What causes someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD traits to fall into (or back into) what some describe as “obsessive love,” especially when it comes to having difficulty letting go of a past lover?
I asked myself this very same question. Although I am in recovery from BPD, meaning I no longer meet the criteria for the diagnosis, I do still meet some of the criteria/symptoms. I wanted to understand how I could still get so stuck on a relationship from the past, seemingly unable (or unwilling) to let the person and relationship go from my heart and mind, even though the other person (through his silence and lack of response), was making it painfully obvious that he was not interested in reconnecting with me.
I wondered if my inability to let him go was part of human nature, so I sought out opinions that would support this. “Oh, lots of people look for past loves — especially now with Facebook and all” is one thing I heard that helped me feel like my desires were less pathological and more “human.”
I wondered if my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which is in remission, might be sneaking out it’s ugly head in the form of intrusive, repetitive, distressing thoughts. (It turns out, this was part of the problem. As I was making a transition on a low dosage of one SSRI to another to manage OCD symptoms, I did experience this aspect).
I wondered if any of the remaining “borderline traits” that I still suffer from could be, in part, responsible. It turns out that one of them in particular makes total sense. I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, I will tell you that one thing I found helpful in reducing the intensity of my preoccupation with getting this person’s attention was my own version of an “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind” experiment that I underwent in the form of clinical hypnosis. I wrote about that experience in this post. While I didn’t try to erase memories of the relationship, I did have the opportunity to have a very realistic encounter with my past love while in hypnosis – an opportunity that allowed me to have the chance to say what I desperately wanted to say to him face to face – even if only in my own mind and heart.
So back to the BPD trait I think is contributing largely to my inability to let go of the memory of the relationship I once had with a man who I thought was my soul mate: it is known as Black or White thinking.
In clinical terms: “A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation (also known as ‘splitting’)” (from about.com).
Here’s something I never realized before. When my mind would wonder to fond memories of my European love that I met in my early twenties (he was nearly forty), I would tend to remember all of the “good” things about him and the relationship. For example, I believed he was my soul mate. I remember how we gazed into each others eyes and how loved I felt in his embrace. I remembered how kind he was to me and how good it felt to be so desired in someone’s eyes. I remember us working together in the same office….carving pumpkins together at Halloween outside of the company building, the beautiful diamond pendant necklace he gave me for Christmas, and all of our fun dates. I remember all the poetry and songs I wrote him and how he could listen to me sing and play guitar…the look in his eyes.
On the other hand, my mind was blocking out or seriously minimizing all of the “negative” aspects of the relationship, and there were many, as painful as that is and was to acknowledge, admit, and look at. I was not yet diagnosed with BPD and was highly emotionally unstable at the time. The both of us were already in relationships. While I told my partner of the time about the situation and left to see my new love exclusively, my new love did not do the same. He continued living with his partner, not revealing our affair.
In getting caught up in the nostalgia, I somehow conveniently “forgot” what it felt like to be “the other woman,” from feeling like I wasn’t good enough, as if I were in a constant competition (feeding into fears of abandonment, big time), and never mind the intense guilt I had with regards to his partner. In fact — that’s another memory — calling her, revealing the situation, and apologizing. She actually gave her blessing on us being together, saying she knew he hadn’t been in love with her for years and wanting him to be happy. Knowing this – that he received this reaction from her and still chose to not leave her and to not be with me – made his ultimate rejection of me all the more painful and difficult to bear.
What an awkward and painful situation all around for four people in total. It’s funny how when my mind would go to reaching out to this person, I remembered the affection, the attention, the hopes and dreams of us truly being soul mates and somehow creating a life together, and not all of the other things I mentioned. Or how, when I felt suicidal (as I often did at that time in my life), he refused to come to the hospital to pick me up because it was “too much for him.” He broke up with me because of my emotional instability (and probably other reasons, based on the complicated situation).
I became really disappointed in myself for allowing memories of him to fuel my urge to seek him out. We didn’t have Facebook back then when he and I were together. I beat myself up over it. What if he’s still with his partner? Won’t he think I’m crazy for reaching out after all these years? When his response to my numerous attempts for connection went unanswered, I felt overwhelming shame, sadness, and great disappointment.
|(some comic relief)|
I don’t know exactly what I expected to happen, but I know what I hoped for. I hoped that he would be single and available. I hoped that he would respond to me with warmth, telling me that he, too, had thought of me all of this time and was so happy to be connected again. I dreamed that he would agree to meet up with me. In my big-term fantasy, we would fall in love again and have another chance at what went so sour years ago. I have compassion for the part of me who wanted all of this.
So, what can you do if you discover you’ve also been caught up in black or white thinking that has you clinging to the past, and something feels a bit off?
Please have compassion for yourself as I eventually learned to do with myself. You are only human. Everyone wants to feel loved. Most people want an intimate love who they feel very connected with and may even consider a “soul mate.” Look at other emotional vulnerabilities in your life right now. Are you feeling lonely, rejected, or otherwise sad or anxious or alone? These can all contribute to us idealizing a past relationship or love while conveniently forgetting, ignoring, and pushing away the other aspects of the relationship – often the ones that led to it coming to an end.
We can’t convince others that we’ve changed, that they should give us a chance, or that they should love us. I’m being less hard on myself for reaching out. I know my intentions and heart were in the right place. Now I must use Radical Acceptance to work through the fact that I have no control over the outcome and that life goes on, even if not the way we dreamed it to be. That being said, new dreams are born every day. We can love again.
The author of this letter has since RECOVERED from Borderline Personality Disorder and no longer meets the criteria for a BPD diagnosis. There is HOPE for you. Recovery happened through a commitment to DBT. Debbie now teaches the DBT skills that helped change her life over at DBT Path (http://www.emotionallysensitive.com) where you can take online Dialectical Behavior Therapy Classes from anywhere in the world. You *can* overcome this disorder! Visit DBT Path to learn more.