Help! My girlfriend has Borderline Personality Disorder

This post is part of the series Personality disorders

Other posts in this series:

  1. Personality disorders (Pd’s) and why we need to know about them
  2. Help! My girlfriend has Borderline Personality Disorder (Current)
  3. Help! My boss is a narcissist!

It’s so easy to fall in love with someone suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The early stages of the relationship are so passionate and intense. Initially, she adores you and idealises you completely. She is much more vulnerable and creative than the other girls you know. (Men can also have BPD, although it does occur slightly more commonly in women. I could just as easily have entitled this blog: “Help! My boyfriend has BPD”).

Very soon though, you are the source of all her pain and suffering. You are everything that is wrong in the world. You are not entirely sure what you did, but somewhere between breakfast and supper, you went from knight in shining armour to devil incarnate. You are left feeling bewildered and confused. You try everything to make it right.  After all, it is your fault that your loved one is upset. You cajole, you bribe, you beg forgiveness. Instead of restoring harmony, the crisis escalates and with it the abuse, which can be exceptionally vindictive and even violent.

Maybe it all gets too much and you decide to leave. At this point in the Borderline dance, your girlfriend becomes desperate and begs you not to go. In her desperation, she might even attempt suicide. Your confusion sets in again – surely, she must love you deeply, to go to such lengths. It is very flattering to be needed so much. You stay, and harmony is briefly restored.

You try to talk to her about how unfairly she has treated you; you want to discuss some of the awful things she has said to you. You are trying to be reasonable and kind, trying to figure out what on earth happened. This conversation triggers in her such profound shame and self-loathing that she cuts herself. You are alarmed that once again you are hurting her so deeply.

Pretty soon all your energy is focussed on repeated cycles of crisis or conflict. You are tired all the time, your sense of self-esteem gets eroded. Your other relationships, with your family and friends, become increasingly distant as you don’t have time for them and they become more critical of her. You are distracted at work and worry about working late or about work functions because you can’t predict how she will react. You spend your days walking on eggshells.

You might wonder how I know your story so exactly. Certainly, my patients in your shoes ask “how did you know that she would react like that?” It’s not sorcery; it’s part of the definition of a personality disorder.  Personality disorders are rigid and enduring and as such, predictable.

So, what are you supposed to do to disentangle from the web? Most importantly, pay attention to your life again. Reconnect with your work and family.  See a therapist if you need help reconnecting to yourself.

You cannot change your girlfriend. She is as she is. You cannot cure her,  make her happy or stabilise her behaviours. If you can accept this, then your relationship might have a chance.

If this is unacceptable to you, then you do have the right to leave – suicide attempts or not. You may walk away and reclaim your life.

She will not change. If you decide to stay in the relationship, you have to change

I am not saying that there isn’t help for BPD. There is a lot that can be done. Somebody suffering from BPD who gets to the place in their lives where they are tired of self-destructing can learn very effective techniques to help manage the chaos.  But you as her romantic partner cannot effect the change. If she says that she will go to therapy for you, to keep you, it is doomed to fail.

If you do decide to stay, then you need to get an education on BPD. You have to change, to handle things differently because she will not. Some of the basic tenets of being in a relationship with BPD is to stay grounded and have a rigorous sense of your boundaries. Your aim is to stay sane while containing the crises and chaos. It is very hard work, and I would recommend support groups and personal therapy.

Diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Thanks for the post. Sounds just like a relationship I was in, except this girl was missing much of her left orbitofrontal cortex as this was suctioned out during an aneurysm repair. Since we use that part of our brain to make logical social judgements, she just didn’t have the wetware to do it especially if what was left went off line due to alcohol use or stress, both of which her neurologist warned her about. I remember her describing herself as “damaged goods” during an on-line chat, so of course I was on the next plane there. (Hypomanic bipolars believe they can fix anything and anyone – Manic bipolars “know so”!) That was the start of three years of hell for me that ended in a suicide attempt on my part. Luckily that’s all in the past although I’m still weary of any intimate relationships. However, here’s a piece of advice from someone who got badly burned: Leave the “fixing”to the professionals and don’t offer to sacrifice yourself for someone else because the may just take you up on it.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences David. A toxic relationship can be extremely damaging. I’m pleased you survived to tell the tale.

  2. I just read your post on narcissistic personality disorder but decided not to comment until you unpack for us psychopathy in the the workplace. You don’t have to be a serial killer to excel as psychopath CEO. What I am concerned with in this post is that you mention cutting only in passing. We see a lot of cutters, all female in our bipolar group, many with a co-morbid borderline personality disorder diagnosis. I sometimes get asked why people cut and why some do it so deeply, even to the bone, severing tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. I confess I have never researched this topic as it would probably get me down to much. What I can propose is that cutting is a way of making invisible psychic pain manifest in a urgently demonstrable way. Also because it is a bodily trauma there is going to be a rush of adrenaline as well as a flood of endorphins to help the brain cope with the pain – all of which of course is going to be highly addictive. Therefore it is likely to lead to repeated cutting bouts. Mercifully all the cutters I know have stopped now, so it’s not like one is condemned to go on without end once one starts.
    Thanks again for the immaculately maintained blog (words and pictures)!

  3. I need help and advice,my over 50 girlfriend has a personality disorder,I have done everything,her patterns with me shifted in the wrong way,I am in love with her,to the point of marriage,she called everyday,we spent a lot of time together,we traveled together,a very beautiful relationship.we are both divorced of 24 years marriage,her husband cheated on her many times,her son doesn’t talk to her for about2-3 years,her daughter and grandson just left to go overseas,they are in military,,her grandson his her world,.about a month ago her attitude changed,she started to be distant,saying she is tired,insulting me,her affection towards me changed,she got depressed went out to by a new car,I am a mess,we are both Christian,no alcohol,abuse here,I can keep going on,I am so hurt ,I want my old girlfriend back!

    • Hi Mark. I am sorry to hear about your problems. Relationship issues can be so distressing sometimes. Personality disorders do not suddenly appear at 50, they are there throughout a sufferer’s life. It sounds as if the relationship is the problem. One or both of you are very unhappy. The two of you have a good history together. It might be worth it to do some couple’s work with a couple’s therapist.Regards

  4. This describes me exactly. I feel so terrible that I act this way it actually makes me cry. I feel so bad for my boyfriend. I’m in shock. I never thought I would end up with my mother’s illness but here I am doing everything you listed.

    • Hi Janis. There is help available. There is a lot of evidence that Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is very helpful in managing behaviours of the Borderline patient. You can be different from how your mom used to be.

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