Borderline Personality Anger: One Strike and You’re out among Lovers, Friends or Family

Here’s something I’ve never understood about life among non-BPD people: If Joe gets mad at girlfriend Jane and loses his temper, things seem to resolve themselves within a couple days and they are happily in love again. Similarly, if Friend 1 berates Friend 2 with a barrage of insults, they’re good as new in a week or two. When I get mad just once – justified or not – people tend to completely dismiss me forever. If I make one mistake with someone, it’s over for good. Why does this happen to me with BPD?

YOU got angry? I never thought I’d see it!

Most of my BPD energy is turned inward except when I completely explode. 99% of the time you spend with me I’ll behave normally keeping my uglier emotions well under wraps. Furthermore, even if something particularly upsetting happens to me around others chances are I’ll come off as calm, cool, and collected. If I have room in my emotional bank for more repressed feelings, that’s where the anger that normally would have surfaced gets stockpiled.

The problem occurs when I DO get mad around others. Suddenly, people are stupefied and terrorized. First, they can’t get over the fact that I blew my stack. Second, the way I acted was completely unacceptable. Third, they’re NEVER going to hangout around me again. Period.

In a matter of minutes I’ve completely destroyed relationships with a fit of anger or ill-informed decision making motivated by my Borderline Personality. The next time I see the other person or people involved they want nothing to do with me. They might give me a tepid response to a heartfelt apology, but nearly every time I try to make amends, the damage is seemingly too great to repair.

Is my anger really more appalling than your boyfriend that cheated on you last week? Or is it worse than that guy who T-boned you at the intersection and wrecked your car? How about your so-called BFF that stabbed you in the back? Was I really WORSE than that?

It seems people have little tolerance for my anger but plenty of second chances to offer others.

How do people REALLY resolve anger and disputes? Is it like the movies?

Now this is a subject I could write about for hours, but will summarize very concisely with simple examples. Watch any feature length movie or multi-episode TV series carefully. You’ll no doubt see a lot of disgusting behavior that you would think most people wouldn’t tolerate: Guys cheating on their girlfriends; Gals back-stabbing each other with salacious gossip; Husbands slapping their wives (or vice-versa); Fits of anger; Conniving plots that are selfish and not the least bit motivated by common decency.

And what happens? Well, by then end of the movie or TV show, it seems things are back to normal again; even on those so-called “reality” TV shows that are dumbing down America every time they are broadcast. 😉

Obviously what we see on TV and in the movies is fiction and created for entertainment purposes. Most people wouldn’t watch shows that are overly negative and don’t give them pause to be optimistic about resolving conflict in their own lives. After all, if people never reconciled their problems in the movies, we wouldn’t watch them for fear of becoming horribly depressed.

We all cheered when Forrest Gump finally married Jenny, despite the fact she consistently disappointed him multiple times in the past. If I were Gump, I would have kicked her to the curb after the first time she cheated on me, let alone take her back as a door prize in time for her to get sick and die. Sorry folks, this stuff really doesn’t happen in real life. If it does, I’ve never been on the receiving end of this kind of forgiveness.

What’s next?

To be honest, I don’t know. Looking back at my life corroded by BPD, I can recall dozens of times when I thought my actions would have been forgiven, but were not. I can also recall multiple instances when my anger boiled over and got the better of me around others. After that, no one wanted to talk to me anymore.

I suppose if I really knew the answer to what happens after you f*ck up I probably wouldn’t have BPD. I would have ended up dating some wonderful women. I would have impressed people with my wit and wisdom instead of disappointing them with one unfortunate angry outburst. I would have been embraced by friends wishing to help me instead of tossing me in the ditch, never to return.

In real life people DO forgive others even after the most heinous of transgressions. When you put BPD into the mix, things suddenly become 1000 times more complicated and unforgiveable.

No one from my past has ever bothered to give me a REAL second chance after I royally screwed up. As for girlfriends and lovers, I have none to speak of. They were all disappointed before I even suggested going out on a date.

BPD on Replay: Do You Have Negative Thoughts When Trying to Exercise?

I’ve had this problem for as long as I can remember: when I’m out exercising (gym, running, or even just walking) my mind resorts to negative motivation instead of positive thinking. This was especially apparent during my running years in High School and College. If I was lacking the motivation to push myself – during practice or even during a race – my mind would start hurling negative insults at me left and right. Perhaps it was last-ditch motivational thinking. More likely, however, it was what I call “BPD on replay”.

“BPD on replay” is something everyone with BPD experiences. Think carefully about your day-to-day thought patterns, especially during challenging moments. Does your mind say things like “You gave it your best”, “Great effort”, or “You should be proud of yourself”, or does it start replaying images and experiences from negative moments in your past? More often then not, I get a play-by-play review of all the mistakes I’ve made, the times I’ve given up, and every embarrassing moment I can think of. Ultimately, this makes living very unpleasant and especially difficult during stressful times. Thing about it: would you rather have Richard Simmons cheering you on during your workout (even if he is a bit weird 😉 ) or would you rather have Mr. or Mrs. Negative screaming at you, sh*tting all over your every move, and reminding you of what a worthless piece of crap you are?

My guess is most people with BPD would take Richard Simmons in a heart beat.

Doing something healthy like exercising shouldn’t be a negative thought experience. It should be something that eases tensions, builds stamina, and makes you feel good about yourself. After a good walk around the block, you would think you’d feel a sense of accomplishment, but instead you’re warding off an assault on your self esteem from deep inside you, and it’s almost impossible to stop.

That’s the thing about BPD that “outsiders” almost never understand. The negative thought patterns are like rabid dogs gnawing on your leg. They come from nowhere and are nearly impossible to interdict with positive thinking. I find myself trying to yell back at my “inner critic” (a term borrowed from a book I read about self esteem) but most of the time it doesn’t work. The derogatory thinking, put-downs, and constant negative evaluations of self worth are like facing a machine gun that never runs out of ammo. You’re dead no matter what you do, and it’s going to be a painful and miserable demise.

The worst part about this barrage of negative thinking is that it makes you feel like your ENTIRE life has been an abject failure, opposed to a progressive journey with peaks and valleys. When you have a quiet, peaceful moment, remind yourself of the good things you’ve done, the people you’ve helped, or the accomplishments you’ve achieved. Once you’ve taken stock of all the positive experiences you can muster, chances are they probably outweigh all the negative thoughts that pelt your brain like an out of control hailstorm during more stressful moments.

I don’t even think my psychiatrist has a grip on the depth of my negative thinking. Every time I try to describe it I end up giving a confusing explanation because the bad thoughts come on so many different levels. It could be my own voice, a teacher’s voice, a parent’s voice, a coach’s voice, or even some random voice I heard on TV. Either way, this chorus of negativity pulverizes my fragile sense of self worth into smithereens.

While an outsider might say “So what, you yell at yourself during a run, NOT a big deal”, the fact is it has far reaching consequences beyond your exercise time. Visit any dating website. Look at 20 profiles, writing down the most common attributes someone is looking for in a potential life partner, weeding out the extremists and quirky folks. My guess is, a partner “with self confidence” is either top three on your list if not the number one thing someone else wants you to have. If you’re constantly putting yourself down, how attractive can you really be?

That’s where all of this comes full circle. We sufferers of BPD are so absorbed in just keeping life on an even keel that we sometimes forget how we’re coming off to other people. Haven’t had a date in a while? I’ll bet it’s because you just don’t feel up to it or worth it, because you are too tired from battling BPD on replay.

I am frequently in awe of people that have 100% belief in themselves, even to the point of being arrogant. It must be very self empowering. Even megalomaniac politicians who think they’re changing the world seem to have themselves all squared away and built upon a rock of unending self confidence.

I wish I could feel this for just one day: maybe I’d have an epiphany and see where I should REALLY take my life. Until then, it’s off to the movies where every bad experience from childhood to present is center screen in my mind , day in and day out, morning and night, awake and in my dreams.

“Why can’t I?” came from “Why can’t my kids?”

I’ve slowly come around to the fact that my mother was very manipulative and insistent in her messages to her children about measuring up to others. In the past, if you asked me what I thought of my mother, I would have given you a glowing review. Now, I’m realizing that she really did a number on me. Whether or not it was on purpose is a relevant followup question but would produce a very long and complicated answer. For now, let’s stick with the “Why can’t my kids?” mantra.

My mother has always felt ill-at-ease around others who speak highly of their own children. In some cases, the praise they are giving is self promotional and meant to be competitive; while in others children who DO achieve at an extremely high level are worthy of any accolades they receive. In particular, my Mom reacts strongly when relatives call to chat. As with any family oriented conversation, parents talk about their kids. A couple of my cousins have made some remarkable achievements in their lives. Accordingly, my aunts and uncles like to remind my mother whose children are ruling the roost. Of course, my Mom fires back with a list of the good things her children are doing.

In any other family this would be innocent chatter between people who ultimately care about each other and love their children. In my family, however, my Mom takes away a sense of inferiority. Naturally, the obvious outlet for alleviating this feeling of dismay is living vicariously through her own children, pushing them to achieve something she can brag about. Hence, when I was growing up, I constantly heard “Why can’t my kids…?” out of my mother’s mouth. As a youth I had no idea how this would affect me for years to come.

When I was in second grade, my Mom started me on piano lessons. Additionally, I was expected to excel at school. Then, in third grade, I started playing the trumpet, too. OK, that’s what happens to most kids: parents expose their children to different activities in hopes that one will “stick” and provide their child with a healthy outlet for socialization in a positive environment. Normal parents don’t worry about the result as much as they worry about the growth of their children. It doesn’t matter if Junior becomes an astronaut, it just matters that Junior becomes a happy, healthy, independent adult. My Mom would always snicker when a parent pulled their child out of an activity and gave them something else to do. To her, this was a sign of weakness opposed to good parenting.

As time progressed from elementary school into middle school, my Mom made it clear that academic achievement was a high priority. Any time I came home with good grades, I received a positive, pride-filled response from my Mom. If I slipped one quarter or didn’t get the book award for English, she used negative motivation to push me forward. She hated it when another parent boasted about their child making the honor roll, becoming captain of the football team, or winning a music competition. She would constantly say “I want MY kids to do that” or “Why can’t my kids do that?”.

In High School, things became even more serious. My father bought into my Mom’s selfish mode of thought and would often say things like, “I’m tired of seeing Joe Smith bouncing around on stage, why don’t YOU get up there?” These types of comments were dangerous elements in my mind that welded into of a caustic mix of self hatred and false ego. How was I supposed to feel good about myself if my own family only handed out love and nurture based on some sort of achievement? Admittedly, when I went full bore my Junior and Senior year in High School, I pitted myself against my classmates in an imaginary battle that I reassessed each time grades came in, a sports season finished, or a school concert was heard. If I was the leader, I felt good. If I wasn’t, I felt horrible. Naturally, even though my classmates had no idea I was waging war with them in my mind, it drove a wedge between me and important High School social opportunities.

One day my Mom was driving me back up to High School so I could attend after school rehearsal. Somehow we got on the topic of dating amid a competitive preparatory academic environment. I mentioned that a couple of the girls at the top of the class were actively dating, enjoying a typical High School experience. Instead of encouraging me to reach out and socialize with others, she said, “Well…you’re not into dating right now, you have your schoolwork to do”…AND my trumpet to practice…AND high school track and field career…AND my weekend job on Saturday night that was mandated by both my parents, effectively removing me from any sort of weekend social opportunities that most teenagers experience. No, I wasn’t into dating at all.

The problem with raising children this way is that they eventually tie their self worth to exogenous factors. This, coupled with limited High School social experiences creates a setup for catastrophic self implosion. As any regular reader of this blog will know, my BPD was diagnosed in college after a horrific explosion resulting from a social and personal failure. I also went into a horrible malaise for years afterwards. If your child doesn’t know how to socialize with others in a non-competitive way, they will self destruct in college, where the social scene is largely based on hanging out informally with peers and dorm mates. This is in stark contrast to High School, where most kids come home and have a family – for better or for worse – as their safety net. Once that safe environment is removed, however, life can take a drastic turn for the worse.

Every once in a while, I find myself asking “Why can’t I do what so and so is doing?”; “What can’t I make money like Jones?”; “Why can’t I feel good about myself like others?”. The response to these questions is hard wired in my mind: achieve and succeed and you will be loved. The fact is, when you hit 30, what you did in High School matters little to what you’re doing in the present. Yes, there are some exceptions to this rule, especially if you have chosen an existence built around successive academic achievement through High School, College, and Graduate School. That aside, the fact that you earned an “A” in Mr. Smith’s 10th grade English class is irrelevant: there are bills that have to be paid, personal needs that must be met, and a life independent of your parents to live.

“Why can’t I?” can be a toxic question to constantly ask yourself, especially if you have low self esteem or mental illness. Don’t worry about doing what someone else is doing, even if your whole childhood was built around parental reinforcement of achievement.

Remember, it’s your life to live, and you only get one shot at it. There’s something to be said for stopping and smelling the roses even if your next door neighbor’s kid is playing in the local symphony orchestra and getting straight As. In twenty years, none of that will matter. What will matter is how you feel about yourself and what truly makes you happy.