Biology,  Blame,  Borderline Personality Disorder,  Parenting,  Validation,  WHINE Book

A Critical Analysis of the “3-C’s” of Being a Non-BP

Often I see in the support groups on the Internet (especially the “Welcome to Oz” or WTO groups), people providing the “3 C’s” of understanding your role as a Non-BP. I’ve seen it quoted on BPD support websites too. These “3 C’s” go as follows:

  • I didn’t cause it
  • I can’t control it
  • I can’t cure it

While these statements are generally true, I’d like to take some time to analyze these statements and add a fourth “C.” I’d also like to tell you what you CAN do – rather than what you didn’t or can’t do.

These statements help take the onus off the Non-BP for any responsibility for their loved one’s disorder. I can understand that. In part, they are about blame or, better, non-blame. I’ve seen many people say “when I came to terms with those ‘3 C’s’ I was free from FOG!” (which is fear, obligation and guilt, for those of you who don’t know). I want to write something about FOG specifically, but haven’t had the time.

OK, now let’s look at each of these statements and see how they fit into my way of thinking about being a Non-BP.

I didn’t cause it

Actually, this statement is liberating, especially for parents of BPs. I think that many parents carry around a lot of guilt that they DID cause their child’s disorder. Even psychologist and therapists often blame the disorder on the parents. However, there are growing studies that suggest that there are many biological causes for BPD. In the case of Marsha Linehan, she provides a “biosocial” model, in which each element (biological and social) are required to cause BPD. The environmental part of that analysis is the “invalidating environment.” So, while you (either as a parent or spouse) didn’t cause the disorder, you may have inadvertently contributed to the disorder’s severity. By reacting to a BP in an emotionally invalidating manner, the disorder can get worse. That is why I spend over 30 pages in WHINE discussing emotional validation as a tool for healing. Of course, a parent might say “Well, I have other children. I’ve treated them the exact same way. Why don’t they all have BPD?” Which again is where the biological element enters. My suggestion for parents is to read the article referenced below.

I can’t control it

Why would you want to? No one can completely control another individual. Even parents can’t completely control the actions and behaviors of their own children. No, the only behavior (which is BTW what Non-BPs are so confused and angry about) you can control is your own. That is why I have made several statements clarifying boundaries. Boundaries can’t be used to control other people’s behavior. If you try and imposed rules on another person’s behavior, you get resentment, rebellion and (in the case of BPD) a statement: “You’re trying to control me!” How many times have you heard THAT in your interactions with a BP? I’ve heard it a bunch.

I can’t cure it

Again, this statement is true. Only the BP him/herself can “cure” the disorder (usually with the help of a qualified and knowledgeable professional). It is important that you re-read that statement – you cannot make your loved one “all better.” You can’t save him or her – especially from his or herself. What CAN you do then? You can contribute to an easing of the conditions under which the BPD behavior is severe. You can re-frame your relationship with the BP in such a way that the emotional invalidation that they have learned to expect is gone. You can encourage effective behavior and practice effective behavior yourself. How? I explain this in detail in WHINE – which is why I called it a “how-to” book.

Now, I think I need to contribute a fourth “C” to the mix. I didn’t make this “C” up. In fact I found it here, on A. J. Mahri’s “BPD from the inside out” page about a mother speaking out about the illness. Please read that page! It really helps define the feelings and confusion of a mother who needed to know she “didn’t cause it.” She offers a fourth “C” which is:

All I can do is cope with it.

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