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