The best way to describe it is as an “emotional roller coaster” ride. Borderlines have much insecurity. They experience a variety of rapidly changing feelings. Bockian states that “it is not uncommon for feelings to swing from thrilled, excited, and on top of the world to suicidally depressed in the space of a few hours.” (pg. 20). Some emotions seem to be constant in their repertoire.
Their feelings of emptiness stem from the fact that they have a poor sense of “Self” (see “When Does Narcissism Develop?” for further information on development of the Self). Borderlines do not know who they are and can spend a life time trying to find out. This may be evidenced through numerous career changes, frequent moves to different geographical locations and attempts to fit in with others.
Borderlines lack trust in others and do not value themselves highly, as a result they tend to feel they are unworthy of love and that they will be let down by those close to them. This is understandable when interactions with parents and family members were abusive, they have been taught not to trust. They expect to be let down even abused.
As a result of their lack of self-esteem they tend to choose dominant partners who are able to give their life purpose and meaning through association. They fear abandonment which is either real (such as the impending break up of a relationship) or imaginary e.g. distrust of a partners fidelity. They also undertake in behaviour that perpetuates their own abandonment.
Borderlines tend to have strong feelings of guilt seeing themselves as “bad”, “not good enough” or when sexual abuse has occurred”dirty”. They may even feel they deserve the punishment they get when their adult relationships become abusive – it’s comfortable to them because they may be used to it.
Sex is usually an ordeal for Borderlines if sexual abuse occurred in their childhood as they associate the act with their abuse.
Borderlines are angry people reacting inappropriately to trivial situations. They can rage when their needs are not met (having a sense of entitlement despite their apparent lack of self-worth) or when they fail to be good enough and can remain angry for a long time after the event.
When relationships end normal people grieve then accept that it is in effect over and move on with their lives. Borderlines will often “to and fro” impulsively ending a relationship then go on to regret their decision. They feel overpowered by emptiness and not knowing who they are and become desperate to go back to their ex who largely defines their existence. This can happen several times before the relationship finally ends.
Being the partner of a Borderline can be a harrowing experience and inevitably partners have thoughts of leaving. If a Borderline has been dumped (or suspect they will be) they will say and do anything to win back their ex. This may include attempting to or make threats to commit suicide in order to show their commitment to “die for love”, gauge the depth of her ex’s feelings or even to make them feel sorry for what they did to hurt them. Of course suicide is also a way out of the despair they feel. These attempts to avoid abandonment may work in the short term but they do nothing to keep a partner long term. They do not reinforce feelings of love, more often that not it just evokes guilt and pity.
Bockian (pg. 18) quotes Marsha Lineham’s assertion that “The desire to be dead among borderline individuals is often reasonable, in that it is based on lives that are currently unbearable. the problem is usually that the patient simply has too many life crises,” which are either no fault of their own or brought about by their dysfunctional behaviour. For some their lives have been tortuous (having possibly suffered sexual, physical and emotional child abuse) and as such it is not surprising that they are unable to find happiness and meaning in life.
Not all Borderlines try to commit suicide, some may opt for self-injury to feel better by numbing one kind of pain (emotional) with another (physical). Self-injury may come in the form of cutting their arms with razor blades, burning their skin with a flame etc. They are also impulsive and prone to partake in hazardous activities in order to escape negative feelings e.g. taking drugs, drinking heavily, having random unprotected sex, spending large sums of money they don’t have. They may even binge eat or suffer from bulimia or anorexia. These behaviours may reduce negative feelings in the short term but in the long term they inflict more damage which the Borderline is not emotionally able to cope with. They look to others to take responsibility/care of them. In fact they expect to be taken care of.
Borderlines tend to fall in love quickly, their relationships develop fast and may burn out just as fast. They do not take the time to get to know the person they are attaching themselves to, their values or their character. They open themselves up to the other person quickly possibly having sex on their first date, moving in with their new partner within a few weeks and getting married within a few months. They will have an inflated view of their partner – that their new love interest is the best thing that has ever happened to them, good and true.
Not long after the relationship starts reality starts to creep its way in. A Borderlines partner may do something that shows they are not perfect and the situation does a complete 180 degree turn. The Borderline sees their partner as distasteful and unworthy, this is deflation.
The Borderline can only see in black and white, someone is either “all good” or “all bad” at one time. This is known as “splitting”. For example, imagine that a woman spends all day in the kitchen preparing a surprise meal for her partner. She cooks all his favourite dishes, dims down the lights and sets the table just so. She has thoughts about how great her partner is, how much they love them and how well the evening is going to go. The partner comes home an hour late, possibly because work was busy and there was heavy traffic etc. With a Borderline there is no “he’s late, I wonder why? I’m upset because my effort has been spoiled but then again I didn’t warn him. well he looks upset he’s late let’s enjoy what we can.” there is only “he doesn’t appreciate what I do for him, he doesn’t love me, he’s useless”. So they rage, say hurtful things and lash out. Later on when they calm down they reflect on what they have done and become afraid of abandonment they will try to make amends. Their relationships can be extremely passionate where good “make up sex” seems to support the idea that the relationship is meant to be but ultimately the relationship starts to suffer and often ends as quickly as it started.
This black and white view of others is also mirrored in their view of themselves. Moskovitz explains that as a Borderline “When you are good, you may feel entitled to special treatment and live outside the rules made for others. You may feel entitled to take whatever you wish and to have everything good all to yourself. When you are bad, you may feel entitled to nothing. You may feel responsible for all that is evil and expect punishment. If punishment does not come, you may invite it from others or inflict it on yourself” (pg. 15). He goes on to explain that a Borderline has the ability to affect other people’s feelings and behaviours on the basis of the intensity and changeability of their feelings (projection/transference).
Borderlines experience paranoia and dissociation when they are under stress. They fear people are conspiring to harm them and experience a “loss of awareness, time, location or their identity” (Bockian pg. 25). Most people experience dissociation to some degree in their lives e.g. daydreaming in lectures or whilst driving a car. People with BPD may experience more regular and lengthier episodes to the point where they have lost days and can’t remember where they have been or what they have done – it feels as if they are losing their mind or having a nervous breakdown. It is not uncommon for normal people to experience such dissociation during periods of stress.
BPD can lie dormant for years where Borderlines can get along without major acting out. BPD’s are often workaholics and can be successful in their careers, particularly in environments that follow rigid rules (it fits in with their black and white method of thinking). A demanding workload aids to distract from negative emotions. However, when stress is applied, when things start to go wrong or their routine changes the Borderline symptoms appear as the emotions become too much for the Borderline to cope with. Even anniversaries of traumatic events can lead to self-destructive behaviour. Moskovitz uses the example of a mother who “attempted suicide for the first time at age thirty-three, shortly after her oldest daughter’s eight birthday. She had had her first incestuous encounter with her father at age eight.” (p.g. 51)
Can Borderlines love other people?
Borderlines love love – they are obsessed by it and will do anything to ensure they get it. To them it is a means of filling up their loneliness and lack of Self through another person rather than an expression of regard or caring for someone as an equal partner.
While their need for love is apparent they don’t know how to return love. In reality they are afraid of intimacy and do not have the emotional strength to fight their fears of inadequacy or abandonment in a manner that makes it possible for them to return love. After the passion of new love subsides they become bored, often moving on to a new partner. If they continue in the relationship “instead of deepening concern and communication, there ensues a struggle for control. The arena of this often violent struggle may include time, money, sex, fidelity, spiritual beliefs, children, or physical and emotional distance. The centerpiece of the struggle is the threat of abandonment.” Moskovitz (pg. 144).
Borderlines do not trust others and as such their relationships are fraught with battles. They are manipulative and will hurt others when their needs are not being met by raging or sometimes by physically hurting themselves or less likely their partners. Because partners get frustrated and try to regain their own power they may “strike back or flee.” Moskovitz (pg. 144)
Borderlines do not love themselves, in fact they practice self-hatred. Psychologists often comment that anyone who doesn’t love themselves can’t truly love others.
It all sounds very bleak. However, with effective treatment Borderlines can learn to understand their feelings, control their impulsive behaviour and strengthen their sense of Self enabling them to improve the quality of their relationships.