The Contradiction That Defines Part of Borderline Personality Disorder
One of the defining characteristics of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a contradiction — the push-pull mechanic that many people with the disorder find themselves using subconsciously. It’s so common that a famous book written about BPD is called “I Hate You — Don’t Leave Me.” Love/hate. Can’t live with you/can’t live without you. It has its basis in the black and white thinking that is also typical of BPD. No gray areas. Things are either one extreme or the other, not in the middle. This contradiction is no different, but we can experience both extremes at the same time, or flip between them often.
From the outside, our behavior around this probably looks pretty confusing. We may freak out at the thought of you leaving, but tell you that you are smothering us if you get too close. We may get angry if you don’t reply to a text message, but if you text us we may take ages to reply or not reply at all or tell you to leave us alone. It probably feels like you can’t win.
Please understand it’s confusing from the inside, too. It’s probably one of the things I find hardest about living with the illness. I don’t experience the contradiction that often, but when I am struggling the most, it rears its head. I sit next to my phone, getting upset that no one is texting me. Why does no one care how I feel? Why does no one ask how I am? They must all hate me. Then, I get a text message from a friend asking how I am. I look at my phone with hatred. Why can’t people just leave me alone?
I’ve been going through a bad patch recently and I am aware I have been experiencing these contradictory feelings. I’ve tried to cling to people too much and I’ve also tried to push them away. I’ve cycled between these two things often. I’ve sat at home, sick from work, crying because no one contacted me and asked how I am. But I’ve also deleted my WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger apps so people can’t get in touch with me so easily, because I can’t bear to talk to anyone. I’ve started conversations at work over Skype with my friend who sits next to me because I want someone to care. But halfway through the conversation, I start to panic because I suddenly don’t want to talk. I want to be alone. But I am the one who started the conversation.
Over Christmas, I had the flu and texted a couple of friends. Neither of them replied and then I deleted all my contacts out of my phone. I wanted people to care and it felt like they didn’t, so I decided I didn’t want anyone and deleted all their numbers so I couldn’t contact them. I shut myself up in my room and could barely even talk to my wife. Part of me yearned so badly to talk to someone about how I was feeling, and part of me couldn’t bear to talk to anyone at all.
When I am like this, I do need to have time off work sometimes, because the push/pull behaviors I engage in with my colleagues is exhausting for me and I am overcome with shame, thinking how annoyed they must be with me. My behavior affects both me and my colleagues and makes it difficult for me to work. It’s difficult to work with people, to be in meetings with them, when half of you wants to pull them closer, cling to them and get their attention, and the other half of you wants to be alone, to be away from these people. I worry my behavior at these times is just going to drive all my friends away.
It’s hard to give advice about what I need at these times. Understanding, I guess. Patience. A non-judgmental attitude. I know it must be difficult when I get like this, but try to think how difficult it is for me, the one experiencing the contradictory feelings. Let me know you are there for me if I want to talk, but that you understand if I feel I need to isolate myself at times.
Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash