Hello, friends. In this episode, I tackle two interesting and important listener questions relating to managing a friendship with a roommate who has BPD, and learning to connect to others again when troubled by past experiences and relationships.
I would like to remain anonymous please.
I am a 24 year old female and about two years ago I met a new friend. Right when we met she told me in detail a lot about her past. Her father had just passed away from a stroke, when she came out as bisexual her mother disowned her and years ago her sister ran away with no explanation. Right when we met I wanted her to feel welcome and loved so I started inviting her to join me to family events/plans with my friends.
About 4 months ago we moved into an apartment together and things began to get toxic. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around her. She will have ups and downs and get very passive aggressive towards me. She was eventually diagnosed with BPD.
It got to the point where she started inviting herself to EVERYTHING without my consent. And the few times I tried to stand up for myself and go to her in a gentle way to explain I needed space, she would get very verbally and mentally abusive towards me. If I would leave the apartment to do something without her, I would come home and she would lock me out and I had to call her to let me in and she would be very cold to me.
I finally realized this was too toxic and I moved out and told her I need to work on my mental health. I don’t want to lie to her but I’m not comfortable telling her the real reason why I moved out. I’m struggling with some guilt and anxiety. It feels like I just escaped a toxic relationship because of how attached she got.
Any advice or comments would be greatly appreciated!
The situation you are describing is super real. I have compassion for both of you, but feel like you probably made the right choice for you.
Living with BPD is not easy. BPD also has a reputation as something that is difficult to deal with and difficult to treat. To be clear, all personality disorders are pervasive and have unique treatment considerations compared to things like more straightforward depression and anxiety. I think one of the reasons that BPD is focused on so much is that it is inherently related to relationships. It is super rooted in how you interact with other people, which can naturally cause intense situations with these people. So most of the time, when someone with BPD is struggling, it is directly connected to their relationship with someone else.
- frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
- identity disturbance – markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
- impulsivity in areas that are potentially self damaging – spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving etc.
- recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats, or self-mutilating behavior
- affective instability due to reactivity of mood, usually lasting a few hours and rarely more than a few days.
- chronic feelings of emptiness
- inappropriate, intense anger, or difficulty controlling anger
- transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms
I’m sure some of those sound familiar to you. It sounds like she was definitely having the strong emotional swings and frantic attempts to avoid abandonment. You can also see the alternating between idealizing you at the start and then feeling hurt, abandoned, and angry at you.
I know I have a good handful of people that listen to this that have BPD, so I want to make sure that I say that having BPD is not your fault and I understand that you don’t want to be sabotaging yourself or your relationships. It’s a pattern that’s so hard to break out of and it can definitely feed that feeling of emptiness and poor sense of self.
That said, it is completely appropriate for you to try to draw boundaries with this person. I think it’s important to recognize that boundaries don’t always imply some sort of moral judgment about the other person. They can actually come from a place of compassion. You feel for your friend and care about her. At the same time, you recognize that you cannot withstand the style of relationship that has developed between you and while you understand that she does not mean to drive you away, you have to be firm in your boundaries and not pretend like everything is okay for your own sake. That may lump you into a category of people who have “abandoned” her, but there’s not much you can do about that unless you are willing to continue trying to hash it out and work on your relationship together.
I understand that you only told part of the truth when you said that you needed to leave and focus on your own mental health. That’s not totally a lie and I think it’s totally acceptable. You are trying to work on your mental health. You were not doing well being in that kind of situation and you are doing something about it. It sounds like you have tried to enforce your boundaries before with her and were essentially punished for it. Therefore, it may or may not be useful to really explain how she has hurt you emotionally and that that’s the reason behind you leaving. She may simply not be in a place to hear it.
I keep coming back to boundaries but it really does come down to them. You can have compassion and harbor no ill will toward this person. You can even try to fix things and coexist better together. But you need to be firm in those boundaries that describe the ways that you are not willing to be treated. If those are crossed, they need to be enforced for everyone’s sake.
I hope this doesn’t sound cold, because she does deserve to have people that have unconditional positive regard for her, but you don’t have some sort of long-term commitment to her that would necessitate your consistency and willingness to weather the storms that come with her swings here. You need to feel safe in the place that you live and if it’s clear that you are being retaliated against and are having your privacy invaded, that’s not going to be sustainable. The chronic stress of walking on egg shells and not being able to predict when the person you live with might explode on you can really start to take a toll on your body and mental health.
It might take some time and separation for you to start feeling more comfortable with your decision to move out. But it sounds like it was the right decision for you. In time, I hope the guilt that you feel can transform into compassion for this person. It sucks to be in a situation where you are repeatedly driving away people that you care about. But hopefully you can also begin to feel confident that you needed to change environments. Maybe you can be friends in the future. Maybe you can even be a great support that she needs, but living together did not work. And that’s okay.
Hello, I recently got out of a very abusive relationship, I could have been killed to be quite honest. I left him and moved to a different state it was very very messy but i’ll spare you the details. I’m only 20 years old, my father was abusive to my mother as well, I want to make sure the cycle ends here. I have accomplished a lot on my own since I moved and I’ve been able to reflect a lot and I am pretty in tune with my emotions for the most part. It’s been about six months now and I kind of want to get back into dating but i also feel I can’t form any connections with anyone. I am very genuine and I care about people but I still second guess people’s motives and it’s hard to connect with anyone. I’m not sure if I’m closed off, distrust people or I’m still healing. I feel wholesome and optimistic however, I can’t really make connections even to make new friends. I’ve come a long way but this is the part that makes me feel I’m not fully healed. What steps should I take to be able to build relationships again?
Thank you for writing in. I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through. I’m glad that you’re alive and able to write this question. You are incredibly strong for finding a way to recognize that cycle of abuse and get yourself out of there. I’m glad to hear that you’ve done a lot for yourself. It sounds like there has been a ton of internal work and things are much better now overall, but it still stands that you are having a hard time connecting to other people.
I think this is super super normal for your situation. It makes a lot of sense, right? You have been raised in a situation where abuse was happening and then as a young adult, you were put into a cycle of abuse with this relationship. The only way that you were able to break out of that cycle is probably to disconnect from others and focus on yourself. It’s actually the case for a lot of mental health difficulties that they are just overextensions of something that worked for you and kept you safe in the past. This is very often the case for anxiety. It served you well at a certain point to be hypervigilant and cautious, but eventually when the situation changes, you don’t need to have those defense mechanisms anymore and they just cause you problems in daily life.
You’re only 6 months out. In a way that is a long time, but it also isn’t when you take into context the amount of time you have spent either actively in a cycle of abuse or at least witnessing it. And that time sounds like it has been filled with a lot of self-work and personal transitions. Basically, it’s been a positive overall but it has still been a whirlwind of a time. Your mind is still catching up to the circumstances. You should be wary of other people. At this point, it sounds like it’s not even an active distrust of people. Like you want to be able to engage with people, but there’s a deep part of you that is still closed off.
I think this will simply come down to time and effort. You are going to need to have some corrective emotional experiences to prove to yourself that there are different ways of interacting. It is possible to have relationships where you don’t need to second guess everything and you can come to a place of comfort and stability. Much like when you are very depressed and need to teach your brain to feel happiness and pleasure again, you might need to teach your brain to feel connection again. There is no rush for this. You are not doing anything wrong by being unavailable or closed off after what you’ve been through. But it sounds like you don’t want to be that way forever. So I think you are going to need some practice. Bit by bit you may need to force yourself to engage with other people and act how you might if you did trust them. You don’t have to take your guard down entirely, but continue pursuing friendships and connections even if you feel like you aren’t having a deep personal connection with them.
It will give you a platform for further exploration. During this time, it might make sense to be journaling or be in therapy so that you can process the feelings or lack of feelings that come up as you have interactions and pursue connections with people. It is also a platform to make sure that you having structures in place to keep yourself safe. For instance, one of the things that makes abuse so dangerous is that it is usually isolating. The abuser wants to keep you away from outside influences that would make you recognize the abuse for what it is. Therefore, in this next phase, it may be that you need to figure out who your “safe” people are such as close friends or family that you are able to use as your personal barometers. They can call you out if you are letting someone violate your boundaries or are falling into an unhealthy pattern.
So take it slow. Start with very casual things and don’t expect to feel this deep connection with others yet. Focus on sticking with it, finding common interests, and things that you can enjoy together. Imagine what you might do if you were actually interested in people and try to keep pushing yourself to engage over time. It’s not always going to work out and you will have a mixture of positive and negative experiences, but it just comes down to time and practice.
You will likely never relate to people in the way that you would have if you never had abuse in the first place and that’s okay. You don’t need to. But you will be able to find a way to have relationships with a reasonable amount of caution and with the context of the wisdom that you have built from being a survivor.
There is a power in that and it may lead to the RIGHT relationships at some point in the future.
Greenbrook TMS provides Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy, an FDA-cleared, non-invasive therapy for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder and other mental health disorders in the United States. Visit GreenbrookTMS.com for more information about TMS therapy or to see if TMS therapy is right for you.
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