Borderline Personality Disorder,  Boundaries

A Note about BPD and Boundaries And SWOE

In my Google Group, I recently responded to a member about boundaries and the term “non”. In this message the word SWOE refers to the book “Stop Walking on Eggshells” and WTO refers to the “Welcome to Oz” Yahoo mailing group (which is the largest Non group on the Internet). As you can see by my message I am not over enthusiastic about either:

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The WTO site is all about the “non” and
setting “boundaries” does this come from SWOE???

The non label does come from SWOE as far as I’ve been able to tell. It is in common usage now throuhgout the Internet and the BPD community in general. I know some in the DBT trade that are extremely upset about the use of the term non. A reponse from one of these people: “Would you call someone living with a cancer victim a ‘non’?” (as in non-cancer-patient). The belief that BPD is a medical condition (rather than, say, a purely behavioral one) is very strong in that community. Part of that is because most of the people I have met are parents of BPD daughters (all of them, no sons). I think they don’t want to feel that they have contributed in any way to their child’s condition. I can understnd this – it is painful enough to have a child with BPD, it is even more painful to think that you caused it.

At WTO we went round and round about nature vs. nuture. I think there is a combo of each involved. Most of the “non” community thinks that sexual or physical abuse is the ONLY cause of BPD. Clearly, that is not true. My wife was sexually abused, but my daughter (who shows signs of emotional regulation problems and impulsivity) has not been. As for parenting “style” – we have many times told my daughter to “cut it out” when she was acting particularly emotional – and that is invalidating. The completely weird thing is I always thought I’d treat all my children the same way, but now I know it won’t work. They are all different and all need different treatment of their emotional needs.

As for boundaries, I’m not sure why that seems to be the focus of the people that read SWOE. I hadn’t read it in a while, but I looked over the workbook and found the following:

1) It has a very validating message toward the nons, but a very “us vs. them” message to the BPs. I can understand this since the audience is the nons. We feel confused and upset and those feelings need validating as much as the BP’s feelings. Most BPs that have read the book think it is brutal toward them. Why? Because it paints them in a fairly manipulative light. I don’t think they find themselves to be manipulative. I no longer see my wife as manipulative, she just doesn’t have the self esteem or social skills to be that way. What is true is that her feelings are all about HER – so it feels like there is a selfishness in it, even when she hates herself.

A note from a borderline’s site on SWOE:

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder

This is written primarily for those who care about someone with BPD rather than for BPs themselves. However, I have read it (I need to know what they’re writing about us) and can’t say I was over-impressed. I don’t think it presented BPD in a favourable light at all and it was written very much in an ‘us versus them’ style (a very provocative stance to present to a borderline!). It may provide important validation for those suffering at the hands of their BP’s confusing behaviour and help to explain where some of the ‘odd’ behaviour comes from, but I found it hard to evaluate the ‘self-help’ section as I found it very patronising. I believe there is a second edition of this out now, so who knows, maybe some of these problems have been ironed out. As far as I know it’s still the only book on BPD specifically for the friends and family of BPs so you may have no choice…

2) Boundaries DO play a large part in SWOE, but I think most people mis-understand them. Boundaries are for yourself. The idea that “control” of the BP can be affected by boundaries is clearly not the case. I think that what happens with boundaries is that nons have such anger and are feeling that their partners are doing all these crazy “out of control” things, that they are very empowered by the idea of boundaries. Usually the nons are co-dependant and either allow the behavior to happen or blow up and get angry with the BP. The boundaries provide them with a new sense of control over their life – so they’re like “whohoo!” Also, the boundaries provide nons with something that they can do without having to understand the BP at all. Meaning, it says, “all of the crazy behavior is the BP’s fault, they have no boundaries, they are manipulative, they are evil, etc.” so the nons latch on to that idea without having to take any responsibility for their own invalidating behvaior and without having to “look at the problem through the BP’s eyes” (being empathetic) and without having to show unconditional love to some one who is emotionally ill (compassion).

3) There are some nuggets of good information in SWOE (such as the DEAR and PUVAS techniques), but much of that good info is ignored by the nons that read it for the above reasons.

I can certainly see why nons would feel that it has not been about their feelings for so long that they need someone to say “Take care of YOURSELF and set up boundaries to do so”. It is a simple message and seems to be the only one that is tauted in most non boards.

Unfortnately, it is a recipe for divorce, if that’s the ONLY thing you do. It sucks to be a non, but I expect it sucks even worse to be a BP. If you want to help your BP, compassion is the key, not boundaries. You can’t save them, but you can deal with them in such a way that they will not go directly to Oz.

Of course, they have responsibilties too – like working to get better (and if you follow DBT, accepting themselves the way they are), but that is a decision they have to make. You can’t make it for them.

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