Many of us with BPD don’t rage or scream or anything of that nature.
We don’t explode, we implode, and although you don’t see it manifest on the outside, it is no less destructive and painful for either of us.
I never thought too much about my withdrawals, I knew that when in a ‘fight or flight’ situation I would always run and I figured it was just who I was and how I handled (or didn’t) emotionally volatile situations.
The degree of my disappearance depends upon what prompted it and if I truly want to try to come back. If I am done with the person/situation then, I’m probably not coming back, at least not for a few years. But if I love you, and I want to fix things, then I will try to contact you – soon.
Why do we withdraw?
Because we are afraid of how deeply we feel about you and that you don’t feel the same way about us. Or, if you do, it won’t last forever and you may have given us a small sign that we don’t matter as much to you as we did last week, or last night, or this morning and we panic and shut down.
Logically, we know that it would be better to voice our fears but we are unable to do that because we are already too vulnerable and have already tried that when we were young and we know it won’t work. Many of us were ridiculed, abused, ignored, left or humiliated by the people who raised us for trying to express our feelings and made to feel selfish and dirty for even having them and so, we never learned how to do it.
Upsetting feelings such as fear, anxiety, loneliness and pain all get lumped together and all we feel is ‘bad’ and we know that ‘bad’ feelings get punished so, we try to repress those feelings and we start imploding because we don’t know how to let them out in a productive way, or in any way. It’s why many of us self-harm; because there are just so many unnamed feelings bottling up inside that something has to give way.
When I am dysregulating, I am driven by nothing but fear. I may not have a clue what I am really feeling, but I do know that it has triggered something overwhelming and I have to get away from the source of that trigger or I will, quite literally suffocate and die. That’s what it feels like. I love you too much to be able to bear you or the thought of losing you and I don’t know how to both love you and live with the fear of losing you simultaneously.
When it is happening, when the flight response kicks in, I don’t even realise what I am doing. Every situation feels isolated and individual and I feel entirely correct and justified by my withdrawal. It is only afterwards, when I have settled down that I find myself feeling stupid or ashamed of my own reaction — it’s only then that I start to consider if I can find my way back to you, or if I have ruined everything again.
Each time this happens, it is a massive leap of faith to go back to you. I have to trust that you won’t hold it against me, and I have to trust that my reaction was wrong – that you do love and want me. I have to override my own certainty that everyone who loves me will try to hurt me because that is what I know; love equals pain.
Why don’t we just ‘stop’ the behaviour and try to talk things through?
Because it is, quite literally, impossible.
First of all, when we becomes overwhelmed like that, we are in a primitive protection mode. As children we had to find a way to protect ourselves from the people we loved most and as they were our caregivers and we couldn’t physically leave, we learned to absence ourselves emotionally. When we recognised that the humiliation, disapproval or withdrawal of love came because we had expressed need, we learned not to express any needs so we could avoid the consequences of having them. We learned that it was shameful to have needs and that our needs didn’t matter to anybody, let alone those who were supposed to be loving and protecting us.
Because we spent our formative years avoiding our feelings and possibly punishing ourselves for having any, we didn’t ever focus on what we were feeling or learning to distinguish between feelings, so anything negative just got pushed back down again into ourselves with all of the other ‘bad’ feelings and on it went, until it became who we are.
I don’t ‘talk’ about my feelings because I don’t know what I am feeling. I don’t have the words to explain my feelings to you because I never learned how. It’s not that I ‘won’t’, it’s that I can’t.
The worst part of this for many of us is that ‘love’ is caught up in in this emotional soup bubbling within us. Love feels like a ‘bad’ emotion because it was love that made us vulnerable to the humiliation, abuse and shame we experienced as children; if we hadn’t loved our caregivers, they could never have hurt us. To many of us, love means pain and shame, no matter how much we want it not be so.
Abandonment doesn’t just mean you go away.
BPD is an abandonment-based disorder. But when we experience abandonment, it doesn’t always mean that someone had physically left, or that we think they will, sometimes it just means that we fear being left emotionally to deal with our shit on our own, yet again. We often become mute and can’t ask for the help or understanding that we need from you.
Yes, we know that we often cause the very abandonment that we are terrified of due to our own withdrawal and acting-out, but when you are reacting on instinct, it doesn’t help to know that, it makes no difference whatsoever. We push you away because we know at a fundamental level that you will (inevitably) go away. Sometimes you physically leave, sometimes you drift away by not recognising that we need you desperately.
But in our withdrawal and silence, we are hoping you hear us.