Perception can be defined as “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something.” All too often conflicts arise between two or more people based on perceptions that may be either real or imagined. In defining my position in the grieving process I am undergoing I described my current state as “angry” and “depressed.” These emotional states of being can influence the perceptions of anyone who is in them, neurotypical (normal) or otherwise. What happens when the perceiver, no matter how intellectual he considers himself, also suffers from borderline personality disorder?
I have worked incredibly hard over the course of the past 26 years to curb many of the signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder (hereafter shortened to BPD). This has included intense self evaluation, intense critical examination by self and others, dialectic behavioral therapy, three suicide attempts, and three hospitalizations. At no point in this process have I been content to let my destructive behaviors rule my life nor ruin the lives of others. In fact the fear that that could happen has often led to increased isolation and suicidal ideation as the thought of hurting others hurts myself more than anything.
Before I continue I want to reiterate that the thesis of this writing is that false perceptions are amplified during states of emotional duress but are amplified further by those suffering from borderline personality disorder. This is not an attempt to excuse any actions I may have taken. Instead it is an attempt to bring them into the proper light so that, perhaps, I can adjust my thinking and perceptions just enough to cause much less damage. This brings me to the first sign of BPD that clearly indicates the negative impact I can have on even those I love the most — extreme reactions. These extreme reactions can include panic, rage, frantic actions, and real or perceived abandonment. In my essay on grief I essentially accused the woman I love more than anything else in the world of abandoning me. In my mind that abandonment was tantamount to all the other abandonment I had suffered in 39 years of life. Needless to say this was an extreme reaction. In my grief I panicked. I went into an internal rage. I took a frantic action and wrote about my process but included extreme reactions. This is textbook BPD. At least in this case it appears that the prudent action I must take is to pause.
Pausing is something that had been introduced by Her on several occasions. In the worst of our fights, which were few and far between, they escalated due to my refusal to pause. The pause is abnormal to me. The pause means, on a twisted and unclear level, that I am allowing the abandoner to be in control of what is about to happen to me. That is an unrealistic perception and one that needs to change. The pause must be reintroduced into my thinking.
My life has also been characterized by “a pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation).” This sign defines a 39 year history of relationships. I idealized my best friend into a Christ-like figure. I have idealized woman I have been romantically interested in placing them on undeserved pedestals. I have then devalued each and every one of them including accusing my best friend of being an anti-christ figure. With the most recent woman I have tried to curb that as best as I could. I wanted to be realistic about why I loved her and why I placed her in such high regard. I can tell you that for the most part I did a great job with that. She was deserving of the praise because of her nurturing ways, den mother-like protection, and ability to see me for who I was and love me despite my clear and present flaws. In the anger stage of my grief I could see myself beginning to devalue her. She sensed that in my last writing and rightly confronted me on it. For me getting over grief has always seemed to include turning the object of my grief into a monster. This method is great for short term resolution of grief but unfortunately leads to more damage rather than complete healing. I want to change that. In this case it appears that the prudent action I must take is that of recognition.
I must recognize a thing for what it is. Some relationships are just fun. Some are stepping stones to other relationships. Some are simply friendships. Some are like siblings. I can do this, but it takes a very long time for me. With my ex-wife it felt quicker. Our marriage actually began to fall apart three years into it, so the last three years were likely where I started coming to those realizations. The woman I dated immediately after was definitely just rebound fun, but I idealized her into something more and then devalued her when I was done. Perhaps by combining “recognition” with “pausing” I can begin to view relationships more realistically while in them so that I avoid idealization and devaluation. In that case perhaps this most recent breakup is good for me. It is definitely a pause.
Another textbook symptom is the “distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, opinions, values, or plans and goals for the future.” Imagine going through grief with a self-image that fluctuates regularly between self-confidence and self-loathing. This creates a very sharp misperception of events. Pride sometimes swells to indicate that there is no way that I am at the source of the breakup. Then when self-loathing sets in the only option is that I am the source of the breakup. The rollercoaster ride begins, the pattern of success and failure, love and loss sets in, suicidal ideation becomes the natural side effect of that distortion. Again I feel that pause and recognition are the prudent actions I must take.
If I can take a moment to pause when there is a “sudden change in feelings,” then perhaps I can recognize that what I am undergoing is attributed to a mental disorder that I must rewire in order to live like a normal human being. I must not react immediately. Pause. Find your center. Breathe. Now let’s reassess the situation and recognize it for what it is.
Perceptions can be changed, too, when one feels “chronic feelings of emptiness and/or boredom.” In my support group I have described these feelings in detail. Imagine being with the people you love the most — your kids, your closest friends, your wife, and feeling hollow. You feel like an empty vessel and nothing satisfies the connection. When I feel empty I cannot connect to another’s feelings in the same way that I can when I do not have that feeling of emptiness. With Her the moment we separated the emptiness set in. This led to the depression that followed. That depression, as described above, influenced my perceptions of the situation that we currently find ourselves in. This is the current state I have little insight on how to resolve.
How does one fill one’s self with something intangible? One suggestion is to begin doing routine things that have some meaning to me. I do that. I am writing. I am trying to start exercising. I am trying to socialize. The connections are not being made. The emptiness remains. It is a common emptiness. It isn’t caused by her. I felt it many times even spending time with my children long before I met her. This is the resolution I need. This is the resolution I am desperate for.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) mundane events can trigger symptoms and people with BPD can feel angry over the smallest separations like vacations and business trips. We can even see anger in generally neutral faces and provide harsher reactions to words that have negative meanings than those without BPD. This is something I have rarely been able to vocally communicate properly to my friends and loved ones. I have expressed the additional need for reminders of love and care while they are gone, but I do not think the need was properly understood as I had not been able to equate directly to my disorder. Every year my best friend goes on a two week trip to a martial arts camp. He’s completely out of communication during that time. Despite having built 26 years of trust with him my emotions rise and this is a very difficult time. The same thing happens with my kids. Each year they spent the summer with their mother in various far off states. Every year my emotions rose and any lack of contact drove my stress levels through the roof. I felt justified in these feelings at the time as there was a precedent for them not being sent back, but regardless it was a common feeling. Now I’m in the midst of a breakup with a woman whom I love and who loves me back even though we are apart. I have every reason to trust in her process and believe in what she is doing and why she is doing it. The silence and distance, however, drive me near to insanity. It isn’t her fault. It’s the disorder and my lack of training in how to cope with it. In many situations I might be able to say that I just have to trust. In this situation that is a little harder as this could result in our never seeing each other again. With my best friend and with my kids there was technically always the assurance that I would see them again. Despite that I still overreacted. Thus it is that my reactions are irrationally overboard in regards to the breakup because there is no such assurance. And I will not demand such assurances of her either. I need to cope with the disorder and not force others to work around it.
As I sit here reading the NIMH web site regarding BPD I see suggestions on how loved ones can help someone with BPD. The NIMH encourages the offer of emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement. I believe, based on how I have dealt with this over the last 39 years, that that is an incredible amount to ask for. No one deserves the type of instability that I, as someone with BPD, can inflict on them. She has told me so many times that I am an amazing man and my hope was, after writing this article, that I would discover that was really true. In truth I have become more keenly aware that my actions and perceptions impact others far more than anticipated. Then again, what frame of mind am I in now?