Borderline Personality Disorder – When You are the Common Denominator
If everywhere you go smells like shit, check your nose.
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) when I was 21. BPD is a personality disorder marked by patterns of emotional volatility, self-destructive behavior, and instability in relationships and sense of self.
The places that people hold in my life vacillate between the pedestal and the gutter. There is no median. I pingpong between hero worship and vindictive enmity for the slightest offense or good will. Often how I feel about them is beyond their control – my “highs” and “lows” deeply color the lens through which I interpret their actions and intentions. All of my close relationships are marked by the uncomfortable tension of people wanting to be close vs. not wanting to offend me, or worse – getting into a fight.
People who know me well “walk on eggshells” around me. It’s a wonderfully and terribly apt phrase. I hate it for being so accurate, yet I love it for the implication of how far people will go to be near someone. For reasons unknown, or perhaps they are extraordinarily generous angels, people are willing to be around me even it means tiptoeing with their word choices and policing their actions.
I’m very grateful. Because I know how terrible I can be.
I know how scary I can get when I’m angry. I’ve cowered in my room as a kid when my dad raged around the house. Years later, I’m replicating his behavior and that chaotic environment around my friends. Even though I am medically considered mentally ill and that a lot of my behaviors are influenced by mental illness, I am not excused for how I treat people.
When the symptomatic headaches return and I hit my “lows”, I alternate between rage and despair, and ruminate about conflicts in the past or re-examine innocuous comments to find derogatory or dismissive undertones. Then I start arguments with friends over past grievances or imagined offenses, or distance myself without saying anything. But the reality is that the disparaging significances I find in these instances all share the common theme – my fear that people think lowly of me – that I’m worthless, unrespectable, and unlovable.
Talk about projection, right?
It took years of therapy, self-help, and tireless reassuring from accommodating friends to learn that most of the negativity in my life is not objective but internal. Everywhere I go and whoever I meet smell like shit. So it makes sense that, instead of the entire world being shitty, maybe my senses are shitty.
The funny thing is that you never want to tell a person with BPD that he/she has flaws. Point out one small thing and calamity ensues – because we have a crippling fear of abandonment that is the root cause of our volatile relationships and behaviors. Some of the major causative factors of the onset of BPD are childhood abandonment, abuse, and or trauma – so a person with BPD is often heavily triggered by situations of real or imagined abandonment.
So coming to terms with the fact that I am indeed the common denominator in most of my interpersonal issues took a lot of fighting, brooding, and maturing.
With this realization, I am free.
I resisted self-change for a long time for evolving reasons. From my teens to college years, I believed that the world was out to get me. In my early twenties, I believed that I was not worthy of getting better and feeling loved. Now I am ready for change. My metamorphosis took a suicide attempt, years of depression, angry outbursts, burned bridges, and a network of stalwartly supportive friends. I am ready to fly.
Just kidding. Eh, for the most part. Finding a DBT practitioner in my area who accepts my insurance is like finding a needle in a haystack.
For the uninitiated: DBT, or dialectical behavior therapy, is a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy developed in the 80s by Dr. Marsha Linehan to specifically treat chronically suicidal people diagnosed with BPD.
So I bought a self-help book for the time being. A DBT skills training book, to be exact.
The first half of the book helps develop healthy coping mechanisms. One of the main skills critical in the process is radical acceptance, because being overly critical about a situation prevents the necessary steps to change that situation.
The truth is I can’t change the past. But I can change the now, by altering how I perceive a situation and how I react to it.
I can avert unnecessary drama and bridge-burnings in the future. I can gradually stabilize my “healthy self” so that the irate fluctuations happen in a smaller and less frequent basis.
I’m okay now and I’m getting better.