Why I'm Not a Monster: Deconstructing Male Borderline Personality Disorder
After yet another emotion explosion in 2015, I finally decided enough was enough and sought clarification on why I felt such raging intensity, injustice and manipulation from those around me. The trigger? Probably the realization I was destroying everything I had worked so hard to achieve and the recognition of the self-destructive pattern I seemed to effortlessly follow in my personal and professional relationships. It was then I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) which, after reading up, made perfect sense not only to me but also to people I cared about.
After five or so sessions of schema therapy, my therapist told me I was “too complex” and therapy ceased without an onward referral. Imagine my emotional response to that! I began to look into male BPD and was further rejected by the articles I read on the internet, with headlines such as “surviving the crash” and multiple warnings against dating these “needy, draining, deviant hypersexuality, controlling, manipulative, promiscuous people.” Thankfully, a quick search seems to show more supportive articles these days, but I wanted to give some insight. Just because I have BPD and am a male, I’m not a monster.
An unstable identity is a core feature of BPD and for men, this represents a new challenge. Rightly so, women’s rights activists have campaigned for equity with men, but in the midst of this social change, male identity has been eroded. An increase in pressure on body shape, whilst retaining unhelpful phrases such as “man up” to demonstrate how men should be strong and manage emotion, all combine to create confusion in those without BPD; so, imagine how it feels to already have an unstable identity with no social barometer of how things should be. Yes, everybody is different, but intensity of feeling is also a big part of BPD so I find it helps to have clear structure and boundaries of normality where I can gauge how proportionate my intensity is and then adapt my behavior accordingly. Understanding a male identity in today’s social climate is impossible. Is it any wonder that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK?
I’ve always referred to my BPD as like having Anakin Skywalker (pre-Darth Vader) as my internal monologue, transforming into the Incredible Hulk when I have an episode which leaves me feeling drained and overwhelmed with remorse afterward. Other people can see when I am “unwell” and it puzzles me how others can see it, but to me, everything just feels normal. It feels right. It feels just. Indeed, the punishment post-episode feels right, normal and just. I understand that. I feel punishment is what I deserve for being such a twisted individual and, of course, I also understand that even just typing that — it isn’t proportionate. I don’t deserve punishment. The problem is, I don’t feel that. I will often have an intense feeling that is the opposite from my rational mind. I believe this is a semi-helpful by-product of using mindfulness to manage intensity, but letting go of the intensity seems only possible through action, and that action – which feels right, normal and just – will invariably lead to punishment because the action is rarely proportionate. Even worse, there’s a huge amount of research showing people with BPD are more likely to take risks and make choices irrespective of knowing the negative consequences. In essence, I’m always on a countdown to the next episode and to delay that requires constant, conscious mental effort. People advised me to talk through my intensity and thoughts but that brings a whole other set of challenges.
I have to employ a set of rules in every situation, every day to ensure I maintain an acceptable standard of behavior. Talking then invites other points of view. Fair enough if you’re willing to accept people are trying to help, but what if your internal dialogue is whispering to you that they’re trying to trick you, to manipulate you, to abuse you because they don’t really care? Remember fear of abandonment is rife with BPD and when I told my co-workers about my BPD in a job I loved, it was the beginning of the end. Not for their reaction — they gave total support and acceptance — but it was that same acceptance I had no model of how to manage. Suddenly, I had attachments where rules didn’t fit anymore. My paranoia was off the charts; I could feel myself wanting to push them away, yet they were good, kind people. I was convinced my management team had manipulated me to telling other staff members so they now had a clear rationale for not promoting me – that I would not be able to manage the emotional side of promotion.
My self-loathing was having a field day just for how I was thinking about them before I’d even made yet more bad behavioral decisions, which perpetuated the disgust and lack of connection I continued to experience. I’m not suggesting that talking things through is a bad idea, but the reality, for me at least, is that even total acceptance can bring a negative internal response requiring just as much, if not more, management than perceived rejection and abandonment. It’s a side effect nobody tells you about. Life feels genuinely easier for me if people hate me because they don’t understand, rather than accept me for what I am. And yet, the rational side that disconnects from that feeling knows it’s not a sustainable mindset for life. I left that job in the end — my choice — for progression elsewhere, but I don’t feel I was ever the same once I’d told my colleagues. The flip side is that I also told my closer friends more who didn’t necessarily understand, but it did help my relationships with them when they could see I’m not having a good experience.
But you know, as difficult as BPD is to manage – for men and women – it doesn’t make me a monster. I am passionate. I can be obsessive. As long as I’m aware, then those attributes can be channeled within good behavior. My intense work ethic is driven by my BPD traits. I don’t see the world like other people so I’ll always ask the questions that go against social normality. Sometimes this is unintentionally funny, and other times it helps give a new perspective to existing dogma. It means in relationships I’ll want to spend time with partners. My reflection and empathy means I’ll always be searching for ways to understand how and why my partner feels as they do. I self-sacrifice a lot in order to make others happy. In proportion, this is an excellent quality as I genuinely want to make others happy because I don’t feel it as a sacrifice. My understanding and acceptance of my condition means I am also open to people directly asking if I’m OK when my behavior becomes strange or disproportionate. Sure, there are times when I just need to be on my own and figure things out, but who doesn’t?
I’m a work in progress, we all are, but the key word is progress. So, if a man tells you about his BPD, research the condition and listen to his story before deciding if this is a relationship you can manage. All relationships are two way; all relationships require adaption and compromise. A relationship with a male borderline is no different — the condition doesn’t make them a monster.
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