In reading about borderline personality disorder, talking about my symptoms and finding solutions to the problems they cause, and in evaluating the mistakes I have made both recently and in the more distant past in terms of my relationships, I have come to worry about a few things that pertain to being polyamorous. Over the unpredictable number of coming weeks while I will be writing about this issue, I want to tease apart some complicated, troubling, and ultimately interesting questions (at least to me) about how some personality disorders affect relationships, how relationships can best work for us regardless of such disorders, and what these things can tell us about how we should re-think the expectations of relationships as individuals and as a culture.
I want to deal with these issues in short bursts, rather than one large analysis (you’re welcome, readers). Today, I want to paint a very tentative overview of the terrain I plan on covering in the next several posts.
There are 9 criteria for diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder. While many of them may seem disparate in many ways, they are linked in complicated and often distressing ways, especially in my mind. There are 5 of these criteria which I believe have immediate effects on relationships whether they are sexual, romantic, or platonic in nature. I want to deal with each of these criteria one at a time, but here I just want to summarize them. I’ll qualify that not all of these criteria are especially strong or problematic for me personally, even if they have some relevance for me. I cannot speak for any other people who have symptoms consistent with this diagnosis, so the experiences and opinions of others may differ from mine.
(edit: I will add links to posts as they appear)
For many borderlines, although not so much me (being an introvert), temporarily being alone can be perceived as part of a perpetual isolation. The feelings which arise at times like this can include depression, but also rage at the world in general (depending on the specifics) There are times, whether late at night, at a party with people who are not trusted or close, or merely between social visits where the feeling of being alone feels heavy and infinite.
I yearn for intimacy, companionship, and love. When alone, I often feel empty (we’ll get to that next). I want someone to help make that loneliness go away. But I’m also too afraid, much of the time, to break the silence by actually reaching out, because deep down I’m afraid that they are over there because they don’t want to be around me.
This is related, closely, with the above fear of abandonment. The overwhelming sense of being alone, rather than being able to simply enjoy the relaxing and uninterrupted freedom of that time, is sometimes potent.
Personally, I am able to enjoy some time alone, but sometimes I cannot do so happily. Sometimes I can enjoy the time alone until expect someone to be with me. Waiting for a date, a friend, or just Ginny to come home after I expected them home is among the hardest things I ever deal with day-to-day. If I expect to be alone the next 4 hours, but then am alone for 6, the last 2 hours are often excruciating. If I have a date at 6, but they show up (especially without letting me know they’re running late) at 7, that last hour is often filled with anxiety, sadness, and feelings of lack of validation. What is usually a case of unforeseen delays or merely differing values of timeliness feel like lack of consideration and lack of care, which are huge triggers for me.
When someone is late in seeing me, the feeling I have is that they don’t care enough about me to be on time. This, of course, is a perception, and not reality (most of the time). It is a constant struggle for me, and I try to maintain perspective that someone being a little late is not really a big deal.
This, for obvious reasons, will be the most pregnant of issues in relation to polyamory, but because I want to keep this post short I will gloss over much of it today.
Essentially, there is a tension between the desire for intimacy and the fear of engulfment. There is a dynamic of alternating between being clingy (or merely intimate) and avoidance (or merely distant). One day I may be wanting all your time, thoughts, and affection, and the next I may be absorbed in a game, book, or other project and barely speak to you. This is often hard for partners to understand, and has been a source of conflict and hurt feelings for people I care about.
Also here is behavior within relationships which looks manipulative (and sometimes is, but not always). There is a kind of emotional amnesia that happens within the scope of BPD, related to a lack of object permanence (this may be a result of a problem with the separation-individuation stage of development), which makes borderlines behave in a somewhat self-absorbed and not-completely-empathetic way (I am certainly guilty of this, at my worst) which comes across as manipulative (for me, this is never intentional, although I can recognize it after the fact).
This criteria is where Borderline Personality Disorder is close to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a related disorder, in many ways. One of the major differences is that with BPD, the subject is more likely to accept fault and responsibility, whereas the narcissist often shrugs off, rationalizes, or completely deny said responsibility or fault.
The result, with both disorders is often repeated mistakes, which for me is among the more frustrating parts of myself which I want to change. I very much want all of my relationships to be healthy, and sometimes I need more than I can give back. As I progress towards potential remission of these symptoms, I hope to achieve this more than anything else.
This criterion, of the 9, is one which is less powerful for myself personally. For many borderlines, this takes the form of addiction, including extreme sexual promiscuity (which is why I’m including it in a discussion of polyamory, because some people’s eyebrows will raise at the seemingly obvious relationship there), and other behaviors which ultimately seek to overcome the emptiness and lack of strong identity within the borderline.
Seeking that moment of excitement (NRE-junkies, anyone?) to break up the monogamy…I mean monotony…of life is a means to distract ourselves rather than solve a problem (assuming there is a solution).
Anyone who knows me well knows I have struggled with this all of my life. One moment, I can be happy, fulfilled, and contentedly working on whatever I’m doing. A trigger can change that quite suddenly, and the shift is almost unbelievable in quickness and scope, although this severity has softened very much since I was diagnosed. What those triggers are, how they relate to being polyamorous, and how to deal with them are issues I have been struggling with very strongly over the last few years.
If you were to go back and chart many of the posts I have written about problems, conflicts, and fears of mine, many of them would be rooted in this arena of mood instability. But the question I will want to tackle, when I get there eventually, will have more to do with how we might be better off shifting our expectations, defaults, and ideals about how different people can fill roles for us in our life.
If I have learned anything in the last couple of years, it is that no matter how much you love someone, no matter how much you want to be with them, some people are just not any good at certain roles in your life, and so you need to nourish your relationship with them in ways that are mutually beneficial for both of you, if that’s possible, rather than try to have all of your partners be everything to you. Intimacy does not have to cross all thresholds for all relationships. Each relationship needs its own type of intimacy.
Unlike monogamy, polyamory does not create a pressure for your partner to be helpful or great at everything you need. Some people (for example) can handle wild mood swings, and others cannot. And while the ultimate goal, for me, is to find ways to minimize those swings, the people who can help me get there will have to do so within their strengths, which may mean that some of the people in my life may not be able to help with all of that struggle, even if I very much would like them to. Some people can’t be there for some of what I’m struggling with, that has to be OK.
So, that’s the road map. This is barely a sketch, and I’m sure that I am missing many parts still and more of it will be filled in as I think more about these issues. For now, I need to get over this insomnia (a result of feeling empty, anxious, and isolated as everyone around me sleeps) and try to get some sleep.
[I’ll be scheduling this post to go live for the morning, but as I finish this, it’s about 4:30 AM]