I’m uncomfortable talking about disorders, as those labels can be a glib way for the psychological community to say ‘don’t do that, don’t be like that’. However, there is a useful line of thought around Borderline personality Disorder (BPD) as a cluster of behaviours which go together, and inconvenience the sufferer, as well as those around them.
As Randi Kreger says: “People with borderline personality disorder see people as all good or all bad and have extreme, blink-of-an-eye mood swings. Their fear of abandonment, combined with feelings of emptiness and self-loathing, makes others feel like they’re constantly walking on eggshells.
“Some borderline individuals are suicidal and self-harm. Other rage, criticize, and make wild accusations. People with BPD suffer, and so do those around them. About a third of people with BPD also have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD); they are especially unwilling to look at themselves and their own behavior.”
I want to talk about this feeling of constantly walking on eggshells, and what a friend or family member can do to work with the situation.
Randi Kreger offers five types of fight which may be familiar (you can read more here). I’ll call the sufferer ‘them’.
- They make it your fault, because to admit they are less than perfect is too painful.
- They blame you whatever action you choose – they cannot be appeased.
- They blame you for traits that they are exhibiting and can’t see in themselves (projection).
- They overwhelm you, you move away, and then they claim they are being abandoned.
- They imply strongly ‘if you love me, you will tolerate me and comply’.
If this is happening to you, what can be done to protect yourself?
If you want a longer answer, see the great chatty video by Randi Kreger in this link.
But, in short, you need to be a bit of a strategist in setting limits. In particular, Randi’s five Cs are great:
- Clarify your limits (especially, make sure you are clear in your own mind what you want, and why)
- Calculate the costs and benefits of those limits (and remember the benefits when things get tough)
- Come up with consequences (to reinforce the right behaviour)
- Consider possible outcomes (in particular, be strategically prepared for the worst case)
- Obtain a consensus (i.e. gain their buy-in if you possibly can)
The biggest mistake people make is to have no consequences. For someone used to pushing boundaries, this means that they have licence to ignore limits.
You have to be prepared to take action if the right behaviour isn’t respected.
For those who want to hear more, there is much more detail in the book The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder (link here). Very clearly written, and worth a read.