From time to time I see searches appear in my WordPress stats that mention a female with borderline personality disorder in a relationship with a not-so-kind male. The searches say things like “I have BPD and my boyfriend is a psychopath”, “BPD women, narcissist male”, “BPD and my husband is evil”, “BPD with psychotic husband” and the like. The search phrases reminded me of when I first began dialectical behavioral therapy and my doctor asked me if I was safe at home. I was a little surprised at the question, and said, “Of course I’m safe.” She then went on to explain that a lot of women with BPD tend to be involved in abusive relationships. After going over my search terms recently, I started wondering about the other person in the relationship with the BPD woman. Are women with borderline personality disorder more likely to be partnered with an abusive male, or do the women with BPD just THINK the man they are with is nasty and evil?
Both of those possibilities make sense to me. Of course a person who was abused (mentally, sexually, physically) as a child is more likely to suffer abuse as an adult. They have a lowered view of self-worth and think that because they experienced this abuse in the past that they must deserve it, or that it is normal behavior. If raised in an unstable family environment, they may not even know what is acceptable in a relationship and what is not. People with borderline personality disorder have impulse-control issues and tend to jump into intense relationships very quickly. They almost become addicted to the person they are in a relationship with and cannot think about living without them; even if that person is abusive towards them. I have also heard it said that the pain and horror you KNOW is easier to face than what is UNKNOWN. I can imagine it would be scary to leave even an abusive partner and go out into the world not knowing what may happen to you next.
The other possibility is that the person in the relationship with BPD may be experiencing black and white thinking, or splitting. They may see their partner as kind and loving one minute, but evil and malicious the next. Splitting is also referred to as “all or nothing thinking”, and can, understandably, cause instability in relationships. I have oftentimes experienced splitting. One minute I’ll be thinking that Jay is the most wonderful man in the world and wondering how I got so lucky. Then he will say something HORRIBLE, like “Do you need creamer for your coffee?”, and I will be SURE that he is an evil monster intent on destroying my self-esteem and going out of his way to make my life miserable, and I will wonder how I can get away without him killing me (and no, I have never been physically threatened by Jay).
Another part of having borderline personality disorder is misinterpreting things. Things people say. Things people do. The way people even look at you. I know that there are innumerable times throughout the day that I think Jay is saying something nasty and mean, only to find out he meant nothing of the sort. I have to keep reminding myself that my inward view of myself isn’t terribly great, so I tend to interpret things others say and do to match how I see myself. For a long time this caused major problems in Jay’s and my relationship. It’s hard to build up trust when you feel like everything the other person says is directed negatively at you.
To sum it up, either option is a possibility, and I’m sure both occur. I’m not sure which is more prevalent, whether the person with BPD tends to more easily get caught up in an abusive relationship as an adult, or if they just view most words and actions from their partner as malevolent. Either way it’s obviously something a lot of borderlines struggle with. I know that unstable interpersonal relationships are sign of having borderline personality disorder, probably for both of these reasons.
I was trying to end this by giving advice for what to do if you think you may be in an abusive relationship. As I was writing it, though, I realized that I’m not really qualified to give that advice. The ending also sounded a little fake and insincere. For years, and probably now even still, I have had people think that I was in an abusive relationship with Crazy Jay. I wasn’t, but I understand why people thought what they did. Basically, each person needs to do what is right for them. Do what you need to do to be happy. If you are in a relationship that makes you unhappy for any reason, you need to decide if you want to stay in that relationship as it is, fix it, or get out.