What I Learned From Dating Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

Not too long ago I was madly in love with a beautiful, charismatic and outgoing woman. She was funny, sexy and seemed to be the center of attention wherever we went. She also had Borderline Personality Disorder.

When we first met, this was not something I picked up on right away. She appeared to be everything I was looking for in a girlfriend. She was extroverted, independent and most of all fun. Her laugh and smile were infectious. She was the opposite of my quiet, reserved and introverted self. She was what I thought I needed in my life. Someone different than the women I usually dated. Different from myself.

In The Beginning

Things with us started off fast and intense. We went from getting to know each other, to being intimate, falling in love and living together in just a few weeks. She went out of her way to shower me with love and attention. It made me feel special, especially in comparison to my last relationship where I often felt neglected. She made me feel like no other woman had ever made me feel before or since.

What I didn’t realize was that part of what I was experiencing is what is called love bombing. Love bombing is when someone tries to influence a person with demonstrations of love and affection. They usually do this by going overboard with efforts of love and admiration. It’s a way to quickly leap frog over the getting to know you, courting stage in a relationship and get to the “I love you” stage and it worked.

I had never fallen for someone so intensely so fast, which is why I think I didn’t see some of the red flags I should have or, as a therapist, realize what I was getting into. Love and beauty have a way of blinding us.

As a mental health counselor, I have a habit, good or bad, of always analyzing people and a month into our relationship I started thinking that she might have bipolar disorder. I started recognizing that she had some mood instability and for some reason, that’s where my mind took me, but after awhile I dismissed that altogether because she simply didn’t meet the criteria. Still, I knew there was something I needed to pay close attention to, I just wasn’t sure what it was.

Inappropriate and Intense Anger

I remember the first fight we had, it was over something very trivial and should have just been a conversation, but instead she EXPLODED! I mean her eyes narrowed, face turned red, nostrils flared. She got so angry so quickly that it scared me and I feared for my safety. What shocked me the most was that the intensity of her anger was way out of proportion to the situation.

I don’t like to fight, I don’t like to argue. When I realized how volatile that situation became over something so small, I should have left and never looked back. That was actually my plan, but later that evening she came back and apologized. We made up. I loved her after all and maybe part of my “you can fix her” thinking kicked in and I actually began to feel sorry for her.

I knew she come from a pretty traumatic childhood, that she went through periods of her life where she felt abandoned and I felt that her blow up was a test to see if she could push me away and I would abandon her too. I decided to prove her wrong and to stay and make it work out. I had the rescuer syndrome going on full strength.

Frantic Efforts to Avoid Real or Imagined Abandonment

After that first explosion, many more followed. She began accusing me of wanting or looking at other women. Out of the blue her entire mood would change and I wouldn’t know why until she was ready to blow up at me for looking at someone I usually had no clue who she was talking about.

I got accused of looking at random women all the time like our waitress, some woman across the street that I never even noticed in the first place or another across the room simply because she was there. As beautiful as she was, she was very insecure.

It got so bad that at one point I found myself walking around with my head down just so I wouldn’t accidentally appear to be looking at another women, but even that didn’t work.

So many dates and even a Valentines Day were ruined by her accusing me of looking at other women and her explosive, increasing inappropriate anger.

And yet there were times when she begged me to never leave her. When I told her this wasn’t working for me and I wanted to break up, she simply replied “no” and then clung to me like a frightened child.

Uncontrollable Anger and Physical Violence

As her angry explosions became increasingly unpredictable (yet predictable), she began to get physically violent. It started with her getting so angry that she would slap me and on at least two occasions she punched me in the face with a closed fist, all the time I was trying to calm her down to keep her from getting even more angry and out of control, which only made things worse.

At the same time, I noticed that she was also getting into conflicts with other people when we went out. Men, women, it didn’t matter. It was as if she had two sides to her; this sweet, outgoing, social butterfly that everyone loved and this angry bitch that everyone hated. Still, the most intense anger and rage were reserved for me.

It got so bad that whenever we went out, no matter how happy we were in the beginning of the evening, there was a 90% chance that by the time the night was over, we’d be fighting over something. I started thinking that she was allergic to having a good day. It was like, the more I tried for us to have a great day, the more I did for her, the more intense her anger would be when she decided it was time to ruin our good time.

She could literally pick a fight out of thin air which made it so much more unpredictable. It was literally, as the cliché goes, like walking on eggshells.

I remember one day we went to the beach, swam in the ocean and I painted her toe nails while laying on a beach blanket. Afterwards we went to the pier and had lunch before driving back home, changing and going to a jazz club. Later that night we stopped on our way home to get something to eat and she started yelling at me (out of the blue) because I hadn’t unfriended her best-friend that she accused of wanting me. The same best friend I knew before I knew her. The same best-friend that had introduced us.

I was so hurt and disappointed that we had such a great day ruined in five minutes by some random thought that came into her head.

Alcohol Abuse

I totally ignored and even enabled her substance abuse issues. When we met I knew she smoked, but I didn’t realized she was also a binge drinker and probably an alcoholic.

It seemed ass if she had to constantly be smoking or drinking in order to be marginally happy. She didn’t just drank to get buzzed, she drank to get white girl wasted as they say.

So many weekend nights she drank until she passed out or until she started flirting with everyone or lashing out on everyone with me of course as her favorite target.

One valentines day she drank a whole bottle of wine by her self at dinner and then another at the movie theater and then passed out before the movie even started.

She would promise to stop drinking, but she never did and to be honest, I was usually the one buying her drinks because I knew one or two drinks made her happy, but by the time she got to her fourth drink, she was a loaded gun ready to go off.

It wasn’t uncommon for her to go from happy to infuriated within minutes.

Idealization and Devaluation

Some days she would tell me that I was the best man ever and I would feel like a prince and by the end of the night, she would be enraged over something minor and yelling at me “you’re just like every other man” or telling me how I was the worst person ever.

At first I was really confused. I was either the best man she’d ever been with or the worst man she’d ever been with, but I couldn’t be both. It was starting to give me an identity complex.

I did noticed a pattern however. If she started telling me how I was the love of her life, the best thing that ever happened to her, blah, blah, blah, I needed to hold on tight because by the end of the day, the other shoe was going to drop.

Whenever she started inflating my ego, she would create a fight by the end of the day and tear me back down to scum under her shoes. I remember one night when not too many hours earlier I had been her moon and stars, she yelled at me that she hated and resented me. That really took me aback. In all my life I had never had someone tell me that they resented me. I didn’t even know how to take it, but I never forgot how much it hurt .

Those words were probably the biggest factor in causing me to start emotionally withdrawing and re-evaluating our relationship. Sure this was after we were about three years into this roller-coaster ride, but what can I say, I was in love.

By this time I had known she had borderline personality disorder for over two years. The signs were all there. I even had her take an assessment and she scored perfectly and even agreed with me that she thought she had borderline personality disorder, but she didn’t want to go to therapy.

In The End

My friends, people who knew me and knew us often asked me why did I stay. They didn’t know why I put up with the chaos, the anger, the numerous precarious situations she had put me in.

The answer is love. I really did love her. Being a mental health professional didn’t help. I thought I could help her overcome her issues, helping people is my job. And she really was and is an awesome person. If she was a totally horrible person of course I would have left a long time ago.

Would I have done anything different knowing what I know now? Of course I would. I would have chosen to just be her friend and to keep a safe distance so that I wouldn’t get caught up in the chaos.

I learned a lot through this tumultuous relationship, but mostly about myself. I learned that I was more codependent than I ever realized. I learned that I had a sort of six sense and sort of a curse for spotting people with issues and trying to fix them. I also learned what it was like to be in love with a beautiful woman, to have some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, to be adventurous, to feel like I couldn’t live without a person and then learn to live without them.

It’s Not All Your Fault

1132x1600_12879_Bat_your_eyes_girl_2d_illustration_girl_sad_woman_portrait_picture_image_digital_artRecently I was talking to a 27-year-old female who had been arrested for the first time on various drug charges. Emotionally she was a wreck. I could tell she was really a good person on the inside, but emotionally she obviously wasn’t as stable as she could be and I immediately sensed that her childhood was filled with some type of neglect or abuse.

Why was I able to sense that? Because from my years of working with people, especially teenagers and women who have been abused and/or neglected as children, I’ve noticed that a large majority of them present very similar including being angry, shy, depressed, manic or lacking boundaries coupled with other cues such as body language.

This young lady was at some points crying, then angry, then laughing, and then crying again. Her life was “a mess” as she put it. She had two children, was in an unstable relationship (like all the other relationships she had been in), couldn’t seem to get her life together or in her words, “do anything right” and she had started smoking crack cocaine, a secret she kept from her family until she got arrested.

She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t get her life together. Why every time things would be going good, she would do something to mess it up. She was living almost in constant chaos and was using drugs to escape it. She had never been diagnosed with anything before and blamed herself for not being able to stop herself from making bad choices over and over again.

And then I asked her if she was ever abused before. I already knew the answer, I would have been shocked if I was wrong, I was hoping I was wrong, but I was right. She started crying and told me she had been molested repeatedly from the age of 8. Her childhood from that point on was filled with abuse, neglect and abandonment. No wonder now as an adult her life was “a mess”.

One of the things that happens to children and even adults when we experience abuse, neglect, trauma, abandonment or anything that is so mentally and emotionally painful that we can’t make sense of it, is that it doesn’t get fully processed and it becomes clutter in our minds, thoughts and emotions.

Our emotions and thoughts become fragmented with a lot of unprocessed feelings and those unprocessed feelings are what eventually will cause us to express ourselves in unhealthy ways, especially if we aren’t naturally resilient or have great social-emotional supports. However, even if we are naturally resilient and have great supports, chances are that fragmentation will still affect the way we think, feel and interact with other people.

That is what was going on with this young lady and until I explained to her how the trauma and pain from her past was affecting her future, she had no idea that at least some of what she was going through wasn’t totally her fault. Deep inside she is holding on to feelings of rage, insecurity and hurt from all the abuse, trauma and abandonment. All that unprocessed, raw emotion has to come out somewhere consciously or unconsciously. In a lot of people it comes out  in the form of rage towards themselves or others.

They may cut themselves, or do other things that demonstrate a lack of love for themselves such as being promiscuous, abusing drugs or alcohol and getting into abusive or neglectful relationships over and over again just to name a few. Some may even attempt suicide. Drugs, sex, self-mutilation and even suicide may be used as ways to try to control the rage they have inside.

They may turn their rage outwards and inflict hurt on others by being abusive, bitter, and pushing people away sometimes to the point where they wake up one day and realize they are totally alone and will blame other people for abandoning them even when they were the one pushing them away.

On top of that, they become so used to hiding their real feelings and emotions that they have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves in a healthy way. In return, they often end up feeling misunderstood and often blaming others for everything that doesn’t go right. Their psychological defenses will leave them blind to their own role in their interpersonal difficulties.

When someone has all this stuff going on in their conscious and subconscious mind, there’s no wonder their lives are continuously in chaos. Almost nothing they do will fix it if they remain unaware and blind to how their past is influencing their present. If they aren’t willing to try to change and get help, then it’s very unlikely that their lives will ever be all that it could have been.

Change Starts With Insight

Sometimes the toughest part of therapy is insight building, which means getting the person to see things as they really are and how they are truly affecting their lives. Many people like to place blame on others and take absolutely no responsibility for their circumstances. Even this young lady at one point was trying to blame her boyfriend for calling the police when he couldn’t find her. When the police found her and search her, they discovered the drugs so this was all the boyfriends fault according to her.

Once I got this young lady to see that she had to take responsibility for her current incarceration, I pointed out to her that it wasn’t all her fault.  Much of her current issues, the relationship instability, the drug use, the emotional instability, all had roots in her past. Once she got this she had an “aha” moment. She had never even put the two together. Even in that moment I could see the light bulb go off as some insight started pouring in.

That was amazing, but now it was time for the real hard work to begin. Now that she had insight, she had even more responsibility to start taking charge of her life and to stop letting the garbage from the past stink up her present and future.

Where To Start Healing

Immediately she said she wasn’t strong enough to do that, that she was too weak and that might be true which is why I told her the first thing she needs to do is to get into rehab. She needs to get clean and then to also find a good psychotherapist. She is going to have to be determined, patient and emotionally open because she will have to face a lot of emotional pain she’s been avoiding and she’ll have to resist the urge and the fear to do what she’s always done which is to get angry,  runaway from getting help or to sabotage herself again.

This is not something that is going to be resolved in one session, one month or even one year. This will likely be a life long battle for her, but one that is worth fighting.

She has a long road ahead of her, but if she is willing to do the work, she will have a much better life. Until she does the work and gets the help she needs, nothing in her life will make sense the way it should and she will always be left feeling like a victim. It’s not all her fault, but she now has the responsibility to take control of her life and to at least minimize the hurt from the past.

This one young lady’s experience echos that of hundred of young women I have dealt with over the last several years. Many of them due to their experiences, stressors, and predispositions to certain illness will go on to become drug addicts, alcoholics, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, etc. Some of them will be resilient and despite their past live incredible lives as relatively emotionally healthy people.

It may not be all your fault, but it is your job to take responsibility and control over your life.