(BPD A-Z) is a series aiming to cover an abridged run-through of some of the most characteristic elements of Borderline Personality Disorder, written by former sufferer, who has since recovered from BPD & had her diagnosis changed to C-PTSD since the time of writing (updated in 2022).
When you think of ‘abandonment’, what springs to mind? Children in care? Puppies dumped at a shelter? Simba after Scar takes out his dad and makes him think it was his fault? Probably.
Does the concept of abandonment ever really show up in your day-to-day life?
Does it – often subconsciously – affect 99% of all decisions you ever make?
Does it influence to you push people away before they can leave you – even if you have no evidence that they’re going anywhere?
Probably not, unless you have Borderline Personality Disorder.
There are two sides of the coin when it comes to ‘abandonment’ in the BPD understanding of the term; as conveyed with the above meme. We live life on an emotional buoyancy aid, fuelled by the love of those we let into our little worlds. In the rare event that we get close enough to someone to trust them, we float on that feeling like it’s the first time we’ve ever gotten close to anyone, or anything.
However, if we think – for even a second – that that person is going to deflate that buoyancy aid and leave us flailing in the deep: we’ll pop it ourselves so that we decided to drown, goddamnit.
The Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV) describes this symptom as follows:
“Frantic attempts to avoid real or imagined abandonment”
Which brings us to arguably the saddest and most frustrating part of this symptom, one which plagues our minds, then ultimately destroys our relationships: “imagined abandonment”. I like to think of myself as a reasonably rational person in day-to-day life, but once my mental health starts playing up and paranoia kicks in – anything goes.
This can be as ‘trivial’ as panicking that someone hates you because they haven’t replied to a text, or – with added stressors that have already heightened your episode – taking an overdose because your boyfriend didn’t get in touch with you and you forgot he was playing football (unfortunately a true story).
When I was diagnosed and learned about the 9 criteria of the illness (of which a patient must exhibit at least 5), this was the one that I initially identified with the least, namely as I’m not a particularly social person. As with all symptoms, however, this manifests in different ways. I usually only react as explosively as mentioned above when it comes to romantic partners, whilst other sufferers will lose sight of reality similarly if a friend cancels plans, or a family member says something that they perceive as a slight.
If you’re reading this as someone who knows somebody with Borderline Personality Disorder and would like to help alleviate any of these quiet fears: just be open with us. Be present and understanding, but ensure that you set some form of boundaries. Tell us that you’re busy doing x, y, z if you can’t talk – please don’t just ignore us if you can help it, as that’s usually a surefire ticket to crazy town.
With occasional reassurance and consistent love, these symptoms lessen in their intensity, but it isn’t an easy ride. Factor in a good support network, medication and DBT – we learn how to spot the tell-tale signs of spiralling before they cause damage.
If you suffer with BPD, know somebody with the disorder, or would simply like to discuss anything mentioned here further – don’t hesitate to find me on Twitter @Ebzo.
Also, on behalf of myself and (I’m sure) much of the BPD community, I apologise for asking “do you still love me?” about 5 times a day. It drives me as mad as I’m sure it does you.