The DSM IV criteria states:
Criterion 1: Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
“The perception of impending separation or rejection, or the loss of external structure, can lead to profound changes in self-image, affect, cognition, and behaviour. These individuals are very sensitive to environmental circumstances. They experience intense abandonment fears and inappropriate anger even when faced with a realistic time-limited separation or when there are unavoidable changes in plans (e.g. sudden despair in reaction to a clinician’s announcing the end of the hour; panic of fury when someone important to them is just a few minutes late or must cancel an appointment). They may believe that this “abandonment” implies they are “bad.” These abandonment fears are related to an intolerance of being alone and a need to have other people with them. Their frantic efforts to avoid abandonment may include impulsive actions such as self-mutilating or suicidal behaviours, which are described separately in Criterion 5”
As Stop Walking on Eggshells rightly puts it “People with BPD look to others to provide things they find difficult to supply for themselves, such as self-esteem, approval and a sense of identity… fill the black-hole of emptiness and despair…’ this can affect any – relationship, family, friends, partners. For me this criterion is most evident in my relationship with my partner. Even my friends who know very little about BPD have picked up on how I meet this criterion, with comments having been made at times when I am in crisis along the lines of “You always go off the rails when Chris isn’t around”. I think that sums it up pretty well really!
Basically, if my partner is away – which sometimes he has to be for work or TA (Territorial Army) the anxiety of being separated overwhelms me. Initially I don’t even recognise that I am struggling and by the time I do I have already spiralled out of control. Death can seem a viable alternative option to the potential loss of a relationship for the person with BPD, whilst at the same time we can’t understand why anyone would want to be with us anyway as our self opinion is that low. As with all of the criteria it is hard to talk about ‘abandonment’ without touching on other criteria as there is much overlap and intermingling of the actions, reactions, triggers, behaviours etc that ‘meet the criteria’ but I will try to keep the focus on abandonment as closely as possible.
Now the worst part of this problem is that while longer separations obviously have a larger impact, even short separations trigger anxiety, stress and paranoia. For example; He calls to say he is heading home from work, the journey takes one and half hours – all is well and good. One hour and forty-five minutes later he’s not back… panic sets in, my rational mind is screaming at me ‘It’s only 15 minutes, there’s probably just traffic’ but the BPD mind is already crawling with paranoid thoughts and refuses to accept the simple traffic delay explanation, and even the sort of paranoid thoughts that non-BP’s might have of ‘Oh shit, what if he’s had an accident’ are irrelevant – for the BP the only way this delay can be explained is in a manner that means abandonment and rejection of me ‘He’s leaving you’ ‘He’s seeing someone else’ and all kinds of nonsense, self-depreciating crap along the lines of rejection and abandonment. Then 2 minutes later the door opens and he comes in complaining about the traffic which held him up, but for the BP it’s too late you are angry with him, for abandoning you, you hate yourself for being stupid, paranoid and having these thoughts and fears. Intense feelings of sadness, loss and fear wreak havoc with your mind. You don’t want to feel like this but you can’t control or stop it, that’s the reality of BPD. You cry with distress and embarrassment, whilst at the same time being relieved that he is home. Luckily I am not one of the BP’s whose anger is externalised, as I know that for those who do ‘act out’ on their anger they would probably ‘attack’ their partner at this point with unfounded allegations about their late arrival home, maybe even physically attacking the non-BP. For me though the anger is internalised and self-directed, I want to hurt myself for having had these thoughts and feelings. The only good thing about short separations like this is that it is over quickly and you can get back to what passes as ‘normal’ after a few hours of distress. Longer separations however can have a huge sometimes life-changing impact…
When my partner went to Afghanistan initially I was okay, I understood why he was going, when he would be back and I had made plans to occupy myself so that I could handle him not being around. Or so I thought… It didn’t take long for the BPD to kick in and spread like an infection through my thoughts and feelings. Within weeks I was certain of the following irrational paranoid BPD thoughts
- He didn’t want me; I was a trophy girlfriend to cover his own shame at loving someone else who was not as attractive or clever as me. He could show me off to his family and friends whilst keeping his true love hidden on the sidelines.
- He was cheating on me with god knows who whilst he was over there
- He was going to die out there and abandon me for good
I hated him for leaving me (part of criterion 2- idealization and devaluation) and wanted to do anything to avoid being abandoned by him. So I began making plans to leave him, and told him as much in our emails. This must have been very difficult for him to handle being 3000 miles away and unable to talk to me properly to understand what the hell was going on. Bearing in mind, he knew about my BPD at this point but had never read anything about it, so he only knew of it by name with no understanding of what it meant in reality. Impulsivity also kicked in around this time; I was so convinced I was now practically, for all intents and purposes, ‘single’ that I needed to feel wanted again. I was going out drinking lots, barely sleeping, barely eating. Then the recklessness kicked in on top, promiscuity prevailed again – what’s good for the goose is good for the gander; I was so convinced he was up to no good over there and I was alone, so why not sleep with whomever I wanted? It’s not like I have any difficulty attracting men. I also started to examine my sexual orientation frustrations (yes, I actually question this often, although I realise now that for me this is part of my BPD unstable sense of self and identity as with all my career changes). Gradually the recklessness, impulsivity and self-injurious behaviours increased in severity until I was cutting again and eventually as he returned home for leave I overdosed…
Just to demonstrate that this is all invasive, not just about the closest relationships, here are a few other examples of the insignificant, everyday life events that also trigger rejection and abandonment fears –
- There is no post today, or there is post but none is for me – even junk mail is better than nothing, otherwise I feel the postman has abandoned me, people sending post have rejected me; it’s like ‘huh great, no –one likes me enough to send me a letter, or even a bill’ (sickeningly sad I know!)
- A friend cancels a night our cause they don’t feel well, or have to work – they don’t like me anymore, they would rather work than hang out with me, I’m a useless friend therefore they have abandoned me.
- The hit count on my blog is low today – even my readers have abandoned me, I’m a useless writer.
- I’ve lost a subscriber/follower on my blog/twitter – I must have offended them, I’m a useless writer, they are rejecting me.
- The end of a therapy session; just as you are getting into it – despair, you are not worthy of extra time (of course it’s nothing to do with the next client waiting to be seen…)
The other thing that happens with abandonment fears is the ‘frantic efforts to avoid’ being abandoned which in addition to the things I have mentioned above also leads to behaviours that can been seen as manipulative or attention seeking – such as pestering texts, emails and phone calls, but rather than stating that you just want them to help combat your fear you instead say things that may be abusive (not necessarily to the other person; it could be about yourself) things that act to push the person away or make them feel guilty, when all you really want is for them to come to you; for example you might say something like ‘I don’t need you, I don’t want you here, you’re better off without me…’ you just want them to feel bad for ‘leaving you’ and come to you, but for some reason those words seem impossible to just say – a cry for help, lost in translation…
Can you imagine how hard it is to have to battle with these emotions every day? It’s a living hell when even the smallest action or reaction triggers feelings of rejection and abandonment, it makes you feel so small, insecure and pathetic that you can’t handle these things without an overwhelming, intense emotion reaction that you REALLY don’t want to be having!
Of course this is just my experience of ‘Abandonment issues’, other BP’s may experience this in different ways. One way I am glad I don’t experience this is in the ‘inability to allow their partner to have their own life and friends, a belief that healthy independence in their partner is a threat to them. ’ which is an issue for some BP’s – thankfully I can handle and accept this, well so long as I have my own plans for the time he will be off doing his own thing…hmmm, maybe this is a ‘bit’ of a grey area for me (blimey, a bit of grey in my black and white BPD world! Lol) I have major issues with people being late for anything, things ‘ending’ or people cancelling/changing plans – all classic BP reactions to ‘real or perceived rejection or abandonment’.
Do you have BPD? How do abandonment issues affect your life?
Thank you for reading! If you have enjoyed reading this post please share it with others who may be interested and I always enjoy receiving feedback and comments
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