Got BPD? Doesn’t Mean Everything is Your Fault (Gas Lighting, Adult Bullies, and Narcissism)
Rather listen than read? Here’s the audio version of this article:
Recently a reader brought up a very good point that I’ve been meaning to address: it’s *NOT* always the person with borderline personality disorder, BPD traits, or emotional sensitivity that is the instigator of emotional dysregulation and disharmony in relationships.
Whether it be family, romantic, a work or school place setting, or any other environment where a person with BPD traits is interacting with another, it can be so easy for everyone involved to default to blaming the emotionally sensitive person for upsets and issues that arise.
We must remember that individuals who do not have BPD, BPD traits or emotional sensitivity are also human beings with their own personal pasts, some who’ve experienced trauma which impacts how they engage in relationships today. In fact, they may have even more serious psychological issues that drive their thoughts and behavior choices.
Here are some examples of when a person with BPD traits may be doing their very best to stay calm and practice DBT skills and are still experiencing emotional dysregulation and intensity due to a toxic relationship or environment.
This term comes from an old movie in which a husband was doing things like leaving the gas stove burners on and telling his wife that she did it.
The wife knew she hadn’t, but with him persisting and doing things like this over and over again, she began to doubt herself and feared she was going insane.
Unfortunately, gas lighting is something that can happen in any type of relationship.
A partner may accuse you of doing things to betray them (flirting, having an affair, not keeping your word), and although you are certain that you haven’t committed these acts, you begin to wonder, “Well, was it maybe flirtation when I smiled at the checkout guy at Trader Joe’s? Maybe he’s right when she says I have been acting like a wh*re.”
Over time, comments from the gas lighting partner that had seemed unreasonable and even abusive make you wonder if maybe YOU are the one who is unreasonable and abusive. After all, you have BPD traits, right? But, what if it isn’t you?
The thing I love about DBT skills is that, through learning and practicing them, we can begin fact-checking situations that seem off to us. Perhaps we want to maintain a healthy perspective and balance the dialectic that it’s possible that we’re doing the best we can and simultaneously we have lots of room to improve.
We might think: I know I’m not intentionally flirting, definitely not having an affair, and I’ve been honest, but maybe the way I say things or my body language communicates something else, so I’ll choose to have more self-awareness around this.
So, you do some fact-checking. You use mindfulness and intention to observe your mannerism and how you communicate with others. You ask someone you trust to be non-judgmental and caring to have you run the situation by them and see if they have any feedback about what they’ve observed about your communication.
In the end, you conclude that it’s unlikely that you’re doing the behavior, whether your partner believes you are or not. You may be in a gaslighting situation.
If you haven’t already at this point, consulting with a qualified mental health professional about steps to address this and to leave the relationship or situation if desired is so important.
If you’re already easily dysregulated emotionally, experience intense emotions, and are still healing through your own trauma, you may be more susceptible to the manipulative behaviors of someone who is gaslighting. Getting some guidance around coping effectively can help.
You and several co-workers meet each week with your boss and interact about practice scenarios and how things have been going with sales.
You love what you do. You’re learning and gaining so much both personally and professionally, but there’s one problem: you don’t care for your boss. You default to thinking that it’s your fault that you just can’t seem to get along with her or tolerate the annoyances you experience when in her presence.
After all, you have BPD traits, right? It must be your perception, your issues, your fault that you can’t just take this training and accomplish what you came to accomplish without the drama. But…what if it isn’t you?
As mentioned in the section on gaslighting, other people have their own issues. They have their own egos, and not everyone walking around in a position of leadership or authority is caring for their mental health and well-being. Other people out there are dysregulated, too, including bosses.
Your boss also seems to have a different scapegoat of the week who she belittles in front of all of the team, and you never fully feel safe — you might be her favorite one week and the one who gets humiliated in front of your colleagues the next.
You might be dealing with an adult bully.
I’ll repeat what I included in the section on gaslighting: If you haven’t already at this point, consulting with a qualified mental health professional about steps to address this and to leave the relationship or situation if desired is so important.
If you’re already easily dysregulated emotionally, experience intense emotions, and are still healing through your own trauma, you may be more susceptible to the manipulative behaviors of someone who is bullying other adults. Getting some guidance around coping effectively can help.
There’s a theory out there that emotionally sensitive people tend to find themselves attracted into relationships with narcissists. Perhaps it’s because the narcissist’s behavior feels familiar (perhaps a parent or caretaker was narcissistic).
Narcissists lack empathy and tend to focus on their own needs because they have an overinflated sense of self-importance (i.e. they are the best/better than everyone else at something — or everything).
They may be charming, charismatic, and fun to be around — some of the time. But other times, they leave you feeling as if your own needs, thoughts, desires, and preferences don’t really matter — at least not in comparison to theirs.
If you’re already easily dysregulated emotionally, experience intense emotions, and are still healing through your own trauma, you may be more susceptible to the manipulative, selfish, self-centered behaviors of someone who is narcissistic. Getting some guidance around coping effectively can help.
The bottom line is, all of the DBT skills and coping skills in the world may not be effective if the environment or relationship you’re in is toxic or abusive. Check the facts, get support, and remember: it’s not always you just because you have borderline personality disorder, BPD traits, or emotional sensitivity.
If you suspect that you’re in a toxic relationship, talk to someone you trust for support and ideas for coping effectively and addressing the situation.
Hope this article is helpful to you in some way.
Debbie DeMarco Bennett, BSc., CLC
DBT Skills Coach and Teacher at EmotionallySensitive.com
Wow, Debbie, I haven’t been to this site in a very long time, and at 10 PM I chose to check it out….you had mentioned it in class. You are talking about me! Perhaps you knew that. But I feel invigorated knowing there are many who have fallen hard into a relationship that is dysfunctional and later blamed themselves, thinking it was all because of BPD. All this past week I have been motivated to think about how it’s NOT all my problem, and you nailed it for me tonight. I don’t know what the solution is…..many choose to end the relationship, but my convictions don’t allow that at this time. I do believe that by continuing to take and apply your weekly DBT course AND by working hard with my SET therapist, I can become strong enough to manage. Blessings to you, Debbie.
Hello, Sarah! I’m so glad this post resonated so strongly for you. Stay strong, and keep up the amazing work you’re doing. Blessings right back atchya! ♥
Debbie, I read this again tonight and realized it is THIS article that got me started on my most recent journey which is proving to be one of the most heart-breaking of my life. Still, I thank you for writing it because if I manage to be skillful, I will become free at last from the scourge of being mistreated at the same time as being emotionally disregulated myself. Tomorrow is another brand new day, and I will be there.
Wow, Sarah. Pretty powerful. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for this superb article.
It is an exact replica of what seems to be occurring.
I am so lost, trapped and extremely alone.
I am also going through a traumatic multiple health issues, an eviction and harassing neighborhood, and now an awful sense of a terrifying relationship to a man, whom I trusted for the longest time.
I am crying deep inside… Don’t know what’s going to happen next minute.
But at least, I know now that I am not the one who is going through it.
I hope I am able to be part of the group.
Hello Faiza. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I’m so sorry to hear that you are going through this. Please let me know what country you are in and if you’d like any help finding resources like hotlines or safe shelter.
Within the last few months was told I have BPD by a therapist. I have been in an on/off relationship for 3 yrs. We love each other very much, but I see BPD in my guy. We are seniors…..he lost his wife to cancer, I am a cancer survivor. We worked together 35 yrs ago, but only fell in love 3 yrs. We love each other & want it to work, but I am the one diagnosed & getting counseling…..he needs to be diagnosed, etc. He has the “over reacting”, “highly sensitive” emotions, etc, but his age (69) & pride refuses to accept his part. We love each other, but as strong as the love is, the opposite “knocking each other off pedistal” is just as extreme emotionally. Is there hope for us if he refuses to seek counseling? Wld like to save relationship, but if its toxic, I can’t continue to have this high/low emotional rollorcoaster relationship. Worth staying? We don’t live together…….past lessons learned on live in boyfriends prior to being diagnosed w BPD. Thank you & God Bless!!
These are some great questions, Cindy. Have you brought them up with your therapist? If you’re not seeing someone right now, it may be a good time to start up some sessions to explore this. It’s a tough situation. There are so many years and so many layers here. I wish you the very best as you continue to consider what’s best for your wellbeing.