DATING AFTER FIFTY
THE DATE FROM HELL
Have you ever met someone who seemed very nice, maybe even charming when you first met and who seemed interesting and animated, different than anybody you ever met before? Were you attracted to their verbosity, admired their real gift with words? Did you think that he/she was so very aware of their emotions and thoughts, so much so that you thought your own inner life seemed bland and inconsequential, even boring in comparison?
Have you experienced that then, without you really being able to identify that specific moment, suddenly there was a turning point? It could be a week, or a month, but very soon into your relationship, did things started to change? Did this person turn into a completely different person after you disappointed them with a relatively minor oversight? Did they let you know when that happened quite soon after?
Have you ever met people who cannot be satisfied and all you do or say to try to meet their demands is turned into a negative? Who take what you say in the wrong way regardless of how carefully you phrased everything, who are extremely sensitive and find an emotional subtext where is there none? Who assign all kinds of bad intentions to your words and actions? Who explain everything you might say in terms of how it affects their emotional needs and wants, and who seem extremely anxious about what you say or do? Did you feel that your responses can make or break them, but you can’t be sure which is going to happen? Did you feel like they wanted you to go, but then when you actually left, they beg you to come back? It is always all about them?
Did they take away your desire to ever meet them again? Did they create a strong aversion in you for being within a 5-kilometre radius of their proximity, to avoid any chance that you might accidentally bump into them? Were you considering moving to another town? Did you question how you ever got into this mess? In short, did they make your life miserable?
My advice is fleeing, if you can: you probably have met a person with borderline personality disorder. This is not a matter of charitable behaviour or helping them cope if you chose to stay involved, as you will become the victim, I guarantee it. Especially if a diagnosis has been obtained, I can only suggest to get the hell of there, if you value a relatively easy life and do not want to live your life through the eyes of somebody else. This is a lose-lose situation for you and her/him and it is not your fault.
Someone with a personality disorder in general has this life-long condition and it not going to turn into a different person: the personality is a permanent construct and you can not change them. They need professional help and there is not that much that can be done, as personality does not change.
Sufferers of BPD can learn some coping strategies, take medication to deal with anxieties and depression, can find support groups and need to stay connected to a mental health professional. The chances that you could bump into someone with BPD on the dating circuit might be quite high, as they have trouble staying in relationships. You might want to look up the indicators on this US Internet site and recognize when you are dealing with a person with BPD, if you value your sanity. The website for BPD states:
“According to the latest BPD research, borderline personality disorder has a lifetime prevalence of up to 5.9% in our population. Because systematic research has only relatively recently been initiated, BPD is at least two decades behind in research, treatment options and family education compared to other major psychiatric disorders. Yet the high prevalence of borderline personality disorder – it is more common than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder – and its costly personal, social and economic toll, make borderline personality disorder a significant national public health burden.”
I feel sorry for those of us who can’t leave, because you have a mandate to work with them or care for them in a professional capacity. My suggestions on how to cope in those situations might work, but there are no guarantees that any methods or strategies would consistently work. What works today, might not tomorrow.
– The BPD disordered person’s opinions are often very black and white: someone is good or really bad, no grey exists. Accept what they say without debates or arguments, and acknowledge you heard what they said. The rules of the debate do not apply here. A debate is a disagreement between rational people who reply on the face of what the other is saying and then each take turns in replying to the responses and so on. That contract is not valid in the emotional context of the BPD sufferer’s ultra sensitive being and arguing their statements will lead you into more turmoil and confusion about what the original issue was; it will leads to further escalation of emotions. You will always lose the debate.
– Lower stress and avoid stressful situations. Cool it down. All stress cannot always be avoided, but if dealing with multiple issues, take only one issue to deal with at the time and leave the others for another time. The BPD sufferer is extremely vulnerable to stress and cannot handle any: the symptoms and behaviours will escalate under stress.
– Be very clear when you will meet or not meet, with advance warnings for any changes.
– If possible, do not meet, but write, or email, as then no direct escalation can take place from your responses, which are postponed as well until you have to meet face to face. It allows for some time for the other to calm down, to scrutinize what you actually wrote and it allows time to prepare for a response. In my experience, distance after each interaction is good and it allows consultation with others that are important to that person and who could calm down your client/patient.
– Follow up each face to face or phone meeting with a written summary of what was said. They ask an inordinate amount of attention and care. You might want to structure that contact and try to curtail any unnecessary interactions.
– Invite a trusted person to accompany your client/patient and select or approve somebody who has a calming influence on your client.
– Be firm and kind and stick to your guns when a certain course of action is required. Do not get flustered or angry: it is a wasted energy and confuses the other. It is better to terminate the meeting with a calm demeanour and tone of voice when your client/patient escalates in the face of your demand for action, but do insist.
– The borderline disordered person lives without a sense of his or her personality, is extremely anxious and fearful of abandonment or of judgment by others and experiences intense emotions without ability to self regulate those. They might feel heart rate increases from adrenaline discharges and are exquisitely easily enraged or desperate all within a few seconds, without it necessarily being obvious to their companions and support staff, or you. Being in the presence of a BPD sufferer can be like walking on eggshells.
– Refer them to the appropriate support person, as the first step to getting help is getting a diagnosis. Depending on your area, that can be a tall order at the best of times, with limited access to psychiatric help. The other complication is that the BPD disordered person seems to think that you have the problem, not them!
– In case you read this and you are the one with the borderline personality disorder, please, please, get help. If you did already: good for you and please, stay in touch with your treatment person and follow their recommendations. You might want to avoid having children, or only have children with a solid partner who can take on the main parenting tasks. The research literature quotes strong evidence that neglectful, inconsistent, and/or punitive parenting can result in children not acquiring a whole personality as an adult, with BPD as result. If you had a parent that fits that description, you know what to do.