Understanding the Borderline Personality


The following material was written for individuals trying to recover from a relationship that's had toxic consequences for them, and is not intended as a support resource for Borderlines or anyone with BPD traits. If you suspect that you have these traits, please leave this website and redirect your attention to alternative web content, which might feel more congruent with your personal views and needs.
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If you've ever been involved with a borderline disordered individual, you've struggled with massive confusion. The great disparity between their words and actions alone, has you running in circles, and trying to make sense of it all. Should you believe your lover when he/she states they "love you more than anything, and all they want is your happiness" ~or should you accept their destructive, diminishing behaviors as proof that all those declarations aren't actually true? You'll reluctantly doubt their emotional health and sanity, because one minute they're adoring you, but just an hour or so later they're shutting down, cheating on you or wanting to break up!

Add to this, the Borderline could make statements to you about needing to break up~ but the very instant you agree that this is possibly a sound choice, they'll accuse you of wanting out!

I'd had this happen years ago with a Borderline who engaged my assistance. After only two sessions which went very well, she phoned to say that she didn't feel comfortable pursuing this work with me. As I validated her concerns and addressed how my methods might not be a fit for her (based on what I'd sensed was her resistance to even consider healthy change), she accused me of wanting to terminate her as a client! That was her own projection; she needed me to be 'the bad guy' and abandon her, so she could retain her inner-narrative; "nobody can help me/everyone leaves," and managed to find serious fault with me, just as she had her former therapist.

You've probably gone through this in your own dance with a Borderline, but do not take it personally, or try to convince them that they authored the upset between you. This is their cognitive distortion at work, and you're not gonna change that. Many Borderlines who call me looking for "healing," reject it as soon as they discover that emotional growth is the central part of this process. Growth brings change, and change is terrifying for them. Thus, they generally remain pitiful, tireless seekers of something they cannot accommodate, and don't actually want.

Borderlines are deeply insecure. They'll act-out their ambivalent feelings and fears surrounding attachment, with anyone close, even the professional they're engaging for help. They will do with their clinician, precisely what they've done with you. A solid/meaningful therapeutic alliance jostles their defenses, and makes them want to retreat. They'll solicit constant reassurance that you won't kick them out of treatment~ but they'll test this relationship to see how far they can push the envelope with last-minute rescheduling, missing appointments, self-sabotaging (to avert growth), ignoring productive suggestions, etc.

Borderlines bandy about the word 'love' with casual abandon. You'll want to believe them when they say it--but not only do they have a distorted sense of what love is supposed to feel like, most are pathological liars~ it's simply become part of their survival strategy, since early childhood. They can easily hide sexual and emotional affairs from their partners or spouses, and if you're stupid enough to think it won't happen to You, think again!

In the 1964 movie My Fair Lady, Rex Harrison's character sings this plaintive lament; "Why can't a woman be more like a man? Men are so honest and thoroughly square, eternally noble and historically fair." Truth is, Borderlines are more like men~ at least at the onset of their romantic endeavors. They present as comfortable or at ease with their sexuality (and what man hasn't wished for that his entire adult life?!). There are facets of the Borderline that can make you feel like you're with one of the guys. She's forthright, open, easy-going and fascinating, all encased in one lovely package. She adores all the things you do, and it feels amazing that this delightful creature is so into you!

This is The Hook of course--the honeymoon phase of your relationship, which has you wanting to excuse and overlook her debilitating, castrating, abusive behaviors once you're securely on her fishing line--and that barb is so deeply embedded in the roof of your mouth, you can't even think of struggling free, for the injury it will cause you.

You drop your guard when she says she's "just into something casual--and you've no cause for concern." You want to believe it, and so you do. I mean, who the hell would turn down this gorgeous creature who wants to spend his/her days worshiping at your altar? The trouble is, those painful, crazy episodes soon begin multiplying, and now you're right in the thick of it. You're hooked, and there's no turning back, despite their push-pull emotional gymnastics, love you/hate you antics, etc. One of my favorite films, (500) Days of Summer epitomizes your struggle for emotional consistency and solid grounding with a Borderline lover that you'll never have a chance to experience.


Imagine that you're sitting in a boat having baited a fishing lure, and you're waiting for your next dinner meal to swim along and chomp on that hook. That would be your normal expectation, wouldn't it? Well, the Borderline ignores that lure in the water, and hoists herself out of the water and into your vessel!This is utterly fantastic for any guy who's insecure, and wants to avoid the possibility of rejection if he makes the first move with a gal. It's also a sure thing you can expect a train wreck up ahead, with a borderline disordered girl. They're predatory. The only cure for attraction to Borderlines, is growing genuine confidence and self-worth, so you're not dependent on being seen like you walk on water.

Every inch of you has been craving that glorious beginning you had together, and I know how much you're wanting it back! It's tough to let that fantasy die~ but you must. Truth is, there may be moments you think it's recaptured, but it will never be what it was at first, because you're already seduced.

When there's no challenge or chase, the capture means nothing to a Borderline, which is why so many males get dropped on their heads immediately after leaving their wife and family for one of these gals! No matter what she says to the contrary, the very moment you're solidly Hers, she doesn't want you anymore (sexually or otherwise).

Metaphorically, a well-fed, contented house cat will chase a mouse just for the sheer sport of it. Once the rodent is captured, if it's smart enough to stop moving and play dead, the kitty loses interest and walks away. If the mouse struggles to get free of the cat's grasp, our feline holds on tighter and unwittingly kills its new favorite toy. This is exactly what happens in your dance with a Borderline. When you're actually available, he/she is no longer intrigued with or excited by you.


Borderlines have major difficulty trusting anyone. This issue is left over from infancy and early childhood due to poor parenting, so don't personalize their lack of trust in you! You can't make this person trust you, which has nothing whatsoever to do with how dependable or loving you are. This issue existed way before you came along, so stop holding yourself responsible for it.

Initially, the Borderline mirrors for you absolutely everything you've always wanted to believe about yourself. This is the crux of infatuation. As the relationship gets underway though, they echo how you really feel about yourself, deep down beneath the markers of your success or props (the fancy houses/cars, your prodigious skills in bed, your thriving business, your splendid physique, etc.). You keep trying to revive that first image of yourself at least, in their eyes~ but it's futile, which triggers core shame. This icky sensation of shame drives your feverish efforts to win him or her back, so that you can feel okay about yourself again.

A Borderline makes you feel responsible for their deceitful and manipulative behaviors; they could make you believe that if you just married them, they'd be devoted only to you, and life would be marvelous--but don't buy it! The truth is, the closer you get to a borderline disordered person, the more they freak-out and push you away. This paradox is due to attachment fears they've carried for a lifetime.

They'll act highly indignant if you question their actual motives, or even hint that they've behaved without the utmost honesty and integrity, but this is their defense against failing to be perfect ~which for them too, triggers toxic core shame.

You might not have had much experience with real Love during the course of your life, so these contradictory messages can feel horribly confounding. The initial stages with a Borderline are sublime, and quite unlike anything you've ever experienced before. You start feeling as though you've finally found what you didn't even know you've needed, your entire life! Hence, when he/she begins pushing away or finding fault with you, you'll be thinking; "this is only temporary--and I'll just fix the problem, or wait until it blows over. Surely they really love me, so this must be a simple misunderstanding, or glitch in communication."

Before you know it, sorting through this difficulty takes center stage in your world, and you're committed to doing whatever it takes, to rectify it. Even if you're not sure you've made an error, your partner's reactions are sufficiently intense and volatile, to suggest that you must be the one who's at fault.

No matter how much you try to resolve or work through this conundrum, your lover has his/her own spin on it, and keeps needing to put the blame for this rupture on you! They'll never be able to see this issue from your perspective, nor will they accept your explanations of what you think actually happened. They begin bringing up things about you and your personality that just aren't true, and you start having to defend yourself in the midst of trying to repair the original upset. Now, you're completely thrown off your game, and there's no end in sight. In short, this little 'speed-bump' has turned into a gargantuan hurdle~ and to make matters worse, your character is being impugned!


If you've learned as a kid to be an accommodator, and you're accustomed to always putting another's needs/feelings first, you may find yourself apologizing for crimes you haven't committed, just to restore harmony and peace to this relationship.

God knows, your partner isn't willing to own their errors--and you've learned that days or weeks could pass, before he/she stops punishing you by withdrawing/shutting down, and this cold war is finally over (for awhile, anyway). You might be tempted to "take the higher road" and bridge this chasm, but has anyone ever done this with you~ or has always been your job to make things right, even in childhood?

Every person who contacts me for help to recover from these relationships is immersed in guilt and shame. This doesn't feel like any other break-up, and you can't just walk away--not with your ego intact, anyway. You're raw and hurting--and the worst part is, you're beating yourself up for it! A long-held belief might be; "If I feel bad in a relationship, it must surely be my fault" but that's an erroneous assumption you cultivated as a child, due to extremely faulty parenting.

Much of your confusion and torment might have begun as a child, if you had a harsh, abusive, critical mom or dad, and the other parent convinced you it was "their way of loving you." Being wounded by a mother or father, and having the other spouse routinely offer 'comfort' by convincing you that this pain you felt was really Love, distorts your sense of this emotion, and screws you up for a lifetime! Should you doubt your own parent on this point, or not accept the lie they fed you? How might you do that as a little kid, with no alternate frame of reference??

Since you unquestionably loved your parents, even as they were the source of your pain, you learned to accept that 'loving' came with anguish--and this became your relational blueprint, from which all your adult attachment bonds have been constructed. Borderlines were very similarly influenced, and all those painful childhood experiences frequently give rise to addictions.

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Love is an abstract concept for somebody with BPD (and a whole lotta other folks, apparently) and it's associated with pain. The Borderline's yearning for love is experienced as dramatic, painful emotions that were confused with affection for an unresponsive, emotionally unavailable parent throughout childhood. These difficult sensations in the child were spawned by unrequited(or un-returned) love. Could this have also been true for you?

The Borderline carries tremendous toxic shame from never having felt worthy of love since infancy/early childhood. They've lived with sensations of having to buy a parent's love (getting 'em expensive gifts, visiting when they really don't want to, etc.) to gain approval and acceptance. Perhaps they've done this with you, as well. Each time they've acted adorable, generous and seductive, it's to get their deep need for validation met--which has nothing whatsoever to do with loving feelings for You.

The paradoxical nature of a Borderline is difficult to wrap your head around, as their reactions are often the opposite of how you'd think someone should respond, and it messes with your mind. For instance, the closer you get to him or her, the more they need to distance. For healthy folks, love and trust grow with time, and intimacy deepens. With the Borderline, as soon as they feel safe and good, abandonment concerns are stirred, attachment fears are right behind 'em--and they have to push you away. Their survival depends on this, for they've learned in childhood that to really love, means devastating pain will follow. You can't change this.

The Borderline's deep hunger for love doesn't go away, but when you actually feed and satisfy it, dramatic feelings associated with craving/longing for love instantly evaporate! Infatuation is exhilarating, but fleeting. Real love is a rich, highly sustainable, consistent emotion, which a Borderline cannot tolerate.

As an analogy, you might crave a favorite food. You're needing this appetite satisfied, and nothing else will quite hit the mark. After you eat that meal, your craving is appeased, and you're feeling sated. With the Borderline, as soon as you gratify their craving for love, the sensations of "love" vanish. Given that love and pain have become entwined for them, someone with BPD believes; if it doesn't hurt, it must not be love--so folks who are capable of providing the love they really need, are taken for granted, punished or cast aside. Can it be, that you've also done this with others you've dated during the course of your lifetime?

This matter of paradox can be nothing short of excruciating, if we've always sought a parent's or older sibling's approval and affection, and keep coming up short--no matter how much we've contributed to those relationships! Ties that bind can also feel imprisoning, when our self-worth has depended on the distorted reflections from dysfunctional others. This is like daily looking into a warped Fun House mirror, and coming to accept that image of yourself as accurate and real. The Borderline simply re-traumatizes old, childhood wounds to your sense of Self.

You might come to surmise that you're both core-damaged, so why can't this make for a compatible, successful relationship? Have you ever observed two little children playing well together, but if there's an upset between them, they lack conflict resolution skills, and it takes an adult to intercede? Lack of adult development means that conflicts escalate, and there's no such thing as problem-solving, which is why couples therapists thrive! Perhaps you've experienced this with your borderline partner, and you either gave-up/gave-in, or had to break away until all that tension eased--only to return to find it had blown over with no resolution, and this cycle repeats over and over.


It isn't that Borderlines haven't wanted love--it's that they have never been able to trust it. Partners who occasionally meet their need for closeness are less threatening than those who can provide it on a routine and consistent basis.

Trying to gain the upper-hand by being someone you're not just to keep your Borderline interested in you, never works. The roots of this are deeply buried in your childhood where you learned to surrender huge chunks of yourself, for the sake of getting a little care, approval or affection from your folks. If you think you can control this relationship by protecting your heart, you're still in for some debilitating pain. You cannot win with a damaged/dysfunctional individual, but your ego will demand that you keep trying even against all odds, as you were programmed to do this as a child.

Loving a Borderline means you're always walking a high-wire, which is based solely on their emotional comfort, feelings or needs, and there's zero room in that relationship, for yours! You'll spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how to balance on this tightrope, so you don't fall and crack your head open, but it's a futile exercise. In truth, the more you give-in to this person, the less they respect you. How can they, if you can't respect yourself enough to take a firm stand for your own needs and desires??


I'm occasionally contacted by psychotherapists needing help with a particularly difficult BPD patient or client. These clinicians have given over control of their therapeutic relationship to the client who's borderline disordered--and there's intense drama, chaos and abuse that comes their way within these sessions.

During our consultations, I coach them on setting very firm limits and boundaries, and taking back their power. A rageful, abusive Borderline is literally screaming for containment. The therapist must be willing to treat these patients differently than others, and protect themselves during the entire process--even if it means leaving his/her office for a few minutes throughout the session. Bottom line, there's no excuse for abuse--and there's no "reasoning" with a three year old child.

There might be concern that a waif-type could self-injure, in response to this firmer and more direct treatment, but quite the opposite is true. As I have mentioned in some of my other BPD literature, the Borderline is much like somebody without a skin holding them in. Like a good/solid parent, you must provide the container for them, and not put up with any nonsense. It's the only way they feel more secure and safe. When husbands learn to do this with BPD wives, their home life becomes a lot more bearable, and can even start to feel calm and pleasant.

Your Diva is emotionally a toddler who lacks impulse control and boundaries. Don't believe me? Ask any film director. Expect rebellion from your spoiled, obnoxious brat, but stay firm.

A small child cannot hold feelings for very long, and emotional dysregulation is natural to this phase of development. They're monumentally disappointed if you've promised something you can't deliver--and they'll hate you, throw a temper tantrum or pout, when they don't get their way. It's usually a pretty short period before their temperament shifts, and they're giggling and loving you again--and if you've spent any real time around a toddler, you know how easy it is to cheer them up. It might only take a lollipop!

Part of this acting-out involves their need to learn where your limits are, and how far they can push the envelope with you, before they get punished. This stage is usually referred to as 'the terrible two's,' but it lasts for awhile--and you'll get so frustrated at times, you might find yourself thinking; how can I flush this rascal down the toilet?!

The Borderline hasn't developed their own container--and like a small kid, they're dependent on you to make the rules, so they can feel protected. They're continually having to test these limits, because they haven't grown any of their own--and their absence of impulse-control is what Dr. Sigmund Freud termed the "Id" or infancy impulses, that define their need for instant gratification.

An infant is ruled solely by instinctual, libidinal urges. There is no capacity for mood regulation, empathy, higher order thinking or sensing right from wrong. Their needs are primal and selfish, because their very survival depends on it. If adult development hasn't been successfully acquired, narcissism typically results. An emotionally underdeveloped person continually wrestles with relationship difficulties, addictions, personality disorder traits, low self-esteem and poor tolerance for delayed gratification.

Higher-functioning Borderlines within the psychotherapeutic community, might have developed solid clinical skills--but they usually maintain erratic push-pull dynamics in their romantic partnerships. Nourishing friendships and collegial attachments are often sabotaged, when another is viewed as wiser or more gifted than they, because their core shame relating to feelings of inadequacy ("I'm not good enough") is inevitably invoked.


Certain materials on the Internet speak about 'hoovering.' It's a derivative of the vacuum cleaner brand that's been around since time began. I generally resist using hackneyed terms associated with this disorder, but this one perfectly describes a Borderline's basic nature to want or need you, as soon as they're aware they can't have you. The challenge of sucking you back in when their craving for distraction from empty feelings erupts, is what that word encapsulates. Once their immediate appetites are mollified, they're done with you all over again--and this repetitive cycle continues, until one of you literally gets sick and tired of it.

You might want to escape this toxic relationship, but you just can't imagine "abandoning" your Borderline. Let's be clear: A Borderline's troubles started long before you came along, and you're not going to rewrite their history, no matter how hard you try! You are not 'abandoning' this person (their parents did a stellar job of that)you're simply leaving to take better care of You, and try to save your own life.

Borderlines weren't able to form solid bonds of trust during infancy with their mothers. They couldn't get enough attention, mirroring and nurturing in the earliest stages of life. Every child needs these crucial emotional supplies to believe they're lovable, and build a sturdy sense of Self. Children who grow up without these elements, assume the deficits they feel are their fault--and they must be defective and unlovable. If you've become a People Pleaser, this could also have happened to you! In truth, you've both wrestled with similar wounds, so it feels like his/her puzzle piece fits perfectly with yours, and vice-versa. 

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