The Almost Unbearable Loneliness of BPD
I have very few friends anymore because over the course of the years of my mental illness, I chased almost all of them away. I woke up one day and realized just what a solitary existence I was living and how lonely I had become. My husband died some years ago and my children all left home to go to university in another town. Because the town where I live and where they grew up is quite small, they all resolved to never return. So, it is just me and the dog now. He has become my primary companion and my best friend and has seen me through some very dark days over the last few years but as much as I love him, he’s just not enough on most days. I feel very lonely most of the time.
Why is loneliness for people with BPD an insidious problem?
When I look back on how this happened, I recognize that it is a direct consequence of my BPD. One of my biggest problems was always my incredible anger. I just never knew how to deal with it and so it would explode out of me. My best defense is a good offense caused everyone to turn away from me over the years. That’s what I wanted, or so I thought. I had a very difficult time trusting people, especially women and if they disappointed me or I became angry at them, I would lash out and then abandon the relationship completely in an almost knee-jerk reaction This happened over and over again. If I do a tally of the women I have rejected over the years, it fills me with such remorse and shame it’s incredible. So, the loneliness of BPD became almost unbearable for me. I resolved to try to do something about it and DBT is really what saved me.
In DBT I learned a skill designed to help foster interpersonal relationships. It is called GIVE. Marsha Linehan loves acronyms and GIVE is specifically geared toward helping a person with BPD encourage and grow new friendships.
The DBT skill called GIVE helps people foster positive interactions with others
The G stands for Gentle. It means that when you are dealing with another person you should always be gentle not just with them but also with the relationship so that there is room for both of you in the room and friendship.
I stands for Interest which sounds like it should be intuitive but for many people with BPD, it can be really hard at times to show genuine interest in another person and what they have to tell you in a conversation.
V stands for validate which means that you need to validate what the other person is telling you. You do this by asking questions and using active listening skills so that you show that not only are you listening but you also understand them on a fundamental level and you “get them” and where they are at that moment in time. You do this by acknowledging what they are feeling and expressing empathy for them.And lastly, E stands for easy manner which boils down to “just smile”. Body language is so important in communication. Most of us completely discount the unspoken signals and cues we give to other people when we interact with them. But some experts say that body language accounts for about 55% of all communication between people so if you are frowning or grimacing when you are talking to another person, they will most likely not connect with you.
Learning this DBT skill helped me find new ways to connect with other people again. The other thing I resolved to do was to say “yes” if anyone ever asked me to go somewhere with them or do something with them even if it was something I wasn’t particularly interested in doing. Things had gotten to the point where no one was actually asking me go anywhere with them or do anything but that began to change. I still don’t have a wide circle of friends but that’s okay. I have been able to make some very good connections with just a few people which has made the world of difference.
I think this is a hidden consequence for most of us who have BPD. It is almost insidious in the way in which it happens. Being left alone just sort of creeps up on you and before you know it, you are completely socially isolated. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. I say to people all the time that DBT saved my life and I mean that both literally and figuratively. Before I learned DBT, I was sad, fearful, lonely and terribly angry all the time. I had already spent years doing talk therapy but because I didn’t have the fundamental skills needed to ‘create a life worth living’ I lived in a state of emotional abject poverty. It weighed me down terribly and all the loneliness I felt just fed on itself and perpetuated itself. I am slowly creating a life worth living and establishing some meaningful connections with a few people. It feels so nice to be able to do that.