Narcissism – what I believe to be the primary disease of our times – is one side of a coin. The other side – the narcissist’s enabler – is the borderline.
If the analogy for narcissism is “being the main character in their own movie,” then the analogy for borderline is being an actress.
Note the difference: the narcissist is a character: an invented but well scripted, complete with backstory, identity. The narcissist is trying to be something – which already has a model. Perhaps she thinks herself a bohemian artist type, or a tough chick, or the type interested in spiritualism, or like Zooey Deschanel in, well, every Zooey Deschanel movie. Types, characters. The borderline is no one: the borderline waits for the script to define her.
The classic description includes: intense, unstable relationships; emotional lability; fear of abandonment. The borderline has no true sense of self.
Ironically, the borderline is a borderline only in relationship to other people. The borderline has a problem with identity because other people in the world have stronger identities. Your parents want you to be one way, so you do it. The partner you want prefers a certain type of woman; so you remake yourself. Your friends expect you to be a nerd or a party girl or whatever, so you do it. Who the hell are you, really? You have no idea, because you are always molding yourself based on the dominant personalities in your life.
This is done mostly out of fear of abandonment: if you don’t “be” the person they want, then they’ll leave you, and then what? (Borderlines don’t end relationships – they end relationships for another relationship.)
The narcissist creates an identity, then tries to force everyone else to buy into it. The borderline waits to meet someone, and then constructs a personality suitable to that person.
Here’s the ironic part: if a borderline began a life of isolation, with no one else around, she’d develop an identity of her own, not a reaction to other people. Sorry, that’s not the ironic part, this is: she’d become a narcissist.
The borderline has external markings of identity: tattoos, changing hair colors, clothes. You may recall I said almost the same thing about the narcissist: the difference is, of course, the borderline changes her image as she changes her identity – in other words, as she changes the dominant personality in her life; but the narcissist crafts a look, an identity, which she then defends at all costs: “I would sooner eat fire ants than quit smoking.” Of course. Of course.
All those silly movies about a woman moving away, or to the big city, and she “finds herself:” that’s a borderline becoming a narcissist.
If you look back on past long term relationships you’ve had, and are completely perplexed as to what on earth you ever saw in each of those people that kept you with them for a year; well, there you go.
This is why narcissists marry borderlines, and not other narcisstists. Two narcissists simply can’t get along: who is the main character? Meanwhile, two borderlines can’t be with each other – who supplies the identity? The narcissist thrives with the borderline because the borderline provides for her the validation that she is, in fact, the lead; the borderline thrives with the narcissist because the narcissist defines her.
– Borderline, TLP (abridged)
I’m a former borderline transforming into a narcissist and actively resisting the process. It’s still very, very difficult for me to maintain relationships, “human-ing,” as a friend termed it once. I feel that I can treat myself better than anyone else can – take care of my health, find ways to be productive, entertain myself, comfort myself. That means I go almost everywhere alone. I can choose where I want to go and what time. Pick the restaurant, the movie, what to wear. No waiting around for anybody, no compromising on preferences. When I’m sad, I cry. When I need an orgasm, I masturbate. I finish my work projects on my own time. I go to class alone, and when I need help I go to the learning center for tutorials, a process about as mechanical and devoid of human connection as ordering a pizza. Which is exactly the point.
The burden of loving me, at any given time, falls to no more than around two or three people in my life, which makes it all the more onerous for each one of them. The burden and the privilege, I suppose. I’ve always swung back and forth between, “I am awful and no one should have to love me,” and “I am wonderful and I deserve care and devotion.” Recently I’ve begun to wonder if they could both be true at the same time, even as they seem mutually exclusive… maybe I just have to phrase the two sentiments more accurately. (Will update when I do.)
It has become clear to me now, though, that the “awful” part, the one that’s too sensitive and needy and clingy, is also the same part that feels for other people’s suffering and is constantly pushing me to make more of myself. It’s the part that is never content. It can never have enough affection and devotion from the people I love. It can never be satisfied by the improvements I make in my life. Always wanting more. More closeness. More attention. More strength for myself, more learning, beauty, grace, competence…
I’ve treid so hard for so long to get rid of it. Cut it off from me. But it always grows back, even hungrier than before. It’s a complex, sinuous chamber inside my soul that is at once shadowy and luminescent. Things live inside it, strange and wonderful and terrible things. Everyone who invaded / explored it barely made it out alive.
So, I’m a complicated person – what an original thought. It has never been easy to love me, never ever. But I don’t buy into that whole, “If you can’t handle me at my worst…” bullshit that people who unrepentantly drive away partner after partner love to quote. Poeple like that could only end up alone or with a person who has a very weak identity, who would allow herself to be dominated. Neither option appeals to me.
One thing I’m working on right now is figuring out how to deal with feelings of neglect and unfairness. This is crucial because, as I mentioned in section II., there is a very small number of people in my life from whom I expect care and attention, and consequently, any remissness on their part is magnified horribly to me. For example, a few months ago I was absolutely furious and hurt when my best friend missed taking me out to dinner for my birthday, which I wouldn’t have felt if I’d just gone out with several people or had a party like a normal person.
(Why didn’t I? Because my dislike for people in general outweighs my loneliness. Because I reasonably predict from past experience that they wouldn’t treat me well anyway, so I preemptively push them away. Because other people’s problems bore me. Because I think society’s insane. Because I don’t want anything to attach me to this country. And probably some more reasons, but you get the gist of it.)
Anyway, what happened then was that I avoided him for some time, avoided talking to him or thinking about him until the hurt had faded away and we started hanging out again like nothing had happened. (I don’t think he even realizes I was hurt.)
A similar sequence of events occurred with Red, for whom I’d harbored an ambivalent fascination for the better part of a year. I avoided her for a while. A few weeks ago we went out together and caught up. I told her that all the times she’d gotten angry at me and lashed out, I had been so hurt that I would cry. She asked me why I didn’t tell her. I explained that I understood she wasn’t doing it to hurt me, so I didn’t blame her for it; but neither could I stand around for such treatment, so I just kept my distance. The hurt was also compounded by all my issues of neediness and clinginess, which I also explained were things that I had to work out on my own.
So this strategy – keeping distance from people who hurt me until such time that the hurt has passed – works quite well for my friends… but it’s obviously not going to work very well for my relationship with ____. I’m not going to be able to shelve that like I did with my friendships and distract myself with someone / something else. Whatever I do, I think I’ll have to figure it out soon. I’m constantly plagued with wondering if she will ever really fall for me, not just in her subconscious or whatever that tender part is which randomly and unexpectedly surfaces every now and then. I don’t even know if we’d be able to handle that. For now just trying not to stonewall / attack is taking up most of my emotional energy.