Distorted Beliefs and Attitudes of People with Borderline Disorder

Distorted Beliefs and Attitudes of People with Borderline Disorder

This post isn’t about the beliefs and thoughts of others, it is about the beliefs and attitudes those of us with BPD have towards ourselves that are distorted from reality. Most of them come from the thoughts of our own distorted minds, but others are a little easier to understand. Let’s start with the more common ones that almost everyone with BPD has…

BPD Belief 1: I am Worthless, Empty and Unlovable

These innate BPD beliefs make BPs sensitive to remarks that could be construed as criticism (ironic, isn’t it?)–which they deal with by either projecting the vitriol onto you or internalizing it, perhaps by doing something self-destructive.

High-functioning BPs can put on their “BP Mask” that says, “I’m doing just fine here!” But no matter what either of you do, the feelings of worthlessness and shame eventually must be expressed again.

BPD Belief 2:I am a terrible person and need to be punished.

This belief can be obvious or deduced from watching how the BP treats herself and others. Some BPs make up for their lack of self-love that they overcompensate, fooling people into thinking they are overly self-confident, happy, powerful, and professional. Others project their feelings of worthlessness onto others. And some let other people abuse them because they feel they deserve it.

Mary, who has a BP sister: “I don’t understand why my sister doesn’t stand up for herself more often. She tells me her husband won’t “let her” work or give her enough money. She is a perfectly capable accounting manager. Why does she let this guy run her life and ruin every family gathering with his crass behaviour? She’s the original doormat.”

BPD Belief 3: If people love me, there must be something wrong with them.

This belief is almost never stated explicitly. Instead, the BP may go from one relationship to another–supposedly to find the “right” person. But the problem may be that the BP is afraid of getting too close and letting people really know him. This also can happen with therapists. If a therapist is good at recognizing the BP’s true issues, the BP may suddenly find fault with them and switch to another therapist who is more agreeable with his views.

Grant, who has a BP girlfriend: “My girlfriend thinks she fat and ugly and frequently asks me how she looks. I tell her she’s beautiful because she is, inside and out. But she focuses on every flaw and holds it up to God’s microscope and is never satisfied. Then she met a guy who said she could stand to lose a few pounds. Next thing I know she is sleeping with him. I can’t believe she would do this to herself and us.”


BPD Belief 4: Feelings create facts, not the other way around.

To a great extent, we all make decisions based on emotions and then use our logic to rationalize them. But BPs can serve as judge and jury and come up with decisions that have no basis in reality. While we may be aware of how emotions affect our thoughts, the BP may not be able to separate the two. Thus, some decisions are impulsive instead of built on a solid foundation.

Harriet, who has a BP friend: “My friend Amy used often says that I do a good job raising my kids—better than her. I don’t think you can make comparisons, but she does. One day, my oldest son became captain of the soccer team, and Amy flew into a rage. She decided without a shred of evidence that the coach liked my son more than hers, and that’s why my son was named captain. It was obviously jealousy. But what scares me is that she really believes it, and now she’s publicly suggesting that I had a hand in this. When I ask her why she says that, she just tells me she “knows.””

BPD Belief 5: Everything is black or white. No shades or other colours exist.

Splitting is one of the hallmarks of BPD: the inability to see middle ground on almost any subject, from a political issue to themselves to the behavior of the host at a party. Splits may last a long time–years–or they may last for three minutes. All-or-nothing thinking pervades almost every area of a BP’s life and complicates other BPD issues. The cliché about BPD is that they put people up on pedestals merely to knock them down.

Patricia, who has a BP daughter and a mother: “We adopted our granddaughter Deborah because her mother (our daughter) was too emotionally unstable to care for her. Now we’re worried because at 11, Deborah seems unable to see people in tones of grey. She bolts from friendship to friendship, and the pattern is always the same: At first the new friend is more than perfect, a soul mate, the best thing that ever happened. But then suddenly something goes wrong. Deborah can’t find a nice thing to say about the girl and goes out of her way to trash her as hurtfully as possible. She treats us the same way: Either we’re wonderful and she can’t hug us enough — or we’re evil incarnate and she looks at us with pure hate.”

BPD Belief 6: I am the victim of everyone else’s behaviour.

The black-and-white thinking that goes with splitting also means that BPs split themselves into “all good” or “all bad.” To avoid feeling all bad, BPs deny their own involvement in life’s unhappy consequences. Every disappointment is someone else’s fault. Non-BPs whose borderline partners decide to leave the relationship often find that their former partners blame them for “abandoning them.”

Sylvie, a BP: “I can’t believe that I took all that time out of my schedule to give my feedback on this new waste-to-energy project in Seattle. I had to get up at 6 am and wait for two hours at the airport, where it’s always a madhouse. Technically, I was there and being paid my expenses, which is what I agreed to. The only reason I even did it is that there was always the possibility of landing a job instead of just a consulting contract. I need the money.”

“But when I got there, the president of the board had given the executive director job to someone else—an unqualified bitch who thinks she’s something but is just an egotist with a crate of emotional problems. You can be sure I demanded all my expenses that very day, down to the Zinfandel I had on the plane. I would have made such a better executive director, but they’ll never know it because once I learned I had come all that way for nothing I stormed out of there. I hope the organization goes down the tubes—which it probably will without me there.”

BPD Belief 7: If I can control someone, they will love me.

BPs may feel so out of control of their emotional life that they try to exert complete control over their environment and the behaviour of others if they can. People who acquiesce to their demands are “loved” while those who don’t are split into all bad.

Tamara, who has a BPD mother: “When I went to visit my mother after a major operation, she insisted that I eat dinner seated at the table even though I was in terrible pain. Then she complained about the way I ate at every meal. If she was cold, I had to wear a jacket. Everything had to be done her way on her schedule. I’m 40 years old and she still treats me like a child.”

BPD Belief 8: I need other people to be happy. But my need so scares me I have to push them away.

This is also called the abandonment/engulfment cycle. If you get too close to the BP she will feel trapped. If you’re too far away she’ll feel abandoned. So the relationship becomes a continuous push-pull that Jerold J. Kreisman terms, “I hate you–don’t leave me.”

Rachel Reiland, from a section of her book I’m Not Supposed to be Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder: A warmth, what I imagined a daughter loved by her father might feel, spread through my body on the drive home from my psychiatrist’s office. Dr Padgett thought I was lovable and courageous. Dr Padgett was there for me. Therapy became a bittersweet addiction – moments of catharsis, moments when my soul lying hidden and aching was sought out and gently stroked by Dr Padgett’s love, moments of my long hunger being whetted with the sweet taste of love and understanding.”

Yet, now I was alone. Four days of filler, killing time and going through the motions. Therapy was all that mattered. No, that wasn’t true – being in his presence, feeling his acceptance, these were my desperate needs and they were met in transient moments. But when the next session came I was numb from needing him too much. I said nothing.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said. Minutes passed again.

“You’re burying your feelings, Rachel. They are there but we can’t work on them unless you open up.”

My power fed on itself, growing larger, omnipotent. Come on, Padgett. Grovel. Beg for it. Get on your knees.

“You’re right, Dr Padgett,” I said. ” There are things on my mind. But I have no intention of sharing them with you. Know why? Because you are a manipulative bastard, that’s why! A control freak. You want me to get down on my hands and knees and strip my soul completely naked so you can exploit it. You want to see me grovel for your attention. Well, I’m not doing it. I don’t need you. I don’t need anybody. I wouldn’t call you if you were the last person alive and I had a loaded gun pointed down my throat!” 

BPD Belief 9: If anyone really knew me, they would hate me.

This refers to the “all good” mask high-functioning BP’s wear to avoid exposing their real feelings of shame, fear and self-loathing.

Laura: “A lot of people tell me I’m a great singer. I get the solos. Well, la de da. I’ve had people ask for my autograph after concerts. They tell me how moved they were by my performance. But they don’t know the real me, the one who all the kids teased in school, the one my parents abandoned, the one who used to have anorexia and weighed 76 pounds. They tell me I’m great and I lie on the bed sobbing my eyes out because no one really cares. No one knows the real me.”

Distorted Beliefs and Attitudes of People with Borderline Disorder

BPD Belief 10: My mask of self-confidence will fool everyone.

The “all good” mask fools some people some of the time. But the high-functioning BPD can’t sustain it forever. Many partners find that their perfect mate becomes a different person once the marriage license is signed.

Christopher: “When my mother poses us for a family picture she makes everyone smile as if we had a normal family life. People have no idea what she is like behind closed doors. One time she was raging at me in a shopping mall and suddenly she saw a friend. She stopped and said hello, cheery as ever. And when the friend was out of earshot she started in on me right where she left off.”


BPD Belief 11: If I can prove you’re a miserable excuse for a human being, that means I’m not as bad as I think I am.

BPs need an infinite attention, love, or romance amount to make up for the self-love they lack. But they think of love as a finite resource and often become jealous of other people in their loved one’s life. So they may try to cut friends and family members out of the non-BP’s life so there’s more love “leftover.” Or, they may seek to put others down because it makes them feel better about themselves.

This can result in a constant stream of blame and criticism. This often happens to the parents whose adult child marries a borderline. The borderline doesn’t want to “compete” for their spouse’s love, so she tries to undermine the relationship between her husband and his parents. In-laws who can do their best to ignore this seemingly cruel behaviour and go out of their way to include the daughter-in-law may have a better chance of maintaining a relationship with their son and any grandchildren.

Brendan, a BP: “I’ve always felt different. I remember in kindergarten being scared of the other kids in the class–afraid of what they could do or say to me. So I said nothing, which people interpreted to mean I was stuck up. We moved a lot of times when I was a kid and the same thing happened every time. I was the class “nerd” to whom no one liked or would even speak to. When I look at pictures of myself I realize I wasn’t a bad-looking kid. But I felt like a piece of scum, and in many ways I still do. I don’t know if you can erase 12 years of being humiliated, kicked, called names, and ignored.”

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