner who's capable of providing love on a consistent basis. To the point, when you satisfy a Borderline's cravings for love, those painfully intense sensations associated with "loving," instantly evaporate for them~ and so does their desire for you.
This individual does not understand why they wanted you five minutes ago--but now you're simply an annoyance, and they feel suffocated or bored. It's right about now, you're getting dropped on your head--and thinking, what in the hell just happened?!
You can never control a Borderline's feelings of love or hate for you--but you absolutely must command their respect! It's truly the only hope you have for sustaining this relationship, for whatever reason(s) you're feeling a need to do so~ which means you'll be needing specialized help to build self-respect.
Borderline personality disturbances have finally gathered more attention and interest lately--and even the psychological community is speculating about what spawns this disorder, and how to treat it. In truth, very few folks who report about this issue have any real experience with healing it--nor do they have a sense of it's etiology. At its very core, BPD is not a mental problem--it's an emotional one that colors and distorts cognition. Mending from this borderline disorder is not a function of the mind--it's a matter of healing the heart that was broken in childhood.
BPD isn't something we're born with--nor is it inherited. It is not due to an 'innate over-sensitivity' that leaves us at risk for acquiring it as we grow into adulthood. While behavioral models of treatment can help curb their volatile acting-out impulses, Borderline Disorder can't be eliminated with modalities such as DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) that focus on the here and now--but fail to directly address/resolve infancy and childhood abandonment trauma and attachment issues, which drive a litany of clinical and social concerns.
While clinical disorders can be inherited genetically, personality disorders are sculpted by our earliest relationship experiences. Those early imprints shape how we feel about ourselves, and determine the extent to which we're able to forge trust in others and Self. Much of BPD distress occurs within the first year of life, due to inadequate emotional attunement and bonding with the mother. These primal deficits influence self-worth and partner selection for a lifetime, unless solid, core-focused therapeutic help is obtained.
A Borderline in treatment, yearns to make sense of their inner turmoil, as it feels dysfunctional and shameful. Cognitive therapy alone, can't provide the insights necessary to bring about compassion for the Self, and help one grow to allow and trust a process that must provide patient, nourishing, corrective re-parenting, along with emotional education that fosters self-actualization.
The intensely confusing and paradoxical behavior patterns of the Borderline are simply defenses that were adopted growing up, in order to survive those kinds of experiences in their childhood home. As children learn from example, you should conclude that the Borderline is actually showing you, what he or she had to contend with, as a little kid.
These types of events are deeply troubling and confounding to a small child, who is supposed to learn how to make sense of his/her life experiences from their parents. But if the parents are screwed-up/inept, and they're constantly sending confusing, conflicting messages to their child, what chance does this kid have, to grasp anything that resembles normal, healthy human interaction?
The Borderline is hyper-sensitive to any form of abandonment, either real or imagined. When one's foundational belief is that everyone who has meaning or value will abandon them, they'll orchestrate all their relationships in such a way, that they keep getting to be right about that!
Due to a Borderline's abandonment trauma early in life, he/she is compelled to continually test you, and your love/devotion. This individual has low self-esteem, and deep-down believes he/she isn't worthy of receiving love. They usually pick partners they sense will never leave them, which helps to assuage their abandonment concerns--but the 'testing phase' never actually ends. If they finally succeed in making you leave, it's prophesy fulfillment! If you stick by him/her no matter how poorly they treat you, they will continue taking you for granted, and their punishing or abusive behaviors will never cease.
When you're involved with a borderline disordered individual, it's essential to remember that you're dealing with a three year old who's trapped inside an adult's body. Struggles throughout infancy and childhood have stunted their emotional growth--which is why it's so tough getting them to understand the gravity of important issues concerning your relationship! You'll explain your perspective in as many different ways as possible, hoping they'll finally comprehend why their behaviors trouble you--and it either falls on deaf ears, or gets distorted by them and turned back on you, to where you start believing you're the one who's crazy or at fault.
Thousands of frustrated partners/ex-partners of Borderlines have asked how long it takes for these people to get better. Recovery depends on the degree of their trauma, their deep commitment to healing, and the methodology used to get them there. Again, this is a developmental issue; how long might it take a toddler to catch up to an adult's chronological emotional age? Hard to say.
With a Borderline, Love is a no-win situation. The more you reassure them of your affection, fidelity and good intentions, the more they'll try to prove you wrong for it! That's the tormenting paradox of loving someone with BPD, as they're typically more attracted to partners who are distant or abusive, than those who are actually equipped to adore them.
These people are damaged and developmentally arrested, which drives a lot of acting-out behaviors. The following traits are typical of someone who could be considered to have borderline pathology:
*Unstable, rapidly-shifting patterns of relating; hot/cold, come here/go away, push-pull dynamics.
*Quick/intense involvement, premature conversations about living together, marrying or choosing names for (future) children. Pregnancy entrapment.
*Abandonment issues; intense, irrational fears/concerns that you'll leave, or someone will steal you away from them.
*Abusive, critical and rejecting emotionally, psychologically or sexually and physically.
*Addiction to chaos and drama. Serene/harmonious periods are intollerable and short lived.
*Anxiety issues, Panic Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
*Attachment fears~ acting-out angrily after periods of closeness.
*Avoidant personality, passive-aggressive, sarcastic.
*Body dysmorphia; seeing oneself as hideous/ugly or disfigured.
*Cognitive distortion or thought disordered. Gives strangely incongruent responses to your attempts to communicate openly and directly, or problem solve.
*Commitment phobic, disrupts/runs away from closeness and intimacy~ even though they might have nagged you for it.
*Crazy-making interactions. Poor comprehension skills, lacking in common sense.
*A desperate need for attention/approval from you and others.
*Deflects confrontation by crying, raging or projecting it back on you.
*Denial of unsavory, childish behavior. Can't/won't apologize.
*Dissociated, disconnected, shut-down, 'checked out' or numb.
*Drug, alcohol and/or food abuse (eating disorders).
*Emotional cut-off or withdrawal. Withholding affection and/or sex.
*Expects you to be a mind-reader or mommy, and intuit his/her needs (see 'transference' issue below).
*Extreme jealousy; tries to separate you from all other attachments (friends, family members, your kids, etc.).
*Inappropriately flirtatious with others, even in your presence.
*Gaslighting; makes you doubt your perceptions, or think you're going crazy.
*Guilting and shaming you during the relationship, and after it's over; when anything's gone wrong, it's always supposedly "your" fault.
*Far too many higher-functioning Borderlines have become psychotherapists (yikes!) due to never having resolved their own core trauma issues.
*Highly manipulative and controlling. Your sense of identity and autonomy is severely compromised in a relationship with a Borderline.
*Hoovering; subtle or obvious attempts to re-engage you, suck you back into their life, reseduce and manipulate you, etc. BPD's use pitiful outcries for help, or sneaky efforts to get to You through your kids, your friends or relatives.
*Hypersexuality or asexuality/non-sexual (especially after marriage).
*Impotency; a man's persistent inability to achieve orgasm with intercourse, difficulty maintaining erections, chronic premature ejaculation.
*Infantile behavior; temper tantrums, rageful outbursts, persistent baby-talk, etc.
*Infidelity; extramarital sexual or emotional affairs, 'cheating' on partner.
*Inflated sense of self; grandiosity or false sense of entitlement.
*Kitchen-sinking; during your relational upsets, they bring up everything (but the kitchen sink) you've ever done 'wrong' and clobber you with it--whether it was resolved at an earlier time, or not! This makes problem-solving impossible.
*Lack of remorse or empathy, unwillingness to own their mistakes/flaws.
*Lying and deceitfulness, mixed messages, self-contradicting.
*Mother issues (often portrayed or couched as "father" issues).
*Needy, clingy or overly dependent. Can't tolerate aloneness.
*Only wanting/loving you when there's distance--or they cannot actually have you.
*Paradoxical emotional responses; when you love them more, they love you less. The closer you get, the more they need to distance.
*Passive-aggressive; acting it out, rather than talking it out.
*Pervasive feelings of hopelessness, helplessness or pessimism.
*Physical ailments or sickly, allergies, diseases, pain--even when very young.
*Poor impulse control. Capable of volatile or violent behaviors & vandalism.
*Poor self-worth, insecurity, low self-esteem, self-loathing.
*Projection; when they assign their own deficits/faults, to you.
*Rebound relationships are extremely common~ their bed never gets cold.
*Resolution with interpersonal upsets is virtually impossible. Twisting your words and distorting the facts is common, and the two of you keep circling the drain with no end to the problem in sight. Your Borderline may seem like they're comprehending the immediate concern, and is on-board what you're trying to put forth--but this same issue resurfaces next time a similar event occurs, and you feel like you're replaying the same old broken record.
*Seductive/sexual up until marriage, or the relationship gets solidified or deepened.
*Selective memory or recall of events pertaining to their screw-ups. When it comes to yours though, his/her mind is like a steel trap, and they forget nothing!
*Self-harm or self-mutilation; cutting/burning skin, picking at blemishes until there is significant damage to adjacent tissue, numerous piercings, tattoos, body ornamentation, etc., poor or distorted physical image.
*Self-sabotage in personal and/or professional realms.
*Sexual molestation or incest possible in childhood (which may not be remembered). Not all Borderlines were sexually abused.
*Sexually assertive/aggressive. Borderline personalities are predatory. BPD females will typically initiate romantic or sexual pursuit--unless they're Waifs.
*Significant lapses in childhood memory.
*Splitting; idealizing or devaluing behaviors, love you/hate you, and black or white perceptions/ideations.
*Stalking; following/shadowing you, incessant text or phone messages, etc. Always checking in with you (and up on you). Suffocating/smothering.
*Suicidal ideation and emotional blackmail; "I don't want to go on living--I'll kill myself if you leave me/don't return," etc.
*Transference; it means your Borderline assigns the same traits/features to you, that belonged to his/her undermining parent or caregiver as a child. It's not uncommon therefore, for them to expect you to hurt them, but needing you to function as a (good) parent or mind-reader and intuit their needs.
*Triangulation; anything/anyone that dilutes the focus on your relationship; getting a new pet, having an affair, working longer hours, substance abuse, having a baby, etc.
*Tricotillomania; the ongoing compulsion to pull out facial hair (eyelashes, eyebrows, etc.) or body hair. Considered a facet of self-mutilation.
*Vaginismus; painful, spasmodic contracting of the vagina, which prevents sexual intercourse/penetration. This is a somatic issue, often brought on by unresolved childhood incest or sexual abuse trauma. At its core, this is a very deep fear of closeness, and inability to trust another, or oneself.
*You'll always have the feeling you can't please him/her, or have them know how much you really love or care about them. The Borderline makes you feel like you're never enough--no matter how much you give, or do for them.
If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod this app will let you hear this material; http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/web-reader-text-to-speech/id320808874?mt=8
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