I have this girlfriend and she's the coolest girl I've ever met. She's gorgeous and gets 100% on all her essays and spends her weekends buying records. But the problem is that she has Borderline Personality Disorder. Usually it doesn't affect our relationship too much, but there are two things that make it difficult for me to stay with her.
1) She hurts herself and I can't stop it. Part of the disorder is that she's easily angered and she takes it out on herself. She's very underweight, self harms frequently, drinks, smokes and does any drug offered to her. Her parents also call her magpie because if she sees something she finds remotely nice or interesting she'll take it. She has so many problems and it breaks my heart to know I can't help her with any of them. The last time I asked her to stop cutting she got really angry, went home and did it again. I want to help her, but I know I'm not qualified and there isn't much I can do.
2) I can't say anything wrong. If I say anything like 'I wish you hadn't done that' she flips out. I want to be able to talk about my feelings with her, but if I say anything she doesn't want to hear she gets angry and stops speaking with me.
She's taking anti-depressants and anti-psychotics but I've been finding it so hard to deal with lately. Whenever she gets scared I'm going to break up with her, she responds by distancing herself even more, and I'm not sure how to help her. Auntie please help!
So what you’re saying is, your girlfriend is great... except for the part where she’s a self-destructive kleptomaniac who keeps you walking on eggshells at all times, can’t engage with you on anything approaching a healthy level, and uses the threat of silence and distance to control you and get her way?
Well! That sure sounds fun!
And truthfully, Sparkler, here’s the deal: while the fact that her behavior is BPD-related is unfortunate, it’s also not salient. Your girlfriend is abusive: controlling, combative, uncommunicative, volatile, unstable, and punishing. And that, not her mental health issues, are the problem here. A personality disorder isn’t a free pass to treat people terribly; the question of why she’s like this is irrelevant to the fact that she is like this. Period.
And as admirable as it is that you want to help? You can’t. Not because you’re not qualified, but because you’re not her. She has to help herself; you can’t make it happen for her. And as long as it’s not happening, and as long as you continue to tiptoe through the minefield of this relationship in an effort not to set her off, you’re not only not helping your girlfriend, you’re enabling and encouraging the exact behavior that keeps her right where she is.
Which, hopefully, you’ll think about the next time you’re tempted to martyr yourself on the altar of the Damaged Dreamgirl (despite what you may have been led to believe by certain movies starring Natalie Portman, this never ever ever ends up being anything but a disaster). And which is also why, hopefully, you’ll listen to your gut and get out, now, of this relationship in which you can’t let your guard down, can’t express your feelings for fear of retaliation, can’t be yourself, for crying out loud.
You can even do this for her sake, if you want--because what she needs, much more than love or support, is the space and incentive to work through this mess and learn to live healthfully. But really, I hope you’ll do it for yours. Because dude, there are thousands of smart, beautiful, musically-literate girls out there who will treat you with the love and respect you deserve. Date one. Be happy. Tell us how it goes.
Have you ever dated a damaged SO? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.