Aaron Nagy
2 supporters
In Defense of Borderlines

In Defense of Borderlines

Jun 22, 2021

BPD has been a special interest of mine for a few years, and I have been thinking a lot about it the past couple days. This is going to be a sizzling hot take, but I really believe I am on the right track: it actually is everyone else and the borderlines have been systematically abused by every aspect of society from their mothers to media to therapy approaches. What people think of when they think of the worst borderline behaviors are all downstream consequences of the failures of other people and pathologies picked up in response to living in a world that literally is wildly unfair and cruel to them specifically in a way that seems entirely unique. Let me emphasize that IN REALITY the world is specifically cruel to them, saying nothing of individual perception. This inexorably leads to progressively more disordered behavior until the feedback loop reaches some fatal level and everyone at the funeral assures each other that they did everything in their power to help her or him, but they just wouldn’t do the work to get control of their emotions. Even in death, the victim is blamed.

It is necessary to say something about myself and my purpose here. I have Autism Spectrum Disorder of middling severity. There is a bit of a pattern of borderlines getting into relationships with people on the higher functioning end of the spectrum for many of the same reasons they end up with Narcissistic Personality Disorder people. Huge difference in origin, but similar enough behavior to attract the same type. Anyway, a few years back I had two consecutive relationships with diagnosed borderlines and went down the rabbit hole trying to understand them and why we ended up together. Autism and BPD are essentially opposites, so at first glance it is really odd. Especially odd because we got along so well. Frankly I find borderlines to be fascinating and tragic and vastly more interesting than most people with a very unique perspective on the world and endless wild stories.

Having autism, normal people are total aliens to me. I literally had to study them like a different species in order to somewhat be able to exist in their world. Borderlines aren’t any farther away from me than normal people, just slightly different in a straightforward way. That made it relatively easy to understand them for me compared to people who never had to really try to understand others. I am not an expert or even a particularly knowledgeable amateur. I am not rigorously researching anything and everything here is just my considered opinion based on borderlines in my life and my attempt to understand them. I think I have a somewhat interesting perspective on this because borderlines aren’t some mysterious aberration from the norm for me as they are for normal people. I am not biased against them as The Other since from my perspective all you people are equally mad and it isn’t obvious to me that the borderlines are going to be wrong in any conflict with so called normal people. The point of this rambling screed is to see if any merit is found in my observations and to perhaps start a bit of a reevaluation of our understanding of BPD and how we should look at the primary victim of the disorder. Nothing a borderline can say in their worst moment is in the same magnitude of horror that he or she regularly experiences in his or her mind. The primary victim of BPD symptoms is the person with BPD. This seems to be regularly missed.

I think people over complicate BPD and misinterpret maladaptive behaviors developed in response to total lack of understanding and empathy and everything else as inherent to the disorder. If the response to extreme emotion was comfort and soothing instead of anger and disappointment it would make a world of difference. I found that not speaking and offering a long, comforting hug in response to a crisis totally ended it every time and was profoundly meaningful to the borderline. That is really sad because I, of all people, shouldn’t be the first person to ever offer empathy instead of anger when they needed it. Of all the people in the situation, the borderline is the one suffering the most pain and he or she is the one expected to do the work of stabilizing themself all alone while people are only concerned about whatever nasty thing was said and see them only as perpetrator. How many times can a person go through this scenario without developing pathologies from the complete lack of concern for them? The world is demonstrably unfair objectively, and I can’t imagine how glaring the disparity must appear from the perspective of the borderline themself. She or He goes through Hell that cannot be controlled caused by a disorder they had no part in developing and the general reaction is to dislike them, ignore their pain, and immediately chastise them for the collateral damage of their destruction. How would you behave towards people after a couple decades of this?

Back to my experience. Polar opposites attracted, then the obvious happened and my autistic focus on words and details blew everything up because I didn’t understand that they were hitting what for most people would be once in a lifetime levels of negative emotions and — as is the common rule for everyone — things said under such duress are not to be taken as real since the brain is in full fight or flight and the slow logical part of the brain is totally powerless to control what is going on. None of the words were chosen by her conscious mind and should rightly be considered a symptom of her disorder and not the real thoughts of her core personality. Think of the most upset you have ever been. Say anything that you genuinely did not mean in the moment without thinking consciously? Of course you did. That is a universal human experience and, because it is so common, the rule of dismissing the wild things said in the heat of the moment as not real emerged.

Borderlines are the only ones who are not extended this protection against accounting for words said under extreme duress for a couple reasons I can see. First, most people are not capable of imagining a mind unlike their own so they fundamentally do not accept the reality that borderlines regularly experience emotional hurricanes that are not misperceptions or overreactions but really their genuine lived experience of overwhelming emotional input that you could, with sufficient knowledge, confirm the objective existence of by imaging their brains. People don’t see an obvious reason for the borderline’s distress, determine that she or he has no reason to be so upset, and take their unthinkingly tossed out statements as press releases and demand accountability. Second, since borderlines are subjected to intense emotional duress far more often than average, people become progressively less inclined to dismiss their impolitic words because they do not see these moments of duress as equal to those rarely experienced extreme moments of average people. But the only metric relevant is hitting emotional intensity beyond the point where your conscious mind is in control, and frequency is irrelevant. The total lack of empathy for borderlines is on display here where the frequency of emotional storms that they cannot control is met with annoyance and unequal treatment instead of profound sadness and unwavering support. The reality the borderline experiences is that he or she is unjustly treated worse than everyone else while suffering more. They are objectively correct and it is very corrosive to self worth and general attitude towards the world to be treated this way.

Let me expand on how profoundly unfair the world actually is to the borderline. The two women in my life that introduced me to this disorder both had the same basic story, so this section adopts their perspective and specific experience as one example among many different experiences and origins. First she is born to a mother that is so woefully ill equipped or disinterested in her child that the child feels terrified and abandoned with such frequency that it warps the brain permanently into extreme sensitivity to negative emotion. In a very real way the borderline has been abused into living in a dark, terrible version of the world filled with danger and anger. The borderline had absolutely no role in this. ALL of the fallout of her disorder is ultimately on the head of her mother. As she grows up the mother who neglected her continues to neglect her and only notices her disorder when it has progressed to the point where the child’s behavior annoys the mother and she is taken to have that fixed. Naturally the doctor isn’t going to point out the obvious genesis of the disorder because of the cultural taboo on telling the truth, so the mother now gets to whine about the terrible burden of BPD — which she of course had nothing to do with — and neglect turns to open disdain.

In every case, the borderline is a victim of someone else’s bad behavior and is living their consequences through no fault of their own. It is a heavily environmentally determined disorder. The difference between you, dear reader, and a borderline, is luck. In a different environment you could have ended up following the common patterns of pathology with no more ability to stop than any other. BPD isn’t a moral failing. People seem to think that people are bad so we call them BPD. That is not the case. People are normal, then they are abused and have their brains damaged, then they experience intense overwhelming negative emotion constantly, then people are annoyed with them constantly, then they behave maladaptively because why not at that point? Their entire childhood is spent with the family that was so bad they developed BPD in the first place, so there is no chance of getting effective family support and the borderline will be treated as the family aberration and embarrassment. How do you expect their development to go under these circumstances? Defense mechanisms, maladaptive behaviors, and self fulfilling expectations of anger and lack of empathy solidify into the borderline who goes out into the world with near zero chance of a happy, healthy life. She or he has been systematically destroyed from the moment she or he was born until they got out of the house and never had a chance. Maybe don’t get mad at them so much.

The objective reality of the borderline’s life is that he or she was inflicted with a lifelong wound, then driven to ever more maladaptive behavior by constant signals that he or she is worthless, inherently bad, and crazy. They will likely have a collection of eating disorders and drug problems and dangerous sexual experiences because they hate themself and see themself as worthless because that is what everyone told them. There is really no getting out of this hole. They expect the worst always because that has been their experience. She or he is totally right to anticipate disaster. That then becomes self fulfilling with expecting abandonment by partners and all the usual tragedy of the disorder. And all the while HE OR SHE is the problem, not the primary victim and unwilling carrier of the disorder that has robbed them of a full life. This is all so clear but you never really hear the borderline perspective on the madness of their existence. Probably because talking about it is a guaranteed trigger for an emotional storm.

I’m rambling stupidly. Let me get to my proposal: borderlines are never held to the words they say when they are in profound distress. That is just even handedness. People close to borderlines should be taught to respond to even the most ugly and angry outburst with quiet comfort and zero retaliation. Borderlines have been inflicted with an unbearable load, and it is the least we can do to treat them as if they are humans in pain that isn’t their fault and not caricatures of evil. If this could become the norm (like not getting mad at verbal ticks became the norm) I think we would see a dramatic improvement in the lives and behavior of borderlines. The fundamental core of the disorder is the fear of an emotional storm, the shame in not controlling it, the actual pain of the storm itself, and the anger of those close to them instead of comfort and support. The rest of the associated bad behavior is downstream of this and doesn’t HAVE to happen if the core is made as benign as possible. No overwhelming moments is an impossibility and setting that standard just adds failure and guilt to the borderline. Instead, let us consider bad moments inevitable symptoms of a disease and TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE AND EXPECTED. They will happen anyway, so destigmatize, educate, and make them as painless as possible. Fear and shame about emotional extremes make them more likely to occur. The less painful they are, the less frequently they will occur because the total anticipatory anxiety load is diminished. Fundamentally we need to understand that BPD is not the fault of the person who has it and, considering the massive burden it is to carry it, take some of the burden on ourselves. Just the idea that there is some empathy and earnest attempt to help will be surprisingly effective. Hugs even more so.

Enjoy this post?

Buy Aaron Nagy a book

More from Aaron Nagy