(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).
Did you ever have that crush in high school, where the person became the focal point of your entire hormone-fuelled universe? Where there was just never enough room to adequately profess your love for them on your notebook? Where the days when you didn’t hear them call out for the morning register became instantly flat and pointless to you?
That time old teenage crush is a bit like the phenomena of the ‘favourite person’ in BPD. They become everything; a walking manifestation of your mental lifeblood: your happiness balances precariously on how they feel and, most importantly, how they feel about you.
With the above analogy, you’d be forgiven for thinking that FPs are only romantic in nature, but this isn’t the case. For those with BPD – who struggle to create healthy attachments after generally chaotic upbringings – these hallowed loves can arise from any guise of relationship: therapists, friends, teachers, coffee shop baristas – you name it, FP doesn’t discriminate.
On the surface, this seems quite harmless for all parties involved – what’s the harm in a bit more love in the world? However, the emphasis has to be placed on quite how much of an impact said FPs can have on the mental (and often, consequentially) physical wellbeing of their BPD counterparts.
Often, we can come across as obsessive. Our FPs become living, breathing drugs to us and simply being in their presence is enough to sustain a high. Given our tendency to be quite amiable and fun to be around at first, we usually gel seamlessly with our new connection and begin spending a lot of time with them. Friendships and relationships bloom and, more often than not, this period is blissful for all parties involved.
This harmony lasts until the FP does something that knocks them from the pedestal they didn’t even know they’d been elevated to. Sadly, this doesn’t have to be a significant slight – nor does the FP have to have done something intentionally to upset the person with BPD – it could be as simple as cancelling plans, or not replying quickly enough to a text. In a bad period, these slights can begin sounding deafening abandonment alarm bells for the BPD sufferer, that only they can hear.
Once something ticks off this highly sensitive alarm system, it’s often a slippery slope to friendship/relationship doom. Our fear of abandonment can still preside in what – to a ‘normal person’ – would be perceived as the healthiest, most loving pairing, but those with BPD are so hardwired to expect the worst that we’ll sometimes create it ourselves.
One of three things happens at this point in the FP relationship. Some people with Borderline will lay it on very heavily in a bid to stay as close to the person as possible, hoping to make them stay. Inevitably, the person receiving this barrage of attention and neediness can begin to feel smothered and may back off. The killer here is that this then just perpetuates the BPD fear of ‘everyone leaves’, even though it was technically by their own hand due to this debilitating fear.
Alternatively, the sufferer may attempt to distance themselves as a defence mechanism, presenting as cold and distant seemingly out of nowhere. At this point – whilst the FP may be feeling confused and even hurt – the person with BPD is struggling intensely and may begin exhibiting self-destructive behaviours. This is often – subconsciously – done in a misguided attempt at conveying their fear and dysregulation to the FP after backing off; hoping they’ll pull them back in.
Where romantic relationships are concerned, this can develop into something called ‘triangulation’, where the person with BPD keeps an old flame on a back-burner in case the new person leaves them. It isn’t done from a place of greed or a desire to cheat; purely as a desperate means of ensuring they don’t end up facing their biggest fear of being alone.
Naturally, this all adds up to a veritable shitshow when it comes to holding down any friendships or relationships, when a person is still in the throes of untreated BPD. With the help of DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy: a course of talking treatment in which the patient learns how to reconfigure the flawed or non-existent coping strategies they have formed in childhood), this can be improved and many with the disorder form healthy, long-lasting connections.
Interpersonal relationships have been one of the biggest struggles within my diagnosis and I’ve done a lot of things in the past that I’m ashamed of; hurting people in a frantic attempt to avoid being hurt myself. Now I’m on the path to recovery, I try to be as mindful and self-aware as possible when it comes to how I react with, and to other people.
One of the most effective strategies I’ve implemented is spending more time exploring my own hobbies and strengths – this blog included – where in the past I’d have wasted hours trawling my (then) partner’s social media, or wondering who they were with if they didn’t reply to a text in a set amount of time.
Think more “if shit happens, it’s going to happen”: you can’t control what people do, you can only control what you do. If you’re being a paranoid partner who’s negative and picky – often without any legitimate reasoning – you’re only going to encourage your FP to want to spend their time elsewhere.
Having ended up alone in the past – almost always by my own doing – and realising that I’ve always bounced back eventually, has been an influential learning curve for me. I’ve seen rock bottom, lived it several times, but I’m still here and arguably, stronger than ever.
These days, the aim is to take the energy I wasted on looking for any clue – real or imagined – to suggest that my FP is going to fulfil my warped belief that nobody is to be trusted, and to plough that into bettering myself. The goal is to become someone that I’m proud to be, and someone that my partner is proud to love.
If you feel affected by anything discussed in this post, or know someone exhibiting similar symptoms with their mental health, feel free to follow and contact me on Twitter @Ebzo. Please bear in mind that I am not a professional and any advice given will be taken solely from my own experiences and research (I am also still very much a BPD sufferer too, as much as I may be high functioning!).