Life as a human being is tough, and we are often given more than we can handle. When under stress, our psyche is determined to help us stay safe so that we may survive and overcome challenges coming our way. There is a large variety of common defense mechanisms that we employ to protect the ego, and they operate at an unconscious level to help ward off unpleasant feelings. Our defense mechanisms are another way we cope with anxieties. In psychoanalysis terms, coping mechanisms arise because we feel threatened, or because our id or superego (in psychoanalytic terms) becomes too demanding. Some psychologists differentiate between defense and coping mechanisms. According to them, a defense mechanism is unconscious and automatic, while a coping mechanism is a conscious attempt from the psyche to deal with a difficult situation.
mechanisms are natural and normal. We will always be using them when external
situations that feel threatening and outside our control arise. As we grow
older and hopefully wiser, our goal is to respond with more mature and adequate
On the other hand, because of past traumas, and
unhealed aspects of ourselves, we are often displaying defense mechanisms that
are not adapted to our external reality. In this situation, most of the focus
has to be on releasing and healing the past traumas to minimize and eventually
eliminate the trigger of the defense mechanism.
Finally, our lack of self-love, personal honesty, and self-awareness are responsible for many other maladapted defense mechanisms. The ego is terrified to see its shadows and will do anything to avoid seeing the truth about itself.
Initially, before changing anything, we need to
develop an awareness of the coping mechanisms we use and observe our psyche
without judgment. Eventually, through self-observation, we will be able to
respond with better-adapted defense mechanisms to enjoy a happier and more
Not all defense or coping mechanisms are created equal. We can categorize them in four main categories:
Pathological: There is a loss of contact with reality. We are in the realm of noticeable mental illness and irrationality. There is potential danger, harm or abuse for the individual and the people surrounding him/her.
Neurotic: Fairly common in adults, it offers short-term advantages in coping, but can often cause serious long-term problems in relationships, work and in enjoying life over the long run.
Immature: Acceptable with adolescents, they are unfortunately far too common with adults who have not developed their emotional intelligence and self-awareness. They are maladapted to the environment and the external reality.
Mature: They are only found with adults with high EQ, and they optimize success in life and relationships. They are respectful of others. They promote personal integration, resilience, creativity, learning and wisdom.
Part I – Pathological defense mechanisms
Delusional projection, paranoia, grandiosity
This is often found in schizophrenia. The person lives in her/his own imaginary reality and is suffering from grossly frank delusions about external reality, often of persecutory nature. It is often found in cult leaders who have adopted a grandiose idea of the self, and are looking for weak followers to adopt their insane beliefs. For example, using my own personal experience, Robert Burton from the Fellowship of Friends believed he was an angel trapped in a human body. During dinner, he would often leave an empty space for his « buddy » Leonardo Da Vinci whom he saw as his divine father. I have another acquaintance who sees himself fighting evil forces with the Son of God. According to him, he constantly fights antichrists, vampires, demons and hundreds of thousands of Chinese, American and Nazi soldiers but he feels relieved having 100,000 pages of prayers to help him (his own words). I also had a former girlfriend who was convinced I was attacking her psychically after we broke up.
Splitting, also called black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking, is the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. It is quite common in romantic relationships where the object of love often turns into an object of hate. People suffering from borderline personality disorder will have a tendency to see their partner, as all good at the start of the relationship, or all bad, typically after the relationship is over to deal with their fear of abandonment. Brad Pitt was Angelina Jolie’s soul mate but after they separated, she could only see a child abuser in him. The person using splitting carries an enormous amount of shame and has low self-esteem. As a result, they are unable to see their own shadow and will project it back to the former lover or close friend. Splitting is also one of the marks of parental alienation. The alienating parent’s weak ego can only identify with the positive aspects of being a protector so s/he will turn the children into victims in order to make the targeted parent a dangerous perpetrator. Splitting is a defense mechanism that helps to attach to someone, detach from someone and deal with the anxiety related to rejection and abandonment as we are wired to run away from the bad and dangerous person, and bond with the nice and safe person.
People are so afraid of their own physical, moral, or psychological deficiency that they project it onto another individual or a group. This is also known as scapegoating. Adolf Hitler was a repressed homosexual for most of his life but he arrested over 100,000 of his fellow gay and lesbian German subjects on the basis of their sexual orientation. The most homophobic people are often homosexual themselves. This type of defense mechanism where we project onto others what we do not want to see in ourselves is also called reaction formation. Sometimes, multiple defense mechanisms are at play at the same time. In family systems, parents will project their good parts onto the golden child while projecting their shadows onto the identified patient, who serves as a scapegoat for the whole family. One of my former girlfriends, who survived horrendous abuse in her childhood, started seeing me towards the end of our relationship as her childhood abuser and a dangerous psychopath. By the same token, the most jealous people are often the ones having affairs on the side.
It is the refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening. We ignore anxiety-provoking thoughts by stating they are invalid. In the BBC documentary The Secret Swami, Isaac Tigrett, the founder of Hard Rock Café, stated that he believed that there was truth to the rumors of Sathya Sai Baba’s actions of pedophilia and sexual abuse towards thousands of his young male followers. But he also stated that such behavior would not change his faith in Sai Baba as he had to preserve his self image and his relationship with the guru he had donated over $100 million. All cult members rely heavily on denial to turn the other way when confronted with overwhelming evidence of the deviance of their guru. Children raised with an abusive parent also resort to denial to make this parent safe to feel safe themselves. I had an acquaintance who was sexually abused by her father all of her childhood and she still believed that no one in this world had loved her more than her father. In 2015, 12 years after the infamous invasion of Irak, still half of Republicans believed that weapons of mass destruction were found in Irak.
Addiction is a psychological and physical inability to stop an activity or consuming a substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm. There are various degrees of addictions, and in its light form, it can be considered neurotic but the addiction can unfortunately often take a pathological turn. The most common addictions are alcoholism, smoking, drugs (both illicit and prescription drugs), overeating, gambling, sex, coffee, video games, workaholism and social media. I covered this topic in-depth previously. People, politicians and institutions often fail to realize that the addiction is only a symptom or a coping mechanism and not the core issue. As a consequence, in order to heal, we need to look and heal the emotional dynamic that the addiction is trying to block. Addiction to smoking is often linked to premature weaning, which resulted in poor self-image. Substance abuse is usually connected with the fear of being alone, and feeling disconnected with people. Genuine healing can take time so going to a less harmful coping mechanism can help tremendously too. Many alcoholics who were destroying their lives and those around them have turned to dogmatic religions (ex. Born Again Christian). This still represents a big improvement in their quality of life.
self-injury, often simply called self-injury, is the act of deliberately
harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. It is typically not
meant as a suicide attempt but rather a drastic way to cope with extreme
emotional pain, intense anger and frustration. One can only fathom the degree
of emotional pain one must experience to feel release or even pleasure in
self-mutilation. Unfortunately, while self-injury may bring a momentary sense
of calm and a release of tension, it’s usually followed by the shame provoked
by this behavior and the return of painful emotions. Teal Swan who used to be a
cutter as a way to cope from a very traumatic childhood is one of the rare few
who dared to talk about this taboo subject.
Harmless victims feel so powerless in the hands of their perpetrators that they develop a psychological alliance with their abuser as a survival strategy. As they see their perpetrator as all-powerful, there is nowhere to hide. Unconditional compliance feels unconsciously the only way to stay alive. Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, was taken and held hostage by the Symbionese Liberation Army, “an urban guerilla group”, in 1974. She was recorded denouncing her family as well as the police under her new name, “Tania”, and was later seen working with the SLA to rob banks in San Francisco. She publicly asserted her sympathetic feelings towards the SLA and their pursuits as well. It took years of therapy for satanic ritual abuse poster child Teal Swan before she could acknowledge that her abuser was not her real father. A lighter and more common form of the Stockholm syndrome will get people with abusive parents to select similarly abusive partners in their adult life. Their wires have been crossed, as they had to create the association danger=love to survive their early life of mistreatment.
Excessive control, dominance, jealousy and possession
A person may feel so powerless from within, that they may compensate by exercising absolute control over other human beings, and sometimes animals. The most common form is the jealous husband or wife who gets into rage if their spouse speaks with someone of the opposite gender. They have an innate need to control all aspects of their spouses’ life. This control can also be seen in cases of parental alienation where the alienating parent is exercising full emotional control of their children, who have become their narcissistic objects. The same behaviors can be witnessed in the workplace where an authoritative boss is dictating the life of their employees for his/her personal benefit rather than advancing the company vision. Harvey Weinstein used his position in the movie business to sexually assault hundreds of young actresses such as Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie or Gwyneth Paltrow. Cult leaders fall into the same category as they take full control of their disciples’ life for their personal benefit. In the David Berg’s cult Children of God, women were nothing short of slaves. In addition of raising children, taking care of the household, cooking, cleaning, they had to give themselves willingly to the elders (“sexual sharing”) and at night, they had to enroll new members prostituting themselves if required (“flirty fishing”). Dictators have the most negative impact with this pathological coping mechanism as they exercise absolute control over entire states. Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi who was Libya’s supreme leader for 34 years was one of these despicable human beings, but there are so many more today creating hell for their subjects. Actually, there are 50 countries in the world with autocratic government and this contributes to billions of people’s misery.
This is a more controversial defense mechanism that I am listing here however I have personally witnessed it on numerous occasions. Demonic possession has both terrified and fascinated humankind since the beginning of time, and this is why so many movies have been inspired by it. Under very severe stress or abuse, the front personalities may vacate the body, leaving an empty shell for demonic entities to take over. It is a defense mechanism, because it is a desperate attempt to survive by exiting the current reality. Unfortunately, when the front personalities come back into the body, they typically have to face, with indescribable shame, the horrible actions committed by the dark entities in their absence. Actually, many serial killers say that they were possessed by a demon that takes control of them when they are about to commit their heinous crimes. This type of personality dissociation is well known of satanic cults that use torture and the most extreme of sexual and physical abuse to insert demonic entities in children to transform them into obedient mind-controlled slaves. I became more aware of this sad reality as I fell in love with a woman that had been abused by a satanic cult all of her childhood.
Similar to a sociopath, a psychopath has lost all ability for empathy because of repeated and extreme childhood traumas. Whereas a sociopath is still striving to be a good and a moral person from their mind, the psychopath is immoral and has given up on restraining his dark pulsions. He has typically formed some insane dogma to justify his deviant actions. An example of this can be found in the book Mein Kampf that Hitler wrote before he took control of Germany. Because the psychopath has fully disconnected from his heart, he is also fully disconnected from other people and sees them as separate of himself. This is the basis of Satanic cults where exploitation and vampirism are seen as a way to get stronger and more powerful. In this gloomy view of the universe, energy is limited and each one of us is alone so needs to use others as objects for personal gratification. Psychopaths have very deep buried traumas within them but they have completely shut down so as not to feel them. They only feel alive when they torture, abuse and brutalize their victims to mirror the internal aspects of them that are in hell. The more horror they perform, the more they disconnect emotionally to cope with the little left of their conscience and the more deviant they get. A tragic dismal path of destruction surrounds them.
Part III – Growing and healing together as a couple
For the most part, my last blog on Understanding and Loving the Borderline was well received except on a Facebook group that brings together a vulnerable minority group. My blog triggered them, as they felt stigmatized and shamed. I removed the post from this private group as my intent was to make people feel better not worse, and they were unable to make use of the information. They probably suffered a lot in the hands of a mental health system that often uses labels to prescribe drugs and to scapegoate them instead of providing them with genuine support for healing. Labeling is indeed a dangerous thing. It is fine for people to label themselves as borderline or codependent as a tool for self-observation, but we should refrain from labeling other people this way, as it would just trigger their shame. Shame and self-awareness are incompatible states. This is why, once our shame is triggered, any positive change towards our authentic healthy self becomes impossible. We become frozen and what can happen instead is more fragmentation, meaning that we would build a false self in order not to experience this feeling of shame again. This is actually the process of how false cult personalities are created, and how the false “good guys” personalities are built with codependents. The borderline is however unable to cope and goes into rage. I sincerely do not know which is healthier. Every tool can be used for empowerment or to hurt people. It is up to each one of us to use this information wisely.
We mirror each other’s disowned self
As I was doing inner work, I remember when I first met my “inner borderline”. We call this process voice dialog or parts work. I display externally little of the BPD characteristics. As I mentioned previously, I have been struggling instead with codependency in my intimate relationships. This makes sense as we manifest externally what is deeply repressed in us. This is how attraction works. As a child, the borderline aspects of my mum and stepmom terrified me but I had to bond with them for my emotional survival. I had made the depression of one and the anger of the other one unacceptable emotions. I created these parts internally to mirror them but buried them deep within my psyche out of fear and in a subconscious attempt to feel safe. I could not have been a magnet for PBPD partners all of my life unless there was a part in me to reflect them. So if a codependent is in a relationship with a PBPD, we need to remember that the borderline is the repressed aspect of the codependent, and vice versa. There is futility in blaming our partner because they are you, both representing the positive and negative aspects of you that you have disowned. The most extreme form of internalizing the people we feel traumatized from, and that we feel dependent on for our survival is well documented as the Stockholm syndrome. An example was the adoration of Nazi concentration camp SS physician Josef Mengele by his victims. Josef Mengele performed the most horrific deadly human experiments on prisoners and in particular on children twins. I recommend a quick read on other famous cases of the Stockholm syndrome. Here is how it works. When a traumatic event occurs that we are not able to process consciously, we fragment. This means that aspects of our consciousness leave our body to find escape somewhere else. In very powerless situations, these fragmented selves actually find refuge in the abuser as it feels it is the safest place to hide. As a result, we create deeply repressed internal parts of the very same persons that traumatized us. We cannot acknowledge these aspects consciously as otherwise we would live in a constant state of anxiety so they manifest externally in particular in the form of romantic & intimate relationships. We have a tendency to fall in love with people showing the same dysfunctional aspects of our parent of the opposite gender. This is why women raised with an emotionally unavailable father would attract the same in their partners. And this is why I have been with PBPD most of my life. I am not a victim. They are simply mirroring the aspects of me that I have repressed. They are helping me to become conscious. In the same way, all the PBPD I have been with had a codependent father that I was mirroring back for them. It may be depressing news but most of us are simply trying to earn back the love we did not receive as a child (from our parents). We are actually replaying the traumas and the stories of the past instead of actually truly connecting with our partners. There is only one way out, which is bringing these lost aspects of ourselves back to the light of consciousness. Seeing these parts, accepting them, loving them and ultimately forgiving oneself for reenacting this drama subconsciously are the steps to recovery.
In the process of integration, I have found it a helpful tool to see myself as the composite of my (hurt) inner child, my adult and my transcendental self. The codependent identifies with his adult self, while the PBPD identifies with her hurt inner child. The borderline feels too much while the codependent is hardly in touch with his feelings. For a healthy development of the individual, we need a balance between these two aspects. The inner child gives us our spontaneity, our creativity, our joie de vivre, access to more subtle aspects to our being. The adult self keeps us out of trouble, has wisdom to draw from, and helps us function in this physical reality. A genuine partnership between our child and adult has to be formed to restart an inner development that likely stopped during an early traumatic event. We do not want an overbearing internal adult (codependent) or tyrannical and out-of-control inner child (BPD). Life has its way of recreating balance. This is why children of PBPD get parentified, and why codependents are irresistibly attracted to PBPD. If you able to create a healthy balance of these aspects within yourself, the universe will also mirror it externally with a more stable partner. How does this work in practice?
When you feel uneasy and stuck, do shadow work to bring these aspects of you into awareness. Do not bulldoze your inner child into performing other activities that may appear more important to the inner adult. I understand that life has constraints so if you cannot attend right away to the inner child (which is the ideal), commit to schedule this inner work within 24 hours.
Follow personal inspiration, creativity and your inner joy whenever you can. Look for simple ways to feel genuinely happy
Stay aware of the consequences of your actions. Spontaneity does not have to equate with recklessness
Temper your internal fears with the wisdom from your personal experience
Know your limits, and assess your personal boundaries wisely. Follow-through, be responsible but not at the expense of your authentic self.
Try to visualize some of the healthiest parent/child relationships you have witnessed in your life. This is what you need to create internally. The inner child is the seat of the soul. The bible says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. But the child needs to develop to become this clear channel to the higher self. And he needs a wise, compassionate and supporting inner parent to grow-up. As we enter the spiritual path, many of us will find a hurt inner child whose development stopped at a very early age. We need to take this traumatized child where he is, without judgment and patiently re-parent ourselves. Another way to look at it is to see our inner child as our essence and our adult as our personality. When these two aspects of us start working in harmony, we can consciously access the more transcendental aspects of our beings.
To get out of codependent relationships, we need to realize that “People in the relationship are more important than the relationship”. This sentence goes against many of our social bias. Miserable married people are often advised to stay together even when they have become toxic to each other. I understand that any intimate relationship will go through their ups and down and I am not advocating to breakup as soon as there is a bump in the road. Sometimes we struggle with the relationship but we deeply care about our partner and we feel this is helping us become a better version of ourselves. This is a situation where we need to fight for the relationship because it is supporting us as an individual. Actually, as we are able to successfully survive these difficult times, the relationship will then reach a much higher intimacy. There are other situations however when the marriage brings both pain and the loss of self. These are times to get out. Staying in a miserable marriage for the sake of the children does not make sense; they are well aware of the conflicts and this is damaging to them. We want to be models that they do not have to compromise their personal happiness to be in an intimate relationship. Putting the self above the relationship is a very scary and risky choice for the codependent. We probably entered the relationship pretending we were someone we are not because of our personal shame. Our partner may feel betrayed, duped or threatened as we reveal the real us. We may be rejected, abandoned as a result, and if your partner is narcissistic, they will surely do this and also discredit you to any common acquaintances. This is a very painful experience but a price worth paying to recover your authentic self. In any case, we need to remember that any other option is futile. What makes us attractive and sexy is our individuality; not being an accessory to someone else. As we compromise ourselves to fit into the relationship box dictated by our nascissistic partner, we will stop our attractiveness and our mate will abandon us anyway. We need to remember that it is better to be alone than being in the wrong company. We can remind ourselves that we survived brutal breakups in the past, and ended in a better place once the grieving was done. As we feel depressed by the loss of the relationship and see no end to our personal misery, we can bring King Solomon’s wisdom: “This too shall pass”. Actually, when we look back at the most difficult times of our life, we can see retrospectively that these were the times we did the most growth, and created the foundations of our future happiness. Life is a series of steep climbs and flat plateaus, then further climbs. Being in a relationship should always be a free choice. This is the only way to experience a true heart-to-heart connection to our partner. While there are external forms of coercion such as the threat of personal injury, losing one’s children or litigation when attempting to leave a relationship, these are quite rare and extreme. What is more insidious and common is the coercion coming from our own personal fears. Here are some examples.
If I leave her/him, if s/he breaks up with me:
I will have to compromise my personal lifestyle, take care of my personal finances and probably lose financial security
I will be alone which I cannot handle
I will have to be back on the dating scene, which I detest
I will lose face with my family, friends and community
I will have to go back to work
I will have to move
I will not have sex anymore
I will not handle seeing my ex with a new partner
I will have to take care of the children on my own which I feel incapable of doing
I will die because I cannot handle another breakup
I will not handle the guilt of hurting my children
I will have to start cooking and do my own laundry
I will lose all of our joint friends
I will have no one to protect me
I will have no one to take care of me if I am sick
I will lose the relationship with my children
I will lose the relationship with my in-laws
Can you see these are all wrong reasons to stay with someone? It makes the person a means to an end and this will destroy your intimacy. The times for selecting our partner for survival reasons are well over. In this day and age, intimate relationships are primarily for emotional nurturing, experiencing love, feeling seen, felt and understood, personal growth and enjoyment. If you are just looking for transactional relationships, you can simply use service providers as our world can offer any possible service imaginable in exchange for money. This is why it is so important to develop personal autonomy in our life as this allows our closed ones to be with us because they want to be there and not because they have to. We can move from the conditionality of love of the sacral chakra with all its cords, control drama and power struggles to the unconditional and pure love of the heart chakra. Of course, we should not take the goal of personal autonomy to the extreme to the point of being afraid of asking for support from others. The key is never to put yourself in a state of dependency that may lead you to compromise your personal integrity or stop honoring your personal boundaries. When your personal situation does not allow for this right away, just make a goal to create this personal autonomy in the future and make it a priority. Authenticity cannot strive in a controlled environment because the price to pay for your personal truth would be too high. Also, when we are incapable of taking care of ourselves, we will create expectations in our union, which in turn will create tension. This is not a conducive environment for love to flow. If you want a clean house and both you and your partner dislike cleaning, best is to hire a cleaning lady. If you are in need of physical affection but your partner is drained, go get a therapeutic massage. As a codependent, authenticity can be daunting as we are so afraid to lose everything once we find ourselves, and start sharing our authenticity with the world. It is true that the world reacts often very brutally to codependents finally standing in their truth. If you express your authentic self to your partner in a vulnerable way but s/he is not able to carve a place for your authentic self, it is best to let go. Our authentic self is our most treasured possession and without it, there cannot be the possibility of a joyful and happy life. I had given everything to my relationship but once I stood in my authenticity, the relationship did not survive. It took courage and it was incredibly painful but as a result, I received the ultimate gift of living an authentic life and stepping out of codependency. It was all well worth it.
Loneliness is one of the most painful feelings to experience consciously. We understand conceptually that we are one and connected to everything that is alive. I remember reading Radical Forgiveness years ago from Colin Tipping, and I had an epiphany when the author stated that our experience on earth is first about experiencing the illusion of separateness. Separateness is an enduring illusion because our physical body is separate from other beings. We are one with our mother then separate from her at birth to create an individual experience. We go through the process of death and many other painful experiences alone. We cannot go through life without feeling rejected, abandoned or criticized at times. In my personal experience, there is actually no biggest suffering than losing the connection to our creator. Even Jesus doubted on the cross if God had abandoned him “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Many of us with attachment traumas are suffering from profound loneliness and we become vulnerable to a variety of addictions as a result. There is a compulsory need to fill this void at any cost. This feeling of emptiness is actually caused by our internal fragmentation as we have lost many aspects of ourselves through the traumatic events of our upbringing. Filling this void with people or various addictions can only give us a temporary relief, and this is what codependents and borderlines attempt to do. It is like the person who lost his way in the forest who gets relief by meeting someone else only to realize this person is lost too. This may bring some temporary comfort however the two people are still lost. From my perspective, this form of pathological loneliness can only be healed in two steps. First, we need to feel consciously our deep and profound loneliness without trying to escape it. This is best done in a meditation setting where we create an internal container for the painful emotion with no judgment, letting our internal torment and fears run their course. From this place, if we are patient enough, eventually grace will come in and we will remember somatically our divine nature and recover our connection with God. As we realign with our soul and our sense of purpose, we can feel complete. We may still feel lonely at times as we go through phases when we do not have special people in our life to reflect our wholeness. However these phases are temporary and they do not destabilize us because we feel the security of our connection with our higher self that is connected with everything. Overtime, we learn to be alone without feeling lonely and aloneness becomes even a means to strengthen our connection to the divine. Our deep longing for an intimate connection becomes more a thirst to reflect our divine nature than to fill an endless void. Our divine nature is love, giving and receiving love. Is there anything better in the world than intimate relationships to experience it?
Stepping out of the drama triangle victim/persecutor/rescuer
The PBPD is addicted to the victim role. She feels so unworthy and hopeless that she believes she can only get attention through pity and other form of victim control drama. The codependent is addicted with the rescuer role. He feels so unworthy that he feels he has no value unless he fulfills a specific role or does something for someone. To break this negative cycle, the codependent needs to apologize to the PBPD for putting her in a state of dependency, disempowering her and not creating the conditions where she could solve her own problems. Without bypassing her pain, the PBPD needs to find the strength to find the hidden treasure that came from her abuse, to realize that her persecutor is just another victim like her and eventually forgive her abuser and herself for creating this painful experience at a soul level. The Hawaiian prayer Ho’oponopono “I am sorry – Please forgive me – Thank you – I love you” is another powerful way to break out of the dysfunctional roles of the drama triangle and undo the false narration. But please remember to do this prayer from the adult or soul perspective but never from the hurt inner child as this could be very damaging.
Transition plan as we rewire our brain for real love
Because of his unhealthy childhood environment, the codependent actually got addicted to constant drama. He thrives with chaos, conflict and dangerous situations as this gives him the opportunity to prove his self-worth by rescuing. Drama is actually associated with love in his brain. Because it takes time to rewire a brain and examine all false beliefs, I recommend the recovering codependent to engage in more productive activities where he could experience the same adrenaline rush. He can start a more risky professional activity (reward and risk often go together), or enjoy extreme sports. On the other end, the borderline is addicted to emotionally abusive situations so that they can get attention through victimhood. Abuse equal love in her brain. One of my partners had suffered in a horrific way in the hands of one of an extremely disturbing violent cult. The abuser of her childhood pretended to be her dad but was also sexual with her. As we can expect, her intimate relationships were very unstable as a result. She would start all of her relationships idealizing her partner but then would slowly start seeing her companion through the filter of her childhood abuse. She would then replay the escape of her childhood nightmare by orchestrating the end of the romance. Then, she would enter a demonization phase where she would try to convince anyone willing to listen to her that her ex was part of the same cult that inflicted her so much grief as a child. In a similar way than the codependent, the PBPD can turn her addiction to abuse to productive use by helping the unfortunate ones. Since 2001, Angelina Jolie has been on field missions around the world and met with refugees and internally displaced persons. She also adopted 3 children. French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot has dedicated the second half of her life rescuing animals. Princess Diana was involved in over 100 charities and she made a big impact fighting homelessness and helping victims of HIV/AIDS and leprosy. Overtime, as healing takes place, both PBPD and borderline learn to enjoy a more peaceful and simple love without relentless crises. They realize that can experience intimacy and love without the roller coaster.
The 80/20 rule in seeing the positive in your partner
The PBPD will have a tendency to catastrophizing and only focus on the negative in herself and her partner. The codependent will often err on the opposite. He will stay positive and apparently strong any time his partner feels bad or negative. This is his way to cope and exercise control in the situation. He has a tendency to act too optimistic in situations potentially dangerous to his partner. Even if his wife struggles with alcoholism, he could say “Let me give you a glass of champagne darling, this will help you relax”. He will let his wife go out with a man interested romantically with her trusting them a bit too much. He will give his daughter to a baby-sitter with bad vibes. He will decide to go out with his friends at the time his wife feels suicidal. Wearing pink glasses is his way of coping. He thinks he can make himself safer when imagining that we live in a good world with good people. He actually endangers himself and his family with this attitude. His borderline partner, on the opposite, feels too much the potential dangers and often amplifies them. She feels she cannot trust her codependent partner to keep her safe and will go ballistic at him when her anxiety reaches a threshold. The codependent will typically only crash emotionally and display negative emotions when his borderline partner feels happy! First, he feels very threatened by her happiness as he fears that she will not need him anymore if she feels good. Secondly, he built resentment through the many crises but did not allow himself to feel any of it because of the instability in the relationship. If he sees his borderline partner doing well, he feels this is his opportunity to share everything that upset him over the last few weeks, which unmistakably overwhelms and triggers his borderline girlfriend.
It is very frustrating for the PBPD as she feels she spends most of her time in doom, and when the sunshine comes, he immediately spoils it! In my twenties, I worked as an engineer in the Silicon Valley software start-up. We had a borderline male employee called Steve with constant conflictual relationships with many co-workers. The CEO liked him however because Steve’s mind was always focused on what could go wrong and this helped avert potential business threats as he felt that the rest of the management team was too optimistic. Though there are some positive aspects in looking at a glass half empty however there is a problem in always seeing the negative in your partner. The codependent struggles with shame too. If he is constantly shamed who he is and what he does, he will start deflecting the shame and pointing to his partner her own shadows. They will work on each other non-stop. It will cease to be a relationship. It will become a self-improvement torture chamber. To support someone towards positive change, it is well known that we need to receive more compliments than criticism. By continuing to reflect the positive of our partners, we will support their development towards their higher potential. On the other hand, the codependent needs to be more connected, aware of his environment and realize that the policy of burying one’s head in the sand is not the right strategy to follow. He should ensure to stay positive when his borderline partner feels good so that she can fully enjoy these brief moments of happiness. He needs to improve his communication so that he can bring constructive feedback in a way that would be best received by his borderline partner. He needs to express things as they come so that they do not have the time to fester in him. The borderline has to learn to see her codependent partner more objectively. She goes from idealization to demonization back to idealization and then again demonization in no time. She needs to recognize that her partner has qualities and flaws just like she has. Putting in writing how she feels about her partner will help her realize her “splitting” and eventually heal from it.
Become an expert in your partner
First by becoming an expert in your partner, you will learn to spend enjoyable time together while minimizing triggers. Ask lots of questions, be inquisitive and curious about him/her. The better she feels, the better you feel or more succinctly “Happy Wife, Happy Life”. By better understanding your partner’s dysfunctions, you can also better support their recovery and avoid fatal mistakes. This knowledge is best received when it is inconspicuous and unconditional. It should not be a way to score points for a hidden agenda. In this day and age, we are lucky that so much valuable information is at our fingertips. About any question we have may be answered by an insightful YouTube video or podcast. We can make our car a university on wheels during our commute time and keep improving our relationships. There are optimal communication strategies for any type of person and this is what we need to become skillful at using the right words at the right time. If you partner is codependent, here are some of the approaches that may work:
If he feels disconnected, be inquisitive, ask him how he feels, use his love language to bring him back to his heart, help him bring out to the surface what is bothering him deeply inside
If he says yes but you feel no weight behind his words, challenge him in his commitment. Either get him accountable and make it easy for him to say no. Confront him every time you feel he is lying to him and others (mostly subconsciously because he is a people pleaser). Do not let him off the hook. Point out his lack of consistency and how this is impacting others
If his words or actions are hurting you, become vulnerable on how he is making you feel and take responsibility for your feelings not to trigger his shame. Empower him to make things better for you. Tell him you hurt because you love him
Get him in touch with his shadows. Create a safe container for him to express the parts behind the “good guy”, all of the unsavory aspects of his hurt inner child. Reward him every time he has the courage to go there
It is important that we learn to clearly communicate our needs and likes instead of expecting our partners to know them telepathically. While this feels great when our partner does things what we treasure without the need to ask them, why not make it easier on them instead of constantly testing their love for us? Let us coach them to speak our love language instead of doing things for them with the expectation of getting something in return. Even the most compatible persons will have difference in their love language so communication is key. Make separate lists of your needs, what you love and share it with your loved one. Provide loving and non-judgmental frequent feedback so that both partners can improve constantly of making each other feel loved.
The importance of the commitment to self
Happiness comes from the simple things of life: knowing who you are, feeling love for who we are, intimacy with special people and relationships, a supportive community, feeling creative, have our needs met at a physical level, being healthy, a connection to something greater than ourselves (ideal, God, values) and practicing activities that we enjoy. This is not rocket science but it takes commitment to fill our life with the ingredients of joy. In codependent relationships, we sacrifice our authentic self for the relationship. We are so desperate to be loved that we project a false idea of us so that we may be liked. The commitment to self has to come first as the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship. If the relationship stops supporting the individuals within the relationship, it does not have to mean a break-up. People can find creative ways to adjust the relationship in a way that they will feel better supported. This takes tremendous courage as these changes may trigger our insecurities and fears of abandonment. The commitment to self requires us to be OK to be alone, as we cannot control the reactions of others. This may not be our preferred way of being but unless we can sit in peace with ourselves, we will not be able to give our partner the freedom to love us by choice. Once our sense of self is secure, the commitment to the relationship comes with less anxiety so we can navigate the ups and downs in a more astute way. We typically make the worst relationship mistakes when we are triggered. As we dive deeper in intimacy, we start including the other into our personal field so the commitment to self will naturally encompass them too. Loving oneself extends to loving our partner and eventually to the whole universe as we increase our awareness.
Own your shame
Most fights between codependents and borderline are escalated when shame is triggered. Owning your shame is the best way to de-escalate the argument. Let me give you a couple of examples. Instead of “Why did book this shitty hotel? This is the last time you do the travel reservations”, say “I felt small and taken for granted when you booked this hotel for us. I really want to feel safe with you and it is hard to do when you do not seem to see me”. Instead of “Can I have some space now? I cannot take this constant drama” say “I feel at odds with myself and I do not think I can be a good company for you until I can sort things out. May I go meditate and reconnect with you after I am done?”. Instead of “How can you be friend with that asshole? He is just a narcissistic jerk” say “I feel triggered around your friend. He always speak about himself and never seems to care to listen about things in our life”. Instead of “Being with you is like being with a cold stone. It is obvious why none of your relationships never lasted very long” say “I do not feel seen, felt or understood right now. I feel unsafe as a result. I need you to really connect to me right now”. If you can show some genuine vulnerable emotions, your communication will be that much more effective. Owing our shame starts with the courage to believe that our innate nature is lovable, which would allow us to be vulnerable and therefore to build intimacy. It is important to stay humble because unless we are willing to acknowledge our own failings, we will continuously project what we refuse to see in ourselves into our partner. I had once a partner who kept saying obsessively that I had duped her to get in a relationship with her. This was partly true because as a codependent, I would portray myself as someone I am not in order to conquer the object of my desire because I felt unlovable deep within. However, what she failed to realize is that she felt even more intensely like a bad apple and did not believe anyone could love her for who she is. There were just as many things she hid about herself than her codependent partner. Projecting this deep shame solely into her partner prevented her to own it.
A good family therapist is important to help us navigate through the intricacies of interpersonal relationships with our partners, children and parents. There is a significant stigma in Europe with people using therapists. They are often labeled as crazy and unstable so most people in Europe would see a shrink in secret. People in the USA and even more Californians are very open to it. When a situation triggers both partners at the same time, a qualified therapist is critical. I do not recommend using a friend because the friend would typically be biased and they do not have the professional training to rise above the interpersonal conflict. The therapist primary goal is to help release the unconscious into the conscious, support introspection and empower the stakeholders towards a creative solution as their awareness is lifted. It is important to take your time to find a good family therapist. Many enter this profession because they feel damaged and they have not done yet all the inner work necessary to help others. A skilled family therapist is important at times to any intimate partnership but it is absolutely critical for codependent/borderline couple who need all the help they can get with their rocky relationship. The best therapists would actually be the ones that experienced earlier in their life the same negative patterns. I have an absolutely extraordinary family therapist. He is an older gentleman. He was raised in a horrendous family dynamic and he had a disorganized attachment style as a result. He was married and divorced 3 times before he was able to finally develop a healthy and intimate relationship with his 4th wife whom he has been for over 30 years now. He has done immense inner work to get where he is now, which makes him incredible knowledgeable and insightful in helping his clients.
Make the couple a sanctuary
Codependent/borderline relationships are inherently turbulent and therefore experience power struggles. Power struggles come from personal insecurity and powerlessness. We attempt to control our partner to love us because we feel deep inside unworthy of love. If someone does not feel secure in a relationship, they have the tendency to enroll their personal friends to validate their opinions and show their partner that they are right. This can do no good to the relationship. While venting to your friends can be sometimes helpful to release some of the internal pressure and frustration one may experience, enlisting them to prove your points would just damage the relationship. We need to keep remembering what is more important to us, to be loved or to be right? I was once in a very unhealthy community situation where all the community members were either employees or followers of my wife. They worshipped her and she could do no wrong. It was very tempting for her to enlist them to make herself right to me, ignoring the fact that they were all biased to start with. If I had used my close friends or French family to rally to my opinion, they would have sided with me. That would not have made me right. This was not an option anyway because they were not in our living community. And this would have just made the conflict larger instead of contributing towards a meaningful resolution of the conflict. This is why a trained therapist should be used instead of friends or community members to work through a relationship conflict. Communities are a very dangerous place for committed intimate relationships. As a young man, I remember that most couples that moved to the Fellowship of Friends community in northern California would divorce the first year. Community life diffuse the commitment between the two individuals and there is a high temptation to get one’s needs met outside the relationship instead of doing the hard work of focusing and solving the conflicts within the relationship. In my recent situation, community members that were my wife followers surrounded her. It was like living at the queen’s court. They were always fighting for her attention and it was difficult to have time where only the two of us could be together alone to simply connect. If you are looking to live in a community, I would advise to look for an equal community where members relate to each other on an equal basis and have interdependent relationships instead of dependent and hierarchical ones. It would be a model where each family knows very well their neighbors, and where the community is enhanced through regular get together, instead of a pyramidal structure. My situation was extreme and is quite rare, but it is important for any couple to make their intimate relationship a priority. As we discussed, the self is the priority because if we are not true to ourselves, we cannot be in an authentic relationship but the relationship is next in line even before the children for a married couple. The children feed from the energy of a healthy marriage and get damaged by the constant conflicts of their parents. So by putting your marriage first, you are putting your children first. Recomposed families are more complex systems and they are outside the scope of this article. It is a big temptation once we have children to put our marriage after the children, after our hobbies and sometimes even after some of our friendships. The result is often disastrous because the marriage is supposed to be the foundation of our family life but no more energy gets invested into it. You need to treat your relationship like a sanctuary if you want a happy life. The codependent and the borderline need to stop their destructive habit of enticing people outside the relationship to look like victims and instead take full responsibility for their personality disorder and their relationship.
Do not fool yourself that you will jump dramatically in terms of quality of partner from one relationship to the next. Remember that your partner comes to you through the law of attraction so they are an external mirror of who you are inside. What is far more important than finding a perfect partner is to find a partner that you can grow with. If you have attachment traumas, it is then far more sensible to find an introspective partner that has done a lot of inner work, and has learned from their personal wounds. Even if you meet someone with a secure attachment style, it is likely that there will not be any chemistry unless you have a secure attachment style yourself. For this reason, my future partner is likely to be a conscious borderline. After the initial honeymoon phase of a new relationship, we usually come back to the same personal flaws that contributed to our last breakup. Intimate relationships are a personal growth accelerator so there is simply no escape to what we are supposed to work on this lifetime if we are going to share our lives with someone special. I trust in the power of attraction in terms of intimate relationships. Many people have been hurt in intimate relationships so they learned to distrust their own chemistry & attraction feelings. They would rather cut their attraction sensors and focus solely on a compatibility checklist out of fear. Our body never lies. It is all about understanding and becoming conscious of what our body is attempting to communicate to us. Attraction is the path of freedom and back to oneself. However it is critical we move into this attraction with self-awareness because of our personal shadows. If there is no chemistry, there is limited growth. Our society is addicted to the removal of pain and struggles but suffering is a fact of life that needs to be embraced instead of feared so that we can become whole again. A friend of mine has a joke about the frozen packages of processed chicken in supermarkets. He called them boneless, skinless and flavorless chicken. Do you want a boneless, skinless and flavorless relationship or do you want to be consumed by love and be transformed to the full potential of who you are?
Love and intimacy are powerful forces because they reflect the movement of God towards integration. Many of us with attachment traumas, whether we are codependents or borderlines have been damaged through relationships. We can now heal through relationships too. This is why we need each other.
I was fortunate to have many experiences in my lifetime. I have traveled in many parts of the world, I have built companies, non-profit organizations, I have connected with people from many different cultures, I have networked with the rich, wealthy and famous and experienced high-flying lifestyle. Among all these experiences, not a single one ever came close in intensity and happiness than the deep and intimate connection with a beloved. This experience is available to any of us as we open ourselves to authentic love no matter what may be our background.