crying

Do Borderlines lack Empathy?


The simple answer to this is a plain, emphatic, resounding NO!!!

If anything people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are the most outstanding at empathy of all people, why?

Because when you feel emotions amplified at least 10x as strongly as ‘normal’ people, with an intensity one can only liken to being hit by a high speed train (and switching for one emotion to another with the same degree of force on a hairtrigger) who is better placed to understand what someone else feels?

Empathy is defined as:

the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Empathy and BPD – The falsehoods

There is a heap of misleading, unfair literature out there that suggests that ‘borderlines’ are incapable of feeling empathy (along with people suffering various other conditions from autism to psycopathy) but one of the most famous examples, which is also the most nasty, damaging and stigmatising is the work of Simon Baron-Cohen (Professor, Expert in Autism & cousin of Sacha Baron-Cohen aka Ali-G)  in his book Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty.

First of all I would actively recommend against reading the book unless you want to be angered to the point you want to hunt this man down and show him who really lacks empathy – HIMSELF!

Baron-Cohen displays the most unempathic understanding of BPD throughout his section on the condition within the book, quite a feat for someone to write about the lack of empathy of others while clearly demonstrating his own inability to empathise! Examples of what Baron-Cohen has to say about people with BPD include:

Zero degrees of empathy does not strike at random in the population. There are at least three well-defined routes to getting to this end-point: borderline, psychopathic, and borderline personality disorders. I group these as zero-negative because they have nothing positive to recommend them. They are unequivocally bad for the sufferer and for those around them.

and

people with BPD are “evil”, “zero-negative” and have “zero degrees of empathy” (similar to the Nazis).

Dorothy Rowe (clinical psychologist and writer, and an expert on research into the biological basis of mental disorder) wrote in the Guardian review of Zero Degrees of Empathy:

 In Baron-Cohen’s section on borderline personality disorder I counted 19 uses of the words “borderline” or “borderlines” as a noun, in sentences such as “Borderlines are very manipulative”.

Clearly this is a book to avoid, likening BP’s to nazi’s, describing BPs as ‘evil’ and having zero empathy it is a horrific example of Baron-Cohen’s own inability to empathise!

I say to Baron-Cohen – stick to what you know, Autism, you have done some outstanding work with this condition but you clearly don’t know BPD – maybe you should spend some time with Marsh Linehan if you want to know about BPD. But until you have done that stay the HELL away from borderlines, we don’t need unempathic, dangerous people like you in our lives!

Baron-Cohen is not alone though in his belief that Borderline’s lack empathy, there are many examples on the internet alone Shari Schreiber claims she can…

…save you years in therapy.

by reading articles on her website about Borderline Personality Disorder – yet all her work there is ignorant, ill-informed and damaging for those with BPD and anyone looking to support someone with BPD. at first glance even a BP will recognise some of the traits she describes but these glimpses of the truth are in murky waters, littered with scaremongering, misinformation and outright untruths! for example:

They are lacking in empathy and impulse control, which allows these violent acts to happen, and our prison system houses many Borderlines who’ve killed in a fit of rage.

Now let’s pick that apart…

lacking in empathy – untrue 100% misinformation

impulse control – true but not in this context, BP’s do have issues with impulsivity but this is 9as the DSM-IV criteria states) in “areas that are SELF - damaging”

Violent acts happen – Violent acts can happen with ANYONE BP or non BP, mental health issues or no mental health issues…

Prison system houses ‘many’ Borderline’s – Well to be fair I don’t have access to figures, but I am pretty certain they do not represent a higher proportion of the population than non-BP’s…

killed in a fit of rage – while not impossible (as for any other person) this is again misleading – proof please!?

This woman fails to provide sources for her ‘claims’ and if based on her own ‘professional’ experiences of BPD then she clearly has very little of this – meeting one very severely damaged person with BPD does not give you enough information to make sweeping generalizations about all people with BPD. Another example of someone that needs to spend some time with Marsha Linehan!

Empathy and BPD – The reality

In a response to the release of Baron-Cohen’s Zero degrees book one article by the Neurocritic provides the following evidence of how he got it wrong about Borderlines:

One study showed that individuals with BPD are actually better than controls on a test of empathy designed by Baron-Cohen himself (Fertuck et al., 2009). That would be the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), “a measure of the capacity to discriminate the mental state of others from expressions in the eye region of the face.”  The study showed that:

The BPD group performed significantly better than the HC group on the RMET, particularly for the Total Score and Neutral emotional valences. Effect sizes were in the large range for the Total Score and for Neutral RMET performance. The results could not be accounted for by demographics, co-occurring Axis I or II conditions, medication status, abuse history, or emotional state. However, depression severity partially mediated the relationship between RMET and BPD status.

Marsha Linehan and other BPD experts have been quoted as saying things such as:

Some people with BPD may have an unusually high degree of interpersonal sensitivity, insight and empathy

A Borderline can often be empathic to a fault, taxing his or her strength and putting others before him or herself until it becomes health-threatening.

I’m going to finish with sharing my own experience, being a person who has BPD I have numerous examples of my own displays of EMPATHY that show I am far more demonstrative in this area than most people.

  • I can tell if someone is upset even if they don’t say anything
  • I get emotionally involved with things I see (films etc) or read (books etc) and will often cry or get angry at things happening in these
  • I like to help and care for other people
  • I am highly sensitive to the feelings of others and work hard to avoid upsetting people – no matter the cost to myself!

Okay, so I could go on forever with this list, a simpler demonstration may be to use Baron-Cohen’s own tests… Both of these tests were designed by Baron-Cohen to assess empathy skills.

The Empathy Quotient Test by Simon Baron-Cohen

A test with 60 statements where you state how strongly you agree or disagree with each. Your score indicates your ability to empathise:

0 – 32 = low (most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 20)
33 – 52 = average (most women score about 47 and most men score about 42)
53 – 63 is above average
64 – 80 is very high
80 is maximum

My score was 58, which means by Baron-Cohen’s own example I have ‘above average’ empathy skills

Reading the Mind in the Eyes – By Simon Baron-Cohen

“a measure of the capacity to discriminate the mental state of others from expressions in the eye region of the face.” In this test for each pair of eyes, choose which word best describes what the person in the picture is thinking or feeling.

A typical score is in the range 22-30.

If you scored over 30, you are very accurate at decoding a person’s facial expressions around their eyes.

A score under 22 indicates you find this quite difficult.

My score was 30, top end of the ‘normal’ range.

So by Baron-Cohen’s own assessment methods, me – a BPD has a high level of empathy, but I could have told you that without the tests…

Why not take the tests yourself and share your scores in the comments and whether you have BPD or not!?

128 comments on “Do Borderlines lack Empathy?

  1. Eye contact my score was 14 and the empathy my score was average (44) and I have BPD. I am sick of seeing negative things about BPD so I try and avoid at all costs. Drives me mad seeing all this crap … My nephew has Aspergers and HE has no empathy or social skills or anything of that nature.

    Baron-Cohen is an idiot as far as BPD is concerned. I won’t be reading his book. he is lucky I live in Australia.

    • I know how you feel! You would think someone like Baron-Cohen would know better than to unfairly label people in his line of work – just another element of proof of the fact that even the ‘professionals’ dislike those with BPD. My son ha Aspergers too and I can see how much he lacks empathy and social skills, but even there they are not completely missing as Baron-Cohen suggests, just very reduced!

    • I agree, I have a daughter with Bpd and I am disgusted with Baron-Cohen, what does he really know? does he have a loved one with this disorder? I think not! He should not be allowed to write books about people with disorders

  2. I had hoped that we were moving away from the culture of kicking people who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I haven’t read this book, indeed I wasn’t aware of it until I read your post but your description doesn’t exactly inspire me to rush out and buy it.

    Cheers,

    Stuart

    • I don’t think we are any where near removing the stigma around BPD yet – the only people who don’t judge us are those who have no idea what it is in the first place! :(

  3. I can relate to the capacity for empathy and emotional range, and with the problems with perceptions with in the realms of mental health. There is a misnomer for something among every group where common cultural understanding is disconnected from clinical realities. It’s something I have had to explain to people before about level of empathy. Mind you in my case there is an expectation of sensitivity but even in that people misread this. Some of it, and I am sure you’d agree, are just egregious stereotypes, and others are in my opinion thing which are “common sense” in the way they are coined, but are actually false unquestioned forms of intuition. Conditioned predispositions towards the way we interpret our intuitions.

    It’s the same reason why dealing with people to who I have to ‘explain’ who and what I am too, also produces misunderstanding by disjointing stereotypes. Being me means people disjoint me both from their understanding of woman, and from the understanding of men. It’s part of the “Othering Concept” in which people automatically associate one difference with many. Example: I am normal and you have BPD. I am normal and have empathy, you are BPD and you do not have empathy. I am normal, have empathy, and am sociable, you are BPD and not empathic or sociable. It’s a false dilemma also known as a false dichotomy.

    It’s a common problem in our culture were people attempt to draw clear lines of distinctions into two categories where there is shades of gray, moreover a multicolored canvas on which traits are painted. It’s intellectual laziness that leads to this inability; more so, the lack of desire to differentiate without painting people with a wide brush. It’s easier to stereotype, than it is to treat each person as an individual who varies in many degrees. It’s created in our culture, media, mentalities, and in our biases as a society. When people meet me, and learn about who I am, they automatically apply stereotypes that are largely untrue to who I am. This same principle can however, often effect science mainly psychology, because the principles and ideas are much more abstract, less concrete.

    I have recently been noticing a trend of such divisive dichotomies through out our culture, something I call Binaryism – or the tendency to attempt to divide concepts, ideas, people, groups, or principles into dichotomies (meaning two groups, us verses them, black and white, man and woman, up and down). However, many things in reality are inadequately defined by such methods, (most things I’d argue), and the tendencies to do so are undermining to understanding, marginalizing, and over simplified. It’s a popular political tool, as well as a divisive one. This is how I rationalize and understand why, especially in psychology, that such false assertions exist. I scored 64 on the empathy test, and 28 on the eye test. Good tests, and great blog.

    I am very much like you in terms of empathic behavior, and your very own descriptions of empathy in your experiences. All I hope is that one day the pathologizing tendencies of the Psychological Establishment start testing their own intuitions rather than making baseless and harmful assertions about people, specifically those who would be patients. In the end, we all know what they say about assumptions

    • haha so very true! how funny it is that the world seems to be making itself BPD with its ohh so black and white thinking, while trying to convince us (BP’s) that we must ‘see’ the grey!

      Defined by those who issue the labels we must be either ‘this’ or ‘that’ in society, anything else and we are screwed! Maybe the wrong people are being labelled mentally ill – maybe we are the ones who actually have it right, it’s the rest of the world that don’t have a clue!?

      • You may be right. In a world so crazy perhaps those considered crazy are the sane ones. Talking about flipping it on it’s head. One day I hope we create a culture dedicated to culturing understanding, rather than one size fits all diagnostics. It really is about laziness and industrialization, because in a mechanized society no one has time to be an individual, much less individualize others. It certainly is a cultural issue that is far more widespread for sure. Funny thing about psychology is that guts and gore in movies and gasp at violence because it upset people, now entire generations of people laugh at violence even post it to YouTube. I’d say there is a high probability that many things coined “Mental Illness/Disordered” are completely resultant of our culture.

        So perhaps it is our culture that should be evaluated instead of us, or at the very least an evaluation of both. I’d say the most problematic issue within this concept is mental disorder via non-conformity. There are many things that are codified as mental disorders because they don’t “Conform” to societal perceptions and norms. This mentality takes away from individualized care because it places emphasis on meeting social standards that are erratic, vary form place to place, and change dramatically with time. The function of getting and receiving therapy or psychological counseling should be for that person to function on a self-identified level, not on a social guideline or at least that is how I feel.

      • I think books about future dystopian societies have a much better chance of becoming reality than those that feature utopia – the world is just getting worse. As nice as it would be I think hopes for a future of understanding and consideration are the pipe dreams :(

  4. Before I get into /rant mode/ let me congratulate you on the award from your ROW80 check-in (it fits, you ARE very versatile, Sharon). The goals thing? First week after the winter holidays… Life… You’re doing grand (actually you’re doing amazing!) >HUGS<

    Now about the actual post here… WARNING this is a bit of a rant.

    Aspie (high functioning) here (who married a man who probably is an Aspie, and who has a son who is also a HF Aspie), Sharon. I like Sacha Baran-Cohen's humor (in small doses), but his cousin clearly needs to pay better attention to his work and his "so called" specialty.

    I never noticed a lack of "feeling" or empathy in people with BPD or AS disorders. I usually saw people who felt so much, people who noticed so much and were just frustrated by far that others not only seemed unable to see all the other things going on in the world around them, but seemed to not WANT to see.

    small example:
    talking with a person who does missionary work about American poverty…
    - said person got upset because I was "trivializing the real poverty in the world" (places such as India and Africa) because "no one in the US *had* to go without food (some do, but I'm not debating it now).
    - I tried to point out that just because there were people in worse straights didn't mean that the people here who were suffering *weren't* suffering; they *were*
    - long and short of several times trying to explain this and provide examples ended up with others chiming in about how "insensitive" I was being

    Anyway out of curiosity I followed the test links and received these results:
    Empathy Quotient: 31 (granted, this as someone who has spent the last 20 plus years trying to relearn how to deal with people and had to attend counseling and therapy for social issues for even longer)
    Mind in the Eyes: 21 (which didn't surprise me, given the pictures; a static image often confuses me…I have to work out a series of expressions to make such judgements)

    The whole point here? These blanket definitions and little boxes "experts" try to squeeze people in are just those…
    – blankets to cover up all the defining differences
    – little boxes to pack away and not deal with correctly

    At least that's what it seems to me.

    • Thank you for the congrats :)

      I agree, Baron-Cohen’s study of empathy has not been fair to anyone! My son is a HF Aspie and I do notice that he is lacking in empathy, but it isn’t entirely missing as B-C suggests, just reduced. Overall I don’t think there are many people in the world that would actually fit in B-C’s ‘zero’ category for empathy. I was reading a blog post about a psychopath the other day who demonstrated a huge display of empathy when so called ‘normal’ people (including health care workers) ignored the plight of someone (a colleague of the health-workers) who needed help, the psychopath recognised and empathised with the situation the worker was in and helped – shocking the worker as the psychopath would not normally leave his chair for anything at all!

  5. I have BPD and scored 55 on the empathy quotient and 25 in reading the mind in the eyes. I recently wrote down my own thoughts about empathy in my blog (but lacked motivation to look at the evidence other than noticing that studies tended to contradict each other.) I hate the negative perceptions that exist about BPD.

  6. May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.
    http://CultureOfEmpathy.com

  7. I believe BPD have empathy for other people, mostly ones with whom do not have emotional ties with, but lack of it when it comes to the people they have strong emotional ties with, i.e. spouses, partners, family….

  8. I actually believe the opposite of Enrique. I scored 69 on the empathy quotient and 29 in the reading the mind in the eyes. I have very strong empathy towards the people closest to me, and less towards strangers and aquaintances. It is because I see how much some of the things I do upset them that I get upset at myself. I understand that I am the one being irrational, I see that I am hurting them, and then wind up hurting myself because I can’t stand how much I am hurting them.

    • I think I probably fall somewhere in the middle. I have a lot of empathy for people I am close too, but also empathise with things very distant from myself, including things that aren’t real, like characters in books and films (I can not watch ‘chick’ flicks because I get too emotionally involved with the characters! lol)

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  11. 31 (very accurate) on the reading the mind in the eyes.

    47 (average) on the empathy quotient

    Diagnosed with BPD 9 years ago, but hardly affected by it now.
    I don’t think I would meet all the diagnostic criteria if I was assessed now.
    So a lot of ‘experts’ are wrong on two counts. 1 that people with BPD have no empathy and 2 that they are untreatable.

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  16. All I know is that, when I was sitting in the eye doctor’s office and he told me I was going blind, I turned around to look at her and she just sat there with absolutely NO expression. When I was talking on the phone and being told I has arsenic in my system, instead of worrying about me and asking how I was or what we would do she asked, “Where would I get arsenic”. Sorry, but I saw NO empathy in her although she claims to be the great humanitarian and accuses ME of this lack, always “correcting” me when I am upset that I “only think about myself” etc. !

    • That’s sounds awful, but I know what you mean, I’ve seen the same with many doctors myself, I know they need to be emotionally detached for thier own sake but there’s a big difference between that and lack of empathy!

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  20. My score for the Empathy Quotient is 67, and 23 on the Mind in the Eyes test. I was diagnosed with BPD 4 years ago, and have only just now started therapy…until now I masked it.
    The only thing I didn’t like about the Mind in the Eyes test was that I was unable to actually see the picture clearly. It was far to dark for me to pick up on some of the emotions that were being non-verbally expressed.
    What I do not like about the Empathy Quotient test and tests similar to it is that manipulative people may consciously know what their answer is supposed to be even though they do not really feel that way.

    In the last week I have been told by my boyfriend (of 4 years) that I lack empathy; at the time I was describing how I thought I may be an Empath. Later that day we learned that a friend of his had committed suicide. I starting crying, (I do not know this friend or the friend’s family), just imaging the pain his wife and children must be feeling. My boyfriend was only interested in the facts surrounding the tragedy and if his family was going to take legal action against the employer for “driving” the man to take his own life. (Honestly, the family does have a good case and they should pursue something, if nothing else to avoid this happening to anyone else.) But I lack empathy.

    • It makes me wonder if some people actually know what empathy means when I hear of things like what your boyfriend was like. Your reaction – imagining the feelings and then actually feeling them yourself – is a clear demonstration of empathy, you put yourself in another’s position and felt what they felt, whereas your boyfriends reaction was barely even sympathetic, I guess he maybe latched on to the anger that can come with loss rather than the sadness but still it is a colder place to be, the logical, factual, response than what you had.

      I agree that tests with words and multiple choice responses can be manipulated by people and as such may not be that reliable, all we can do is be honest with ourselves when undertaking such tests to reduce the manipulation we could introduce. I suspect that in a proper environment the pictures used (I would hope) would be proper, clear photographs rather than grainy black and white images, because it does affect the ability to correctly recognise the emotion – a photo would include the twinkle in an eye, wateryness and just the addition of colour makes things so much more recognisable.

      Good luck with you therapy!

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  23. That’s funny because in his interview on NPR Baron-Cohen specifically states he wants to get away from the term “evil” when it comes to equating it with low empathy and does not believe it is in any way static but that people can fall anywhere on the range of the empathic scale. He also states very clearly that we must be careful not to lose our own compassion when it comes to discussing the issue. Being that you are borderline, you will no doubt have your perspective and interpretation of the literature. Living with a borderline, I seek as much information as I can find. However, your point and perspective may be easier for some to take in were it not so acidic. When there is so much stigma about BPD already, diplomacy can be the one thing to get people to consider your side of things objectively. Perhaps you should contact Mr. Baron-Cohen and ask if he will clarify some things for you that seem disturbing from your perspective. I’m sure I’ll be lambasted for my response but I’m leaving the link anyway. Wishing you good health.
    http://www.npr.org/2011/09/30/140954023/could-a-lack-of-empathy-explain-cruelty

    • Thanks for the comment DV. I guess much like the rest of us Baron-Cohen just happens to have a habit of putting his foot in his mouth, which prompts acidic response from those he offends!? Thanks for the link, I will check it out :)

  24. Was good to give those tests a go. 64 for the empathy test and 29 for the eye one. I did a very similar test before for someone doing work on empathy and eating disorders, but for that test it was the whole face that could be seen in order to determine the emotion.

    My experience is that people with BPD have an incredible amount of empathy. As an example someone I met in therapy had convinced people she had cancer and gone to lengths like shaving her own head. I know alot of people would think someone like this was evil and vilify them. The opposite was true of the reactions of the group. There was mass empathy and understanding for this girl.

    I just found your blog yesterday and enjoying making my way through some of your posts. Was just looking at Borderline stuff as feeling very ‘boerderline’ at the moment

    • Thanks for visiting, I’m glad you found the tests interesting. I can understand the empathy for the girl, to be sick enough to pretend she has cancer is a sign that something is seriously wrong and she needs help, making up such a thing is horrid but whatever she is going through that she felt the need to do that is also really bad! Hope you find other posts on here helpful too :)

  25. This was definitely an interesting post! I only took the first test. I scored a 72. And I have BPD. So I am “very high” on the empathy scale. But as you stated with your results, I could’ve told someone that even before taking the test :) Looks like people need to do more research before they make their claims.

  26. I’ve done Baron -Cohen’s empathy tests again and again (and a few others) I always get a shockingly low score for empathy and a high score for systemising or logic (could this be caused by years of studying pure science?) On the expression reading test I get a pretty average score. I’m diagnosed as borderline and I have all the nasty mood swings and suicidal thoughts that go with it but I’m not completely inept socially. I do pretty well socially, I’m extroverted, I have friends, I can banter with colleagues. Some people find me a little eccentric but I don’t make many enemies. I suspect Baron-Cohen’s test is faulty.

    I think Baron Cohen has failed to emphasize the value of sympathy. He mentions it almost as an aside, a way to let Aspie’s off the hook. He can’t say nasty things about Aspie’s because nobody will accept it. Everyone knows that Aspie’s are not inherently evil, but most people have a poor understanding of borderline personality disorder (and very little interest) so he can get away with it.

    I’m not great at empathy but I care about people. I don’t enjoy hurting people, I don’t like seeing people suffer. I don’t get terribly upset (because I don’t feel their pain) but I do sympathize. I understand logically and from experience when someone might be suffering, and because I know how my own pain feels am able to sympathize.

    True, I have made a conscious effort to learn social skills – mentally noting when I have made social mistakes. Noting that certain turns of phrase arouse passions, learning to phrase things carefully etc. but I learned these things because I like people. I like being with people and I dislike upsetting people. Baron-Cohen makes me cross. He should learn some social skills. Rule one: if you can’t say something nice….. ;-)

    • Thanks for sharing, indeed baron Cohen seems to be very lacking himself! and 100% agree with Rule one… something a lot of people need to remember more often I think! ;)

  27. Hi there people

    First time posting on a blog such as this… I don’t think I am BPD, nor is my wife from whom I have recently separated sadly. I am not a health professional of any sort, and certainly not qualified to ascertain if someone definitely has a disorder. I do however, recognise outright nastiness and messed-upness when I see it.

    At the outset of the separation I came across an email sent to my wife with a link to Shari Shreiver’s website, linking to the article on relationships with borderline males. It seems that this friend of hers who is not qualified in any medical or psychological capacity, and who barely knows me, has taken it upon herself to suggest that I am BPD and NPD. I do not know if I am, I intend to have a proper test done by a real Psychiatrist. Personally, I don’t think I am, or if so, very much marginal.

    I read the article, and it made me almost physically sick. SS seems to be out to demonize and vilify anyone with this disorder, and shows no empathy towards anyone. Her descriptions of males with BPD seem to encompass about 90% of males in some way, so it doesn’t leave much hope for us. SS appears to be on a mission to absolutely destroy people. Anyone who might be BPD reading this would feel sick about themselves, and the “victims” would feel unjustly and falsely comforted and vindicated.

    I found it ironic that she appeared to have been having sexual relations with one or more of her clients. That to me seems indicative of low ethical standards, and possibly some sort of disorder or dysfunction within herself as well as having had multiple relationships throughout her life.

    I had a quick browse through some other parts of her website, and her vindictive, scathing, and downright nasty superior attitude was very evident. She seems to have some narcissistic tendencies herself, and reading through her replies to people who have been hurt by BPDs. or even by her own comments, are at best unprofessional, and at worst possibly sociopathic.

    It seems very unjust that this undoubtedly clever but malicious and unqualified woman is able to spread this opinionated pollution and that people are falling for it. Sadly she shows no accountability or remorse, and instantly targets anyone that disagrees with her as being disordered or flames them.

    The thing that greatly saddens me the most is that my lovely wife has been “poisoned” by this article, and now views me through the lenses of this article, and is busy passing it on to her friends. It makes any hope of reconciliation all the more unlikely.

    Has anyone else had to pick up the pieces after coming into contact with her “work”?

    • I have heard of Shari, but have not had any experience of her work – which it would appear I am to be glad of! I’m so sorry to hear of the damage she has caused you. It is not uncommon for so called professionals to have a really bad opinion of BPD sufferers and to treat them badly but this behaviour takes the biscuit, to be honest it sounds like her ‘attack’ on BPD is a defence against the high likelihood (given her behaviour) that she has the condition herself but is in denial about it! and like you say sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies as well. I can only hope people will avoid her! I agree having been poisoned with such information the likelihood of being able to reconcile with your wife is greatly reduced :(

      • “I have heard of Shari, but have not had any experience of her work.”
        “I can only hope people will avoid her!”
        Well, you have not had any experience of her work, however, you only hope people will avoid her. Logical thinking doesn’t seem to be your strong point.

      • It’s logical based on what I read on her sight and what others have said about her, not having personal experience of her work does not mean I cannot judge that it is not good after reading her site I would not go near her to get an experience!

  28. I have Aspergers, Borderline personality and bipolar. My empathy quotient score was 42 and eyes score was 29. I stronly object to idea that Asperger or borderline personality people fo not feel empathy. Both conditions are poorly understood by most people. Regarding Aspergers it presents differently in women than men and women with it tend to have better empathy scores than men but in most cases it seems to me Aspergers results in a difficulty expressing empathy rather than a difficulty feeling it. With borderline personality I agree it makes us better able to relate to others pains and fears because we are so familiar with those experiences. Sometimes we seem unavailable and distant but that is because we are in pain and not because we don’t care about others. Some of the so called experts do a lot more harm than good by mouthing off their opinions which are far from accurate.

    • Indeed, there is so much ‘bad press’ out there from so called experts, everyone is different even those of us who share the same ‘label’ are affected in different ways you can not tar everyone with the same brush :/

  29. it’s funny… I think I am very empathic, I seem to suffer for every wrong ever done even to complete strangers – I can’t even stay emotionally detached when listening to music, watching tv or reading a book – but there is someone in my life, with whom it is rather impossible to feel anything for. I would have every reason to feel for her, she is my mother – I should hate her or love her, feel her pain or cause it… but nothing. I hate some other people, but if confronted with them, I can still feel for them if they are in pain or distress – not so with my mother, it is like the place where empathy for her (and I should really have some, she has lost a leg and is generally in bad shape) should or would be has been cancelled.

    • I know what you mean, I too have the same problem of feeling far too much empathy for so many strangers, even ‘characters’ who are not real, but my mom, most of the time I can only describe what I feel as ‘apathy’ towards her, a void. It’s like there is a brick wall between me and her emotionally, whereas for anyone else that wall is like a thin veil they can push through easily. I also have the same problem with my dad, but with him it’s closer to the blackening of splitting because I dislike him a lot of them time because he has never even tried to be ‘there’ for me, un-accepting, disbelieving, dismissive and uncaring are how I would describe him… :/

      • I never knew my father… I remember I idolized him for a while, even though my mother did everything to tell me how bad he was – I thought if he were here, everything would be better… nowadays, I don’t care, I don’t even want to make an attempt to meet him, he’s just like this other fantasy creature, the one they call god. I don’t think I ever loved my mother, or idolized her… I think I have no feelings toward her at all. Do you think this is some kind of protection mode? I mean, she did horrible things to me, cruel things I can’t even comprehend and if I were to hate her for them, I don’t know what I’d do.

      • Yeah I think your reaction to your mom is a protection thing for you, if you have no feelings or emotions towards her or for her, the connection between you is weak and anything she does or does not do will not hurt you as much as it would if you held any feelings towards her…

  30. I recently picked up Baren-Cohen’s “The Science of Evil” out of curiosity, knowing nothing of the controversy surrounding it. After reading the back and skimming through the book a few times I couldn’t help but slam it down in anger. I even wrote a paragraph on the front page about how misinformed the author is before putting it back on the shelf (oops!)

    As a person with BPD I can say for myself that I am highly empathetic and sensitive to others, almsot to a fault. My boyfriend makes fun of me every time we watch a movie together because no matter what it is, there’s almost always a part I cry at. I get very emotionally involved when reading, watching films, or talking to friends and family about their problems. I work at a local preschool 2 times a week FOR FREE. Sounds real evil right? Simon Baren-Cohen compares people with personality disorders to the nazis! The only person I have ever tried to hurt is myself.

    • lol I’m impressed at your tenacity hehe I would love to write in the front of his books for anyone picking them up to be informed of his misinformation! :) Indeed people with BPD are probably as far from evil as you can get, but its so easy to convince us we are evil because we are very susceptible to controlling, manipulative people who like to make us think ‘we’ are the ones being that way! :/

  31. Okay everyone… Yes, my bpd partner has great empathy under normal circumstances when he is not in a phase, or experiencing an episode.;) That is, indeed, what I have always loved about him. This great sensitivity that is so lacking in many others. However… When I went through him having an episode for the first time, I was in shock and almost killed. This was a man who had been so very loving, caring and sensitive, but something triggered him and I was abused for days on end. When I pictured crying in front of my partner for the first time, I imagined him holding me in his arms… not being the actual cause of it. On top of it, not only did he lack empathy at this time, he seemed to enjoy my suffering. He tried to kick me out in the streets in a very bad part of town, knowing full well I could’ve been raped, or killed and not caring at all. He told me my death was not his concern. He destroyed gifts that I had given to him right in front of me, he verbally abused me and took food out of the house, so I’d be left without it for days on end. And, he got physically violent. He stated that he, actually, wanted my death and so many other things. It was the most traumatic thing I have gone through and the trigger was the fact that I did not record something correctly… Now, I am left with PTSD as a result of it all. When I had to travel back home, as we live quite a distance from one another, he led me to believe he was already with another partner and he tormenting me for months on end. He finally came out of the phase and was loving again, but it was a classic case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When you guys are raging, do you think you can experience empathy at that particular time for your SO? Maybe some can, maybe some cannot. I am uncertain… but I will never forget the look in his eyes and it was not one who had any empathy at all. Just hours before, he was talking about me moving in with him, me being with him during the holidays. Maybe this was a trigger, too? We were being so loving and then just a few hours later, I have never in my life seen such callousness and coldness- and I’ve been through quite a lot. Instead of owning up to what he did, he told others that I had done something to cause his rage that was untrue. I was painted as the bad guy, along with the horror of his treatment and abuse at the time. He posted things on his facebook page that were cruel and painted me out to be the bad guy when I was the one in shock and going through hell. Worst time of my life. So… under normal circumstances, he *can* be the most caring man in the world and then in the next instant, the most brutal. There are no various shades of grey, or in-betweens. It is only black and white.

    Thank you all for listening. I am merely sharing my own experience.

    • I think some BPD’s can get like your partner when in a rage phase and empathy disappears – but I think this is something many people (non-BP’s too) can be like when rageful, but other BP’s will still feel empathy even when at their angriest. The Jekyll and Hyde thing sounds very much like my own understanding of BPD rages too. And yes, the earlier conversations about moving in could have been a trigger for his fear of abandonment especially if he did not feel you were as keen on the idea as he was :( BPD emotions change so quickly, like the flick of a switch, and with seemingly minor provocation at times. Following his reactions with painting you as the bad guy is also a fairly typical response (splitting). Like you say, it is all black and white with BPD :( Thank you for sharing :) I hope things are better for you now?

  32. Yes, it is all quite paradoxical to me, as my partner with bpd (as stated above) can be very compassionate, at times. However, I’ll give another example of when he has lacked empathy. He decided to abandon me (yes, the thing that he fears most, he does to me)…. right after I had major surgery and was still recovering with complications. Even when away, he never just checked in to see how I was doing, he only wrote very negative things to me, which did not help my healing process at all and I was going through some serious complications afterwards, knowing that if anything bad happened again, I wouldn’t even be able to call on my partner.:(

    Another example was when he was distancing himself from me again and my father almost died on Christmas. I was all alone, scared that I was going to lose the two most important men in my life. Him and my father. I call and leave a message with him and he eventually calls back and is very cold. I guess I had been hoping for more? Maybe to reconcile, or to know he still loved me at the very least anyway. I asked him if he still thought about me and he said coldly- “Not really.” I was thinking of him 24/7, so it was like a slap in the face. I asked him if he had moved on with anybody else and he stated that he had every intention of moving on with someone else. Once again, the breakup was not my idea. Things were going well… and there would be no way that I could be thinking about another when he is the one who has my heart. So, I ask… “Does this sound compassionate?” Once again, he was in a phase when this was occurring. When I was suffering from the loss, he was posting things on fb that conveyed that he was just carrying on with his life and enjoying it… like I had meant nothing to him.

    I will state that I have always been there for him, through thick and thin, but when I’ve needed him the most… unfortunately, more times than not… he is nowhere to be found. I am the one who has to find him again and be in a place of strength in order to do so.

    It is strange that the thing he fears most, he creates… and causes another, the pain that he fears… abandonment. He will rub that in my face over and over again when he gets in phases.. all of a sudden he will say that he wants nothing to do with me. In becoming the abandoner, perhaps he feels like he has more of the control?… but, it is still abandonment after it is all said and done. I am the one who has to be left alone over and over again. I have to experience what he fears the most then….

    Interesting…

    • Ahh yes, getting in first with the abandonment is another typical BPD reaction! As we feel everyone will eventually abandon us it is common for us to push people away or abandon them to prevent ourselves being hurt as we are expecting them to do it to us… :/
      We struggle so much with our own whirlwind emotional states that coping with the emotions of others can be a trigger for us causing us to back off as we cannot handle someone else’s emotions on top of our own, so running away when someone else needs us is also not uncommon :(
      My post on abandonment may help explain some of these things?

      • I feel Devara’s story and your response to it illustrate why there is so much confusion and debate over BPD and empathy.

        The word “empathy” carries a number of definitions but in practice, many see it not only as the ability to understand/sense the emotional states of other people (something most BPD suffers can do very well). but to also transmute that understanding into sympathy and/or compassion and to express it to the person whom they empathize with. It is the later half of that which clouds societies perception on whether or not a person with BPD truly has empathy.

        BPD’s who are in crisis mode, which is to say emotionally dysregulated, often fail to display compassion and sympathy towards other people – especially when they have split that person and deem them responsible for the current dysregulation.

        Overwhelmed by their own pain, there is little to no room to empathize that anyone else may be feeling something unpleasant. Given the intensity of what they feel, it is understandable that it becomes entirely about what the BPD sufferer feels. However, that very situation is one which lacks true empathy. In contrast, someone without the disorder, experiencing similar (though arguably less intense) emotions to what the BPD is feeling still maintains the ability to empathize and display sympathy and compassion. They may be incredibly upset or very angry, even throwing a tantrum with their voice raised, but, barring their own issues, they maintain the ability to seize control of their emotions and abruptly stop their actions because they have empathized the emotions it is causing in another person. They may stop and say “I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to shout. I’m just very upset.” or something of that sort. THAT is true empathy. But does someone with BPD have that ability? Without learning new skills to help soothe, cope and self-regulate, I believe the answer is usually no.

        We could argue with the question “Are you faithful if it’s only most of the time?” and expand it to “Do we have truly empathy if it is only shown some of the time?” Perhaps that answers it. But I’m not sure that it does.

        Further clouding the answer to the empathy question is how the core shame of someone suffering from BPD hinders and/or prevents their ability to accept responsibility for causing harm to someone. While most of the sufferers I have spoken with are all too aware of their mistakes and any pain they have caused other people, the shame and guilt they feel over it prevents them from apologizing or making amends – which is, by societies definition, a crucial act associated with having and showing not just remorse, but empathy.

        In my opinion, BPD is very much like a prism; bending and distorting our perceptions of what is or isn’t there …and it does that for everyone – whether they have BPD or are interacting with someone who does.

        When that prism is spinning along with the emotional tornado occurring inside a sufferer, you cannot realistically expect to have a clear picture of what truly lies beyond the prism; things are being deflected, bent and obstructed. A Non may see a cold person who lacks empathy and appears unloving and the person with BPD may see a cruel person who is going to hurt them. Unfortunately, both parties typically react to and accept the distortions seen in that prism.

        If that prism remains unknown and uncontrolled, questions about empathy, love, loyalty or anything else become a conundrum because neither party can clearly see who or what actually lies beyond the prism.

      • I love your explanation Magick, the prism thing certainly makes it more tangible and understandable how the idea of BPD’s not having empathy comes about. Thankfully I have always been one who can come back after an ‘episode’ and say ‘I’m sorry’ and mean it but I can also see and have felt that shame, guilt etc which makes you want to NOT demonstrate your empathy and remorse, but I have met many non-BP’s who can not do this so for me the confusion is more about how many people can actually demonstrate true empathy rather than it being about BPD per se, because these are people who are ‘supposedly normal’ in their emotional range yet they come across colder, harder and nastier than any BPD I’ve ever had contact with…?

  33. Not to mention that when he had that one episode where things got out of hand, there was a roommate of his at the time who tried to take advantage of the situation, (since he was telling everyone that he was “kicking me to the curb”). My partner knew what was happening. The roommate was drunk and I thought for sure I was going to be raped. This is one example of many and he did not come out of his room and if I had been raped and was screaming and crying for his help, I knew (without a shadow of a doubt) that he would not have bat an eyelash. That is something *I* have to remember for the rest of my life.

    Alright then… I shared all that I meant to, I suppose. I think I really needed to get this out, as I have kept most of it all to myself.

    Perhaps, this might shed some light on how bad things can get when someone is having an episode. I know there are varying degrees of this, too. I am aware of that.

    Everyone, take gentle care….

    • Thank you so much for sharing, indeed it has shown how bad things can be in the neat of a BPD ‘episode’. I do hope that you are doing better now, and to be honest, unless he is getting help for his BPD, I hope for your sake you are getting out of this situation!?

      • Hi there!

        Thank you so much for your replies. I really appreciate you taking the time. It means a lot.

        In response to what you mentioned from my first post, interestingly enough, I was very happy about him wanting me to move in. I was on cloud 9, in fact… very happy, feeling content and a lot of love with that conversation… and then only two hours later, I am in shock. It was more than a complete 180 as people have read. It went from moving in with him to him never wanting to see me again, to wanting me to die.

        I did think that, perhaps, his own discussion of further commitment scared him… but the initial trigger was what I mentioned above… that I did not record something on his phone properly.

        I did read your post on abandonment. Thank you very much for that. I do not have BPD, but I have had abandonment issues in my life. Right now, that has been exacerbated tremendously in light of how often I’ve been abandoned by my partner…

        He abandoned me again almost a month ago, when several weeks prior, he was telling his sister that he wanted to marry me. So, it is all very confusing… as I have only wanted to be with him and I have stood by him with a fierce loyalty. When things are going good (within himself) the relationship is the best I ever had. However, at this moment, I am heartbroken again and am thinking this is really it… and how could I move on when I have such love for him and when things could not end in a state of integrity and honor, either. This bothers me greatly. At first, I started wondering if he had ever really loved me, or was it all a lie… but I kind of nipped that mode of thinking in the bud, as I can’t deny what I felt from him, too… However, I don’t feel loved at all now. I feel tossed aside like a piece of garbage, yet again. I am, also, finding that I am fearing abandonment with everyone else now, even more so than usual. I will jump to conclusions (even with friends now) as I am fearing that everyone will just turn their back on me and end up hurting me. So… now I am developing a similar symptomology, myself. However, when I get this way, I can act clingy, but I wouldn’t push someone away, let alone treat someone in a cruel manner in order to push them away. If I didn’t know them very well, it might be easy to retreat… but retreat from a person I’ve known for years?… I would never dream of that…. for, that is what I fear!

        I think if my parnter wanted to reconcile, I might be too terrified that he’d push me away again, or worse yet… leave me at the actual altar… then tell everyone it was my fault.:-p

        It is all very interesting to look at. I do appreciate your courage and willingness to talk about this and to look within. I know this can be very difficult for those who have BPD… even non-BPD’s, of course. If only my partner could talk to me about how he feels. It would be such a relief to my soul, besides this silence and pain.

        Thank you, once again, for listening…:)

      • You are welcome, sorry I don’t reply quicker I don’t always have the time :/

        That could have been the trigger then instead like you say, maybe he was in fact hoping you would blow the idea out of the water and when you liked it he panicked as he was actually trying to scare you off with ‘too much commitment’ and it backfired on him? (Can you see how the same situation could work both ways for him?)

        I was engaged to my partner and planning my wedding to him, then what in appeared as a ‘sudden’ change in my mind to him (and probably even to readers of my blog who were following me at that time) I was leaving him and moving out, but in reality, inside this had been brewing for a long time, I just didn’t let on even to myself until I was ‘done’ with him and by then there was nothing in the World that could change my mind back to loving him and wanting to marry him, I couldn’t stand him any more after months of confusion and uncertainty I was suddenly resolute and moved fast to get out of it all. I had really loved him, as far as I believe although I do question even that myself because if I truly loved him how could I go like that? but maybe it was just that I saw beyond my love, all the hurt and damage he caused me, maybe the control and manipulation that I never understood fully until I was away from him played on my mind enough to push me into leaving what was actually a very toxic situation? I don’t know, but I know it was the best thing I did for myself ending it… Not sure if this explanation of my own abandoning of my partner helps at all?

        I can understand your fears I get like that, only I do push people away, even if I’ve known them for years :(

        Indeed, not everyone is able to be so open about these things and I’m sure I find it easier in this detached way than talking directly to people I know…

  34. …. but, it doesn’t really seem like he’s missing me (or in pain himself) at this time. Seems to be living it up, in general, while I am the one who is suffering over here. “Out of sight, out of mind”, I guess. I have to admit to feeling like a fool. How could he have meant so much more to me, than I, to him? (Well, it certainly seems that way by many of his actions…. or lack thereof).

    When that flip is switched off in your brains, do you stop feeling the feelings of love and empathy at that point? It would appear so anyway.:(

    • Indeed when in ‘crisis’ mode our feelings are like switched off in relation to certain individuals yet at the same time we can still have powerful love and empathy for others, it is a very difficult way to live :(

      • Thank you, Sharon… for all your comments. There are certain things that you said that helped me understand the abandonment issue to a certain degree. I was pretty open minded to him wanting to spend more time with me, or take it slow the first time he abandoned me. I think he was genuine about being with me the first time I visited him and then by the second, he was getting a bit scared. This last time he abandoned me, however, I knew nothing of his desire to marry me. I found out later, through his sister. It wasn’t something he had shared with me. It seems that he does really want a relationship, but it scares him, too. He did just recently confide in me. Yes, he did! He basically said that he made the realization that whenever he’s really wanted something in his life and then he has it, he no longer wants it anymore. Sharon, is this a common BPD trait? I gave him some insights as to how this might be fear and abandonment related, for him, specifically. He does keep friends and such that I think he knows will betray him. He expects it, so he won’t get too hurt by it. Better to play it safe and continue yearning for something, than to have it and then have it ripped away somehow. This is how I’m understanding it.

        And, did he ever truly have me completely, as there are so many levels and layers that he purposefully didn’t take it to with us. So many things that he didn’t get to experience, so it’s still a bit confusing.:-/

        It is interesting, as I am a very understanding individual with a big heart, so him leaving me is not quite the same as your decision to leave your partner. I think in the years we’ve been together, I’ve only raised my voice twice and it was under extreme duress. lol

        This is all very interesting to look at. Thank you, once again, Sharon.

        I, too, wonder about his love if it is so easy for him to walk away, at times, and kick into places where my safety is of no concern to him. Once again, it is very black and white….

      • the wanting something badly then not wanting it when you have it does sound a lot like a splitting issue, in which case it is very BPD and yes also fear and abandonment related. I also have ‘friends’ that I know will betray me, I never even thought about it being because I expect it so therefore won’t be so hurt by it as I would if it was a friend I trusted who let me down when I never expected them to (which happened to me recently with my best friend of 30 years) I’m glad that what I say is helpful to you :)

  35. I have an interesting question. Do you think that people with BPD experience a different sense of time, than most non-BPD’s? I ask this because it has seemed all too easy for my partner to run off for months on end and come back as if it were only a few days, or had been a few weeks. For me, it was like an eternity.:(

    For me, now, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. I just don’t hold out much hope anymore and I feel dead on the inside. Because I’ve had a person close to me kill themselves and I’ve had my own near death experiences, for me, time is just so precious. If you have love, I truly feel you are lucky and that it should be honored and cherished, above all, celebrated…. because all we could have, is this now moment.

    • I’ve never really considered that, time… I’m not sure. I think it may be possible that we do, but I guess we just don’t see it if that is the case as even now I can not see that at all, very interesting! Maybe someone else reading may have an insight into this one?

  36. I think I have answered my own question looking back on it all. It would appear that time doesn’t mean much when in a manic phase. A month could go by and he’s in his own world, doesn’t talk to me, or when he does.. cruelty can ensue… but, under “normal” circumstances, he will get concerned when he tries to reach me and cannot for a few hours, or if a day goes by, he has panicked. That I can understand, but this whole mania thing where time passes and passes, it is a little more difficult for me.

    Well, at least, he’s having fun right now. lol I’m in grieving mode, though.:(

    Wow… it feels great to finally get this all out. And, I really appreciate all the insights that you have given. I thank everyone who has come across my posts and who have listened thus far. Thank you.:)

  37. To me, it seems like people who have BPD have a tendency to act impulsively, as I’m sure we all know. An example of this might be cheating, let’s say. It then occurs to me that sometimes BPD partners will start thinking that you are cheating and this seems like a projection of their own bad behavior, to me. They do to us what they never want done to them.:-/

    With bipolar, I know it is a misfiring of neurons… and very hard for one to consciously stop that when things are misfiring. It is a brain disorder, whereas those who have BPD… it is a personality disorder. Therefore, it would seem more likely to me for someone with BPD to overcome the disorder- (if they wanted to) rather than someone who has bipolar. It would take a lot of *conscious* work on their part, but I would think it possible. However, I get the sense there is still a lot more to discover about it.

    Sharon?…. (Yes, I found out your name.:-p lol )…. do you know of any successful BPD relationships, yourself? Just curious.

    Thank you for allowing me to post and “think outloud” as it were.;) This is truly helping me over here.:)

    • Indeed, my partner cheated on me for the first 10 months I was with him, projected that onto me when I had not and in many ways when I actually did cheat on him it was like he had wanted me to do so to appease his own guilt but then use it to abuse me further :(

      Yes and no, there is a lot of research to suggest BPD also involves changes in brain structure and neuronal firing so I wonder how much we can ever get past it with conscious effort to improve alone? As I say I would not meet the criteria for diagnosis now, but I am acutely aware that a lot of the ‘feelings’ still occur and I worry about how easily I could deteriorate again given a traumatic situation. But yes, with a lot of effort and some good help, support and therapy it is possible to gain ‘control’ over many aspects of the BPD traits :)

      The only ‘successful’ BPD relationships I know of are self-proclaimed ones across the internet of in a few books about BPD, how realistic these portrayals of ‘success’ are is anybodies guess, after all no-one truly knows what goes on behind closed doors and what compromises are being made in order to maintain an outwardly ‘successful’ relationship…??

      • Hello again,

        Your partner didn’t have BPD, did he?

        I know anybody can project, but it seems (from research) to be more of BPD trait that can sometimes involve manipulation. As an example, I had never lied to my partner, but he had lied to me. He then told others that he had broken up with me because I had been lying to him for a long time. I have never lied at all to him. The one thing that I have appreciated about our relationship is the fact that I can be so open and honest with him. He, also, knows that telling the truth is something that I hold in high regard, so maybe it was said to be cruel and upset me, too.

        I have just noticed, in general, that if he’s done something that is out of integrity, it is easier to place blame elsewhere rather than to look within. This occurs with other people in his life, too. This isn’t always the case, as he can really self analyze when he wants to, though. I just heard that this is one of the common traits in BPD.

        Yes, all very interesting stuff about how it could, indeed, be changes in the brain structure.

        Thank you for your insight, Sharon.

      • lol no he didn’t but I do think he was quite narcissistic! Lying is very difficult for me to do, I tend more towards omitting information than outright lying if I am in a position where I don’t want to share the whole truth or I am trying to protect someone else, I respect honesty and openness too much and I’m awful at lying, it’s glaringly obvious if I do lie. I think most people have a tendency to try to blame others, circumstances etc rather than take the blame on themselves, not just BP’s?

  38. There is still so much to learn about it…

    I came across a post yesterday that you might find interesting:

    http://www.experienceproject.com/stories/Have-Borderline-Personality-Disorder/461161

    I think it was written some years back, but I came across it and it really made me think about my relationship and if it would ever work. I have to admit that it scared the hell out of me, but I chose to take a step back, and see it for what it is and not react. Let me know what you think. Can you relate at all to this, yourself? Or, could you? I am curious. Thanks again!:)

    • I’ve read that post, there are bits I can relate to and other bits are so far from being like me, I guess those are the sociopathic elements of that girl’s diagnosis, an extra thing I fortunately don’t have. I think it is the sociopathic elements that you are referring to, as these seem to be her key difficulty in maintaining relationships with others and treating them badly, rather than BPD traits.

  39. I will say this…. at least he and I are communicating again. Even if we are not destined to be partners, I would (at least) want to be his friend. So much has not been said about the wonderful times we shared with one another. We are so alike (besides the BPD traits) and we had very similar lives and childhood experiences. We connect so deeply. He will always have a place in my heart. What can I say?

  40. Hello Sharon,

    Thank you for your replies. No, I don’t tend to place blame elsewhere and I have seen this as a definite BPD trait with my own partner and several others where it is done in such a way as to be very manipulative and to avoid going within, perhaps? Might have to do with the way they want others to perceive them, as well? Although, in manic phases, there can also be a distorted view of what really occurred in a given situation…. but, from what I’ve seen (and from what my partner has even admitted) he has, indeed, been purposefully cruel and manipulative…. placing blame elsewhere, so he did not have to look at his abusive actions. I have an acquaintance who’s partner is BPD. He had been cheating on her for a number of years with many different women. When she wanted to divorce him (and there was a custody “battle”) he did everything he could to distort the truth and place blame on her in that direction where there was none. He admitted to wanting to make her suffer… lose the kids and any respect she had from her family. I watched her suffer, too. She lost weight and her health as a result of everything.

    As far as the link goes, there were those who responded (who mentioned that they only had BPD) and could definitely relate to it all. So… very interesting.

    It does sound as if your partner might have been a narcissist from everything you described. I am glad that you are doing well now.:)

    • :( that sort of blaming, manipulating behaviour disturbs me a lot, it is so nasty and like you said purposefully cruel. I could never deliberately do that, although I am aware that I have come close when really unwell with the BPD :(

      Indeed it was really interesting :)

      Just coming back out of a worrying period where I was deteriorating again with the BPD, I was worried I was going to crash and go into crisis, but somehow I have managed to pull myself back to manageable levels again without it getting as bad as I thought it was going to! close call that one!

  41. Hi Sharon!

    It is nice that you have such an awareness, even when you are going through it all, it is like you can take a step back and observe what is happening. I really commend you for that!:)

    To me, it just really feels like you have a great heart.

    I am glad that you came through this recent dark period. I hope you had a great Mother’s Day, too.

    I have to admit that I have been pretty depressed. Yesterday was Mother’s Day and it made me think about how I really wanted children with this man. How that dream may never come true now. Maintaining a friendship has been hard as of late. He has started to act as if I don’t even exist. It hurts so much, as I put so much into the relationship. I think he knows that abandonment is the worst thing someone can do to me and maybe that is why he does it?… even though this has been his greatest fear, too.

    As I’ve said before, if I had done something, I could understand, but it just makes me feel as if I was just tossed out with yesterday’s garbage and meant nothing to him…. for over two years. Things have been tough.

    I think I mentioned that he did admit that once he feels he has something, he no longer wants it anymore. Of course, this doesn’t seem to be the case with material things, but I guess people can be discarded. His phases last quite awhile, though, and it has led people to believe that he is also biploar, along with the BPD.

    Thank you for continuing to share and, once again, I’m glad you are doing better.:)

    • Hi Devara,
      Thank you, I find trying to look at what it is happening helps me deal with it and then sharing my experiences hopefully helps others :)
      In the UK Mother’s Day was in March but thank you I did have a good day anyway!
      The things you describe all sound so familiar to me, it does seem very typical BPD behaviour, I hate that we get like that so it seems to others that we have no regard for other people when it’s this horrid BPD ‘panic’ and fear causing us to withdraw from people not that we actually think people are easily discarded but I agree with the feeling of once we have something we seem to no longer want it :(
      He could well have both bipolar and BPD…
      I’ve had another drop back into the dark spells, currently trying to pull myself back again! :(

  42. I know I shouldn’t be taking any of it personally, though. I know this, but it’s still so hard not to. I’m trying to continue to look at things objectively. A switch doesn’t just go off in my head and heart, though. I wanted to marry him, too. I know I’ll always love him. I just wish he’d let me. I suspect it has been worthiness issues, too. Oh well…. I’m not sure where to go from here. I don’t want to move on. He’s all I ever loved.:(

  43. He, also, kicks into a place where he doesn’t trust anyone and I’m automatically thrown in with the rest, even though I never did anything.:( A lot of other people have hurt him, but I haven’t and yet he punishes me, too. After someone (a friend, as an example) has hurt him, he’ll tell me he can’t trust anyone, including me. He automatically thinks about things that I might be doing to him that I’m not. It is hard not to take offense to this when I have really stuck by him where others have left. Like I said, though, I try to look at things objectively. Usually, I can wait it out and I gently let him know that I love him and that I’m here for him.

    He has stated that people come and go in his life, so perhaps, he just needed to let me go after being with me for over two years because it’s just the thing to do… the pattern in his life that he is continuing to perpetuate. And, it seems that he can shut off his feelings for me, or make himself believe things about me that aren’t true, so he can stay away. It does hurts. I wake up every day to such pain. A few months back, I almost died. My life was saved, but I had to have surgery. I’ve walked through a lot, in general, for the past several years. I was looking forward to finally living with some peace, with my partner, and he leaves a week and a half after the surgery. After giving me such hope about marrying me, too. I didn’t deserve that, even if he didn’t mean to do this on other levels. I am a very loyal, caring and loving person. I think he knows this deep down. He just gets in these states where he can get very paranoid, as well, of course.

    I’m so sad tonight. I’m sorry to go on like this, but I’m in so much pain right now.

    Thanks for listening, as usual.;)

    • Again this sounds so familiar, the whole switching off of feelings and ‘believing’ untrue bad things about you rings so much of splitting behaviour and the trust issues and paranoia also so common :(
      Your sadness comes across very clearly :( so sorry you are having to suffer all this. I hope your pain eases soon. You are most welcome to let it out as much as you want here :) x

  44. I do have BPD and I scored 42 and 25. So my empathy seems to be pretty good. I’d never hurt anyone else. I cannot abide violence. I’d hurt myself before anyone else. In fact I do.

  45. I find that it’s them people who love to talk about how empathetic they are, that are the ones who are least empathetic. Also, this empathy test is meaningless – the questions have such high face validity that you can just answer them in such a way as to get a high score if you want to. The truly empathetic people are those who actually do kind things to people in the real world. Also, you are not empathetic if you only show empathy to select people. Empathetic people are empathetic towards everyone. Judging by this post, you obviously have no empathy for Baron Cohen.

    • Well the test was Baron Cohen’s own, not mine so if it is not good that’s not my issue… I guess you are not empathic then either as you are clearly showing none towards me…

  46. Those of you with BPD may reasonably feel marginalized by Schreiber or Baron-Cohen, and I understand that you may take a very healthy approach to your disorder. I don’t wish anyone here any ill will, and I hope you are all able to develop healthy, successful relationships in your life.

    That being said, please recognize that for someone without BPD, the actions of a borderline partner who in a very short period of time goes from telling you that they “don’t even want to live without you” because you’re the “love of their life” to then breaking everything off with you abruptly, and for seemingly little or no reason (while still going out of their way to hurl toxic shame) are very traumatic and seem to lack meaningful context. For those of us whose situations are eerily well explained by Schreiber’s writings, they offer an ability to learn why we were taken in by someone like this, and what we can do to stay healthy and steer clear in the future.

    • Fair comments for both sides there Matt, it’s being able to recognise that not all borderlines are toxic and not all non BP’s are non-toxic and vice versa – putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective that is one way of demonstrating empathy :)

  47. I am a woman with Asperger’s and I don’t know many people with BPD (I suspect one guy is, he is an abuser) and I don’t like it when people say people on the autism spectrum lack empathy – it’s not true. I do lack cognitive empathy – I can’t read facial expressions and body language but I have lots of affective and compassionate empathy when somebody tells me how they feel. I am just socially blind, as soons as I know somebody feels a certain way, I feel the same and I care about them However, when it comes to BPD, I think things are different. First, are you all sure you were not misdiagnosed? Many women with Asperger’s are misdiagnosed with BPD, check this please http://taniaannmarshall.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/moving-towards-a-female-profile-the-unique-characteristics-abilities-and-talents-of-asperwomen-adult-women-with-asperger-syndrome/. Also, NPD is often comorbid with BPD and narcissists do lack affective empathy, it can even be co-morbid with ASPD and these people are cruel. They don’t lack cognitive empathy though – they are really good at reading and manipulating people. But maybe BPD alone doesn’t mean a lack of empathy or it may mean just a lack of compassionate empathy.
    People with autism are said to lack empathy because of the way they act – they just can’t read social cues and body language and have no idea what is appropriate in a given situation (we can learn it intellectually though and even understand relationships better than others). But this doesn’t mean we don’t feel anything for others, it just looks this way. Maybe it’s a similar thing with BPD – maybe you do feel for others but just can’t stop abusing them and it looks like you don’t care. That’s just my opinion, I hope I haven;t offended you.

    • Thanks for sharing, I’m not offended. It’s always helpful to have people living with things explain them from their own perspective, hence why I write this blog :) My son has aspergers but has never demonstrated any empathy until just a few weeks ago when I saw it in him for the first time, when he was in hospital after a seizure and I was in tears because he wouldn’t let them do a blood test which he really needed to have. Thanks for the link, I will check that out. I have very high levels of empathy as do most BPD’s I’ve come across, most like myself seem to be overly sensitive to the feelings of others, so I would agree that other conditions are more likely to explain lack of empathy than BPD alone. I think we can just get quite cold and clinical in some situations, which may appear like a lack of empathy to others but is more a defence mechanism to hide and contain our emotions, to protect ourselves from them, rather than not actually feeling for the other person.

      • Actually, with Asperger’s you should not look at what he shows but rather what he can’t express. If you really want to understand your son you need to dig deeper and realise that what it looks like on the surface most probably is not what really is. Aspies have problems with expressing our own emotions, we are often not aware of them and when we do express them we are often misunderstood. For instance, many of my friends didn’t believe me that I felt horrible rejecting a guy interested in me. They thought I couldn’t care less and had no idea how much guilt and pain was inside me for hurting someone’s feelings. I really hate rejecting men but most people who know me think I don’t care. I had no idea they thought this about me. You see, I care more than most girls I know about rejecting unattractive people but it looks as if I’m cold and don’t care about hurting them! Your son might be in a similar situation – he may look cold and unempathetic but inside he may be full of deep feelings, empathy, love and care about others and not be able to express it or even reach it and realise it himself. You can help him with that, don’t look for demonstrations but for substance. And if your son is an Aspie, maybe you are too or if not, then maybe his father is.

      • Thank you, it’s helpful to get more insight in understanding my son, I can see straight away how what you are saying rings true! I don’t think he does recognise what he is feeling, the only emotion he has no difficulty recognising and expressing is anger :( I don’t think I’m an Aspie, I don’t seem to have most of the characteristics, a few traits maybe but then most of us can probably say we have a few traits of many conditions if we look hard enough? and don’t know about his dad, never thought he was but he is no longer with us so can’t really look into that now…

      • Men have even more difficulty in expressing and understanding their emotions so your son is in a difficult position. I recently realised I have always feared intimacy or rather I never understood it and I’m a woman! I have also been in many relationships but I had no idea what emotional intimacy means and what people do with it. Eric Charles has been very helpful with that, I recommend you too check him out, he has the deepest understanding of relationships I have ever seen and the best advice for women.
        For understanding your son Tony Attwood is a must read. I recommend you read all his books and see all his videos on YouTube. He is one of the few (if not the only one) neurotypical who really understands autistic people, he just gets us. Well, he grew up with one (his second father) so maybe that’s why. I can’t recommend him enough.
        Is anger the only emotion your son shows? What about fear? Actually I also had problems with anger, it is really frustrating to live in a world where nobody understands you and you don’t even understand yourself. Sometimes you just can’t take it anymore and all the suppressed emotions erupt in a meltdown. You try so hard to reach other people and to be accepted but nothing works and you have no idea what’s wrong with you. Anyway, I don’t want to hijack the topic further, just read Tony Atwood’s books and you can become a more compassionate mother, I’m sure about that.

      • I think my son has been doing some learning himself (without taking about the learning part) because over the past couple of months he has blossomed, far more outward in expressing feelings and emotions, beyond the anger (which was the only emotion seen before) not even fear ever registered visibly for example I ‘know’ he has an intense fear of needles, true needle-phobia, but he would just flat refuse to have them done and physically not allow it with no sign of emotion at all, yet the last time the hospital tried to get him to have a needle following a seizure his fear, pain and anger were all visible and then tears of frustration and sorrow (at me becoming upset that he REALLY needed these needles but couldn’t/wouldn’t let it happen). The change in him is tremendous an inspiring. I’m very proud of him, I wonder (and maybe hope a little) that having watched me battle to learn about and overcome my own emotional issues gave him some encouragement to look at his own condition more, understand it and therefore himself better. I believe that is what we all need to do when we live with a condition that sets us apart from the ‘norm’ because how can we expect others to understand and cater for something we do not understand ourselves?
        Thanks for the recommendations :)

  48. Oh, I forgot to say, I also don’t really like Baron-Cohen and his work about autism is not the best in my opinion, plus the extreme male brain theory is ridiculous. A good expert on Asperger’s is Tony Attwood, I wouldn’t really trust Baron-Cohen, I don’t think he understands any of the disorders deeply.

  49. I have very low score but probably because I almost never answered with strongly agree/disagree. I really like to answer with middle answers. I guess there were periods when I lacked empathy when I was younger/teenager… I wasn’t evil but had hard times to give others appropriate response when they were feeling sad… but still don’t get that low score.. I also work as a volunteer and I really like to help others, I also often cry when watching movies or hear something bad is happening to someone… so I don’t think that this quiz of Baron Cohen is appropriately composited

  50. It’s New Year’s Day and my BPD ex left me over six weeks ago. Last New Year’s Eve was memorable, and so today has been a torment. I thought he might at least text, though I knew I’d get very upset if he did. In fact about two and a half weeks ago I sent him an angry message saying, Don’t get in touch. Because every contact hurt me beyond belief, because I still feel so bonded to him, and he, it seems, feels nothing about me now.

    I suppose my cry would be: If he has empathy, why was he never sorry about leaving me? Why did he never say, even in a cliched way, “I’m sorry to hurt you but this is for the best”? Why doesn’t he feel sad that I’m in agony over this, and why did he never address this when I tried to tell him about it, before I went No Contact? Nothing will make things better, I am very unhappy and confused, but I wanted to believe there was enough love there for him to feel sad to leave me.

    For instance: He lives with his parents, so all our time together was spent at my place. I told him how it hurts to be so surrounded by reminders of our time together. I wanted him to say something like, “Yes, I know, and I’m sorry, but… ” Instead, he said, “Yes, I know, I’m not stupid!” The most he has ever said was, “I feel for you,” but this was so brief and throwaway.

    He couldn’t stand it when I cried. He used to say he could handle it in people he didn’t know well, but not in people he was close to. And from all I’ve read of BPD (being autistic, I obsess even more than the average non-BDP dumpee) what I assume is that he couldn’t stand the closeness, and got angry with me for how he felt, and now has either cut those feelings off in some kind of dissociative way, or else is telling his friends about his sorrows, but not me.

    But the idea that he never seems to have thought: She loved me and now she’s alone – and felt sad about that – well, that seems to devalue things even more for me.

    Maybe it’s the empathy just dissolving when you get too close. That hurts though. Enraged as I am by his leaving, I still feel for him (to an extent: I am very angry and depressed).

    Maybe, one day, a few years from now, we’ll meet and be able to talk. Since my diagnosis of autism I have become more socially flexible, and able to get over bad rows with people – given a very long time, admittedly, but more than I used to be able to. So maybe one day I’ll be able to ask him about this.

    I don’t like Baron-Cohen’s “male brain” hypothesis at all. And I just had to leave a group for people whose partners were autistic, which also accepted autistic people, where people made posts like, “AS people are selfish and we have to train them.” I think BDP may be following the lines of AS’s presence on the net, where there are still groups devoted to “Cassandra Affective Disorder” – ie, this syndrome people get from the cold behaviour of AS partners. Lots and lots of rage, and no understanding that it takes two to make a troubled relationship.

    Truth is, that if you have emotional problems, you’re going to hook up with others who have matching problems, and there can be chaos. And pain. I wonder if my ex is in pain over me? But if he just shrugged his shoulders and cheered up within a week, wouldn’t that show he was pretty damaged too?

    Haven’t seen him for weeks. Got another urge to phone today, but I controlled it.

    Thank you for your work here. I want to understand BPD, and I want to understand myself. The internet has been so vital to me. I’ve clung to it these past few awful weeks. Thank you again.

    • I think the combination of two people with emotional/mental health problems always makes things much more difficult. It is likely that he does have empathy and as you say is either dissociating or unwilling to show it in front of/to you because in some way he thinks this is a sign of weakness or maybe even that in showing it he will be giving you wrong signals that there is a chance of rebuilding your relationship because he does care. he may be trying to protect you, in that he knows getting back together would be wrong so he puts on this show of not caring to make the break easier (in his view) because how could you possibly want someone who does not care at all? It is difficult reading lots of things on the internet that place all the blame for a bad relationship on one person just because they may have a diagnosis when as you rightfully state it DOES take two people to make a trouble d relationship, if people really want a happy healthy relationship then they should recognise and support each others flaws (whatever they may be) and HELP each other, not try to train/change/control the other person, helping and supporting them to make positive changes in themselves (that they have to want) is the foundation of a good relationship. Good luck to you I hope you manage to recover from your loss this year and have a happy year x

  51. Can someone with BPD tell me if my experience resonates as true for them? My experience of my sister who lives with BPD (I love her. I am proud of her. She is so incredibly brave. I am so grateful for her), is that she vacillates between extraordinatory/extreme empathy and destructiveness, apathy, and even vindictiveness that resembles a person who lacks empathy. For the time being there is an extreme lack of empathy. I’ve heard that when we express anger, the empathy activity in our brain lessens (amygdala activity). Otherwise, we couldn’t let our anger out (which we need to do or it will turn into depression). Do you think that someone with BPD might appear unempathic (or be temporarily unempathic) because they feel things to intensely that when the anger comes out, the empathy activity has to shut down for the time being?

    • Hi, personally I think you could be on to something there. Normally I am a very empathic, caring person but when consumed with anger it is like my empathy is switched off. I have BPD but I suspect that the same could be true of everyone whether they have BPD or not if it is down to brain activity, I guess that with BPD we, again as with all emotions, just feel it more intensely than those without BPD…

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