Conceptions of Borderline Personality Disorder: Intense unstable relationships

As I was just discussing Gunderson’s work I will continue with another of his conceptions of BPD. It’s not necessarily new information, but it’s succinct and gets right to the heart of borderline behavior and thoughts.
Gunderson, a psychoanalyst, is respected by researchers in many diverse areas of psychology and psychiatry. His focus tends to be on the differential diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, and Cauwels gives Gunderson’s criteria in order of their importance:
  • Intense unstable relationships in which the borderline always ends up getting hurt. Gunderson admits that this symptom is somewhat general, but considers it so central to BPD that he says he would hesitate to diagnose a patient as BPD without its presence.
  • Repetitive self-destructive behavior, often designed to prompt rescue.
  • Chronic fear of abandonment and panic when forced to be alone.
  • Distorted thoughts/perceptions, particularly in terms of relationships and interactions with others.
  • Hypersensitivity, meaning an unusual sensitivity to nonverbal communication. Gunderson notes that this can be confused with distortion if practitioners are not careful (somewhat similar to Herman’s statement that, while survivors of intense long-term trauma may have unrealistic notions of the power realities of the situation they were in, their notions are likely to be closer to reality than the therapist might think).
  • Impulsive behaviors that often embarrass the borderline later.
  • Poor social adaptation: in a way, borderlines tend not to know or understand the rules regarding performance in job and academic settings.

Intense. Unstable. Relationships. In which the borderline always ends up getting hurt. Why am I repeating this? Because it’s true. The inability to regulate emotional control does not allow for a borderline to maintain emotional safeguards. Whether the issues that arise are due to the other person or internal (or external) conflict brought about by someone with BPD, it is all felt internally, as an emotional attack. With no way to shield from {self} inflicted damage, no protective emotional layer, it’s nearly impossible for someone with BPD to escape unscathed from a relationship. Any amount of change, fear of abandonment, or even perceived excessive closeness can disrupt the fragile stability that a borderline holds to. This can cause an almost simultaneous fight, flight and fear response. When emotions run so intensely there is an inner conflict of needing to protect oneself and needing to be protected. Wanting someone close, and needing space in order to not get hurt. Especially after several relationships of always getting hurt and expectations that this will continue. When someone gets too close the need to run away, push away, pull back to preserve the tenuous sense of self is increasingly strong. To not let someone close enough to hurt them again, is even stronger. In order to do this someone with BPD may lash out, pick a fight, or any number of ways to fend off a suffocating closeness – to fight free.  If not immediately, soon after, these feelings are replaced with fear, panic at the thought of being alone. The need to regain what could be lost forever if it is not won back right away. Emotional displays, promises, intense affection, apologies, anything to regain what a borderline fears to lose may be done to regain an emotional stability. It’s difficult for someone without BPD to understand this intense clash of emotions, and even more difficult to deal with at times. Someone who doesn’t understand what is going on is likely to respond in kind to whatever action is being taken. Someone with BPD, in the moments of panic, cannot always internalize their own role in what is happening. They can only feel what is being directed at them compounded on top of their already unstable emotions. Even if the non-BPD person tries to do the opposite; be kind, understanding, it may also be met with conflicting emotions. A borderline will feel even more smothered, increasing the need to run, making him/her feel even more misunderstood because what they need is not being recognized. The rub though, is that someone with BPD doesn’t always recognize what it is that they need. They only feel that someone/thing is wrong or too much or detrimental or out of their reach without knowing how to rationally work to fix this.  The result is an intensely fluxuating relationship of needing to be close and safe and needing to preserve a sense of self… to be safe.

I wasn’t originally going to discuss each of these criteria on their own, but while writing this I realize I  have too many thoughts on many of these points so I’ll make this a multi-part series.

6 comments on “Conceptions of Borderline Personality Disorder: Intense unstable relationships

  1. Kinda the issue I'm dealing with now. Got super attached to my bf but then started pushing him away for now reason (I think I had a reason at the time…), eventually pushed him too much and when he got tired of putting up with all of it and left- it was the worst pain ever. No one understands it, and I can't explain it to anyone, or why I felt it so severely. An ache in the depths of the core of my soul. For no reason. Normal people don't experience break ups like that. You would think my child had died or something lol.Not a laughing matter, but anyway- yeah. Definitely agree with every word. And because of this past relationship I know for sure that I will NEVER allow myself to get close to or even remotely attach to anyone again, because there's no way I could handle that feeling again. It's never quite gone away. It's an endless cycle. This intense pain and the fear of that pain that makes you push away, and the pushing away that leads to being left which is exactly what you were trying to avoid in the first place, which leads to increasing hurt and even more frantic efforts to avoid it again and again.Kinda sucks…Pretty sure I won't ever be able to just ENJOY a relationship with anyone lol.

  2. Ugh. That feeling of the world crashing down on you and making your insides crumble in on themselves. I push a little at first, then get upset with myself, try to make up for it, am forgiven, things are wonderful for a little while, until something sets me off again and I push hard. The cycle keeps repeating until I can’t take it any longer. I either begin to go numb to the person I’m with or dissolve into self-loathing and anger at my significant other. That endless cycle of comfort, joyful, irritation, anger, fear, pain, and abandonment, it never stops. I’m generally the one to leave, at least the first few times. I actually haven’t been in a lot of relationships. I feel more sane when I’m single. I’ve been in that place of NEVER wanting to allow anyone that close to me again. Many, many times. Hah. Every time I swear I’ll never let myself do that again. I purposely choose relationships where getting so attached is not truly possible, and then something changes in me and I start to lose myself to the cycle all over again. It’s infuriating and maddening. There have been a couple instances where I believed I could stay with someone forever, but the circumstances surrounding them… I’d have been a fool to stay.

  3. Yeah, and unfortunately for me, the relationship with the circumstances most set against us (I also haven't been in many), was the one that I most had to deal with blaming myself for every little thing and constantly reliving every mistake I made over and over again. But every once in a while I would kind of remind myself that it probably never could've worked much longer anyway due to circumstances beyond my control. It'd make me feel a LITTLE better. But I'll of course always still blame myself. (Because I didn't have to end it the way I did). Constantly kicking myself over that. Especially since he tried to be so understanding, and even after we broke up, tried to be friends and would check up on me- and I just wouldn't leave it alone until I'd pushed so hard that he would never want to talk to me again. And I told him that that's exactly what would happen.I finally got the point of being able to think it was for the better and trying to be positive about what I learned. But it still creeps back up on me every once in awhile. (I'm very susceptible to dwelling lol).

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