Today is the 5th anniversary of the Anything to Stop the Pain support list. After over 50,000 messages and 600+ members, it is still going strong. The ATSTP list is offered for free to non-BPDs. In honor of this momentous occasion, I will clip a response from me to a list member. Any personal details have been removed. The only thing blog readers need to know is that this man’s wife has been diagnosed with BPD and is asking him for a divorce. We also have a couple of recovered borderlines on this list and they are a valuable resource (as is noted here):
I believe that there is no right or wrong way to approach human emotions – there’s an effective way and an ineffective way and there are shades of grey in between those “polar” opposites. The effective way gets a positive outcome. That positive outcome is typically the return to baseline of the borderline and the establishment of a modicum of trust with others. One of the most important issues with borderlines seems to be the idea that they believe no one understands them (they feel “strange” – I said “broken” in WHINE, but I think that it was [a recovered borderline on the list] who clarified that it’s more like a “not feeling ‘normal’ and ‘fitting in’ feeling”), they can’t trust anyone with their emotions because many people have invalidated their feelings throughout their life and this leads to “silent desperation” and the inability to communicate effectively how they feel. If, through the use of my tools, you are able to gradually establish an environment in which your wife feels that she can safely express her emotions, which will go a long way toward establishing trust.
Secondly, you posted that you feel as through your feelings do not have a forum for airing and validation. Unfortunately for you, your wife sounds like a typical borderline. She is impulsive, she cuts, she abuses substances – especially painkillers. The divorce talk is probably born of either shame (“I will leave you before you leave me”) or of a feeling that she is being judged and/or disrespected (or not appreciated and accepted for whom she feels that she is). That leads to a certain mind-set that essentially makes her believe that, since no one has ever listened to her feelings before, she must dig in and hold on to her feelings as if she is the only person in the world. That is, “if I don’t fight for myself no one will”. This situation makes it difficult for you to express how you feel because she gets the message (even if it is not true): “YOU MADE me feel this way” because she thoroughly believes that about you. The reason she believes that you (and others, not just you) make her feel like she feels is that she is unable to self-regulate and looks to others to regulate her own emotionally states. When [a recovered borderline on the list] said something about her being more worried about what you think of her, she hit the nail on the head, because a borderline (and possibly for biological reasons) has a great deal of internal chaos and the usual strategy (also possibly biological) is to internalize other’s feelings and opinions about her self. It’s odd, yet I think that this dynamic is the one in which all the talk of not respecting boundaries arises. She feels at some level that you are actually a “part” of her, because she requires external validation. When that external validation turns to judgment, she has to cut you out of her mind. Sadly, she will continue to seek others (particularly men) to self-regulate until she can self-regulate.
As for IAAHF (“It’s all about his/her feelings”), one thing that many people read into that is that EVERY interpersonal situation is about her feelings and that she will not EVER be able to empathize with yours. This is neither the intent of IAAHF or the case. Borderlines are really empathetic (really no kidding they can be) but only when they are not on fire internally and emotionally. The intent of IAAHF is to EXPLAIN the “crazy” behavior, not to make a blanket statement about the relationship. When asked “why would she cut herself?” (for example) the answer is IAAHF. She’s in pain and the cutting helps alleviate that pain. Or asked “why is she raging at me over nothing?” (which happened to me the other night, presumably out of the blue). The answer is IAAHF.