This morning I watched Dani’s video blog on borderline personality disorder and “object constancy,” that is, the difficulty BPD sufferers have with trusting in someone’s love when that person isn’t there. This provided lots of food for thought, but as I walked my dog later on, my mind wandered into other BPD-related territory. I resolved to ask Dani to post something about how family and friends could help their loved one with BPD.
I have already learned a little about this. As I say in Missing, my memoir about my mom’s BPD, I’m something of a slow learner. After running repeatedly headlong into a cement bunker trying to “help” (i.e., change) my mom and then my friend Nancy, I gradually came to understand the futility of my efforts. “You’ll never change her,” my husband used to tell me about my mom, but those words always glanced off me. I couldn’t take them in.
Codependents, Melody Beattie writes in Codependents No More, “think they know best how things should turn out and how people should behave.” They “feel responsible for other people.” They “eventually fail in their efforts” and become “frustrated and angry.” Has Melody Beattie met me?
What I didn’t understand, of course, was that I was dealing with a mental illness, with an emphasis on “illness.” I wouldn’t presume to fix up a person with diabetes or try to ameliorate the symptoms of schizophrenia or clinical depression. We have come to know that these last two are in some manner physical diseases, caused by an interplay of genetics and environment. You can’t love or care people out of them. So, too, with BPD.
BPD presents a conundrum. People with BPD can often function and appear quite normal in their workplace and around their friends. The symptoms, in some cases, appear only in connection with significant others. The friend and daughter (in my case) is constantly kept off balance, because there’s no reconciling the normal, effective traits with the depressive, anxious, self-destructive ones. You’re lured into thinking that you can just cheer up or comfort your BPD friend or relative.
But you can’t. I used to try dragging my mom out of her isolation to restaurants or stores. She resisted. I gave my friend Nancy a Brian Regan cd (he’s a very funny comedian), thinking she would laugh and feel better. Suffice it to say, it didn’t “work.” I have also shared lots of books and music with her. When I listen to Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, I think no one could listen to that music and stay depressed. I am mistaken.
You can’t shake the symptoms of BPD from a person who suffers from it. If you try, you’ll make yourself depressed and certainly resentful, because the other person is so damned uncooperative. Why don’t they just take your advice? Why don’t they go to a club or join a group or do something happy?
They don’t because they can’t, at least in this moment.
So does this mean you should simply give up? Let me know your thoughts on this, and I’ll post my own answer soon.