Understanding and Loving the Borderline

3 part series of the dysfunctional dance between co-dependents and borderlines

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Part II – Understanding and Loving the Borderline

damaged and abused doll

In traditional psychology literature, the person with BPD (borderline personality disorder) is seen as a hopeless and dangerous monster. While this disorder poses serious challenges, I have realized that it is just as dysfunctional as its codependent counterpart. This reputation is coming from the fact that PBPD (people with BPD) can be very threatening especially as they get into rage. The codependent is much more covert. He copes, plays the nice guy and manipulates. He is not threatening but we could argue that an exposed danger is safer than a covert one even if it may be more explosive.

This is actually the major difference between both disorders. They both struggle with poor self-esteem, fear of abandonment, loneliness and shame. The codependent copes while the PBPD is unable to cope. The codependent children were able to exercise a certain level of control in their environment because there was a certain level of predictability as they found coping or manipulative strategies that yielded results with their narcissistic parents. For example, as a codependent child, I could get positive feedback consistently from my grandfather and father by having good grades. I could affect my mother’s mood in how I reacted to her food. I could get her attention consistently by expressing strong emotions. The BPBD environment was much more unpredictable so they could never develop strategies to get the attention, reflection and love they were starving for. The BPBD were raised in fundamentally and profoundly invalidating environments. My mother was forbidden to use the light at night at her foster home in order to save money. Her grades suffered and she received criticism from the teachers as she kept receiving mixed messages from her environment. She was instructed to only wear poor people clothes because her foster parent was afraid that other parents might be jealous. At the same time, she was criticized the way she looked by her classmates. She was taught to wash only in the dark, as her body was sinful. A couple of borderline partners I have had would receive constant criticism from their mother and sometimes serious beatings. When they would do very well on an activity or discipline, their mother would get jealous and punish them. When the mother is borderline, it is very likely that the daughter will be a borderline too while the son would become a codependent though it may vary depending on family dynamics. Because of the invalidating and unpredictable environment, the child develops hypersensitivity to already be ready for danger and does not learn how to regulate his emotions. Their emotions go from park to 5th gear in no time. Contrary to what some experts are saying, I do not believe that BPD comes from chemical imbalance. It is coming from an early childhood invalidating environment that created this psychological condition in them, which then in turn produced the chemical imbalance. This is not a genetic disease though it often runs in the family. It is a behavioral disorder where parents make their children suffer the same way they have suffered in the hands of their own caregivers. This is coming from the fact that they had to create an internal perpetrator to cope with the caregiver they had to bond with. This ego defense mechanism came from the fact that children that were able to bond with their parents had a much higher chance of survival. Children that would wander away from the parents would be a target for predators. For this reason, the parents can never be bad from the child perspective. The children have to make themselves bad rather than the parents otherwise their survival would be at stake. This was learned through millions of years of evolution. It is safer for their survival or at least it used to be in ancestral societies. This is why children make it always their fault when their parents divorce, fight or abandon them. This is coming from our primitive brain.

unable to express abuse

People who are invalidated will usually either leave the invalidating environment, attempt to change their behavior so that it meets the expectations of their environment (codependent coping mechanism), or try to prove themselves valid by challenging the environment. The borderline dilemma arises when the individual cannot leave the environment and is unsuccessful at changing either the environment or their own behavior to meet the environment’s demands. Sexual abuse is one of the most severe form of invalidation during childhood. The victim is told that the molestation or intercourse is “OK” but that she must not tell anyone else. The abuse is seldom acknowledged by other family members, and if the child reports the abuse she risks being disbelieved or blamed. It is difficult to imagine a more invalidating experience for a child. As a result, clinical psychologists have suggested that the secrecy of sexual abuse may be the factor most related to subsequent BPD. Similarly, physical abuse is often presented to the child as an act of love or is otherwise normalized by the abusive adult. We  have a French expression “Qui aime bien, châtie bien” which is the English equivalent of “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. It means that if children are not physically punished when they do wrong, their personal development will suffer. This type of upbringing is likely to create disorganized attachment which is the attachment trauma that most PBDP are suffering from.

Not everything is bad with the borderlines

Because PBPD are so often vilified, I am going to first play the devil’s advocate by stating what is great about them

  • Because of their hypersensitivity, they can make great artists, athletes or spokespersons. Vincent Van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe, Robin Williams, Brigitte Bardot, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguliera, Drew Barrymore, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Megan Fox, OJ Simpson, Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Kurt Cobain and so many more that have inspired us, all have or have had, BPD. Many actually manage to get to the top of their field, as they are able to harness their very intense energy towards a creative purpose. When they are on, they are usually incredibly productive as their internal pain allows them to tap into parts of the brain that we typically have no access to.
  • They are great lovers. Their rawness, wildness and high-intensity make sex with them an unforgettable experience. They give themselves without restraint and because of their internal torment, they have no hesitation in experiencing the darkness and the ego death that makes love-making so spicy and thrilling. They have a unique way to make their partners dissolve into the act of love with them. The femme fatale is borderline. Some experts say that the PBPD is incapable of love because they are narcissistic however in my experience, the “love bombing” from the borderline is actually sincere that can make anyone melt. Unfortunately, because the PBPD does not have a defined sense of self, the adoration can turn very quickly to violent hate and rejection. I recommend you watch the character of Carmen in the famous Bizet opera to understand this archetype. The 1984 movie with Placido Domingo is one of its most remarkable interpretation.
  • They are more authentic by default as they lack the ability to cope. They are more spontaneous, vibrant, and alive than the rest of us. “Emotional intensity” means that their emotional reactions are amplified. On the positive side, emotionally intense individuals may experience joy more easily, and thus may also be more susceptible to spiritual experiences. Many of them are charismatic and possess unique charm and magnetism. As such, they can challenge societal structures that do not serve us anymore. Their frankness can disturb and sometimes hurt, but there is often a lot to learn from it.
  • They are the most ardent defenders of the weak and vulnerable because they are able to feel their pain. Children, animals, minorities and more generally; people suffering, echo into their heart. They often advocate for a change of lifestyle to minimize suffering on this planet. They will take that extra step to make a difference in someone’s life. They are less self-centered than the rest of us when they don’t struggle with their very survival. Brigitte Bardot, the French sex symbol of the 1960s, said when she retired “I gave my beauty and my youth to men. I am going to give my wisdom and experience to animals.”

The truth however is that being with a borderline is difficult, and it is up to some of us involved with PBPD to decide if it is worth it or not. Because of my own childhood traumas, I have been in a mission to create happy and fulfilling relationships with borderline. As a result, I became an expert in loving the borderline which is nothing else than controlling the uncontrollable. I am single today so these efforts ultimately failed, or maybe succeeded, as I regained my autonomy through this healing journey and that I am now able to help others going similar dynamics.

Hysteria

I adore this video. It is based on an actual email exchange between “Mike” and his abusive, BPD girlfriend, “Susan”. I have had probably thousands of similar types of arguments over the last 25 years. Susan is completely in her hurt emotions and Mike is protecting himself by being rational but he is also cut from his emotions as he feels unsafe. The two people are not connecting and they could argue for hours to no avail. What I have learned the hard way is that when a borderline is triggered, there is no amount of rational discussions that would do any good. At this point, the mind of the borderline is completely controlled by their negative emotions so wise thoughts will be pointless. Matching the borderline intensity through the same intensity is never a good option either. The borderline is an escalator so if both of you escalate the argument, you will just end up killing each other. Staying silent, present and looking at their eyes with compassion is a better option however it would not help them release their internal pain and torment. Unfortunately, it would often just reinforce their shame. We need to understand that PBPD feel really bad about themselves and being so much out of control all the time. So staying in control like Mike even in a loving way will just reflect their own inadequacy.

De-escalate the PBPD with heartfelt validation

empathy and emotion validation

This is the magic wand and it works! The first thing to do with the PBPD you love is always heartfelt validation. I am saying heartfelt because the PBPD is very sensitive and will be able to feel right away if your validation is not sincere and mechanical. This will just infuriate her even more (I will use “she” for the PBPD because of my own personal relationship experience however some studies say that BPD is just as common in men than in women). She has a very sophisticated BS detector! So you need to be creative and find a way to validate her emotions in a way that is precise and genuine. It is always safe to start with fillers like “you are right to feel this way, anyone in your situation would feel the exact same way”. This will put her in a state of receptivity and at this point, it is best to use your own experience to show how you can relate to what she is experiencing internally. Validation is so important to the PBPD because she carries intense shame so validation is the way to neutralize it. The PBPD was raised in a very invalidating environment where she learned that there is something wrong about herself and how she feels. She has internalized self-loathing as a coping mechanism and this is creating huge amounts of anxiety in her. Let me give you a couple of examples to how validation works. Let’s start with the easier situation when she got very upset with something that does not concern you. It is easier but still challenging because if you do respond to the PBPD in a specific way, a problem that was not connected to you may become all about you, and how insensitive and uncaring you are. So you are still walking on eggshells.

“ I am such a shitty mum. I am just screwing up this child”

“I think you are a great mum. You really care about your child’s emotional well-being like no one else”

“I can only spend with him one day a week with undivided attention. And I feel so drained by the end of my day with him. I am simply not made to be a mum”

“The quality of time you spend with him is more important that the quantity. The fact that he is always asking for you shows that he really enjoys your time together, and how much he feels you care for him. You are really creative coming up with new projects to do together. It is fun and it is helping his development a lot”

“You really think so?”

“Yes, I believe he is really lucky to have a mum like you.. I would have killed to have a mum like you”

PBPD is feeling better. Get closer, hug and connect. Then she naturally goes on her day.

Let’s say now you are not attuned enough to the PBPD that you love, and say instead…

“Yes. Maybe you could try to find ways to spend more time with him. This could help his self worth and development. It seems like he is struggling”

At this point, you have triggered the shame of the PBPD and a discussion that was initially unrelated to you will become solely about you and the relationship

“If you made more money and if you were not such a loser, then I could spend more time with my son.”

“Why are you attacking me? I was just trying to help you”

“You are also such a lousy stepdad. All the pressure is on me because he cannot connect to you.”

“I am spending a day a week with him and I am putting a lot of energy into him”

“Yes, but it feels like you do not want to be there when you are playing with him. And he is feeling it. You have no desire to be a stepdad. This is breaking my heart when I see other men having fun with him. I just wish that were you. It makes me doubt that we should really be together”

“Why are you bringing this up now? This is really hurting me”

“Our relationship is doomed. You say you love me but you cannot connect to my own child. I should have better listened to my instincts. I keep making the same mistake with men”

“This is too much. I have to leave this discussion”

“Yes, get the fuck out of here. We can never talk together. If you leave this room, you may never see me again”

A couple of things happened here. By expressing what you thought was a constructive criticism to make things better, you have triggered the shame of the PBPD. Shame is like a hot potato so she has to give it right back to you. If you are with a PBPD, the chance is that you are struggling with core shame too so she will find a way to get you triggered too by showing how inadequate you are. If this does not work, she will escalate to trigger your abandonment issues that all codependents are struggling with. What is important to realize is that the PBPD is switching the tables on you for her emotional survival, as she cannot regulate her own emotions.

Inability to regulate emotions

emotion dysregulation

Invalidating environments during childhood contribute to the development of emotion dysregulation; they also fail to teach the child how to label and regulate arousal, how to tolerate emotional distress, and when to trust their own emotional responses as reflections of valid interpretations of events. As adults, borderline individuals adopt the characteristics of the invalidating environment. They struggle to regulate negative emotions, have high sensitivity to negative emotional stimuli and show slow return to emotional baseline. As they feel powerless to regulate emotions internally, PBPD attempt to regulate their emotions externally, typically through unstable relationships. PBPD are well known to engage in self-harming behaviors such as cutting. Someone not BPD does not understand this type of behavior. Cutting hurts so why would someone do something so painful to herself? People asking this question have never been through the emotional hell that PBPD go through on a daily basis. Their emotional pain is so intense that physical pain feels like a release. This also explains why BPDs are such great and intense lovers. Sex allows them to get a break from their internal emotional hell and give them a well-needed release. This is the most positive physical release they can get but they need to feel good about their partner for this experience to be healing. The PBPD goes from park to 5th gear with her emotions. Once she is triggered, it is going to take a considerable amount of time and energy to bring her back to a calmer state. Another positive way for a PBPD to regulate her emotions is exercising. Running, spinning or any other type of hard physical exercise where she can exhaust herself will help her regulate emotions that went wild. Unfortunately, she often chooses to fight with her loved ones and fix them as a way to get a release. Their codependent partner is their most common way to regulate their emotions and this is why PBPD are often diagnosed with love addiction. This is coming from their intense fear of loneliness. For that reason, they are perceived to be needy, demanding and entitled.

Borderline individuals, more so than most, seem to do well when in stable, positive relationships and do poorly when not in such relationships. My mother has done considerably better since she has been married to my stepdad, a remarkable caring man. They desperately need connection as their attachment traumas make them feel they are unlovable so they hysterically look for external validation to fill their inner void. When you are receiving the tail end of a BPD crisis, it is hard to realize that the person abusing you is desperately looking for love & connection. She was abused herself by her primary caretakers so she had to internalize abuse as love to survive a very damaging environment. When a PBPD has an urge to cut, I recommend giving her an ice cube. This will allow her to experience physical pain in a safe way and that will help her regulate her emotions. You may want to press very hard her forearms to create the same relief in a safe way. Hugging her very hard can be helpful too as long as you are careful not to injure her. You may try to blast rap music and get her to dance with the rhythm. The key is to help her release the very intense self-destructive emotions. Emotions have gone too toxic to be processed internally and they need a physical release. The key is to empower them to find ways to release these emotions in a way that do not destroy their lives and the people around them. Unfortunately, PBPDs are often tempted with destructive ways to release themselves from their unbearable internal torment. Elevated rates of borderline personality disorder (BPD) have been found among individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs), especially cocaine-dependent patients. This population is very susceptible to addiction with illegal drugs. The addiction with legally prescribed opioid drugs is just as dangerous and kill many of them every year. PBPD are prescribed opioid pain medications at increasing and alarming rates. When they do not overdose from these drugs, the prescribed medications weaken their health through their many side effects, increase dependency and impact negatively their functioning. Our mental health system is corrupted and most psychiatrists spend their time prescribing dangerous opioid drugs instead of supporting patients to heal their trauma. We live in a system that promotes dependency over autonomy because it is financially beneficial to key players of the pharmaceutical industry. PBPD are a vulnerable population that is paying the price often at the cost of their lives for these economic choices. New clinical trials are coming out using shamanic medicine with DMT, MDMA or psilocybin to treat populations with PTSD with very encouraging results. As most PBPD suffer from complex PTSD, these treatments offer significant healing potential especially as they are far less addictive than prescribed opioid medications.

suicidal tendencies constant dark thoughts

The most destructive way PBPD attempt to escape their emotional pain is suicide. Research has shown that around 70 percent of people with BPD will have at least one suicide attempt in their lifetime, and many will make multiple suicide attempts. Between 8 and 10 percent of PBPD will complete suicide, which is more than 50 times the rate of suicide in the general population. There is not a single day when PBPD are not contemplating suicide, as the thought of putting a term to their lives feels like a release. Because suicide is always a temptation for PBPD, it is critical that they have strong reasons to keep living such as raising a child, not hurting their loved ones or a personal life mission with greater purpose. Take this meaning away from the PBPD, and they will not hesitate to commit the irreparable. People who commit suicide do not want to die, but to end their pain. This is why it is so important to help PBPD to deal with their emotions in constructive ways.

Hypersensitivity & Overreaction

We discussed previously the positive aspects of hypersensitivity but it also poses some challenges. Partings that would cause to feel antsy may precipitate very intense and painful grief; what would cause slight embarrassment for another may cause deep humiliation; annoyance may turn to rage; shame may develop from slight guilt; apprehension may escalate to a panic attack or incapacitating terror.

Actually much of the borderline individual’s emotional distress is a result of secondary responses (e.g., intense shame, anxiety, or rage) to primary emotions. Often the primary emotions are adaptive and appropriate to the context. The reduction of this secondary distress requires exposure to the primary emotions in a nonjudgmental atmosphere, a validating environment.

I have a friend married to a BPD that is an agriculture expert. Summer is for him the busy season and he leaves the house at 6 AM to return after 10 PM every night. His wife expressed her anguish of having him gone so long. He initially shut her down because he makes most of the family yearly income during this time and he knew he could not change the nature of his work for her. This allows them to have a very good lifestyle and some amazing vacations with the children for the rest of the year. Overtime he learned to stop being defensive and to validate her separation anxiety instead of triggering additional emotions of shame and anxiety. This way, without changing anything around the necessities of his job, his wife is experiencing some manageable anguish instead of completely falling apart. He is avoiding crises, hours long disputes and his wife’s emotional breakdown. By improving his communication, he dramatically improved the quality of their life together around this incompatibility. This is fortunate how they really love each other and they have a beautiful family together.

He would say initially “Why are you upset? Who is going to pay for the mortgage and pay for the kids if I do not work my ass off in the summer? I make in one summer what you make in 5 years. I am tired and I need support instead of having you nagging at me for something I have no control over. Do you think I am having fun working 15 hours a day? Can you stop acting irrational?”

This would trigger her secondary emotions of shame and their dispute would escalate. He would then get even less sleep which would make her feel even more guilty. They were in a vicious circle.

His dialog is now much more different “Honey. I understand I am asking a big sacrifice from you every summer. It is really hard to have someone you love gone so much. Everyone in your situation would feel the same way. I miss you a lot too. I am so impressed how you are able to handle the kids, the house, your job and taking care of me during this critical time. I simply could not do it without you. When the summer is over, I promise to make it up to you. I have planned an amazing vacation for all of us in October.” He also mitigates the pressure by getting some of her family & friends visiting during that time and getting additional household support. With his new communication, no secondary emotions are triggered which makes it manageable.

third degree burn victim

Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of a third-degree burn patient. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. If we touch a burn patient, and they start yelling, we are not saying that they overreact. Unfortunately, we dismiss what is not visible to the naked eye so we make the PBPD reactions wrong. This triggers their shame even more and this causes them to lose their temper on a seemingly trivial situation. PBPD are commonly shamed for their neediness. It is quite unfair, as we would not shame an infant or a cancer patient to be needy. Because we cannot see with our physical eyes how emotionally damaged are the PBPD, we judge them as needy, dependents and drama queens. Because PBPD are in desperate need of other people, they have learned to be creative to get people, and this is why many of them have become great lovers, cooks or entertainers. When faced with limited resources, they use their natural talents and charisma to draw people around them in ways that is more socially acceptable.

They carry deep insecurity and have a constitutional incapacity to tolerate much stress, especially in their interpersonal life. Events that might not bother many people are likely to bother them. They are known to make a mountain out of a molehill. If you love a PBPD, it is critical to learn to love her the way she is instead of attempting to fix her. Any of these attempts will just trigger her shame and makes your life even more miserable. If you love a PBPD, you need to ask yourself if you would stay with this person even if they would never change. If the response is negative, it is probably best to end the relationship. A break-up with a PBPD is very painful however both of you will eventually heal while a relationship where both continuously project their shame into each other is permanent hell. The PBPD can also feel if you are with them by obligation or guilt rather than love.

Impaired Thinking from Overwhelming Emotions

Some of the PBPD I know are highly intelligent however, even with them, the intensity of their emotions is overwhelming their thinking ability. Their hurt, anger and other negative emotions are corrupting the objectivity of their thinking. This is why it is pointless to have a rational discussion with PBPD once they are triggered. Our thinking brain (neocortex) is no match to our reptilian brain because it ensures our survival. Some PBPD are able to be more objective once they come back to a calmer state but most feel too insecure and powerless to consider the reality of their dysfunction. They would rather take the role of the victim to avoid the shame related to their behavior.

splitting

PBPDs have black & white thinking or “splitting”. They lack the ability to see simultaneously both the positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. They tend to think in extremes, interpreting others actions and motivations as all good or all bad with no middle ground. Even when they excel in their professional occupation, they will oscillate between a state where they think they are a fraud, ready to be fired to boasting how good they are. It truly feels as a “split” personality. The same pattern is seen even more clearly with their relationship. Once in a relationship, they idolize their intimate partners, see them as their twin flame, as the best thing that happened to them but once the relationship ends, they demonize them often by making up stories and rallying everyone around them to substantiate their perceived abuse. They refuse to see that they were with the same person at the beginning and at the end of the relationship. It is their perception of their loved one that changed overtime. At the end of a relationship, they frantically discard any sign they ever were romantically involved with their ex in the hope it would take away the pain related to their abandonment and internal sense of inadequacy. They internally wish that their exes fall apart emotionally after the break-up to improve their self-esteem and not face their internal shame of contributing to the separation. This would make them the good guys that tried everything to make it a successful relationship but the partner was simply “too damaged”. It is projection that helps them not to feel abandonment. I knew a PBPD that played mind games with her ex to drive him to the point of insanity. He was still in love with her and coping by drinking alcohol. I could sense below the surface how much she took satisfaction on his addiction. This way, she could easily justify to others the end of the relationship on his dysfunction while she had a large part in it. If you are ending a relationship with a PBPD, do not fall into this trap. Do your healing work and be the first one to get back on your feet. Stay away from the drama and create an environment conducive to your healing. It is part of the psychological make-up of the ex PBPD to get you to sink so that they look good to themselves and others. This is why many PBPDs will continue to harass their exes even years after they break up, and they will use any opportunity to damage your friendships, your career, the connection with your children and your enjoyment of life.

In the treatment of BPD, the therapist would help them see both black and white, and to achieve a synthesis of the two that does not negate the reality of either. PBPD inappropriately attribute all blame and responsibility for negative events sometimes to themselves and other times to others. The goal is to help them to be more objective and to realize that both parties made sincere efforts but also mistakes.

catastrophizing

PBPD are constantly catastrophizing, or anticipating disastrous scenarios. They have hopeless expectancies, or pessimistic predictions based on selective attention to negative events in the past or present, rather than on verifiable data. Borderline individuals frequently respond to any relapse or small failure as an indication that they are total failures and may as well give up. Once, I did an awareness exercise with my borderline partner and it was fascinating to watch how she made every stimulus into a negative thought. We are driving on a highway, and she imagines the people that crash at this intersection. She sees a pregnant woman and she feels infertile. I mentioned an exciting upcoming trip and she imagines the plane to crash. Considering the train of thoughts in her mind, I could understand why she was so tormented. As a child, negative focus was  their coping mechanism to protect themselves from continuous disappointment, and they bring this destructive mental habit into adulthood. If you forget your cell phone and are coming home late, they will imagine that you died in a car accident about 50 times, and will be intensely angry with you when you show up as you purposely tried to hurt them. They also experience chronic feelings of emptiness and loneliness. The PBPD has a tendency to ruminate about traumatic events over and over again. The rumination not only perpetuates the crises, but can generate new crises whose relationship to the original crises is often overlooked. A PBPD is a bit like an overtired child on a family outing. Once overtired, the child may become upset at every minor frustration and disagreement, crying and having tantrums at the slightest provocation. If the parents focus on trying to resolve every individual crisis, little progress will be made. It is far better to attend to the original problem— lack of sleep and rest. By the same token, it is often more effective to help the PBPD regulate her state first than problem solving right away what she is afraid about. As Albert Einstein said “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them” so focusing first on improving the PBPD state is sensible.

Narcissism

the narcissist

Any human being in a state of survival stops caring for others, so when a borderline is experiencing an emotional crisis, they may appear narcissistic. It is not so much that they stop feeling others but rather their internal pain is overriding their natural empathy for others. They are naturally quite empathic and compassionate people as they are hypersensitive and feel other people’s pain better than most. However this stops once they get triggered. This is why after they come back to a calmer state, they often experience intense guilt about the harm they caused others during their crises. Or alternatively, they can block their conscience and demonize the other in order not to feel this guilt. However, this type of denial will worsen their mental health.

NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) is different than BPD, however these two disorders originate from attachment traumas. Both PNPD and PBPD have intense fear of abandonment, self-loathing and low self-esteem (covert for the NPD).

For this reason, it is common for PBPD, especially the “successful” ones to display NPD symptoms:

  • An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements
  • A constant need for attention, affirmation, and praise
  • A belief that you are unique or “special,” and should only associate with other people of the same status
  • Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power
  • Exploiting other people for personal gain
  • A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
  • A preoccupation with power or success
  • Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of you
  • A lack of empathy for others

In this case, BPD and NPD symptoms will fluctuate in the same individual as different personalities. It is sometimes hard to comprehend how the same person can go from a state where they want to commit suicide, as they feel so completely worthless, to a state of grandiosity where they can get into full rage if others do not consider their superiority. It is simply two sides of the same token where the self feels deeply insecure and unworthy of love. They feel they do not exist or embody evil as they carry an unstable self-image or sense of self and suffer from identity disturbance. Devaluating oneself or devaluating others is in a sense the same thing. This is why so many PBPD have narcissistic traits. They follow a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

The inability to let go of “being right” in favor of achieving goals is, of course, related to borderline patients’ experiences with invalidating environments. I would often ask my BPD partners if they would rather be right or be loved. This question would irritate them as unmistakably, being right feels the most important thing to them.

Just like with PNPD, when friends, therapists or acquaintances try to share helpful tips or recommendations, they are often experienced as discouraging or as manifestations of lack of love and appreciation. They overact to mild criticism or rejection, so gross that it suggests paranoia or even outright delusion.

Struggling with Accountability

rebel

We saw how the step of validating the hurt inner child is so critical as it helps neutralize shame in the PBPD. However if all we do is to dwell on the pain, and identify with the hurt inner child, we will just end up being controlled by an angry, depressed, immature and sometimes mean (internal) little boy or little girl. Recently, a woman posted in a forum how horrible was another woman to get a high margin from her work as a personal organizer, that she felt exploited and decided to go on her own. I praised her for her decision to start her own company but went to educating her on the reality of business not realizing she only wanted validation. She became very angry at me and started personal attacks with a clear intent to hurt. All she wanted to hear was how bad the other woman was and that she should rot in hell. There was no interest in any other perspective and while I made the mistake of not feeling into her before commenting, redirecting her anger to someone else without any self-awareness was not going to support her healing.

The PBPD is often stuck between complete powerlessness and anger, with anger being a higher state. We can think of ourselves as a trinity: inner child, adult and higher self. When we fully identify with the deep emotional pain of the inner child, whether it is loneliness, depression, despair, or anger, it is important to bring our adult and higher selves without abandoning the inner child. The inner adult can bring wisdom and encouragement to the hurt inner child, while the higher self can remind us of our innate perfection and ultimate nature as love. We have to teach all three to work and support each other. Suppressing the inner child is the most dangerous thing to do, as it will manifest externally as tragedy. And I am speaking from experience. The inner child contains our shadow but it is also the seat of the soul and the key in understanding our divine nature. As you dive deeper into it, you will actually meet the internalized aspects of the shadows of your primary caretakers within the inner child. You may be a high-energy successful executive and have a repressed depressed aspect from your mother and a repressed addict from your father side. Under duress, these repressed aspects may take over abruptly to the astonishment of your friends and family. These shadow aspects within ourselves have to be met consciously and ultimately loved for true integration to take place. This is where the step of accountability is so important. It will allow the PBPD to move from anger to sadness with self-awareness, which is where healing actually starts. If the lady mentioned above had gone there, she could have said for example “I am sad that I do not fit into this business world. I am terrified at the idea of finding my own clients and this could involve a lot of rejection. I am afraid to start my own business as the level of administrative complexity overwhelms me”. After experiencing her sadness and fears, she can then naturally move into problem solving.

This is easier said than done. This is why PBPD suffer from inhibited grieving. They have a tendency to inhibit and overcontrol negative emotional responses, especially those associated with grief and loss, including sadness, anger, guilt, shame, anxiety, and panic. For this reason, they are unable to grieve as they compulsively find a way out of experiencing the negative emotion consciously. This is why clinical trials with MDMA or DMT have showed efficacy in treating patients with PTSD. The plant medicine forces them into experiencing the trauma because every resistance is met with unsustainable torment so they have no other option than letting go. Inhibited grieving is understandable among borderline patients. People can only stay with a very painful process or experience if they are confident that it will end some day, some time— that they can “work through it,” so to speak. It is not uncommon to hear PBPD say they feel that if they ever do cry, they will never stop. Indeed, that is their common experience— the experience of not being able to control or modulate their own emotional experiences. They become, in effect, grief-phobic. In the face of such helplessness and lack of control, inhibition and avoidance of cues associated with grieving are not only understandable, but perhaps wise at times. Inhibition, however, has its costs. Borderline individuals are constantly re-exposed to the experience of loss, start the mourning process, automatically inhibit the process by avoiding or distracting themselves from the relevant cues, re-enter the process, and so on in a circular pattern that does not end. For healing to take place, the PBPD has to learn to grieve deeply in order to end grieving.  Through accountability, the PBPD needs to confront rather than avoiding the crises they are experiencing.

The slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering for the borderline. Yet, on the other hand, life is movement. Healing, at its best, requires both movement and touch. Thus, the process of healing itself cannot fail to cause intensely painful emotional experiences for the PBPD. The PBPD must have the courage to encounter the pain that arises. The experience of their own vulnerability that sometimes leads borderline individuals to extreme behaviors such as suicidal behaviors. This work is better facilitated when they are surrounded by loving friends, family members or a skilled compassionate therapist. Ultimately, however, they are the ones that need to experience these painful emotions consciously with a slow breathing and a relaxed body. No one else can do this work for them if they are going to learn to regulate their own emotions internally rather than externally. It will feel like at first that they are jumping into the abyss but overtime they will build confidence with this process of healing.

PBPD lack of accountability is often expressed as active passivity behaviors. They have a tendency to passive interpersonal problem-solving style, and not engage actively in solving their own life problems. They make active attempts to solicit problem solving from others in the environment while rejecting all suggestions. This translates into learned helplessness. When they experience intense emotional pain and vulnerability, the PBPD frequently believes that others (friends, family or therapist) could take away the pain if only they would. If they attempt to bring back the responsibility of their emotional state to the PBPD, they will be met with rage as this will trigger the PBPD immense shame of regulating her emotions. Once triggered, PBPD are often unable to distract themselves from the emotion. I had a borderline partner that always wanted to be on the same page. She could not agree to disagree, or postpone the resolution of the conflict to another time. She could not sleep if something was not resolved so intense discussions could go well into the middle of the night leaving us completely exhausted by the morning. When people currently involved with PBPD also fall into the trap of inconsistently appeasing her (basically their matching codependent partner) — sometimes giving in to and reinforcing high-rate, high-intensity aversive emotional expressions and other times not doing so— they are recreating conditions for the person’s learning of relationship-destructive behaviors. For this reason, codependents will make the PBPD mental health worse. They will never incentivize their borderline partners to become accountable too as they benefit from the dependency.

Kurt Cobain

Another trait of PBPD making it hard to step into accountability is apparent competence. They have a tendency to appear deceptively more competent than they actually are. These individuals are typically very gifted and talented in some specific areas so people assume mistakenly a high degree of functioning in all aspects of their lives. As a result, they experience intense shame at behaving dependently in a society that cannot tolerate dependency, so they have learned to inhibit expressions of negative affect and helplessness whenever the affect is within controllable limits. It is hard for a PBPD to step into accountability if they know they are going to be judged and possibly rejected when they share in a vulnerable way their actual limits.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) developed by Marsha Linehan is the most effective therapy for BPD that does not involve drugs. It has been called a “blackmail therapy” by some, as patients that do not improve can be let go by their therapists on the basis that “Continuing an ineffective therapy is unethical”. Actually, the real goal is to get PBPD into accountability even if this means triggering their abandonment issues. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) mostly fail with PBPD because it focuses on changing the patient which is invalidating. On the opposite, DBT is based on the patient’s inherent ability to get out of the misery of her life and build a life worth living. It promotes autonomy and the DBT therapist finds and plays to the patient’s strengths, not to her fragility. The therapist believes in their patients and coaches them in how to resolve the problems themselves.

you are not alone

Reading these two articles on codependents and borderlines may just have increased your powerlessness and anxiety, as you are likely to find some of these aspects within yourself. This is why the third and last section of this series will focus on solutions and how we may be able to heal from these conditions. Actually 98% of the population is struggling with some light or severe form of the 10 personality disorders defined by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) so we are not alone out there. The same 98% of us have a hurt inner child that requires healing, re-parenting and integration. So we are in an essence a bunch of hurt kids just pretending to be adults 🙂

Read part I – The dark side of the co-dependent

Read part III – Growing and healing together as a couple

The dark side of the co-dependent

3 part series of the dysfunctional dance between co-dependents and borderlines

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Part I – The dark side of the co-dependent

Disclosure: I am not a licensed therapist so I am not qualified to use these terms in a therapy setting. I have however studied this topic very closely as a tool for self-improvement and self-observation. I am just sharing my own understanding and experience on this matter with the hope it may heal your own relationships and help you to love yourself at a deeper level.

teddy bear behind bars

My mother was a discouraged borderline and my father was a codependent. My sister is a borderline, my brothers are codependent and I have been on a life long journey to heal my codependency too. Almost all of my intimate partners have struggled with borderline personality disorder. I am hopefully closer to live a more authentic life as I have brought awareness to my subconscious patterns.

I have shared with you in my previous blog how my attachment traumas made me a match to a cult. The same attachment traumas made me a match to dysfunctional intimate relationships. A number of us with personality disorders can actually be high-functioning according to societal standards. You will find many successful CEOs, performers, top politicians that are narcissistic, borderline or active co-dependents. These personality disorders can best be seen in our personal and intimate lives that suffer greatly from these personality disorders coming from childhood attachment traumas.

I can see that my intimate relationships have been plagued with negative core beliefs coming from an early age. Initially, as a young man, because of my own abandonment traumas, I was deeply avoidant as I was convinced to be unworthy of love. I believed that it was just a question of time for my intimate partners to leave me. I would push them away and they would break-up with me, as they felt unloved.  I felt unloved and unlovable as a result while these partners would actually deeply care for me. It was a vicious circle feeding self.

Captain save a hoe

Because I felt unlovable as I was, I decided subconsciously that I need a hook for my loved ones to stay with me and not abandon me. I entered a rescuer phase. As a friend jokingly put it, I became “Captain save a hoe”. In my early twenties, I fell in love with an impulsive borderline in a desperate situation. She had a son with a thug in the northern suburbs of Paris. He was a gambler that would still money from her while she did not even have enough money to feed the child. He used the child to control her. He would sometimes take the child out of the balcony of the 20th floor and threaten to drop him if she did not obey his demands. After I started a relationship with her, my heart broke when I felt the pain of this child. I took many risks to get them out of this desperate situation and we eventually managed to immigrate to the USA together. The relationship eventually ended. I was shut off emotionally past the limerence stage as I continued to focus on external activities to be worthy of love instead of emotionally investing into the relationship. I had no clue that my partner actually wanted to be with me but I felt so unlovable that it seemed like a foreign concept. My partner eventually cheated on me as she was starving emotionally and struggling with her own issues. I felt deeply betrayed and was so confused. How could she leave me after everything I had done for her? As this was not enough, I repeated the exact same experience with a Russian woman and her son a year later. She lived with a violent man who abused her physically. I helped them immigrate to the US as well. Our relationship ended up in the same miserable way and I felt taken advantage, unaware of my own part in the dramas that were unfolding.

These painful experiences made me change my strategy for partners. I felt attracted to stronger and more successful women. However, there needed to be something about these women that was difficult to be with. Something that would keep other men away so that they would not cheat on me. Something that only me could handle so that they would be less likely to abandon me and repeat the abandonment trauma with my mum. The high functioning borderline met these criteria as they share the same abandonment traumas as I did.

taker and caretaker

Codependents and borderlines are a very common pair. This relationship dynamic allows the codependents to slip into “caretaker” roles, giving priority and focus to problems in the life of the person with BPD (Borderline Personality disorder) rather than to issues in their own lives. No one’s ego likes to see its own dysfunctions as it brings up shame, something especially excruciating for a codependent with a weak sense of self. In these kinds of relationships, the codependent will gain a sense of worth by being “the sane one” and “the responsible one” as he makes the borderline “the crazy one” or “the sick one”. High functioning borderlines are often more narcissistic too. Codependents can provide the narcissist with an obedient and attentive audience that matches the needs of the self-absorbed narcissist. Among the reciprocally interlocking interactions of the pair are the narcissist’s overpowering need to feel important and special and the co-dependent person’s strong need to help others feel that way. Actually, borderline/narcissistic people are only able to create relationships with codependents. A healthy individual with an authentic self could not alternate the roles of perpetrator, rescuer and victim that the borderline requires. Only the codependent can do this as a personality split is required. Their lives together are an endless roller coaster and they alternate control during crises. The codependents submit and weather the storm as the borderlines/narcissists get into their rant or rage. They know however that it is just a matter of time for the borderlines/narcissists to crash. At that time, they can play their favorite caretaker role and get back in control once again. For this reason, it is in the interest of the codependents to worsen and not improve their partners’ mental health. This is a dark side of codependents that only few people understand. This is why they are called enablers. They are enabling and feeding on the most dysfunctional aspects of their partners instead of keeping them accountable for their harmful actions. The borderline is seen in most psychology books as the evil one and the codependent as the good one but the reality is that their shadows are a perfect mirror of each other. The codependent is actually more dangerous as his darkness is more covert. I have worked with many women that had violent and sexually abusive fathers. I have found that they experienced even deeper traumas with their own mothers as they looked the other way and made excuses for their husbands’ behaviors all during the time the abuse was taking place. The child would feel hope as the codependent mother would complain about the father behind his back but felt betrayed over and over again as the mother showed her loyalty to her husband first in her actions. The borderline and the codependent mirror each other attachment traumas, core shame, lack of self-esteem and pathological loneliness. These attributes are directly expressed with the borderline and repressed with the codependent.

Through introspection and the observation of codependents through the diverse communities I have been part of, I have dived deeper into the characteristics of the codependents that I will share with you below. I was able to see the horror of my own psychological make-up through external mirrors and started healing it as a result. I hope you can do the same as you see aspects of yourself in a vulnerable way through the examples below.

  • No sense of self, low self‐esteem, poor boundaries, absence of conscience
narcissist and codependent

In its broadest definition, a codependent is someone who cannot function from their innate self and whose thinking and behavior is instead organized around another person, or even an organization, or substance. This condition originates from childhood trauma. In the dysfunctional family, the child learns to become attuned to the parent’s needs and feelings instead of the other way around. As a result, the child becomes disconnected from his authentic feelings, as there was no space for the essence of who he is. Codependent people are fixated on another person for approval or sustenance and need to attach themselves to a stronger personality. Poor self‐esteem lowers your expectations of being treated well so we accept the unreasonable demands from our narcissistic/borderline partner with little resistance. Growing up in dysfunctional families, we learn to not trust our perceptions and what we know. We just abide by the narcissist. Most codependents find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante. These helper types are often dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs and this is the only time they find a sense of self-worth. The codependents cannot believe they can be loved for they are so they are asking to be given a role where they can be used instead of contributing through the natural expression of their talents. They hope to make themselves indispensable through this role so that they would not be abandoned. Their abandonment fears and core shame overpower their conscience so they have lost their inner compass to what is right or wrong. They have delegated it instead to the narcissist, the organization of the substance. As a result, codependents lack authentic and inner accountability. Instead, they do things to stay out of trouble from their partners. They have the feeling to always walk on eggshells as they spend their lives to please their partners and loved ones from the often contradictory feedback they receive externally instead of relying on their inner guidance system that they have shut down to survive their early childhood. Let me give you a couple of examples that I have witnessed personally.

A confidante of a spiritual teacher was asked to lead a group through a process. She started working with the group but in the middle of it, she felt her presence was required next to her teacher so she left without notice leaving all attendees open, vulnerable & incomplete in their healing.

In the cult the Fellowship of Friends, a woman who was struggling raising her child for both financial and emotional reasons asked the narcissistic cult leader what to do. The leader never had children, did not like to be around children and was a sexual predator. He told her to give him for adoption to a couple he designated. Though they were taken by surprise, all parties complied. This left the child with severe abandonment traumas.

A man fell madly in love with a woman but she came from a higher social class. They married and had a child but he compensated his social status insecurity by becoming a workaholic and building/running a successful trucking business. One day, the child died in a car accident. When his wife informed him of the tragedy, he responded he would come after he was done with all his meetings of the day. When he finally came home, he told his wife that nothing could be done, as the son was already dead so life had to go on. The wife left him, as she felt her husband was as sensitive as a cold stone. He later collapsed emotionally and became homeless.

A son visited his dad after not seeing him for 2 years to celebrate his grandmother birthday with him. He spent a day with him then asked to have a walk with him to talk. The father who was afraid that he would get in trouble with his wife (his stepmum) to spend more time away from her encouraged his son to leave right away. The son could not tell him in person that he was getting a divorce with his wife.

As a prank, I showed the most ridiculous video once of an individual portraying himself as a tantric master and I told the manager of a spiritual teacher that she wanted to work with him and invite him to her facility. Though he was conservative and in any other circumstances would have been outraged at the video, he expressed that he was impressed with the tantric teacher and would do the necessary to bring him. I was in complete disbelief that the prank worked so well with no resistance on his part.

A community member of a spiritual teacher fell in love with a woman. He wanted to have children with her but his teacher could not handle having children around him. His teacher required him to continue living with him at the same time. He complied and buried the issue. His girlfriend eventually left him as she understood her family life and her needs would be always second to the whims of his partner’s spiritual teacher.

Enabling the dysfunctional relationship by feeding the partner’s shadows

the codependent is an enabler

As we have learned previously, the codependent is an enabler that does not make his narcissistic partner accountable in any way. As a result, the partners’ mental health continue to decline and his narcissistic and paranoid tendencies get worse overtime. While this is true that the narcissists’ natural tendency would be to be comforted in their drama, and have little interest for personal accountability, the codependent enabling tendencies make it much worse. There is a famous quote from Edmund Burke “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. The codependents are these “good men” that do nothing. Codependents and narcissists feed each other false selves as they grow more unhealthy dependency with each other. To survive the dysfunctional environment, the codependent has learned not to challenge the narcissist and on the opposite to play with their shadows to ensure his safety. In return, the narcissist gets addicted to the false validation he gets from the codependent. They both isolate from the rest of the world so that they may not be challenged in their vision of reality. As the borderline/narcissists get more controlled by their addictions, shadows and inflated sense of self, the more they may be controlled by the codependent. Edmund Burke said also “Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver”. Why it is one thing to boost our loved ones’ self confidence, it is another thing to feed their inflated sense of self. By using flattery on his narcissistic partner, the codependent understands he can kill two birds at once. He gains his favor while isolating him from potential rivals. I remember a situation where a follower was shamed for hours by a spiritual teacher and his codependent manager for recommending a change of schedule where another teacher would come on the last day of the program. The codependent manager of the spiritual teacher insisted he was the best of the world so that he had to conclude the program. The spiritual teacher fell for it and went on a rant for hours how this so-called fan could even dare to propose this change of schedule. He was very insecure and insisted for anyone around him to always say he was the best in the world. If anyone would see the value in another spiritual teacher, they would have to face the borderline rage of the teacher that was fueled by the codependent manager. Over time, he developed paranoia for anyone who could potentially compete with him so he got rid of his best disciples, which also comforted the codependent manager who felt insecure with anyone who could have direct access to the teacher. A “royal court” was formed around the teacher that isolated him from reality, and consequently his mental health declined at a rapid pace as his narcissism turned into megalomania.

self adoration

Denial is prevalent for both the borderline/narcissists and their codependent partners. By staying as victims, they avoid facing their own shame. They both play an elaborate dance to construct a reality that boost each other ego but isolate them from the rest of the world. While the codependent gets rewarded by praise, appreciation, a sense of control, attention and often financial security from their dominant partner, the narcissist gets a sense of security and personal power as their self-concept stays unchallenged. As the pattern amplifies, the chance for this duo to build or maintain any authentic relationship become smaller and smaller. The narcissistic partner thinks he is the one in control however the more their ego get inflated, the more controllable they become by their co-dependent partner that lead the way from behind the scenes. The codependent feeds on the partner’s mental health issues. They may get drown and overwhelmed at times by their partner narcissistic episodes but they know it is just a matter of time for them to regain control as their partners’ steam run out. The narcissist cannot have friends. He can only have employees, followers or fans, basically transactional relationships.

The codependent pattern will encourage the negative behavior “I am serving your father a glass of Whiskey because he needs to relax after a long day” while a more healthy partner will set a clear boundary “If you continue drinking I will have no other choice to leave though I love you very much”. A friend of mine contacted me recently. She broke up with a boyfriend she loved very much because he started being abusive with her. It broke her heart to do it but she knew this was the only way to wake him up. This is the difference between codependent and healthy relationships. The codependent will feed your shadows to be in control and create more unhealthy dependency. Healthy partners will not hesitate to confront you on your shadows even at their detriment. An intimate relationship is the closest mirror we can have. Do you choose to mirror your partner light or darkness? And remember by doing this, you are doing else then mirroring your own light and darkness. By committing to support your partners to become the best version of themselves, you are doing the same to yourself. Codependents choose to do the opposite because of their own insecurity.

The codependents cannot meet their needs directly so they manipulate

manipulation

This came from childhood trauma. The codependent was simply an accessory to their primary caregivers narcissistic needs. They never received the mirroring they needed to discover their authentic selves. Not only are they unable to meet their needs directly but they are simply completely unaware of their needs. They are actually terrified to figure out what their needs are as this would mean they could be rejected or ridiculed for wanting what they need. It feels so much safer to say their needs do not matter or focus instead on the needs of others. They place a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with other people needs. For this reason, many codependents learn to be self‐sufficient and to deny their emotional needs, and this is not sustainable.  They match perfectly their narcissistic partners that are self-focused on their own needs. If your important emotional needs were shamed or ignored in your childhood, would you not grow up shutting down the feelings associated with those needs? Why would you feel a need if you do not expect it to be filled? It is less painful to deny it entirely. However, no one can un-need what they need so they live in state of emotional starvation and develop manipulation strategies to meet their needs indirectly.

Manipulation through communication triangulation, being double faced, alienation and” Divide and Conquer” strategies

Codependency is more about why and how you do things than what you do. Their actions are often driven by not getting in trouble with their partners instead of doing what feels right according to their authentic self (that they do not know). They rarely perform any action from their heart instead they expect something in return. They have a transactional mind. Codependent parents would often remind children of all the sacrifice they endured to raise them to adulthood. If they want to be touched by their partners, they would offer to give them a massage instead of asking directly for their needs. The massage would not feel good because of the feeling of expectation. And if the partner does not reciprocate, they are then punished emotionally through withdrawal. If they want a night girl out, they would ask their male counterpart if they would be interested to spend a weekend away with his friends. If they would like to bring their parents over, they would encourage their partners to have their parents visit. Once their partners express their own needs, then they feel they are allowed to express their own needs. It is an exhausting way to live life and they are continuously set-up for disappointment. A relationship is not about keeping counts but it is about meeting each other needs in a mutually beneficial way. When someone does not express their needs directly, the probability for someone else to meet these needs go drastically down. Because of their deep shame, they spend a lot of energy justifying why they need what they need. They react often in a passive aggressive way when they unexpressed needs are unmet. I knew a woman that was in love with another woman but she could not face the truth that she was a lesbian. She made herself her caregiver. Once she felt she had leverage by becoming more indispensable, she would threaten she may leave to find the love of her life (often described as a male). This would make the other woman panic however it was obvious that she did not intend to go anywhere. She eventually succeeded in splitting her with her husband by becoming what she felt the other woman really wanted and by showing her the incompatibilities she perceived with the husband the other woman loved. These types of relationship are doomed and I can speak from experience. I have too attracted lovers and partners by pretending to be what they wanted to see. However we can only hide for so long. Once the real us come out, our partners feel duped and they make our lives impossible. A common ploy for codependents interested in a woman that is a single mum is to build rapport with her children. They understand the intense guilt the targeted partner is experiencing from not providing a full-time and caring father to her children. Overtime, however, the single mum often realizes that the new partner never truly cared or had true ownership with their children. And if the man leaves the relationship, there is no interest in maintaining the relationship with the children.

The codependent cannot be trusted because he is double faced. He shows a different face for every different person he is interacting with. He is a people pleaser and adapts his messaging accordingly. I am also guilty to have played the same codependent game with my company executives in the past. A vice president would come to my office complaining about the behavior of another executive that they would consider bossy, disrespectful and unprofessional. I would empathize with her and would confirm the flaws she had noticed in him. Then the other executive would stop by my office complaining about the immaturity and lack of experience about the first one. I would validate the same way, happy to get rapport through opposition. I felt good and important as the rescuer. However I was undermining my management team spirit and cohesion. Then I was acting surprised why these grown-up executive cannot get along and keep fighting! Overtime, they lost trust with me as they could feel my lack of authenticity.

During one of my divorces, I trusted an individual to act as an intermediary of my wife to act on her behalf, as she was too emotional to take care of legal details of the split. He was very nice and amicable with me while I realized only months later, he was disparaging me behind my back as friends made me listen to voice mails he was leaving about me. Instead of making things better with my ex wife, he kept putting oil on the fire to antagonize each other behind our backs. Both she and I felt very thankful to him at the time to act as a mediator as the other party seemed crazy and ill intentioned not realizing he was largely responsible for the increased strife between us through triangulation. The intermediary ended up getting married to my former spouse!

The codependent learned at an early age to manipulate their caregivers to survive emotionally in a dysfunctional environment. They are excellent at identifying the blind spots to the people around them for their benefit. The can place shame on others to manipulate a situation and then use charm to come off caring as their typical fashion to get what they want from others. They are experts in alienation and playing on people fears. They identify a weakness in a rival and makes a crack looks like a canyon while they state how different they are. Sometimes they just make things up and hope they will get away with it. A friend of mine did not know anything about finances so her business manager puts doubts in her mind that her husband was embezzling money to create a rift in their relationship as the manager was in love with her. He also showed her how her husband was a liability to her career while at the very same time he kept complementing the husband on his contribution to her business. The wife fell for it and divorced the husband while she was away from the husband on a business trip while the manager took on the savior role. The manger continued to ensure there would be no contact between them so that she would never figure out the manipulation that had taken place. “Divide and conquer” is the favorite power dynamic of the codependent.

I knew a lady that lived with her best friend and his girlfriend. Both girls used to get along very well. He was very codependent and made his girlfriend feel he cannot fully present to her because of the commitment he has towards his best friend that was also his employer. He made his friend/employer insecure that telling her that he cannot be really there for her because of his relationship to his girlfriend, which he claimed was the most important thing in his life. As a result, the two ladies that really adored each other started feeling threatened with one another.

Addiction

addiction

When we did not receive enough nurturing or had your feelings respected, we may attempt to fill this void with an addiction. Addictive relationships or substances serve as a substitute for real connection. Some people are caretakers who hope to receive love in return but are unable to be vulnerable about their own feelings, which is necessary to maintain an intimate relationship.

Many who don’t recognize their needs for support and comfort isolate — especially when they’re hurting. Even with awareness of their needs, asking someone to meet them can feel humiliating.

As a result, many people turn to some addiction. Many of my clients had a codependent father or mother that was alcoholic. I had an uncle that was a gambler to compensate for the lack of intimacy in his marriage. I became a workaholic and the high intensity of running a Silicon Valley business was my own way of compensating. Some men escape in following sports on TV while many women do the same with their soap operas. The options of escape are endless to avoid feeling the lack of intimacy and connection that we are experiencing.

The goal of the addiction is to prevent us from experiencing painful feelings, often originating from childhood traumas. It is critical we allow ourselves to sit with these painful emotions and do shadow work when they come up instead of falling for an addiction to escape. As we experience consciously these difficult feelings, we will start healing and eventually generate the desires to make the necessary changes in our life to create a life that genuinely feels good.

Replaying trauma from childhood

cries below the surface

Codependency is often associated with abusive, addictive, or controlling home environments. Or it may be the product of emotional neglect and absence. Any painful experience from childhood has the potential to become a trauma that can affect our present actions. Fortunately, there are many modalities today that can support soul retrieval so that you do not need to manifest into your life the original trauma. I knew a woman who suffered incest from her brutal father all of her childhood. As a child and teenager, she kept fantasizing that mum would leave dad to save her. Unfortunately, mum was very codependent and an enabler to the abuse so the rapes continued into adulthood. She brought that intense desire into her adult self and she became a close confidante to a married woman. The wife had suffered a lot of abuse too in her childhood in the hands of a psychopath. They both replayed their drama and made the husband the bad guy they had to escape from. The husband was ostracized overnight and completely cut from his family. Even months after the separation had taken place, they were still making lists to demonize the poor fellow. The husband was abandoned by his mum when he was a child so this is why he was a match to this experience as well. There are no bad people only people who have been traumatized. If their childhood traumas are not healed, people will have a tendency to replay them in their adult lives. If they are unable to heal, their traums will unfortunately repeat into the next generation, the lives of their children. This is why soul retrieval and trauma healing are the most important thing we will ever do.

Unhealthy dependency instead of autonomy

mathematics of codependency

Human beings are a social species so we need each other to live a good life. There are healthy dependencies and unhealthy ones too. The codependent has the later form of dependency. Their fear of loneliness would keep them in abusive and dysfunctional relationships instead of looking for better options for partners. In a codependent relationship, the codependent’s sense of purpose is based on making extreme sacrifices to satisfy their partner’s needs. Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy “clinginess”, where one person does not have self-sufficiency or autonomy. One or both parties depend on their loved one for fulfillment. In romantic relationships that do not involve children, we need to remember that the individual in the relationship is more important than the relationship. There should be no coercion in such relationships. The codependents need to be committed to put themselves first and accept that it is better to be alone than being with people that are not ready to accept and love their authentic selves. Of course, they first need to figure out what this authentic self is all about. Once they make this step, they will be on their way to create a life that feels good. Thich Naht Hanh said “You must love in a way that the person you love feels free”. To become autonomous is to able to share a life with a loved one without trying to possess or control him/her. We do not need to possess him/her because they live within us. It is not anymore a relationship where two become one, but two become three: the two partners and the relationship. They create a conscious relationship instead of being consumed by it.

How bad can codependency get?

The Selena story

Selena Quintanilla and yolanda salvidar

Selena Quintanilla-Perez was an American singer that achieved international fame. Her story was immortalized in the Selena movie starring Jennifer Lopez. As Selena’s singing schedule became more demanding, she came to rely on Yolanda Saldivar, a San Antonio nurse who had founded her fan club in 1991 and was a devoted follower of the band. The family did not realize how much of a sycophant she was. Shy, plain-looking, and eleven years Selena’s senior, Saldivar made herself indispensable, taking on the job of managing the boutiques and eventually becoming Selena’s confidante. Selena had a caring but narcissistic father that was ruling the whole family. As a result, Selena desperately needed a confidante outside her family circle. That’s when Yolanda stepped into her life and made it seem like she was taking care of everything. Yolanda appeared to everyone like someone sweet, like a mother figure. She used to mother people around her and ask, “Do you need anything, m’ijo/a?”. Yolanda managed to gain a lot of importance in Selena’s life. Whether Selena realized it or not, Yolanda became her filter and gatekeeper. Selena had lots of friends working for her at the beginning of her career. Once Yolanda came on board, she got rid of Selena’s friends one by one. Anyone who captured Selena’s attention, she eliminated. After the family found out that Yolanda was taking advantage of her position to steal money, she felt her life was over and shot Selena to death as her life felt meaningless without Selena. By killing her, Yolanda assured that her name would be associated with Selena for eternity.

Wild Wild Country: Osho and Sheela

osho and sheela

A recent documentary Wild Wild Country narrates the rise and fall of Osho Rajneesh, a gifted and controversial spiritual leader that set-up a community in the US state of Oregon. Osho’s passion was teaching spirituality and waking up his followers through various healing modalities. He trusted a young and a very ambitious early disciple of his: Ma Anand Sheela to deal with all the material and organizational aspects in creating the community. Osho liked reclusion and long periods of time for meditation and contemplation so he let naively Sheela take more and more power. For a very long time, she was the only one meeting with Osho and through communication triangulation, she was able to dictate all important decisions in the community. People started to fear her. Power went to her head, as she obviously did not have the experience, integrity and wisdom to handle this level of responsibility and decision-making. She created her own group of devotees and instructed some of them to perform unethical actions. For example, he convinced one of her close follower to kill a doctor that she felt was getting too close to Osho. Unbeknownst to Osho, she built a multi million dollar center to spy on all community members. She armed the community, brought thousands of homeless people from all over the country to win county elections and poisoned the water of the nearby town. During this time, Osho was doing a 3 years’ silent. The whole state of Oregon that had been antagonized by Sheela’s actions was on high alert to bring the community down. Sheela was finally arrested but US officials felt it was safer to bring Osho down too. He was arrested too, and suffered such bad treatment in custody that he died a few months later.

ties codependent relationship

These are some of the most extreme forms of codependency and everyone can see how dangerous it can be. Idolatry can flatter the ego but everything is a transaction for the codependent. It is just a matter of time that they will come for their due once the dependency is complete. Every relationship is a mirror and one cannot be controlling in a relationship without being controlled oneself. We eventually receive what we give in a relationship. How do you recognize a dysfunctional relationship from a healthy one? The dysfunctional one puts you down while the healthy one will make you a better human being.

Read part II – Understanding and loving the borderline

Read part III – Growing and healing together as a couple