“How to set boundaries to protect yourself and improve living with a BP?”
OK, I don’t normally do it, but today I went out to my old (circa 2005-2006) haunt – WTO (i.e. “Welcome to Oz”). WTO is the largest non-BP board on the Internet. It’s been around or at least 10 years and has over 4,000 members. Most of the members are quiet (like me). I used to post way back when and got into a number of “altercations” with people because I was presenting a different approach to people with BPD than the majority of the members. Mostly, it’s people who have just started trying to figure out what BPD is all about and are hurt and frustrated.
The quoted text above is a subject line of a recent post. I feel for the woman, I really do. Yet, that line seems to typify the very problem with BPD support groups. Firstly, there is an assumption that boundaries are the default tool for making a relationship work. They aren’t. I explain in great detail in my eBook “Beyond Boundaries”. However, the short version about boundaries is (from the Beyond Boundaries eBook):
If you do any research on BPD, you will find a plethora of advice from all types of people. There are Internet support groups, self-help books and personal stories that tell you what to do as a Non-BP. Some of this advice is good and works effectively with someone with BPD. Some of this advice is not good and is ineffective with someone with BPD. Some of this advice is misperceived by the Non and applied in a way that is not intended by the advice giver. The most misunderstood tool is boundaries.
If I had a nickel for every time someone joins my Internet list and says: “I set boundaries and try to enforce them.”
… or something like that, I’d be rich. Well, not really but I would probably have a couple of hundred dollars anyway.
Unfortunately, most people who try to create and apply boundaries to their BP relationship, do so improperly and with misunderstanding. This misunderstanding is amplified across the Internet and in publications about dealing with an emotionally sensitive person. The misunderstanding arises in two forms: one is the meaning of a boundary, and the second is to whom the boundary applies.
Many people believe that a “boundary” is equivalent to a rule and that they have to enforce their personal boundaries with a person who has BPD. This is not the case. A personal boundary is not a rule that needs to be enforced. Instead, a personal boundary is a limit that one puts on one’s own behavior. It is a choice that you make about your own behavior and a limit on the behavior you’re willing to engage in.
Boundaries have their place, but the assumption that boundaries (or limits) are the end-all, be-all (or even the default approach to BPD is IMO misguided. Other tools are much more important, effective and productive than boundaries.
Now as for “protecting oneself” I can certainly understand why one would feel that they need to protect themselves. However, I see a relationship not as a power struggle or “battle of wills” but as a cooperative sharing of feelings. Unfortunately, a borderline’s feelings are very overwhelming and, at times, seem to be the only feelings in the relationship. If someone is trying to hurt you, it’s quite possible that they’re not borderline, they’re a psychopath (in the true sense of the term). If you’d like to know more about true psychopath you can listen to this (the middle part is the presentation of Dr. James Blair about psychopathy).
You see borderline aggression is reactive in nature. It is reactive to what the borderline perceives as a threat. If the environment is a power struggle, they are going to be trigger continuously. If the environment is a cooperative sharing of feelings, the threat level will go down and you will get less aggression.
This pattern is not the same as a true psychopath.