If you’re anything like me, you’ve cried this phrase out so many times, and amidst the tears of frustration, hurt and loneliness, you genuinely don’t understand why your friends keep trying to distance themselves from you. You ask questions like: “What did I do wrong?” or “Why don’t they like me anymore?”. People may say to you, “It’s them, not you…” but the truth of the matter is that it’s probably a little of both.
If you have been diagnosed with (or feel you may have traits of) Borderline Personality Disorder, you will know how real the struggle is to maintain friendships and relationships. You honestly try so hard to do all the right things, but despite trying, your friends never seem to stick around, and that reinforces the cycle of abandonment and rejection in your minds. It’s heart-wrenching. I know!
You can’t change other people, but you can change yourself and I want to look at ways you can make small changes in your own patterns of behaviour to help you maintain healthy relationships. For some of you this post may be very difficult to read. If you are super sensitive and not ready to look at your own behaviours, habits and attitudes, you might struggle. It’s okay to skip reading this and come back to it another day. I won’t judge! Honestly, it’s taken me a long time to get to this point so I completely understand. But if you are desperately ready to try to understand why your friends appear to be abandoning you and you want to try to fix it, stick around, but steel your heart because some of what I’m going to say will be tough to digest.
Before I begin, I want you to know that I am not judging you. I’m not accusing you. I’m not saying you’re a bad person. If you have B.P.D. your feelings matter. Your thoughts and feelings are real and valid. YOU are valid. And I know you are trying so hard to get it right and I commend you for that. But I completely understand the frustration of not having a clue why your friends won’t talk to you; why they block you; why they won’t respond to your messages straight away. And I am now at a stage in my own journey to understand why they do that. I want to share what I’ve learned in the hopes that it will help you to understand and make the necessary changes to strengthen and maintain solid relationships.
You see, people who have B.P.D. are very high maintenance. It’s not a criticism. It’s an observation. And remember, I have B.P.D. and I know I am high maintenance. We are needy and can come across as demanding. We don’t mean to! But that’s how it is perceived by others. We are pretty full on and I think if you take a long hard look at yourself, you will probably agree. We can be intense and very focused. We form attachments very quickly and struggle to let go. We are highly emotional and sensitive. And none of these traits are necessarily bad, but they can be over-used and a bit too much for some people to cope with.
Try, for a moment, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes who has a busy life with work, spouse, kids etc. That person may have their own mental health struggles; maybe not as severe as B.P.D or D.I.D, but perhaps a touch of anxiety or depression. Maybe they have some health issues. Now imagine a high needs person who has severe mental health issues like B.P.D has befriended you, which you’re absolutely fine with, but over the course of time, this friend is constantly texting you, emailing you, phoning you and, without meaning to, demanding more and more of your time. This person tells you every single little detail of their lives… all the time. I think it’s safe to say you would start to feel drained pretty quickly. You love that person dearly but recognise the need to put up some boundaries to protect your time, your mental health, your family etc. So you try to ask your friend to maybe not text so often, but your friend gets upset and thinks you’re abandoning them, so instead of backing off, they double their efforts to try to keep you, which wears you out so much that your own mental and physical health is starting to deteriorate. So, knowing that it will hurt your friend, you put up your walls. You know it’ll hurt them but you also know you won’t be any good to them if you collapse from stress. You have a right to protect yourself in every way. Your own mental health, physical health, family, time… is so important to protect. But your friend doesn’t understand and wails that they don’t know what they did wrong and accuses you of abandoning them. In your mind, you’re not abandoning them; you’re protecting your health. But in their mind… it’s rejection, abandonment and the deepest hurt.
Can you picture that scenario? Can you put yourself in their shoes and see what it might be like for them? If you can then you will start to understand the problem. So how do you fix it? After all, you also have a right to be heard, understood, loved and not abandoned. What do you do?
The first thing I believe is so very important, and it’s probably one of the hardest things for a person with B.P.D. is to acknowledge that you need to make some changes to the way you interact with people. Acknowledging your part in a relationship breakdown is half the battle won.
Next, you need to cultivate more than one or two friendships. Your burdens (and I don’t mean that in a negative way because we all have burdens we carry) are too much for one person alone to deal with on top of their own burdens. Honestly, it is! I know how hard it is to make friends, and if you’ve been hurt before, you will be reluctant to make friends. But it’s so important. Start off with two or three and slowly expand.
Once you have a few friends, it’s then important to spread out your burdens. Don’t pile them all on one friend, even if they are your favourite! Share the load! Be generous with your troubles! In this way, you will have a few supportive friends so that if one is unavailable, someone else might be willing to spend half an hour chatting. If one suddenly has a family emergency, there will be another who is able to go out for coffee with you. Do you see what I mean? You’ll be more likely to cut your friends a little slack when they are unable to be there for you if you have a few close friends who can support you, and you won’t feel so lonely and abandoned if your friend is unable to help you for a while due to whatever is going on in their lives.
And the final gem of wisdom I wish to impart is to spend half the amount of time (at least!) talking about them rather than all of the time talking about yourself. It can be very draining for someone to spend several hours listening to you talk about yourself and your woes, especially if they might have something they wish to discuss too. Save the entire woeful story for your therapist who is paid to sit and listen to all your struggles. Your friends will appreciate you even more if you take an interest in their lives too. So make an effort to ask them how they are going and what’s happening in their lives. Don’t make it all about you. A healthy relationship is always a two-way street. It’s give and take on both sides, and if it’s all take, take, take on your part, it is unbalanced and unsustainable. It will end badly and they will be forced to pull away from you. And we both know you don’t want that to happen!
So, to recap:
1. Acknowledge your behaviours and attitudes might need some tweaking
2. Cultivate more than one friendship. Two or three is a nice start and then expand
3. Share the burdens among all of your friends
4. Spend time asking about their lives and don’t just talk about yours
I hope this has been helpful and not too harsh. I know first-hand how hard this is. I have lost so many friends because I was too needy, too demanding and too high maintenance, and it hurts. A lot! I want to work on building my character into someone who gives more than I take and I know that it’s a long journey and one that I will have to work on every single day, but I would do that to ensure I keep my friends and have healthy relationships. Will you do the same?
Stay safe and be good!