Number one on the DSM IV for BPD is frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. So now that I am self-aware and highly embarrassed by my previous behaviour, I will describe how this manifests in me, and tell you, my imaginary significant other, how to help me with it.
I no longer have a significant other, and this behaviour is why.
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
Abandonment seems to be a significant issue for people with BPD. Whether we are actually being abandoned, about to be abandoned or just imagine, we are. For us, it is the end of the world. Now no-one likes rejection, but we take to heart more than most. The efforts we make to avoid abandonment can seem extreme. OK so I’m not as bad as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, but yes my behaviour when I think I’m about to be abandoned leaves a lot to be desired.
I can be calm, rational and balanced if a relationship is going smoothly, or during the so-called “honeymoon phase”, but if the initial intensity slows down, my abandonment issues arise. I will text more than I should, I will become deeply distressed if my significant other uses a different tone in a message, forgets to sign off with kisses or loving emoticons. Although I struggle with general emoticons, I can identify loving ones and will spend hours looking back at them. Especially if they’re animated stickers, particularly dogs. They make me ridiculously happy, and I can become very despondent if I don’t get one for a while. The person may not intend to leave, they may just be tired, busy, distracted but the slightest change in tone of voice or tone of text triggers intense fear of abandonment.
The person then thinks I am over the top and clingy. Well, yes, I suppose reflecting back on my behaviour, I am. I try really hard not to be, but because I have BPD I am emotionally dysregulated. I just do not have the self-control, nor self-respect others have.
Not only do I over text, but I am prone to writing love letters, love stories and one one occasion even put together an entire cartoon strip detailing the problems and misunderstandings we have, and how we should fix them. That’s pretty abnormal behaviour. I know I don’t let up. I don’t let go.
Forget to phone? Well, that is a huge problem. If I am expecting a call and it either doesn’t happen or happens far later than expected, I won’t talk to you, but I will release the flying fingers or fury. I will immediately devalue you. I don’t hate you, but you have hurt me. It reinforces in my tortured mind that I am of no value, that I am unworthy of respect and if we have reached a point in the relationship where we have become intimate, I will feel as though you are using me and I will fly off the handle and give you hell.
Naturally, this tends to make the other person feel wary. It destabilises the relationship significantly but instead of slowing down, I sense the growing distance so will try and push that person away. I will l be highly critical of the smallest thing they have either done, or not done or what I perceive they may have done, or think or feel.
I have to make them go away. They must be pushed. I must do the pushing. I know I am utterly incapable of leaving them because I am addicted to them, obsessed by them, but for some reason, I must be in charge of them leaving me even though I don’t want them to go. They are not permitted to make the decision to leave me for themselves. They just can’t. That would be just too unbearable. Then I’m all over the place like a mad dog’s breakfast, up and down, in and out and they leave – I am too much to handle. I know it, but I can’t stop.
I know a lot of people with BPD find this aspect of the disorder so hard, so painful that they turn the hurt inwards to themselves. Self-harm and threats of suicide are common. This isn’t done to make you stay, although a lot of partners of people with BPD seem to think this is our way of manipulating you to do so. It isn’t.
I can understand this sort of behaviour could be really freaky for a partner – especially if he or she had no intention of leaving anyway! How damaging is this going to be to a relationship? It’s not going to last, is it?
You can help us with this, but it takes an active, caring, loving, patient and compassionate person to hold us, teach us, reassure and guide us.
My behaviour is why I cannot yet envisage myself in a relationship. I know I self-destruct, I realise I devalue my partner, I know I hurt people. I don’t want to do that, and for me, the only way is to avoid love.
I choose to be alone at this stage in life because my fear of abandonment is too intense.
That’s really negative, isn’t it? But I have to heal me first before I can go around the block again.
How to help me alleviate this fear
There is an answer for others who do want to give love a chance, who are lucky enough to still be in a relationship. Partners, this is what we need from you – or rather, this is what would work for me.
Be patient and listen as I want to be upfront with you about what I am going through. I need you to understand that I am terrified but that I don’t exactly know why. I want you to know that I don’t hate you, but that I am afraid of myself and the power of the emotion coursing through me.
I want you to know I have been abandoned in the past and that sometimes, things you do or don’t do trigger dreadful feelings for me and I can’t control them.
When I tell you these things, I need you to hold me close, allow me to feel your heart beat; I need you to soothe me, stroke me, kiss my eyelashes, look deeply into my eyes and smile. Tell me that you love me. Don’t tell me you’ll never leave me because that won’t be the truth. It is essential to always be truthful with me. I will sense when you are not, and it will make things worse. Allow me to just curl up in your arms while the storm subsides.
Help me to breathe. Breathe slowly with me and hold my hands.
You need to tell me what you do see in me, tell me why you love me, tell me what is unique about me, tell me what it is about me that makes you happy. Remind me of the good things I do to make you feel good, to make you feel better and stronger and loved.
Don’t get exasperated with me. Don’t shout. Show me patience and compassion. If it’s too hard if it gets too heated ask for a few moments for yourself. Take time out. Let me know you will only be gone for a few moments, just to gather your thoughts because you do care and don’t want either of us to be hurt.
Explain things to me gently. Tell me that sometimes you are just tired, or driving or distracted. Tell me that you will always call me when you can, but that sometimes other things come up. It doesn’t mean I am not important, but life still goes on around me. You must perform activities during your day as I must do things during mine. Validate me. Put these things into an understandable perspective. Check to make sure I understand but without making me feel like a child. Because I am already feeling like an out of control child and I need to feel like a woman again. Don’t talk down to me.
Set boundaries. Tell me when my behaviour is not ok. Explain to me calmly and quietly how you would like me to behave and tell me how much better it makes you feel. I want you to be happy. I want you to feel better. Guide me.
Recognise me when I do the right thing. Sometimes I am like a puppy wanting a treat, and my reward is a smile or a hug from you.
Never lie to me; never try to hide things from me; never make a promise you cannot keep.
Above all, love me and when I’m freaked out, just love me gently and quietly even more.
As I gain trust in you, as I believe you, I will settle.
I know you don’t like me when I do this, but guess what? I like me even less.