I recently got dumped after a romantic four-day vacation. An ex called me out of the blue, triggering a flood of insecurities from my then-partner. She went ballistic and did so many mental backflips that I checked her LinkedIn profile to find out where she trained as an elite psychiatric acrobat. She stormed off without her phone, and I had to chase after her. It was humiliating.
But I’m not sad. I’m busy. I have a clean slate and a new beginning. While I do miss my ex for many reasons, I am better off without engaging in major arguments about petty things. I never really felt supported by my ex, a black-and-white thinker, and I always suspected she would “cut and run” at the first sign of trouble. Her love felt highly conditional. I will not miss walking on eggshells as the list of my every digression and faux pas mounted. For mutual reasons, splitting up was for the best. We have no animosity. So, why does it still hurt when I’m moving on in a healthy way?
Dating Someone with BPD
I told my psychiatrist about our relationship, and he noted that I seem to date people with signs of BPD (borderline personality disorder), for whom “patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving become so rigid that functioning is impaired,” according to Dr. Ellen Littman.
“Considered to be a difficult disorder for family and friends to understand, it is also a difficult disorder for clinicians to treat. It is the personality disorder most likely to co-occur with ADHD in women.
“Women with BPD experience chronic instability — in their emotions, behaviors, relationships, and sense of self. They are impulsive in response to rapid mood changes. Their sense of self fluctuates based on their ability to cope with feelings of abandonment,” Littman states.
[Self-Test: Borderline Personality Disorder Test for Adults]
In my experience, the BPD relationship cycle works like this: First, we share complementary love styles — we’re excited to date and idealize each other. Over time, my ADHD symptoms clash with their BPD symptoms (such as paranoia, emotional instability, and intense anger), gradually putting me through unnecessary stress, which triggers more of my ADHD symptoms.
In my relationships, I provide a lot of attention to my partner, and I like to receive a fair bit of attention, too. I see myself as an extrovert and romantic. I swiftly fall for someone who gives me all the adoration I could ever want. (Usually, a personality disorder like borderline personality disorder is not apparent during the first few months of dating.) We place each other on very high pedestals during an intense start to our relationship. I feel special like I’m someone they’ve been looking for their whole life, which is romantic — until it isn’t.
The problem is that once you’re on someone’s pedestal, you’re not revered for who you are, but held to their black-and-white thinking (also known as BPD splitting) or definition of a perfect partner. When people with borderline personality disorder engage in splitting, they believe a person’s actions and motivations are either all good or all bad (with no middle ground). Their insistence that you live up to their standards or vision grows over time. Only you can’t meet their expectations because being that perfect person is an impossible goal. You are doomed to fail because you can’t read their mind, despite their expectation that you can. Exercising all the care and diligence in the world, you’re still only human.
My biggest issue is not knowing when to leave a relationship tainted by possible BPD or other personality disorders. It feels cowardly and wrong to throw in the towel unless I’ve truly exhausted all other options. I keep investing in the relationship, hoping we can get through the rocky parts, even though my partner’s splitting behavior shifts the responsibility and blame to me for not meeting expectations determined by their black-and-white thinking.
[Free Video: “Gaslighting, Love Bombing, & Beyond – How to Recognize (and End) Toxic Relationships with ADHD”]
I’m also guilty of saying things I don’t think twice about and doing impulsive and sometimes offensive things, and crossing boundaries with no thought of the consequences. For example, if she asks me if her friend is pretty, I may be dumb enough to say, “Yeah, she looks hot.” This will trigger her extreme insecurities about impending abandonment. I’m being cheeky, but she sees it as a red flag that I want to dump her and go after her friend. (Enter the BPD splitting.) Now, I am digging myself into a hole while she fights back tears. One minute we’re having a nice time over a lovely meal, followed by two hours of gaslighting and hearing I’m not good enough for her over dessert. What just happened?!
That’s a likely scenario when I’m aware of what I did. Other times, I’m punished for invisible infractions. I inadvertently set off her trigger, which turns me into a lightning rod for drama. I’ve experienced my fair share of “storm-offs,” thrown drinks, and nights ending in mystified silence because of BPD splitting. I spent ages beating myself up or taking the blame for something that I said (or didn’t say) or did with good intentions. (Apparently, it’s sexist to buy your girlfriend flowers on a whim?!)
The feeling of being taken for granted while simultaneously indebted for their affection creeps in. The BPD relationship cycle becomes more unstable as I’m threatened with a breakup over minor things, despite people with borderline personality disorder fearing abandonment and rejection. Over time, the anticipation of blame and fault becomes emotionally damaging and exhausting.
BDP Relationship Cycle
Preceding this latest breakup, we were out for dinner. I watched in slow motion as a petty comment I made provoked her to start shouting at me. I listened to her link unrelated events that had nothing to do with me, her criticisms, “home truths,” and insults.
When I argued back, she admonished me for “being defensive.” However, I wouldn’t have needed to defend myself had I not felt attacked.
Then I stopped feeling judged, guilty, or even offended by the hurtful things she said. I realized that all the points she made during every weekly argument were linked to one thing: “I don’t trust you as a romantic partner, and I don’t know why.”
I always thought these problems were due to my ADHD. But when I asked friends who were present during some of these (and past) outbursts, they were just as baffled. It’s not normal for an adult to seek affirmation by yelling at a significant other in a restaurant and, honestly, I don’t like being yelled at for abstract, unproven sins.
BPD Splitting: How to Protect Yourself
Loving someone with a personality disorder like BPD means you’ll do almost anything to keep the peace and assuage their anger or pain. But you also need to protect yourself. Is a relationship worth keeping when you are constantly walking on eggshells?
Here are five tips I can offer if you find yourself in a relationship with someone projecting traits of BPD.
Tip #1: Shut Your Mouth and Ask (Yourself) Questions Later
Dating people with traits of a personality disorder can make you feel like you did something scary or awful to them. It’s not their fault – they feel a genuinely overwhelming threat, and they feel justified in making their accusations. But under those circumstances, you should never take responsibility for things you didn’t do or didn’t mean to do. Instead, just shut your mouth and let them talk it out until they burn out. Observe their conclusions, but ask yourself later how you felt about what they said, and if it was logical, truthful, or a fair reflection of what had happened.
Tip #2: Don’t Let Your ADHD Become an Excuse
Do not let their insecurities become your insecurities. And never let your ADHD be blamed for their gaslighting or for your inability to “get it.” They may not understand you or how your brain works, but that’s because of how their brain works. That’s no one’s fault. We’re all fighting our own battles.
Tip #3: Don’t Feel Bad If It Doesn’t Work Out
You don’t deserve to feel bad. If you keep having the same arguments despite trying to learn from past mistakes, it’s not personal. It’s impossible to live up to the expectations caused by BPD splitting. You tried to make the relationship work. And that’s all anyone can do.
Tip #4: Don’t Get Sucked Into Arguments
Don’t get sucked into arguments where the goalposts shift to fit an ever more demonic narrative of your actions. Stick to the facts, even if they don’t align with your partner’s black-or-white thinking. During my last breakup, I took notes to simplify my argument, reduce my emotional instincts, and stuck to my truth true to stop any self-doubt. Ask yourself: How did you feel when the argument started? Does it make sense that things have become so emotional now?
Tip #5: Give Yourself Some Slack
Don’t hate yourself for feeling confused — some people are just confusing. Don’t get angry at your significant other— they’re just as confused as you.
Be patient and treat them with the same kindness and respect that you would hope to receive. Give your significant other time and space to calm down. Remembering a time when you felt insecure will help you sympathize with them.
There are some battles you cannot fight, but you can still be a good friend without getting hurt or being directly involved.
Know your worth. Remember, you are ultimately only responsible for yourself, your intentions and actions matter more than your words, and always stay neutral about your current (or ex) girlfriend’s friends!
BPD Splitting: Next Steps
SUPPORT ADDITUDE Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.