A match made in hell – Codependency and Borderline Personality Disorder
I believe that part of being a good therapist has a lot to do with recognizing and noticing patterns. Noticing particular patterns helps determine the correct diagnosis which helps to provide effective treatment. I have found that the faster I can recognize a pattern, the quicker I can provide the most effective treatment for that individual. A few years ago I started to notice a certain pattern and have since invested time and energy defining this interesting pattern.
It began when I had spent some time in a local men’s self-help support group called No more mister nice guy, based on a book by doctor Robert Glover. “Nice guys” are the type of guys that bend over backwards to please others, especially their wives and girlfriends. In my time spent with so called nice guys and in therapy with them, I have come to believe that so called nice guys and their behaviors are very much in line men who are codependent. Now, codependency has it’s own definition and comes in a couple different forms though the patterns are generally the same. It’s a complicated set of behaviors that revolve around taking care of others and needing to be needed. I have seen hundreds, literally, of nice guys who place their own wants and needs on hold in an attempt to make others happy. Codependents have a strong tendency to latch onto people who have a lot of problems. Most commonly, they usually have a loved one who has an addiction to drugs and alcohol that they take care of. Codependents are notorious for taking accountability for the person that they are codependent with while secretly harboring resentment towards others for not recognizing their seemingly altruistic intentions and actions. In reality, there is a dark side to codependency and the short of it is, they care take the problemed individual in order to fill their own need to feel important and in the process they fail to see and understand that they are actually causing harm to the person they are care taking. Sometimes the harm they cause is quite significant and they fail to see that they are enabling bad behavior or an addiction and thereby keeping the other person sick. For example, a codependent might drive an alcoholic to the liquor store or they might pay a person’s bills after they used the money they had to buy drugs. Codependents do these things because they believe that they are actually helping this person and often don’t realize that they have selfish motivations.
A few years ago, I started noticing that nice guys showed a different kind of codependency and many of the men who were attending this group often had a strong common denominator; they were in long term relationships with women who had borderline personality disorder. Granted, this isn’t the case all the time. But it has popped up so frequently that I realized that it shouldn’t be ignored. Since then, I have determined and established a pattern for these kinds of relationships. So called codependent nice guys have a tendency to get into relationships with women who have borderline personality disorder and vice versa. With the help of a friend who is a recovered borderline, I have since also come to the conclusion that these relationships are matches made in hell. The basic truth of these relationships is that the codependent nice guy and the borderline keep each other sick. At first glance, both sides of this relationship usually disagree, here are the basics of why I believe this to be true. First, let’s talk about the codependent nice guys.
Codependent nice guys:
As stated before, Dr. Robert Glover wrote a book about the so called nice guy. His book is quite comprehensive; you can tell that he has really done his work. According to him, nice guys are the kind of guys that work to appear without wants or needs. They are classic care takers, bending over backwards to not only fix problems but also avoid them and taking full responsibility for them. They are driven by an insatiable need to prove their value through doing everything and being everything. Nice guys are rescuers, they love broken women because they believe if they can fix and rescue her, he will actually have value as a person. This is a myth and a fallacy. Human beings often chase the need to prove something and when they finally do, it leaves them feeling empty and on a new quest to prove something new and different. It’s a never ending rat race that cannot be won. Codependent nice guys are caretaking white knights to a fault. It’s extremely common to see a codependent do things for people that they can do for themselves and thus crippling them by taking away their personal power. Once when I was leading a discussion about caretaking in the men’s group, a group member raised his hand and said that he cut the meat for his borderline girlfriend and wondered if that was caretaking. You may think I’m making this example up, I assure you that I am not. When he confirmed that she had hands and fingers and was not a drooling vegetable, the group agreed that this was most definitely an example of caretaking; doing something for her that she can do for herself. It was interesting to watch him defend this behavior. “She’s not very good at it,” he pleaded, trying to prove that he wasn’t guilty of this behavior. “If I don’t cut it for her, she chokes on it.”
So what’s the problem with codependent behavior? Even though on the surface it looks altruistic and helpful, codependency is actually quite insidious. They have a tendency to do everything for everybody and then take the role of the victim when the are mistreated. By taking on the problems of others, they place themselves in harm’s way and then cry foul. They enable bad behaviors in others and then are secretly resentful when they aren’t looked at like a hero. When they enable bad behaviors, they view the enabling as helping that person and adopt the label of being helpful when they are actually hurting that individual and then feeling resentful when they aren’t praised as a hero. In truth, codependency is rooted in a deep selfishness. Codependents are not altruistic, they don’t help people because helping people is good, they help people so that they will get something out of it. The negative enabling occurs because of the selfish motives. If they really were altruistic, they would see that their enabling behaviors actually hurt the other person instead of helping them. In circumstances where the person they are enabling does get help and improve their lives so that they no longer look to the codependent to take responsibility, the codependent feels lost. If the codependent isn’t enabling somebody, they essentially lose their identity and the result is usually one of two things. They continue to work at care taking the same individual and secretly wish they were still sick or they find someone else to take care of entirely. If the person they are enabling actually gets better, they don’t feel happy or satisfied with the outcome, they feel lost and out of place. They find themselves feeling surprisingly empty when they find themselves in this circumstance because if they aren’t caretaking, they lose their identity.
Individuals with borderline personality disorder or (BPD):
If you’ve ever encountered a person with BPD, you have undoubtedly learned that they are quite difficult to deal with and be around. They experience severe emotional instability due to several factors that occurred while they were growing and developing. They are hyper sensitive to emotions and have never learned to regulate or stabilize their emotions. Day in and day out they make decisions based on their current emotional state which creates a state of neurosis and erratic behaviors. Codependents quickly and easily latch onto borderlines because they really do have a history of trauma and problems. When you are in the business of fixing and saving people like the codependent is, a borderline seems like a dream come true. She can really be a fixer upper. Borderlines have proven to be exceptionally difficult to treat and traditional therapy methods have proven to have limited effectiveness. One reason they are not able to get the help they need is because they lack the ability to link the problems in their lives to their own chaotic behaviors. They don’t understand that they lost their job because of their own behaviors and they don’t understand that people keep abandoning them because of their own abusive behaviors towards others. Borderlines are often quite toxic but they can’t seem to recognize that they are toxic. One main reason that borderlines do not get better is that they lack personal accountability. They are not held accountable for their actions especially when they are in a relationship with the codependent. The codependent takes away her accountability because he takes the blame for her problems. He even takes the blame of how she feels. Now think about that. The borderline will never get better or improve as long as there is someone sitting right there taking responsibility for everything including how she feels. She has litterally been taught and trained to believe that her thoughts, actions and emotions are the fault of everyone else. How can she ever find the personal power to get better if she doesn’t even realize that it’s up to her? The answer is simple. She can’t and she won’t.
Another big problem with this relationship is that after awhile, the borderline starts to expect the codependent to automatically dive in and fix all the problems without being asked and in a sense this spoils her. If the pilot light goes out, if the dishes need to be done, she expects him to quickly take care of it without asking or saying thank you. When he doesn’t she’s usually angry with him and accuses him of being things that he’s not because he didn’t immediately take care of it. This results in him not taking care of himself. Everything that he wants or needs takes a back seat because he’s making sure that everything is taken care of.
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.