Today I attended a beautiful Pentecost mass that was held outdoors. The day couldn’t have been more perfect for an outdoor celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples. Unlike the disciples, I didn’t experience a sudden spiritual epiphany or dramatic change in my heart, or start speaking in tongues. But as always when I attend mass, I felt God’s presence around me (if not actually IN me) and felt surrounded by peace and light.
I looked at the tall trees gently swaying in the distance, their bright spring greens illuminated in the bright sunshine against the azure blue sky, and asked God to change me, to let the Holy Spirit flow inside me and fill me with its divine gifts of empathy, unconditional love, and joy. I asked Him to make me a better person who can connect with other people on a meaningful level–and having those gifts would make it so much easier for me to do that.
The truth is, I feel that I’m lacking in all three of these gifts. I do not have NPD and therefore have no desire to act in evil or toxic ways to others, but due to my other disorders–only one of them probably not due to abuse (Aspergers)–I often feel like there’s an emotional blockage keeping me from really being able to connect with other people, to really being able to empathize and feel WITH them the way people who have not been abused and do not have these disorders can do.
This particular triad of disorders is a tragic one. Even having one of these disorders cripples you and isolates you in various ways from others and can lead to a lonely life lacking in meaningful relationships, but having all three at once is devastating. It’s so hard for me to connect with the rest of humanity except on the most abstract level and as a result I’m often so very sad and lonely.
First, being an Aspie (the only disorder I was probably born with) makes it almost impossible for me to read social cues normally and although I can socialize well enough online (because it doesn’t require me to “think on my feet”–I have time to think through what I want to say or how to respond), in the day to day physical world my Aspieness makes me appear awkward and sometimes slow when I am forced to socialize, especially with neurotypicals who don’t understand people with Aspergers, so I avoid people. Due to my awkwardness I was a frequent target of school bullies, and it didn’t take long to learn that it was best to just keep my mouth shut and say nothing. I became painfully shy, fearing ridicule and humiliation. The old adage, “Tis better to say nothing and have others believe you are daft than open your mouth and remove all doubt” has been my motto most of my life.
The other two disorders I have–avoidant AND borderline personality disorders–I am certain were due to years of abuse by my narcissistic mother and to a lesser extent, my codependent father who colluded with her most of the time (although I never really doubted his love for me). The AVPD (a Cluster C “anxious” personality disorder) only exacerbates my Aspergers. They feed off each other.
Avoidants shy away from social contact because of their low self esteem and overwhelming fear of rejection. As a result they are usually painfully shy but can even seem aloof or cold. Avoidants are not schizoid though (people with Schizoid personality disorder dislike other people and prefer a hermit-like lifestyle; they don’t care how others regard them): on the contrary, we WANT friends, we WANT meaningful relationships, we WANT romance, we WANT others to like us–but our fear of engaging with others due to possible rejection keeps us isolated and alone. We build a protective shell of aloofness around ourselves so we can’t be hurt. People with AVPD are risk-averse, and are likely to be underachievers due to their unwillingness to take risks that may expose them to social embarrassment.
An Aspie with AVPD is nearly–or is–a social hermit, but not out of choice, like a person with schizoid personality disorder. Making friends–a skill that comes so naturally to most people–is something most of us never mastered well, if at all. Even having a relaxed conversation or opening ourselves to another human is like rocket science to those of us with both disorders. It’s a wonder that I was even ever able to engage in romantic relationships and have a family. Of course, all the men I dated and of course the one I married were narcissistic, mirroring the toxic dynamics I had with my family of origin.
Like the girl in this cartoon, I can relate to all of this, even the refusal to play charades! I was always terrified of that game because it requires a level of being able to read social cues and an ability to think on your feet, two qualities I don’t possess. And of course, the fear of risk-taking and humiliation.
And that brings us to my borderline personality disorder. BPD is not usually marked by overwhelming shyness or social awkwardness; in fact most borderlines are quite socially adept. But their disorder, like an Avoidant, is fueled by a deep-seated fear of rejection and almost always has its roots in childhood emotional abuse or neglect, as do all the personality disorders.
Borderlines long for close relationships and actively seek them out, but then push others away if they sense the other person might pull away or reject them first. They overreact to slights and are highly sensitive to criticism or rejection. Like a narcissist, they can be difficult to deal with because of this type of selfish oversensitivity can lead them to engage in some of the same antisocial behaviors and game playing people with NPD or even ASPD are guilty of, though not usually to the same degree because people with BPD have a conscience (even if it’s stunted in some) and don’t normally actively seek to hurt others. There are exceptions though–I was shocked and dismayed to read that both the murderer Jodi Arias and serial killer Aileen Wournos were both diagnosed with BPD, though in Wournos’ case, she was also comorbid with ASPD. Still, most borderlines, when they are made aware of how they have hurt their loved ones, feel remorse–but their guilt and shame can make them feel worthless and lead to self-destructive behaviors. It is not a fun disorder.
Though Borderlines are more likely to be self-destructive instead of deliberately destructive to others, this self destructiveness causes huge problems in their ability to form meaningful relationships, and due to their “go away–come closer” way of relating to others, their relationships are usually stormy and short-lived.
I am cursed with the overwhelming shyness and social anxiety of Aspergers and AVPD, but during the rare times I have been able to form relationships or friendships, sooner or later I push those people away in some form or another–not because I want to, but because I either become so afraid of rejection I reject the other person first–or more frequently, unconsciously do something to make the other person leave me. BPD is very maladaptive to the sufferer–it tends to bring on the very thing the Borderline fears the most–rejection.
I was diagnosed with BPD in 1996 during a three month long hospitalization for major depression. At the time, I also had PTSD from being a victim of abuse by a malignant narcissist husband, who gaslighted me constantly and even tried (but eventually failed) to turn my own children against me. During that hospital stay, I was given a copy of Marsha Linehan’s excellent manual for BPD, “Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder.” Dr. Linehan is a borderline herself (she had originally been diagnosed with schizophrenia but felt her “schizophrenia” was really a manifestation of her BPD). The techniques in the book are a form of DBT (dialectical behavioral training) which teaches the Borderline patient to act mindfully–to think before they act and consider consequences, because Borderlines (unlike people with NPD) act on impulse when they feel threatened.
Linehan’s book helped immensely and since my long-ago hospital stay, I have learned to control many of my borderline symptoms. In fact I have become so good at it I rarely fly off the handle the way I used to or overreact to the degree I used to do. I still have my copy and have recently begun doing some of the excercises again because I still know there’s a LOT of room for improvement.
Like NPD, BPD doesn’t just go away. All personality disorders are incredibly hard to cure because they have become so much a part of the individual’s personality. There are still many times I unwittingly either push other people away OR get too close (or do both at the same time); I still have problems with understanding where other people’s boundaries begin and end. I also feel like there is a wall there keeping me from really being able to empathize with other people in a normal way. I can empathize in an abstract sort of way (it’s hard to explain what I mean by that but the empathy I do feel is sincere). It’s just so hard for me to connect on a meaningful level because I fear rejection so much. I want to be a friend to others; I want to make others happy; I want to be able to fully share in their emotions, good or bad–but I find it all so hard–not just because of my BPD, but my fear of engaging with others in the first place due to Aspergers and AVPD. This triad has been a huge curse all my life. But at least I know what my problem is. I’m what you would call “complicated.” I have my work cut out for me.
Having all three disorders has made my life incredibly difficult and my relationships–when they exist at all–have been stormy or don’t last. But I don’t feel that I’m beyond hope. In fact, I’ve been feeling much better about myself since I started blogging and accepted God into my life. I do feel that He is changing me in a very meaningful and deep way. Maybe it’s not happening as quickly or dramatically as I had hoped, but it’s happening. I am feeling more ability to empathize with others and feel moments that come very close to pure joy. I have always had a great capacity to feel guilt and shame, so that has never been a problem. For a person with a Cluster B disorder, my conscience is probably TOO well-developed. I apologize for things I haven’t even done. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my entire life apologizing for my existence. I hate the idea of being a bad or evil person. I like it when I know I’ve made someone else happy. Those times when I can make others happy are becoming more frequent, and I think that’s a step toward healing. I’m also happy to report that my lifelong problem with envy appears to be disappearing. Envy is so toxic–mostly to the person harboring it. It’s a great relief to have that particular monkey off my back most of the time now.
So today’s celebration of Pentecost had special meaning, because even though I wasn’t knocked to my knees by the Holy Spirit, I felt a deep sense of peace, centeredness and just “being in the moment” that has always eluded me. I felt a genuine desire to become a person who can make a positive difference in the lives of others and can feel unconditional love even for those I do not know well. Now I just need to overcome my fear of engagement with others, but I have faith that in time that will happen too, and when that happens, a whole new world will open up to me as the walls I built at an early age begin to crumble and reveal the me I want to be–which is really the me God meant for me to be.
Never give up hope. Ever.