Mechanism of relationship with BPD

Why do so many untreated BPD/non relationships end on bad terms (often with no real need to be so)?

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Jay Dee

Jay Dee, former therapistAnswered Sep 6, 2019

Brian James cranked out a pretty comprehensive answer, so I may be carrying coals to Newcastle by adding another discouraging disquisition. Pardon the digression, but I just remembered one of my favorite bad jokes: Two antelopes are grazing on the range when, suddenly, a cowboy comes riding up. The cowboy takes a good look at the antelopes and says, “You are two of the ugliest antelopes I’ve ever seen in my life.” Shortly thereafter, one of the antelopes turns to the other and says, “Well, we finally heard a discouraging word.”

I wish I had better news for the sake of comity (and comedy), but a relationship with an untreated Borderline is probably not going to provide the peace, love, and understanding that Elvis Costello once envisioned, regardless of the BPD’s insistence on the importance of such effervescent tropes.

As a general rule, extraordinary levels of idealization are going to end with extraordinary levels of devaluation whenever the Alex Forrest Ferris wheel, or the Elliot Baker tilt-a-whirl, becomes unbolted in the Cluster B amusement park. According to our friends in the department of neuroscience, the Borderline’s anterior cingulate cortex does not have enough regulatory headroom for smooth transitions, and you will undoubtedly experience this deficit with front-row tickets during periods of inconvenience, narcissistic injury, or need frustration. Evocation with unbridled passion is perhaps the greatest interpersonal communication skill that people with BPD have going for them, but this emotional powerhouse comes with a menacing finale that will eviscerate the initial sugar high. Wish fulfillment during early stages of the relationship only exacerbates the Borderline’s internal fantasy structure and never satisfies trauma resolution. Why? Because a faultless relationship is not real. Borderlines essentially yearn for the very thing that perpetuates their pathology.

One of the primary reasons why these relationships sour with such theatrical mayhem is based on an expectation/reassurance ratio. In the beginning of the relationship cycle, there is a distribution curve that cannot be seen or understood by their unsuspecting partner. The curve always begins with ostensibly reasonable expectations by the pwBPD, coupled with an invigorating desire by their partner to fulfill those expectations (borderlines can present themselves in such a compelling manner during first encounters that you’d have to be a total asshole to ignore their seemingly understandable predicaments, desperation, and unambiguous need for “love”). In addition, idealization done right is often indistinguishable from genuine appreciation during the honeymoon phase—it’s only in retrospect that the NT will notice that something was out of alignment. The ramp towards the top of the expectation curve starts off at about 15 mph in the neighborhood of need. But, without warning, the BPD’s carriage of instability can rapidly accelerate to 90 mph and beyond in an unregulated pedestrian zone. Sadly, the reassurance wagon is not designed to endure such velocity. Every person with BPD has their own pace in relation to need acquisition, or “style” of urgency, and the period of sustainable parity can sometimes last for weeks, months, or even years before the wheels come off. However, when the train has left the rails, you will know. The partner of the pwBPD will believe, with every bit of their misguided heart, that this heroic project can be accomplished; but, in most cases, it’s a hazardous mirage. The ratio is heavily weighted, and the distribution curve will deviate into a realm of impossible standards that climb higher and move faster, faster, and faster. The emotional exhaustion of the Borderline’s partner will inevitably lead to a state of confusion, hypervigilance, and desperation that mimics the mind of their Cluster B companion. Denouement never arrives, and the scene of the accident is profoundly unsettling.

In the end, all that remains is desire, incredulity, and despair. The gauntlet of expectation always decimates the rescue raft of reassurance, and the roiling currents of BPD rage will drown the former buoyancy, excitement, and scenic view that the couple experienced during the beginning of their adventure.

There are no life preservers available for enduring this type of experience, and most of your acquaintances will never believe or understand your story if you make it to dry ground. So, if you ever encounter untreated Cluster Bs in your romantic future, start paddling.

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