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Those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) need to become as aware as they can of the fact that BPD not only effects them but that it also profoundly effects their relationship partners, family members, friends, and co-workers. There is a lot of pain associated with BPD for those diagnosed with it and for those on the other side of BPD – non borderlines.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) puts a tremendous strain on even the best or closest relationships. Whether you have a partner – husband or wife, a girlfriend/boyfriend, friends or even a family member with BPD – any or all relationships can be very strained, if not lost, if those who have BPD do not work to heal much of the aspects of how the BPD traits affect them and the ways that they relate to others.

In my experience, when I had BPD, the most profound area of life that was affected by BPD was that of relationships. In my experience with BPD, that was the case right from my relationship to and with myself, to the relationships within my family of origin, friendships and romantic relationships. All were drastically affected by the way in which BPD had manifested itself in me.

For years I really didn’t understand what "relating" was. I didn’t understand what it entailed. This is due not only to having BPD, but also is rooted in my growing up in a dysfunctional family where "relating" truly was an unknown concept. We didn’t relate to each other. We yelled at each other. We raged at each other. I was abused. I became verbally abusive at a very young age. The love in our "home" was toxic love – not healthy love.

Within the confines of that toxic love, growing up, I learned that my feelings were not valid. I learned that what I felt did not matter. I learned that what I thought was not important. I learned that caring was not valued. I was taught that it was wrong to "need" anybody for anything. It was weak to need, weak to want, weak to care, weak to feel. I was weak. I learned that I was weak. To overcompensate for this "weakness" (which I now know was just me being human) I shoved everything in, became dissociated from my emotions, didn’t even know when I was hungry anymore.

I was expected to eat (be hungry) whenever my parents got around to wanting to eat. For most of my life I was evolving to learn when I was actually physically hungry as opposed to wanting to eat to be social, or to "feed some other need" (emotional). This is just one of the many ways that my relationship to myself, my knowledge of myself was lost. I also watched my father and his mother (my grandmother) and their non-existent relationships to themselves and their unhealthy relationships with food.

One of the single most important things one must do if one has BPD is to find out who you really are. The loss of core authentic self is so profound that it effects all of a borderline’s efforts to relate. I  learned, rather the hard way, that I could not know anyone, until I first knew myself. I have now recovered from BPD and have found my authentic self. I now know who I am.

As the result of BPD in my life, I lost countless friends, relationships and opportunities to just be me. Why? The major reason across the board was lack of personal responsibility. This meant that I (unbeknownst to myself then) would look to others for my safety and to meet my needs. People cannot do this and be healthy. Life is designed so that a part from taking care of children, adults are supposed to have learned how to take care of themselves. This is just not always possible. (for many reasons)

Most with BPD, especially if untreated, continue to lose relationships and re-experience those losses as further abandonment when really, more often than not, those with BPD, distance others or reject others before they can be rejected or end up feeling abandoned.

Those with BPD do not know how to cope with what healthy age-appropriate, mutual, and reciprocal emotional intimacy requires. Borderlines, usually, without conciously being aware or understanding this, attempt to meet their unmet emotional/psychological needs (unresolved childhood abandonment) through the very people they try to relate to. This is a recipe for toxic, unhealthy (co-dependent) relating that sooner or later sees most relationships rupture.

What about BPD most effects relationships with others?

1)  Not knowing yourself

2)  Not having healthy boundaries/expectations of self or others

3)  Wanting to be close but not knowing how to tolerate it
     (Wanting it but fearing it equally)

4)  Seeking intimacy without being capable of it. This results
     in push/pull behaviour and "get away closer" behaviour

5)  Being real–being honest. It’s difficult to be real and
     honest in any consistent way when you just don’t know who
     you are or what you value, or even believe from minute to

6)  Rage-anger-temper tantrums-giving the silent treatment-
    punishing someone for caring about you, or liking/loving   
     you – being cold and uncaring

7)  Control, manipulation, lies, (Both 6 & 7 imply some "entitlement" as if you are somehow
     deserving to get what you cannot give)

8)  Unrealistic expectations

9)  Not having the capability or desire to meet your own needs

10) Lacking the maturity necessary to have healthy adult
      relationships (physically and or emotionally)

11) Excessive focus on yourself – narcissism – egocentricity
      an need or distorted perception that you are the center
      of the universe.

12) Grandiosity – or poor self-image, putting yourself down
      constantly – poor self-esteem.

There are many other factors (so many are so individual) other than those that I have listed. The point is that when one has BPD it is up to each individual to work at these aspects of him/herself and more. It is the only way to learn how to relate in ways that are healthier. It can be painful to be getting older and trying to learn what one "should" have learned as a child. The point, now though, is that each of person with BPD is where he/she is and all that can be done with that reality is to recognize the relational challenges and difficulties that BPD presents you with and learn to take personal responsibility for those challenges.

Other aspects of BPD which make relating so difficult include polarized cognitively distorted thinking, projection (when not aware of it or when you don’t take responsibility for it) and transference. It is essential that you be willing to learn how to "own your stuff".

Another big factor that often ruins relationships is that of cognitively-distorted thinking and the tendency to assume, jump to conclusions and the paranoid ideations and general suspecting nature. After all how can you be expected to trust someone else if you haven’t yet learned to trust yourself? Magical thinking and ideas of reference along with rumination all tend to severely inhibit one’s thought process to the point that someone without a personality disorder can get totally lost trying to relate to what you believe to be "real."

It is essential to learn how to appreciate "The Big Picture" when relating to yourself and or others. It is in the "Big Picture" that reality outside of ourselves and our own thoughts exists and unfolds. Have you ever accused someone of something just based on what you thought? That’s an example of reacting to BPD reality which is often snippet’s of what is actually real….beyond oneself. People do not usually react too well to being accused of things that make no sense to them.

What a borderline may think, seems and feels very real to them. Essentially, however, what a borderline thinks she thinks is actually experienced as what she feels. There is a disconnect between what one thinks and what one feels. What seems and feels very real can shift from moment to moment, depending largely upon how one feels about themselves. This is a challenge for sure. It can be very difficult to hold or wrestle with conflicting feels and thoughts inside of yourself and maintain a consistent outward presentation for others that is a part of that "big picture." It can be done. It takes a lot of practice and hard work. It takes being kind to yourself when you loose track of it in relating to someone else.

In order to have healthier relationships I found that I had to work very hard to eliminate most of the "BPD" presentation from my life so that I did not alienate, confuse, or push others away. So far, I must say that it works. It is possible to slowly get to know others without trying to control or manipulate them. It is much more satisfying to when you come to sense that they like you for who you are. That can be intimidating though because like so many other things in BPD and in relating others one has to be vigilant and not slip back into old sabotaging behaviour.

It all comes down to finding yourself, getting to know yourself, (your authentic self) accepting/liking and loving that self. With these things in place, the world as you’ve known it will begin to change. Your relationships will begin to change for the better and much more satisfying. It is important to being open to learning, often the hard way, through trial and error.

Experience is the best teacher around. Therefore it is very important to be cognizant of what hasn’t worked in the past and what does work now. If you continue to make the same choices you will continue to get the same results. The challenge at the heart of BPD, for those with BPD, is coming to increased awareness about the choices that you have been making and choices that it will benefit you to change.

Relating is a process. Learning to change your style of relating takes time. There are no immediate rewards but one of the first "rewards" I experienced was learning to find, then know and then respect my authentic self. It was much more important than how many friends I had. Making friends, if you’ve not always had friends can be particularly stressful. Be patient, work hard, and be kind to yourself.

BPD can be undone, one step at a time. If something that you are doing in relating to others does not work, take it to therapy, you can undo it.

For those who are non borderline and in relationship to someone with BPD it is very important that you learn all you can about BPD so that you can make the choices that are necessary for you to take care of your own mental health and well-being.

© Ms. A.J. Mahari – May 2, 1999 (with additions April 22, 2008)

Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships