Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is my primary diagnosis – probably because the borderline symptoms are the most prominent to the onlooker.
BPD is, in short, defined to be a pervasive pattern of instability regarding relationships, emotions and sense of self. Symptoms can include but are not limited to:
- impulsivity and recklessness
- the tendency to enter intense but unstable relationships
- strong mood swings
- suicidal thoughts and behavior
- self harm
- inappropriate emotional reactions
- lack of a stable identity
- desperate efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
There are more characteristics and borderline is probably a little different for every single person who has it, so if you want to learn more, check out the Wikipedia entry on BPD or Google the term.
I must say that personally, I do not like the term “personality disorder” much. It sounds like the core of me, my entire personality, is wrong and defective. Having not much of a stable sense of who I am nor a great feeling of self-worth to start with, feeling like whatever it is that I am is also defective doesn’t do much to brighten my day. My mom agrees that the term is unfortunate. At our house we call it a “relationship disorder” instead.
I believe ultimately that is what borderline really is – the result of very dysfunctional relationship patterns as they consistently were during my childhood. My mother was preoccupied with herself and with drinking and being angry with me. My step-father was moody, could be violent and sexually abused me. Having known no different and having been only a child, I had to make the best of that. It was functional to be uneasy and anxious and suspicious of their motives and to immediately react to the slightest change in their behavior. It was necessary to split them into good parents and bad parents, because I was dependent on them and needed them good and loved them, but they also hurt me and did evil things and I hated them. Whatever happened, I needed to react to it quickly, and often my immediate reaction determined my fate for good or for bad. Abandonment was a very real part of my relationship with them. Physical abandonment, like when my mother left the house for long stretches of time while my step-father was away on jobs or the ultimate abandonment of surrendering custody, but maybe even more importantly emotional abandonment, like when she ignored me and pretended I wasn’t there or was deaf to my crying when I hurt from the abuse.
I think I’m lucky insofar as at least in my family there is no second guessing if their behavior really was that bad. Open neglect and abuse is just that and it’s hard to sugarcoat it. I imagine that in families that seem “good” from the outside, where all those damaging relationship dynamics are much more covert and subtle, where the parents can say “but you always had everything” and crap like that, it must be harder to become aware of the relationship patterns that paved the way for the borderline way to think and react.
I am also lucky that in my family now, everyone, and especially my mom recognizes that the problem is not me having a defective personality that I need to fix to make everyone’s life easier, but that I am the messed-up way that I am because of the way those early relationships shaped my brain. They know that it needs a whole lot of new relationship experiences to gradually override the old crap. Of course they expect me to make an effort and my willingness to actually make those new experiences is a key factor, but they make a big effort, too, and that makes all the difference to me.
My mom is also the first person ever who manages to soothe and calm me. Maybe that is why I still am with them instead of going the usual route. My usual route was that after finding someone totally awesome for some time, I always walked away from them and cut all ties over some minor thing that disappointed me so badly that I never gave them another chance. They went from being all good to all bad. With my family now, I have wanted to do that, too. Many times. In the end I always stayed, though, and I think it’s because my mom manages to connect with me and soothe me, helping me feel safe again.
Which makes me even more convinced that borderline is actually a relationship and not so much a personality disorder. I usually lose it when I’m afraid that for some reason I am unsafe, unloved or unappreciated in a relationship that seemed good. That I have a serious problem with regulating my feelings to stay in proportion is half the trouble. I learned that regulating feelings is something that people usually learn through a safe relationship when they are still babies, by having someone notice their distress, soothe them and make them feel comfortable again. In a way that probably means I’m still a baby. I still need someone who helps me feel safe and loved and who helps me see the shades in between black and white, good and bad.
But I am getting better. The healthy relationships in my life help me improve. I have more stability now than I ever had before and that’s a good thing. I also receive therapy, but I must say that for me it’s only an add-on. It’s good to have because my therapist is good, but my family now is my main source of improvement. That’s something I’d never have thought I’d say, but go figure! It’s the way I feel.