Whether you are someone who lives with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or someone who loves someone with BPD, you would certainly know something about the Blame Game. It can be a one-player game of self-blame or have a number of players: the person who does the blaming and those who get blamed.
The truth about this horrible game is it can be played, intentionally and unintentionally, by both those who have BPD and those without. It always ends up in heartbreak. No one can ever really win. As someone with BPD, I have been the only player in a game of self-blame, I have been the instigator, and I have been the victim.
This is my story.
There are many myths associated with the stigma of BPD. One is that people with BPD never take responsibility for themselves. When I hear people say this it upsets me because when it comes to the self-blame game I am the leader… no, the champion… no actually the grand champion! In fact, I am the undisputed, undefeated international and universal champion! Over the years I have blamed myself for everything and anything — the abuse I received, the neglect, my parents’ divorce, the deaths of loved ones, lost friendships, factors out of my control. I take responsibility for everything.
My little game of self-blame is a complicated one, to say the least. It perpetuates a continual game of self-hate, which keeps me locked in a downward spiral of guilt and shame. There is a meme that says, “One of the hardest things about BPD is knowing the fact you are responsible for your actions and behavior but not always being in control of them.” That’s me. When I have an episode and project (this is where I seemingly blame others for my pain when in fact I am trying, although undeniably unsuccessfully, to explain my pain) or I split (a common BPD trait where everything is black and white, so for example, a person is “good” or “evil”), afterwards I play a seriously intense game of self-blame. I generally cannot verbalize my shame and guilt, and sometimes I can’t even find the courage to verbally apologize due to the involvement in my own game of self-blame – I hate myself so much that all I want to do is crumble and hide.
So yes, for most of my childhood I blamed myself for all that had happened, and as the feelings of resentment built up, they boiled over and spilt out into my everyday life. Then I became obsessed with finding someone else to blame and hold responsible. I mean, I didn’t ask for this horrible condition bestowed upon me, and I certainly didn’t cause it. I wanted someone to blame for the fact I had been abused, neglected, been made to feel like I was nothing, worth nothing and would never amount to anything. I wanted to stop feeling all the self-blame, turmoil and anger, and I wanted those who “did this to me,” those who were to blame, to feel it instead.
At one point, well-meaning people around me started to say things like, “get over it,” “move on,” “leave the past in the past,” only to, in my eyes, become part of the opposing team.
How could I do that? How could people say that to me? Didn’t they understand I had been hurt and mistreated? Didn’t they understand there were reasons I have ended up where I am or reasons I react and behave the way I do? I have every right to be angry! Didn’t they know I was once a happy, talkative child? I wasn’t always like this!
The truth is, there are many factors (and people) that have contributed to who I am and my challenges; however I have reached a point where I realize playing the blame game is not going to get me what I need to go on my journey to recovery. Thankfully, through therapy I’ve learned radical acceptance and about the difference between blame and accountability.
When you play the blame game, you attribute feelings of disapproval, failure, deficiency and guilt to those you hold responsible (this may be yourself). Feelings lead to emotions, and emotions are powerful. On the other hand, to hold someone accountable means you just accept they are responsible – no emotion, you just accept it. It doesn’t mean you agree with or condone the action, but you accept the situation as it is. Radical acceptance is a hard skill to master; it is hard to just accept something as it is.
In my enlightenment about the difference between playing the blame game and holding someone accountable, I have noticed how the world around me also seems to be obsessed with blame. I think it’s important to acknowledge that a lot of the time the blame game many people without BPD play is often unintentional, and many don’t even realize they are doing it. It is caused by a lack of understanding of BPD.
Here are some examples of where I have been the victim of the unintentional blame game:
If you believe in the science of BPD, you would know those who live with it struggle as they face the task of rewiring their brains. Your brain is hardwired a certain way as you grow and develop, and people with BPD have a different kind of hardwiring. So when you tell me I’m “not trying hard enough,” it upsets me because you are telling me it is my fault I have difficulty controlling my brain, which has had 37 years to develop and become hardwired the way it is. Trying to change that is hard. Am I trying? Yes, but sometimes I get tired and overwhelmed cause it’s bloody hard work. My BPD was not my fault, but I am taking responsibility and trying to do something about it.
When the news about the sexual abuse I had endured as a child surfaced, one of the questions I was repeatedly asked by well-intentioned family members was, “Why didn’t you tell anyone? You could have told me, and I could have helped you.” This (unintentionally) redirected the blame back to me and further perpetuated my own game of self-blame and reinforced the belief it was my fault.
I recently had a discussion with my husband after our marriage broke down (please note, I write about this conversation with his full permission and knowledge). At the time he was understandably hurt and angry and went about highlighting every time I’d had an episode, said or done something hurtful. As I mentioned above, I am no longer interested in blame, and my response was simple but effective. I told him I am willing to accept responsibility for anything I have intentionally or unintentionally said and done that has hurt him, and then I posed a simple question: “Can you tell me you have never, ever done anything out of anger and frustration to intentionally or unintentionally hurt me?” His face went ashen grey, his eyes showed an honest sadness I had not seen before and the conversation shifted from blame to both of us accepting the roles we had both played. It
also allowed us to move forward, away from both our blame games, and while the relationship is still tender, the lines of communication are at least open.
Sadly, there are also those who intentionally play and perpetuate the blame game against those of us who live with BPD. These are people who feel wronged from a loved one with BPD. Some even loudly and proudly share their completely uneducated and archaic ideas about BPD, sprouting lies like, “all people with BPD are narcissists and have no empathy.”
These people once angered me and triggered a response of defense, but I have realized the three C’s, which has helped me rationalize and accept other people’s behavior, lack of education and negative attitudes.
I didn’t Cause my BPD, and I am not to blame.
I can’t Control other people or their need to paint people with BPD as unloveable.
I can Contribute to my own recovery by rising above the stigma, speaking out and educating those who want to learn.
After all, you can lead someone to knowledge but you can’t make them think.
Stay safe, stay well.