Coping with BPD

On December 14, 2012, 20 year-old Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He proceeded to kill six school staff members, twenty young students, and leave several injured.

The following day, Liza Long of Boise, Idaho wrote I am Adam Lanza’s Mother. Of course, Long is not Lanza’s mother. However, upon hearing news of the massacre, she identified with his mom and the moms of other young men who have committed mass murder similar to that in Newtown.

In her essay, Long confesses, “I need help”. She writes of her experiences with her own son who is now a 13 year-old with tendencies to make threats of violence, suicide, and homicide.

A single mother of four, Long pleads for assistance, saying, “This problem is too big for me to handle on my own”. She also insists that the time is now for our society to stop skimming the surface and tackle the root cause of these devastating mass killings.

“It’s easy to talk about guns,” she writes, “but its time to talk about mental illness.

I have no professional background in mental illness other than studying it as one aspect of my Bachelor’s degree in Health Education. In fact, I have gained a greater understanding of mental illness through my own experiences with people than from any lecture or textbook.

During the final years of my own mother’s life, behaviors of members of my birth family surfaced that I never knew existed. Due to her own physical health challenges and advancement in age, she was particularly vulnerable to these aggressive, passive-aggressive, controlling, and sometimes violent behaviors.

The fact that she was Mom added yet another factor to the mix.

Stop Walking on Eggshells book coverI have nine siblings with just two younger than I. During the time my mom was under hospice care, our ages ranged from late forties to early sixties – all well into adulthood. Yet, more than a few of her ‘children’ had a habit of acting like children around her, even as cancer consumed her body.

She bore an unbearable burden that would not be relieved until her loving heart finally went still.

But, a few years before she died, I began to see what was going on and tried to help her out the best I could. One day, I was browsing the aisles of our local Barnes and Noble when one book title jumped out at me, Stop Walking on Eggshells: Talking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder.

I didn’t know much about BPD before this time and I was unaware of any specific diagnoses in my family, if any. However, the title said it all. Walking on eggshells described exactly how I felt when I visited my parents and I believe it was how my parents and others felt as well thanks to periodic but unpredictable moods, fits, and assaults by a few others.

I purchased the book and read it – studied it. I wanted to pass it on to my mom but was afraid of the consequence to her if certain someones ever saw it. So, I took notes and drafted an outline of the main ideas in the book for my mom to use as she saw fit.

After sealing the 7-page pseudo-outline in a manilla envelope, I hand-delivered it to my Mom when one of her aggressors was away. We never spoke about it after that but I did notice it in her bedroom one day, out of the envelope.

After the tragic mass murder at Sandyhook Elementary School, I thought I’d share with others who might be living or working with someone with similar behaviors. If nothing else, it might be a validation that they themselves are not going crazy and certainly not to blame.

Below is a portion of the material I put together for my mom.

Rights to a Healthy Relationship

  1. The right to feel respected as a person.
  2. The right to get your physical and emotional needs met.
  3. The right to be appreciated and not taken for granted.
  4. The right to communicate effectively with your loved one.
  5. The right to have your privacy respected.
  6. The right not to constantly fight for control.
  7. The right to feel good about yourself and your relationship.
  8. The right to trust, validate, and support each other.
  9. The right to grow within and outside of the relationship.
  10. The right to have your own opinions and thoughts.
  11. The right to either stay or leave the relationship.

Emotional abuse is any behavior that is designed to control another person through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal or physical assaults. It can include verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics like intimidation, manipulation, and refusal to ever be pleased. Like brainwashing, it wears away at self-confidence, trust in perception and self-concept.

Some tips to keep in mind when dealing with emotional abusers

  • Don’t feel responsible for others’ thoughts, actions, or feelings.
  • Don’t feel it is your duty to solve others’ problems.
  • Don’t swallow your anger in order to avoid conflict.
  • Don’t suffer in silence.
  • Don’t take it personally. Their behavior is their responsibility and it is not about you.
  • You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it. You can’t cure it.

Reasons why emotional abuse is tolerated- FOG

  • Fear of losing something.
  • Obligation to the emotional blackmailer.
  • Guilt laid on by accusing you of doing things just to hurt them.

Coping Strategies

For more predictability and manageability…..

  • Try to find patterns in their behavior: triggers, time of day, general mood, immediate environment, etc.
  • Keep a written or mental log of their moods, behaviors (i.e., explosive rage for 10 minutes after certain trigger; silence for 2 days after certain trigger, etc.)
  • Assign scale numbers to their moods (i.e., -10 for extreme despair; 0 for neutral; +10 for extreme optimism).
  • List what they said, how it made you feel, how you responded.

These techniques help to view things less emotionally and more objectively. Like being in a smog-filled city, you need to step out of it in order to see the smog.

Reflection, not Absorbtion

You can’t change or control your loved one’s behavior, but you can do things to protect yourself.

  1. Be a mirror, not a sponge. Don’t accept their criticisms. Deflect them back to them.
  2. Get a reality check with others to contrast accusations against the reality.
  3. Minimize your exposure to situations that trigger you.
  4. Minimize any visible reaction. Don’t give them the reaction they’re after by pushing your buttons. Otherwise, their inappropriate behavior will be rewarded and reinforced.
  5. Realize you can’t control what others choose to think. Take responsibility for your own happiness. Let them take responsibility for their own actions. Don’t cover for them.