Understanding The Contradictions With BPD: I Hate You, Don't Leave Me
For many people living with borderline personality disorder (BPD), understanding the subtle nuances of the ups and downs in relationships can be challenging. Instead of perceiving these nuances, a person with BPD might feel that relationship cues are either “black and white,” “right or wrong,” and “all or nothing.” In psychology, this tendency is known as splitting or alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation of significant people, events, or actions.
This challenge with “middle ground” situations can make it difficult to have personal relationships and cause interpersonal conflict. BPD can cause a paradoxical view of love, sometimes called a splitting coping mechanism. Popularized by a psychologist who wrote a book about BPD for partners and family members, the phrase "I hate you, don't leave me" has been used to describe this pattern of splitting.
If you or someone you know often experiences this dichotomous way of thinking, you might be confused by the patterns in your relationships. If you relate, exploring the significance of splitting in BPD and how to seek support can be valuable.
Symptoms Of Borderline Personality Disorder
Those with borderline personality disorder may experience many symptoms that contribute to highs and lows in their emotions, including the following:
Profound feelings of insecurity
A desire for constant validation from others
Idealizing or devaluing others
Difficulty controlling emotions
Quick emotional reactions
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Borderline Personality Disorder And Splitting
Troublesome interpersonal relationships and difficulty controlling emotions are symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD). People with BPD may experience intense mood swings, with periods of uncertainty and self-doubt. Their relationships can ride a similar emotional roller coaster, highlighted by times when they feel close to someone, followed by periods of loathing, anger, or fear.
Another symptom of BPD is splitting, which involves perceiving the world in extremes, where people, events, or situations are either “all positive or all negative,” with no middle ground. When splitting is experienced in the extreme, it can be an integral internal distorted thought process that can negatively impact personal and professional relationships and physical and mental health.
Many people have multiple coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, or trauma. You might experience overwhelm, distress, or emotional challenges without these coping mechanisms. In addition, many people utilize unhealthy coping mechanisms. These techniques can have a negative impact, sending your brain into a loop of anxiety where the coping mechanism provides a "fix" but does not address the root cause of the anxiety, stress, or trauma. These coping mechanisms can manifest as eating disorders, substance use, and other self-destructive tendencies.
Borderline personality disorder can result from emotional or physical trauma, but some who experience this condition have never dealt with extreme forms of trauma. Working with a licensed therapist or certified counselor is often valuable for addressing the underlying causes. It can be difficult for people with BPD to address these harmful coping mechanisms independently.
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How Self-Esteem May Contribute To Splitting
Part of the anxiety that fuels contradictory behavior in people with BPD may be self-doubt that stems from emotional invalidation possibly experienced in childhood. When someone grows up in a household where the parents do not outwardly validate a child’s emotions, they may develop feelings of rejection and low self-esteem.
People with BPD often internalize this experience of ignorance or invalidation of their emotions as adults, which might lead to feelings of self-doubt and internal confusion. This confusion could lead to problems in relationships and a dichotomous perspective. For example, if a person’s parents validated their emotions, they might perceive themselves as a “good person.” However, if their feelings were invalidated, they might perceive themselves as “bad.” For this reason, the origin of splitting as a primary coping mechanism may develop to address the pattern of acceptance and validation as a child.
The impact of this coping mechanism is not limited to relationships with others. It might also impact your relationship with yourself. With a distorted self-image, it may be challenging to understand your relationships with others. While not all people with BPD experienced trauma or invalidation of their emotions as a child, self-doubt and low self-esteem are symptoms of the condition.
How Is Love Experienced By Those With BPD?
Below are a few ways individuals living with BPD might experience love and attachment with others.
Many individuals living with borderline personality disorder are concerned about gaining the approval of others through validation. They may struggle to consider the emotional needs of the other person when these needs occur, potentially feeling as though the need for validation is above all other needs. These individuals might become fixated and emotionally attached to one person, feeling as though that person’s input and love is the only aspect of their life that matters.
When challenges occur or the person they love does not act as expected, they might assume the worst or experience extreme fear that drives harmful actions like reassurance-seeking or splitting. Part of the conundrum of splitting attachment in a relationship with someone with BPD is they may feel the person they love is responsible for their happiness. As BPD is associated with a fear of abandonment, a partner turning away or acting differently could cause unbearable anxiety or self-doubt.
If you are in a relationship with someone living with BPD, you may find that you struggle to validate them enough or that they continue to ask for similar types of validation even after you’ve already given it. The contradiction may be affecting your relationship to the point of instability. If your relationship starts to falter, you may find that your partner's perception of you changes, leading to a paradoxical contradiction. First, you might notice a fear of abandonment, often immediately followed by distancing or anger that can be painful and confusing.
Fear Of Abandonment
If you have BPD, you might experience intense fear of your loved one abandoning you. If your interpersonal relationships strain, you may find that the person you love feels drained or wants a break. In some cases, you might want to break up or know that the relationship is unhealthy but are afraid to be alone. If your partner pulls away, asks for space, or wants to leave you, you might feel you need to take extreme measures to repair the relationship, potentially crossing boundaries.
The author of I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me states, "For many [people with] borderline [personality disorder], “out of sight, out of mind” is an excruciatingly real truism. Panic sets in when [they are] separated from a loved one because the separation feels permanent. Although the [person] may not be consciously aware of this dilemma, [they] frequently place a friend or relationship in a no-win situation in which the other person is condemned no matter which way [they] go."
Understanding contradictions can be a part of understanding borderline personality disorder. You might feel angry, hateful, or confused when you feel your needs are not being met or the person you love is not meeting your expectations. Even if you love the person, you might want them to leave you alone. In some cases, you might feel the urge to leave them to see if they’d ask you to stay.
This cycle can continue to contradict feelings. There may be powerful emotions attached to all phases of the cycle, but when the emotion is indifference, it can be uncomfortable for someone with borderline personality disorder. A middle ground might feel impossible, and the cycle of pushing and pulling away might feel normal.
For those living with borderline personality disorder, it can be challenging to maintain relationships. If you know someone who has BPD, it may help to recognize that their responses are part of their condition. Their ability to process circumstances and thoughts can be limited at times, as they often experience extreme emotions. Whether you or someone you love has BPD, consider reaching out for support from a therapist.
You might also consider online therapy if you feel shame about seeing a provider or can’t find a personality disorder specialist in your city. Research has proven that online therapy is an effective method of treating borderline personality disorder. One study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that patients experienced significant improvement across various metrics after receiving internet-based treatment for BPD. The study noted that borderline personality disorder is often an undertreated condition and that internet-based therapy could bridge that gap in treatment.
The availability of mobile and computer-based therapy platforms can provide opportunities for guided treatment. In addition to holding counseling sessions, therapists can lead clients through exercises and lessons proven to aid in recognizing triggers when they arise, acting as an invaluable resource.
Working with a licensed therapist, you can find alternative ways to cope with your emotions effectively while taking advantage of a more comprehensive array of specialists than might be available in your area. With online therapy, you might also find more therapists specializing in BPD. Online therapy could also help clients avoid the perceived stigma that many people with borderline personality disorder feel when seeking traditional therapy. If you want to get started, consider signing up with a platform like BetterHelp for further guidance.
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