Thursday, March 12, 2009

It was like this.

His behaving in the ways this article describes really began to frighten me when I visited him in December: his extreme emotional reactivity was not only scary, but made me feel as if I was walking through a mine field or on eggshells.

It's so difficult to know that someone I loved so much now hates me, and wants to hurt me as he feels I hurt him by honestly communicating my concerns. I was "too real." And not in a good way, like the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Frustrating No-Man’s-Land of Borderline Personality Disorder
By Harold W. Koenigsberg, and Larry J. Siever


In addition to vulnerability to impulsive aggression, people with borderline personality disorder are unusually emotionally reactive. They may be content for a while, then become intensely angry or hopelessly depressed or unbearably anxious—each state, although intense, lasting only a few hours or a day.

To those who are close to them, borderline patients appear to have random and unpredictable emotions. On closer investigation, those emotions often seem to involve heightened emotional reactions to other people. Borderline patients may become distraught at ordinary criticism, which they experience as a blow to self-esteem; may react with rage to a disappointment or minor slight; or may feel terror at a separation that they experience as virtual abandonment. Their emotional, or affective, instability may contribute to their turbulent, often unstable relationships and the inconstancy in their experience of themselves that leads to a confused sense of identity.

Infants who are very emotionally sensitive may respond more intensely to the comings and goings of their mother or caretakers and show much greater distress at separating. This may lead to a more insecure attachment between infant and mother. If the infant is more impulsive and aggressive— that is, likely to express emotions forcefully— he may have crying spells and, later, temper tantrums when frustrated or left alone, which can wear down even the most supportive parents and overwhelm those who are depressed or who themselves have trouble with emotional reactivity and impulsiveness. Parents may become frustrated at their inability to soothe such a child and decide not to respond to its distress; at other times they may try everything to indulge the child to appease its upset and rage. These inconsistent (and, to the infant, unpredictable) responses may make it likely that the child will learn to deal with unpredictability by means of emotional storms or tantrums.

Only by looking at the behaviors of someone with borderline personality disorder in that person’s social milieu do we fully understand their meaning.

As the child matures, he may draw on these interpersonal strategies in order to regain emotional equilibrium. For example, when an upsurge of depression follows a blow to self-esteem, the borderline person may try to bolster her self-esteem by devaluing someone else. When feeling alone and abandoned, she may behave recklessly to stimulate the worry and involvement of others. To onlookers, these behaviors may appear manipulative because their purpose is to bring another person to attend to the borderline’s needs. But because of their heightened sensitivity to the availability of others, people with borderline personality disorder often feel that they are not in charge of their own emotions—their emotions depend on the behavior of those around them. Attempting to control their own feelings, they find themselves trying to control the behavior of people they depend upon and care about. Repeated again and again, these patterns of behavior become ingrained. The borderline person experiences these styles of relating as the only way to survive emotional ups and downs and the feeling that others cannot be trusted to support her.

By the last month of our relationship I often felt we were thrashing in a lake, that he held me by the neck in the crook of his arm and that he would accidentally drown me. I felt and (perhaps still feel) terribly guilty that I couldn't save him, and I felt ashamed that every self-preservation instinct in my psyche was screaming, "Fly! Fly!" I thought I was so strong that I could help him, and that my great love for him could help heal his terrible psychic wounds. What I hadn't realized at the beginning was the terrible risk I had willingly and lovingly put myself in; I feel ashamed that I ultimately had to make the choice to save myself. What I'm trying to become very clear on is this: I could not have saved him. He is the only one who can save himself. I feel such compassion for his wife of many years; how frequently she must have felt as I felt, and how sad and helpless she must feel. She can't save him, either.

But I predict his brilliance, charm and boyish qualities will insure a steady future supply of women riding in on their white horses, hoping, as I hoped and as his wife surely must have once hoped, to save him. There were, what? Three other women I quickly discovered in his life in addition to his wife and me?

I don't think his is a histrionic or narcissistic personality. I think he has suffered unbearably most of his life from a borderline personality disorder that the circumstances of his early life set up. Too bad I wasn't able to do the research as the behaviors occurred; it was all completely baffling and very painful for me at the time. Poor man. Will he ever be able to move on past those wounds? Will he ever begin to heal a little or feel at least a sense of peace of mind? Will his vicious self-loathing -- which he sometimes turns outward on others -- ever end?

Thinking about him makes me terribly sad.

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