BPD and Manipulation

We all know that borderlines have a reputation for being manipulative. It’s a pretty pervasive (and inaccurate) stereotype. There’s a lot to be said about it, but I don’t want this post to get too lengthy. So I’m just going to address a couple of things.

I have heard and read people say that borderlines will use suicide threats to get attention or to get what they want. For example, if they can’t get their therapist to talk to them or if a significant other talks about breaking up with them, a person with BPD might say they want to kill themselves. This is viewed as manipulative, as a tactic for getting our way.

I can’t speak for all borderlines, but that has NEVER been the case for me. What actually happens is that a situation that might not seem extreme to someone else truly does make me want to kill myself. I can remember a time several years ago when I got into an argument with my boyfriend at the time. I ended up crying and my ex-boyfriend refused to discuss the subject anymore because he thought I was upset over something stupid. Being told that I was upset over nothing caused me to escalate further. Then he said he didn’t want to be around me until I was over my crying fit. I wanted to know if he still loved me and if he forgave me. He told me those were ridiculous questions and left the apartment. His leaving while angry at me and the fact that he wouldn’t say that he loved me and forgave me sent me over the edge. While he was gone I became increasingly anxious and could not calm myself down. I was terrified of being abandoned, I hated myself for screwing everything up, I hated him for not understanding me and refusing to reassure me, and I felt completely hopeless about ever getting better. I wanted my life to be over. I was suicidal.

Of course when I texted my ex boyfriend and said I wanted to die, he said he didn’t want to talk to me and that I was just trying to get out of the situation.

I think that people just don’t understand that people with BPD truly feel things at an overwhelming intensity much of the time. If someone gets irritated at us and we burst into tears, we’re not crying to get out of accepting responsibility for our actions or to get the other person to feel sorry for us. We’re crying out of intense guilt or fear of the other person hating us or self-loathing or anger at ourselves for screwing up again.

I think part of the reason for the misunderstanding is that non-borderlines see us having big reactions to what they have decided are not big situations and they assume we have manipulative intentions. People aren’t always very good at understanding the functions of behavior. But when a kid has what we consider to be an overreaction to something, do we automatically think the kid is attempting to manipulate us? No. We just think they’re being a kid.

Sometimes, of course, kids are trying to play a situation. There’s a difference between a child throwing a tantrum when they don’t get a candy bar because they know their parent will eventually give in, and a kid crying because they are afraid of thunderstorms. Kids get upset over things that most adults don’t. Children cry more than adults; they are afraid more than adults. We might think they overreact or freak out over silly things, but we don’t think that makes them manipulative.

I don’t mean to infantilize those with borderline personality disorder, but the principle is kind of the same. Maybe the things that upset a person with BPD are trivial to non-borderlines. Maybe our reactions seem out of proportion. That doesn’t have to equal manipulation and wicked intentions. I’m not crazy about the idea of someone being dismissive of things that are important to me and cause me pain, but it’s better than being treated like I’m manipulative.

Again, I can’t speak for all borderlines. I’m sure some people with BPD are manipulative  at times. But I don’t think the stereotype is deserved.


What Goes Through My Head Before A Party

Last Saturday I went to a surprise birthday party for a friend I went to college with. I’d known about the party for a few weeks and most of the people there were going to be people I went to college with and their spouses. My best friend of 21 years was also there. I was really looking forward to it.

I got extremely anxious beforehand anyway. A lot of people don’t understand that it’s possible to want to do something very much and still be anxious and nervous about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve expressed anxiety about something only to be told, “Then don’t do it,” or “So stay home.” But it’s not that simple. Sometimes I do just want to stay home, but other times I want to do the thing. Anxiety doesn’t care, though. It still shows up.

I was asked to bring an appetizer sort of thing, and I wanted to contribute, but I am a horrible cook so it ended up being a source of stress for me. Because of that and other factors, I cried several times before the party.

Just in case anyone is reading this who doesn’t experience social anxiety, here are some of the things that went through my head before and during the party. Maybe it’ll make it a little easier to understand why those of us who deal with this get weepy, irritable, tense or quiet before social situations.

  1. If I cook something and it sucks I’ll end up crying and staying home.
  2. If I take something store-bought it will seem like I don’t care.
  3. Everyone else is going to look so pretty and cool. I’ll be the fattest and ugliest one there.
  4. C and M always have really cool clothes on. My clothes are so boring.
  5. If I wear long sleeves will it be weird since it’s so hot outside? If I wear short sleeves people will see my scars and think bad stuff about me.
  6. What if the lights are too bright or the air freshener makes me sick? Everyone will think I’m a baby if I say I’m sick and leave early.
  7. BFF didn’t answer my texts. She’s probably just hanging on to our friendship out of guilt and a sense of nostalgia. I’m probably so annoying and she’s tired of me talking about my feelings every time we converse.
  8. I’ll be the only one there who isn’t married. I’m not married yet because I have BPD and I’m bad and shitty and unlovable. Are they going to figure that out? Will I be an outsider?
  9. I haven’t seen some of these people in years. I don’t know what I’m going to say. They see each other more often. I’m going to get left out.
  10. What if I trip and fall or break something?
  11. What if I clog the toilet?
  12. My boyfriend is going to spend the whole time thinking about how much funnier, prettier, smarter, cooler, and more confident the other girls there are.
  13. Why would he want to be with me, especially when I have BPD and I’m so anxious about this?
  14. My hair looks stupid.
  15. I still suck at doing make  up.
  16. What if there’s an earthquake or a tornado and I die away from home?
  17. What if someone asks when we are going to get married? I’ll cry from embarrassment.
  18. I’m going to panic if the house is too crowded and loud.
  19. Everything I say sounds so dumb and annoying.
  20. People don’t really want me around.

I know these don’t sound like the thoughts of someone who wants to be at a party, but I truly did. I loved seeing my friends and their spouses. Three of them have children and playing with them was so cool. We laughed a lot and reminisced and talked about our lives now. If I could turn off the worry and anxiety, I would, but I don’t have that ability yet.

I think most of the thoughts are caused by a mixture of self-esteem and fear of abandonment. Others are pure fear, like being afraid of dying away from home. Sometimes being social isn’t worth the anxiety for me, but this time it was.