This is the third article in my series about codependency and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a match made in hell. In my previous articles I discussed what codependency and BPD are and how they play off each other to make a chaotic relationship that doesn’t know boundaries. I also talked about how the BPD has a tendency to change her mind quickly and how the codependent enables that.
When I discuss BPD and other cluster B personality disorders with people, they often see certain traits in themselves. People commonly ask me if they are BPD if they show some of these traits. The answer is no. I often use the analogy of making a cake. If you have eggs and flour and put them together, you do not have a cake, it needs more ingredients. If a person has one or two traits, that doesn’t make a BPD, it just means they have traits. And frankly, all of us have some traits consistent with a cluster B personality disorder, it’s when you put so many of them together that makes a person borderline or narcissistic.
One common and undeniable trait that is commonly found with borderlines is their tendency to self-harm and attempt suicide. It is extremely common for someone with BPD to self-harm; mostly often this comes in the form of cutting but can take other forms too such as picking at pimples and scabs, hair pulling or burning. Borderlines get overwhelmed with emotion and I have heard it described as trying to manage 12 to 15 strong emotions at any given time. Everything that comes down their path is an emotional roller coaster, they are unable to keep their emotions out of anything. I have often described this to codependents by asking them to imagine the most overwhelming and distressing moments of their life and then imagine feeling that way almost everyday.
These extreme moments of being overwhelmed drive people to suicidal thoughts and behavior whether they are borderline or not. It just happens more often for someone with BPD. Self-harm is it’s own thing in itself but for those who have done it report that it seems to give them a sense of emotional release and relief. For some reason, it has a calming effect. People with BPD often seem to figure this out, even at young ages. As they get older, the emotional intensity seems to increase; likely as a result of continued failure, abandonment and frustration.
When I was working on a psychiatric hospital unit, we frequently had patients who had been diagnosed with BPD and had been placed there because of a suicide attempt or because they told people they were going to commit suicide. Granted, many of these suicide attempts seem to be so called pseudo attempts and were likely a cry for help or an act of desperation. However, it’s not uncommon to hear of a borderline who has completed suicide. They are a high risk demographic. They are impulsive and tend to decide on a suicide attempt quickly, on the fly. It’s not usually something they have planned. It happens because the current situation is overwhelming.
When she is exhibiting suicidal words and actions, this is where you always see the codependent turn up. She believes that it is his fault she is feeling that way and blames him for her actions. The truth of healthy living and relationships is that each person is ultimately responsible for their own feelings and actions. People with BPD can be quite aggressive when they blame a codependent. They become extremely angry and claim that it is the fault of those around her, especially the codependent that it is his fault that this has happened. I have memories from the hospital floor of a BPD patient on the phone, furious, that the person on the other end of the phone put them there and how it was their fault.
As a codependent, he almost always buys into these lines. He believes that it is his job to make sure she’s stable, happy and safe. A certain codependent male that I know has often said “I just want her to be stable.” What he fails to see is that it’s not his job to make her stable but also that there’s nothing he can do to make her be stable. Only she can make that choice for herself and until she does, she will continue to be unstable and he will continue to take the blame.
If we really think about it. Making somebody happy is being controlling and is an attempt to control. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t really “make” anybody do anything. Years of working with troubled teenagers taught me this lesson repeatedly. Some teenagers will exercise free will no matter what the penalty is just because they are determined to make their own choice. They would often say “you can’t make me” and my response became “you’re right, I can’t, nor do I want to try.” Can you imagine the effort it would take to “make” somebody do something? If you really think about what it means to “make” somebody be happy, it’s a complete myth because each and every person ultimately can choose how they feel about certain thing or situation even though they understand this simple basic truth.
In fact, this seems to be common with someone who has BPD or another cluster B personality disorder. They choose to look at every single thing through a negative lense. No matter what the codependent does to try to make them happy, they find themselves feeling frustrated because it’s a goal that just can’t be accomplished. While at the same time, the codependent doesn’t realize that if he was able to make her happy and keep her that way, he’d lose his sense of identity and purpose. On a subconscious level, someone with BPD or narcissistic personality disorder can’t provide approval because that is giving away their power. In a sense, they lose the higher ground and they feel like they are losing their advantage over the codependent.
When you think about this complex dynamic, it becomes apparent that it is very difficult to achieve a balance. The relationship is constant chaos. The accountability dynamic is so out of balance. The BPD blames the codependent for everything and the codependent takes all the blame. One of the hardest humps for a codependent to get over in this relationship is that if she ends up hurting or killing herself, it’s not his fault. Codependents have an extremely difficult time putting this accountability ball into her court and walking away. What he needs to realize that as long as she thinks he is the one responsible for her safety, she is unable to make her own choices in keeping herself safe.
For more information, be sure to read my next article in my series – A match made in hell: Codependents and Borderline Personality Disorder. If you are codependent or borderline, there is help. You must recognize that you are the agent of your own change and nobody else. If you are tired of repeating the same destructive patterns in your life, change is possible. You can take your life back, hope is not lost. Contact me today for a free consultation on counseling services that work.