Last night my SO and I had a bit of a tiff. In times like these we tend to revert to the same patterns and cycles of getting worked up and hostile and then shutting down and sulking, followed by more periods of harsh words and tears, followed by more sulking etc.
Anyone living with someone with BPD will be familiar with the Push-Me-Pull-You roller-coaster ride of emotions that come along with it, not just for the BPD sufferer but for everyone around them. Relating to someone you love when they are hostile or depressed can be a very tricky business, often leading you to question your own mental health.
It can feel very lose/lose sometimes, especially when your own emotions are triggered and your defense mechanisms begin to kick in. When we did make up, my SO very nicely asked me to write down a list of ways in which he can Be There for me in the way I want him to. A classic BPD line is “you’re not there for me enough” which is heartbreaking to hear for the man who tries so hard to please you but always seems to get it wrong somehow.
For him, and anyone else who could use some advice in how to be there for their BPD loved ones, I’ve put together a little cheat sheet. It’s purely my opinion; perhaps others would disagree (I’d love to hear your input!) but hopefully at least some of it will make sense.
1. There is no One Size Fits All solution or magic formula that will fix every difficult situation. The SET (Support, Empathy, Truth) model which Jerold J. Kreisman, MD and Hal Straus (the authors of I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me and Sometimes I Act Crazy) developed is a good starting point (See SET – about.com for more info).
Your BPD loved one is fraught with contradictions, feelings which shoot from one end of the spectrum to the opposite end without her even realising or knowing why. Something which she may have very strongly wanted you to do yesterday suddenly makes no sense to her – it’s almost as if yesterday never happened. This is not selective amnesia, she simply cannot connect the dots of her own patterns of behaviour; she is completely oblivious (until perhaps later).
Thinking that what worked yesterday will work today will frustrate you. Try rather to listen, as opposed to act.
2. Empathy comes to a BPD often only in hindsight. She struggles to put herself in your shoes and ends up playing a lot of guessing games; most lead her to conclude she is rather worthless and will inevitably be abandoned for this crime. Guilt is a feeling which makes her angry, which is why trying to get her to sympathise with how her moods/actions/words are affecting you is a waste of time. BPDs can erect walls to hide their true feelings so quickly it will make your head spin.
3. Honesty is usually your best policy. Explain things calmly, even if they are ugly truths. The hard part is trying to do that without taking, refusing or placing blame. Don’t act humble to avoid a fight, or suck up to try and cheer her up; this puts you on the back foot – as though you were taking responsibility for what is wrong (without sometimes even knowing what is even wrong).
Don’t walk on eggshells or put your needs or opinions on the backburner. Her sadness does not mean that you are not entitled to happiness. She wants you to be happy.
Sometimes something as simple as informing her that she is still on top of your priority list, even if she feels like she isn’t on there, can do wonders to put her insecure mind at ease. Deep down she is so afraid that her needs will push you away – let her know that they don’t change a thing. This is what “security” means to her.
Then, she can open up to you from a safer place, instead of a lonely, pained and angry one which always seems to lay the blame at your feet.
Which brings me to the most important point:
4. DON’T FEEL GUILTY. STOP blaming yourself. Her emotions are intense and that is NOT YOUR FAULT. It’s what makes your relationship so special.
It is only when we can separate our own feelings from the feelings which are bombarding us, can we see through them to the person on the other side; someone who is hurting and knows no way to express it without causing more pain to themselves and those around them.
We don’t want to hurt each other! We love each other! But when we blame ourselves for each others’ pain we are only perpetuating the cycle. Step out!
This ones for everyone:
5. Sometimes you have to feel shit to feel better. Feeling shit isn’t always an indication that everything is coming apart; sometimes, it’s priming you for the next Big Thing. If you are never dissatisfied with life then you will never try to transcend yourself. Misery is the catalyst to progress.
When things are at their shittiest, take a moment to look back on all the shitty days you survived together. Probably much shittier ones, right? You made it through it though, didn’t you? Now, hang on to each other close and ride it out!