The Male Borderline Waif

I’ve written a lot on borderline personality disorder (BPD) on this blog largely because my mother has the disorder.  It is not something I wish to vilify, and I don’t want to verbally mistreat people who have been diagnosed with it either.  Of all the personality disorders, BPD is the most stigmatized.  Many therapists refuse to treat it or see clients who carry the diagnosis altogether.  That is a hard road to walk when one has the disorder, and it’s also a very difficult situation if you love someone with it.  Where do you turn? What resources are available to you when there are so little available to your loved one with BPD?

Another inherent problem is that of diagnosis.  Many people struggling with BPD are never diagnosed and, therefore, never treated due to 1) treatment resistance 2) refusal to seek help.  The other factor? Gender bias within the clinical community vis-a-vis personality disorders themselves.  Generally speaking, it is believed that BPD affects a larger percentage of women, but if one were to go into the field and poll practicing therapists, then what might one find? Do just as many men struggle with BPD? Probably.  The disorder simply looks a bit differently.  BPD has a different flavor in men than in women.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know what those difference are?

In my almost pathological need to understand my ex-husband, I came upon three personality disorders: schizoid personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and fragile narcissism.  I grew up with a borderline personality.  I know the disorder very well.  He does have some common traits most notably tantrum-like rages.  This is when I’ve been physically hurt.  He often doesn’t remember them.  This is reminiscent of my mother.  He also has very poor self-regulation which is a hallmark of the disorder.  He can be very entitled and passive-aggressive.  What does it all mean? It was an impossible mission to find anything meaningful written about BPD in relation to men.  Until yesterday.  I found a rather lengthy article devoted entirely to the subject.  Sheri Schreiber, a therapist, posted it on her website.  What she lacks in written communication skills she more than makes up for in content (I do acknowledge that Schreiber’s tone is judgmental towards the diagnosed borderline male which I do not agree with, thusly, perpetuating stigma).  Allow me to introduce you to the topic of borderline personality disorder in men.

Who is he? What might he potentially look like?

“Borderline Personality Disorder in men is harder to recognize than in women, because their seductions are usually emotional, rather than sexual. The Male Borderline may appear ‘normal’ in contrast to other men, who seem so afraid of closeness, they’re back-peddling before your second date! For simplicity’s sake, this piece names the borderline disordered male, Casanova. Seducing women feeds his narcissism, and fills his core emptiness–it’s his addiction. Since he can’t form solid/healthy attachments, he takes hostages. Make sure you don’t become his next prisoner.

Initially, you may be taken with his unique openness and vulnerability, since you haven’t encountered this in other males you’ve known. It’s refreshing to find a guy who doesn’t censor his feelings/thoughts, and seems emotionally accessible! It’s incredible that this man appears so completely without guile, he almost instantly puts you at ease and inspires your trust.

You’re appreciated for your qualities and attributes, and admired/respected for the woman you’ve become. He’s extremely attentive at first, and wants to be with you constantly–which is like music to your soul. As this courtship picks up speed, you feel fortunate to have found such a considerate, loving, thoughtful man–but just as you begin trusting that his pronouncements of love are genuine and start envisioning your future together, things change.”

When people ask me why I married my husband, I would like them to read this.  This is exactly how it was.  He was everything that I had hoped for in terms of a partner, not counting the sex, but I was a sexual mess myself.  I anticipated growth and maturation in us both.  Schreiber goes on to explain:

“As soon as a Borderline senses you’re really his, he distances himself, shuts down or finds fault with you. Your first mistake, is thinking that’s about you!”

This is absolutely true.  This pattern of behavior started in my marriage one month after we were married, and I was extremely confused.  I didn’t understand why my husband was ignoring me.  I thought I had done something wrong.  I determined to try harder.  This is a rather accurate description:

The Borderline male is incapable of sustaining any type of feeling, including altruistic love. He’ll act-out his ambivalence or upsets, rather than speaking with you about what’s bothering him–and he’ll always put the blame on you for his feelings. You may presume that if you just try a little harder to make him happy, it’ll be possible to have a harmonious relationship with this guy, but you’re just dreaming. Borderlines thrive on crisis, drama and pain, which contribute to their sense of aliveness–it’s the main reason many are treatment resistant.

This is an important reminder:

These males are love-avoidant. It isn’t that they haven’t wanted love–it’s that they’ve never been able to trust it. You won’t change this, regardless of how much you adore him–or how ‘safe’ you make it for him emotionally.”

This was scarily familiar:

You may be a strong, well-established, successful woman with a mind of her own, but the Borderline has an uncanny ability to wear you down until you’re second-guessing and doubting yourself. Fairly soon after your romance takes flight, he could coax you to “open up” or let down your guard, and trust him more. Up to this point, his behaviors have been loving–but you’ve gone with your instincts so far, and it takes you awhile to let someone in really close.

As was this:

Your borderline lover is hypersensitive–to well, just about everything. This guy will have you feeling just horrible about hurting his feelings, even when you know you didn’t mean a thing by that silly, offhand comment you made about one of his relatives. He’ll sulk, become distant, or angrily bust your ovaries over some stupid little oversight, to where you’ve begun walking on eggshells around him, just to avert these agonizing occurrences! Molehills become mountains, and no matter how careful you are, you’re gonna step on a land mine–and there isn’t a darned thing you can do about it. It won’t be long, before the joyful parts of yourself (like your sense of humor) die off.

This doesn’t mean he won’t be sweet to you at times, or even generous–but you feel imprisoned by his volatility, and how easily he’s upset. Soon, you’ll be so cautious about setting him off, you practically become robotic without feelings or needs–basically, a Stepford Wife. Your body’s still here, but your spirit and soul feel dead. Think you love him? Loving is never painful, unless you also have abandonment and attachment issues–and if you didn’t, you’d already be outta there!

Sadly, this reads like a page out of my journal:

Contrary to popular belief, the borderline male isn’t necessarily compulsively drawn to sex–and in truth, he may be withholding and aloof concerning your needs for sensual contact. The Casanova Complex is purely about seduction. He has to exert control over you, whether that be financially, emotionally or sexually. Interactions must be on his terms, or he doesn’t want to play. This can take the form of ‘booty calls’ in the middle of the night–or whenever it’s least convenient for You. He may press you to satisfy his sexual proclivities (anal intercourse, fellatio, donning provocative costumes, sadomasochistic practices, watching porn, etc.), without any concern for what’s comfortable or pleasurable for you. What else would you expect from a narcissistic guy?

This is particularly noteworthy:

A waif-like male could be considered The Quiet Borderline. You might regard him as effete, as he can seem relatively devoid of masculine essence (if you didn’t know better, you’d swear he’s gay!). He’s soft-spoken, passive, and avoids confrontation of any kind. He could be drawn to strong, independent women, if his mom was domineering or controlling–but they’re not sexually attracted to him. They may embrace him as a friend, but getting naked with this guy would feel akin to climbing into bed with a gal-pal. Unless a woman is fearful of men and masculinity, she’ll be wanting a counterbalance to her feminine aspects–and won’t settle on guys who are disconnected from their primal natures (which is fallout from a castrating parent, during boyhood).

And then, in order to stay in a relationship like this, we are left facing this:

Borderline males are passive-aggressive. They’ll hide out in their caves until you back off anything that pertains to your relationship, rather than have an honest conversation with you on important issues. With StarrMan, I quickly learned to bury my needs and feelings; the instant I tried to express myself, he’d just shut-down/withdraw. Half the time, I’d work to fix that mess–until my therapist back then, set me straight. There’s nothing worse than having someone exit a relationship this way. You’re damned if you open your mouth because you get abandoned by him, and damned if you don’t, because you’re betraying yourself.

This is all very descriptive of my relationship with my ex-husband.  It was a shock to read.  There was validation, but, at times, I had to stop and wonder how I missed it.  Why does one stay in something that is so clearly irreparable? Was it hope? Was it fear? Was I so entrenched in tending to my daughters and their needs that I just completely missed the boat? Was it the “frog in the boiling water” dynamic? Was I just a little too familiar with “trying harder” and feeling inadequate? Was this relationship a template that I instinctively understood? I can’t tell you.  What I can say now is that if this is a dynamic in your relationship, then you need to know that the only thing you can change is you.  You cannot change him.  That is a shocking thing to say.  I once thought that I could.  If I tried harder, loved harder, gave more, did more, sacrificed more, wanted less, diminished myself, and even killed off my heart, then he would change.  He will not.  No matter what you do, you cannot make another person change.

You must build a life for yourself.  Build your own happiness.  If this is the kind of person to whom you have tied your happiness, then I suggest that you do a personal inventory and ask yourself what you really want.  I had to do that.  It was hard.

But, it was worth it.

More Information:

The Male Borderline: Surviving the Crash after Your Crush by Sheri Schreiber M.A.

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9 thoughts on “The Male Borderline Waif

  1. While I’m sure you mean well, I think you might want to educate yourself about attachment trauma rather than speak on BPD in a seemingly authoritative manner. While there is certainly value in speaking from the perspective of personal experience, there’s additional benefit in thorough research in a topic to be discussed. The latest in neuroscience findings suggests that people are not ‘disordered’. That’s a made up concept in order to further the aims of the psychiatry profession. There’s no truth in the notion that someone has become pathological as a result of a genetic brain disorder. The origins of BPD can be found in childhood trauma, neglect and abuse (especially sexual abuse!) Close to 80% of individuals with BPD are estimated to have been sexually abused as children. I would suggest you listen to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s presentation at the 2013 Annual BPD meetings at Yale on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2NTADxDuhA This presentation explains through statistics and research why there are for more ‘borderline’ females than males. Traumatized men tend to exhibit narcissistic or antisocial qualities and behaviors as opposed to borderline.

    Stigma is perpetuated by people that insist on using the antiquated, pathologizing term, ‘borderline’ while remaining ignorant about its origins. A lack of a trauma informed understanding or sensitivity when it comes to treatment or the origins of behavior does not facilitate tolerance, compassion or understanding of a very painful condition. It does not help people get adequate trauma therapy or treatment. Instead people are shamed, blamed for their behavior and made to feel they need to ‘stay in the closet’ for fear that others will not understand them.

    While I am familiar with Sheri Schreiber’s work, I can tell you that many people do not like her (or view her as a BPD expert) because of her often disrespectful and judgmental attitude that shows a lack of compassion for the borderline. Many of the things you quoted about borderline are not an accurate or fair depiction of the borderline, although you may personally identify. I will not name all of the errors because I don’t have the time. I will say that this is inaccurate: “Borderlines thrive on crisis, drama and pain, which contribute to their sense of aliveness–it’s the main reason many are treatment resistant.” First of all, ‘treatment resistant’ is a stigmatizing term that therapist who are not trauma informed, and don’t like their borderline patients like to say because they have no idea how to treat them. If therapists would treat a person with a childhood trauma history with compassion, if they address the underlying pain (trauma, sexual abuse, etc.) with appropriate treatments, they might experience a more positive outcome with their patient. Instead these therapist prefer to say ‘treatment resistant’ so to deflect from their own personal failures as therapists.

    Secondly, ‘borderlines’ never truly feel alive because they were ‘soul murdered’ as children? Where would this sense of aliveness originate? Borderlines employ many defenses as do other ‘so called’ pathological individuals. It would probably be more accurate, given current neuroscience research to suggest that the borderline engages in ‘flight’ behavior, obsessive compulsion, escapism or addiction. One of the central problems a survivor of childhood trauma experiences is an inability to identify, feel or tolerate their painful feelings. If an individual cannot be present to their own pain, then this individual will logically need to find another means to deal with otherwise intolerable feelings – this might involve denial, suppression, projection or another form of escape through sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.

    I will end my comment except to say ‘thank you’ for giving me the motivation to write this response. I am a trauma survivor who suffered the effects of intergenerational trauma. My mother was a ‘borderline’, but unfortunately for me, she never received adequate treatment for her condition that was caused by trauma in her childhood. I understand the difficulties, pain and frustration connected to an association with someone with this condition. But I have also experienced some of the ‘symptoms’ myself as trauma is often reenacted and transmuted through generations. It’s not something we chose. But it is something that can be successfully treated. ‘Borderlines’ can change, they can heal, they can transcend ‘borderline’ despite what Schreiber states, but it does require extensive trauma informed therapy or depth work. Often several years. Most spouses are not going to stick around for that. And many borderlines are not motivated enough to change or they refuse to look at their painful childhoods. It is childhood that is the source of pain. Any other kind of therapy is ‘window dressing’ as far as I am concerned. A trauma survivor (or borderline) might ‘act’ more civil, but they won’t be any closer to healing, being able to trust others or ever develop the capacity for intimacy without intensive therapy treatment.

    I have also had a relationship with a borderline man. I know they exist. It can be an extremely frustrating and ultimately unsatisfactory relationship often based in a ‘trauma bond’ (childhood trauma history was experienced by both partners). It was not surprising, in retrospect, that I was involved with a borderline male given my mother also had some of the same unstable and unpredictable qualities. It was my template for love.

    Passive aggressive and ‘door slamming’ behavior are definite red flags as is the seductive aspects. I think a lot of the passages you quoted are truthful, but with an emphasis being on the crazy making aspects of the relationship itself.

    As they say, “it takes two to tango.” The most important lines she offers the partner of a borderline male are: “Loving is never painful, unless you also have abandonment and attachment issues–and if you didn’t, you’d already be outta there!” While I can understand feels validating for those who have suffered pain as a result of these relationship dynamics, the partner does nothing to heal themselves if they do not acknowledge their own unhealthy qualities. A fully integrated human being does not get themselves entangled in relationships with a non-integrated or not fully mature human being. This is not so much a judgment, but the truth.

    Once you get past the hurt of being involved with a man like this, it’s important to reflect upon oneself. What work is still left undone on a personal level in relation to oneself, not the ‘borderline’ partner! Forgiveness for oneself seems to me an important part of the work. You cannot change the other person, but you can change yourself and develop a deeper level of compassion and understanding for others who suffer.

    • Thank you for your response. You will have to read this post in the context of my blog. This was one post. I am well-informed on BPD and neuroscience. I will disagree with you on a few points though. Treatment resistance is a very real phenomenon in personality disorders, and your stating that the term solely exists to scapegoat the client is myopic. I do know numerous therapists who will not treat a borderline; I am also very aware of stigma and the stigma attached to name. This is why many therapists are attempting to rename the disorder Emotional Disregulation Disorder. That seems fair to me. The current term is rooted in a much older understanding of the disorder. I am very aware that most personality disorders are based in childhood trauma and neglect. This was one post. Out of 200. Very little is written about male BPD. I posted an introduction to the topic and a pinhole view at that. I have spent years researching the topic and have read every book available on the subject as well as interviewing therapists. The only successful treatment approach to date available for BPD is DBT. Trauma work is very difficult for those who struggle with BPD due to very low distress tolerance and poor emotional regulation not to mention poor memory recall due to the hippocampus being overridden by the amygdala. Once again, this was one post written as an introduction to the topic of what BPD in a man might look like. Whether or not everyone likes the therapist’s opinion? That’s neither here nor there. She’s not entirely wrong. Not everyone likes Eric Maisel. Not everyone likes Schnarch’s work either. Attachment theory is the bright and shining star in the psychology community right now. Schnarch’s work on differentiation is the up and coming one.

    • I read your comment very quickly. I apologize as I dashed off my first response. BPD is a spectrum disorder. You don’t appear to like that word, but it’s the word that the English language allows for at this time. I prefaced my post very carefully. And my post was entirely experiential. It was about MY experience. With one person. Not with every man in the world who may or may not carry a DX from the DSM-V. There are people in the world who are very low functioning on the borderline spectrum and who will never respond to treatment. If you carried the DX of BPD and sought treatment and have recovered, then I am very happy for you and wish you all the best.

      In almost all the literature that exists, going back to the root of trauma in those who are mid to low functioning borderline (or histrionic, schizoid,etc) is nearly impossible due to the neuroscience that you point out. So, while I wholeheartedly agree with you on what it takes to heal, I have yet to see broad results within the diagnosed PD schema. Individual? Yes. DBT still remains the only effective treatment, but I have hope that new treatment approaches will emerge in the future. I do wonder about EMDR as a potential treatment.

      Intergenerational abuse? Very familiar. Me, too. You are preaching to the converted.

  2. Reblogged this on Lucky Otter's Haven and commented:
    This is a good article about an overlooked subject–the male borderline. BPD is usually associated (and diagnosed) in women; men are more often diagnosed with NPD. But they aren’t the same disorder, and this article explains what a man with the introverted/fragile sort of BPD can be like. (The more aggressive types of male Borderlines are often mistaken as having Antisocial Personality Disorder due to their impulsivity and acting-out behavior, which sometimes gets them in trouble with the law).

  3. Everything Shari said is so true. I was married to one for 17 years. I knew something was wrong with him. Shari was spot on. She explained what I lived. Examples were real

  4. Pingback: Borderline Personality Disorder and Mirroring | Out of the Mire

  5. Thank you for this post. I’m trying to heal myself after being a relationship with a waif BPD male. Everything Sheri’s article states is true. My bpd male just told me he couldn’t see future after I suspected him cheating towards the end after the honeymoon phase. After he had borrowed money from me over and over again and repeatedly ignored me when he got he paid. Kept me away from his friends and family. Only saw me on his terms. Compared me to other women in a very passive aggressive way while we were out. Everything was fine as long as I was paying for it. When my wallet got thin he’d disappear to be with his other female “friend”. I couldn’t ask questions about these periods where he’d just go dark. It would be thrown back into my face as me being insecure. Triangulation was a big part of that relationship. I always felt like he was hiding something or someone but could never put my finger on it. He was also really horrible at giving and would make it known that if he had better plans or just didn’t feel like seeing me, he wouldn’t. He’d get very upset if he did want to see me after I had been mad about something he said or did and refused him. It was like I just “had to get over it” but if it was me he would punish me and ignore me for days or weeks. He’d say he cared for me but didn’t love me and sometimes he’s say he loved me but not very often. He’d make sure to emphasize that I was one of the lucky ones that got close to him. We didn’t really go out much and he liked to stay in and order food. If I called him out on his behavior he would often say “you’re right, I’m an asshole, I’m sorry” but then would repeat the same or similar behavior within weeks. Weeks became days. The respect went out the window and so did the sex. As long as he was getting blown that’s all that mattered, not my needs. He then revealed to me that he while we were seeing each other that he engaged in paid sex with a customer from his work over 15 times un protected. I was so upset and hurt. I went to go get tested. He gloated about it and said he was the envy of his friends. I couldn’t believe that this was the guy that fell for. Somehow I took him back but it always reared it’s ugly head when I got upset. It never left me that he could be that soulless. After the break up I had to go through therapy and eventually stopped because I couldn’t afford the sessions. I go up in down with recovery. I hope I never see him again. I have a lot of anger towards him the damage that endured in that relationships. I also blame myself for not having enough self worth to walk away and put up with all that I did. Mental illness is no joke and very insidious. You can’t see or understand it while it’s happening. You just know that something is off and the relationships really isn’t that good other than the sex. My ex also had bipolar 2 and was unmedicated. He was diagnosed with both BP and BPD in his teens. I look to the internet to educate as myself as much as I can. I also have to remember that I need to stop focusing on his problems and worry about my own. I still don’t feel like the same person anymore and feel that relationship compromised my own emotional and mental well being.

    • You have been through so much, and you have a lot of insight. Are you able to enter into a healing process now? I wish that for you. A healing journey…having been there myself. Still there really.

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