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I'm nearly 60 years old. I got stuck in a relationship somewhat similar to what's being described here when I was in my 20's. However, if 60-year-old me could talk to 20-year-old me, what I would tell myself now is "Life is good, but life is short. Save the drama for mama."

Nearly everyone gets stuck in at least one dysfunctional relationship, whether it is a dysfunctional family or (in my generation) bad marriage or the dating relationship from hell. Nearly everyone feels like a victim at one point or another. However, for adults, there is also almost always something that "hooks" you into staying.

Say, for instance, you have the misfortune of having fallen for someone who has what a psychiatrist might diagnose as a borderline personality disorder. A borderline personality disorder is a psychological condition that occurs in people who have experienced real-life abandonment. Maybe mommy didn't let you in the house during a tornado when you were two. (I know someone to whom that actually happened.) Maybe your parents ignored you while they smoked pot. Maybe you were on a boat that sank and the Coast Guard took everybody off the boat except you and left you to float in shark-infested waters while waiting for the next helicopter. (Again, this happened to someone I know.) Maybe you were molested as a child by your parents' best friends and your parents just couldn't believe you when you told them.

The way your brain deals with this is to give you the skills to make sure you are never abandoned again. People who have borderline personality disorders can be charming at first. They are attentive and generous and fun to be around.

As the relationship becomes deeper, they show a different side.

They use guilt to make sure they are "appreciated." They will point out how generous they are and how you should acknowledge them -- or just let them go after their next victim.

The horrible thing about being in a relationship with someone who has a borderline personality disorder is that they probably can give you things that most other people can't. They "get" you. Unfortunately, that's because they want to "have" you. A relationship with someone like this can be addictive and painful at the same time.

There's not a lot you can do to fix someone like this who happens to be in your life. They are probably smarter than you when it comes to manipulating people. They know your weaknesses, and they will use them to keep you under their control When you move in, or you become financially dependent (either by taking responsibility for their finances or by receiving money or a place to stay, or both), and their anger and manipulation drive off your own friends and associates, the problem just gets worse and worse.

The only thing to do in a situation like this is to move on.

It is essential to end contact. It is really, really essential to end any kind of financial, physical, or emotional dependence on this kind of person. It is hard. It is painful. It can feel overwhelming. However, they longer you wait to make yourself free, the harder it gets.

I'm not saying that people who have borderline personality disorders or narcissistic spectrum disorders or who are just plain mean are necessarily evil. Things happened to them that led them to become that way. Many aren't aware that they are sick, and even when they are (just as an interjection, once of the life rules I made for myself is "Never date a psychiatrist," especially when she seems to have some of the characteristics mentioned in this thread), they don't want to change.

They want you to change to accommodate them. They don't want to change to accommodate you.

Don't stay in a dysfunctional relationship for four years, four months, four weeks, four days, or even four hours. "Run" the opposite direction. At least once you have had an experience like this, you will recognize the warning signs of a romance that will never go anywhere.

If you don't know those warning signs yet, here's a quick list.

  • He or she enjoys activities that involve self-harm. (I've actually had someone ask me if she should date someone who drank his own blood from a black bowl as a hobby. My answer was "no.") Overeating, gambling, compulsive shopping, compulsive lying, or dangerous driving habits sometimes are an attempt at self-harm.
  • He or she has inappropriately intense emotional reactions to ordinary situations, especially anger. Screaming when your cell phone drops a call, for instance, is a warning sign of a serious issue.
  • He or she has had a number of intense, short-term relationships. Typically these involve desperate attempts to build a relationship followed by uncontrollable anger when something goes wrong.
  • He or she displays an unstable sense of self. He or she lacks follow-through for important life plans because interests change.
  • He or she speaks openly of committing suicide. If someone has, for instance, cancer, and displays a morbid sense of humor about death, this is probably not the result of psychological disorder. If someone is in apparently good health and "just wants to die," there is probably a psychological issue.

Someone can display some or all of these characteristics and not meet the strict definitions of having a borderline personality disorder or narcissistic spectrum disorder, and someone can display none of these characteristics and still merit a psychiatric diagnosis. Your job, unless you happen to be a mental health professional (in which case you really ought not be in relationship with such a person), is not to make a diagnosis. It isn't even to "help". You can't help these kinds of problems from inside a codependent relationship.

Your job is to move forward and make the best life you can as quickly as you can, even when you experience a temporary loss.

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