C-PTSD meets bulimia and possible Borderline Personality Disorder

Applecore

Learning
Male, 46, in a long-term relationship with a woman, for info I've posted on this forum a few times, found it very helpful and hopefully I have helped others.

Am a survivor of developmental or complex trauma caused by childhood neglect and emotional abuse, very much recovered and suffering far less than I used to, now leading a relatively stable and content life in many ways. At the same time I think that perhaps inevitably, no matter the recovery, the past will still effect the present.

One aspect of this is my relationship with a woman who also had a traumatic upbringing. One of the things that makes us compatible is that we are 'child-free by choice', because we associate childhood with suffering and care very much about the happiness of children; we don't want to go there, and we have experienced the joy of life together in other ways instead.

Culturally, we live in a part of the world where women tend to expect to be provided for by men far more than they do in the English-speaking world, she is from that culture whereas I am from the UK. I am also in a far better financial position than she is. My partner has been bulimic for most of her life although very much recovered. Since 2.5 years ago she has diagnosed Hashimoto's disease and chronic inflammation, with its standard symptoms of depression, mood swings and irritability even after medication.

From my point of view she also seems to have symptoms of vulnerable narcissism and Borderline Personality Disorder. Her rages, paranoid accusations, lack of accountability and frequent complaints and blaming me for her situation have pushed me to the limit. In spite of all this, she can still be loving, caring and delightful. She can be an angel, and has been many times. We have genuinely beautiful shared memories across many years of sharing life together.

Since losing a high-powered job during Covid, she has now been unemployed for over two years and has lived with me rent-free for 18 months while using savings to pay for her own food, medical treatment and self-improvement initiatives, and says she is still too sick to take on paid employment. She had a long course of expensive CBT which doesn't seem to have helped, and she can't afford to continue or try other therapies. I have been encouraging her to find work and recently asked her to contribute to the bills, but she exploded with rage, saying that she can't afford it and I should be caring for her. I have asked myself whether I am in a co-dependent or enabler role, whether I am 'trauma bonded' or whether I am being stingy or uncaring.

Childhood Trauma survivors are said to have trouble setting boundaries and standing up for themselves. And yet I am trying to navigate a loved-one who I believe may have BPD. I've just read the advice: "Try to make the person with BPD feel heard. Don't point out how you feel that they're wrong, try to win the argument, or invalidate their feelings, even when what they're saying is totally irrational." Helping Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder - HelpGuide.org

For me as a trauma survivor who has tried hard to learn how to stand up for himself, this looks a lot like advice to set weak boundaries, rolling over and inviting ever more verbal abuse. Even when what they're saying is totally irrational, I am supposed to validate it?

Any thoughts very welcome.
 

Sideways

Moderator
Even when what they're saying is totally irrational, I am supposed to validate it?
For me, communication with someone who has BPD is all about the active listening.

"I hear you saying that you feel..." is a question. It's letting them know you're listening, you care, and you want to know that you're understanding them right.

That leads nicely into validation. I validate feelings, because feelings aren't necessarily rational (very often they aren't). If she's afraid or angry about something, she's afraid or angry (anger is often the secondary emotion, and with BPD, it's very often the safer thing to feel than afraid, so anger often means "afraid, but too afraid to let on I'm afraid").

Validating irrational arguments? Irrational conclusions? Nup, nope, never. That's dysfunctional relationship territory.
this looks a lot like advice to set weak boundaries, rolling over and inviting ever more verbal abuse.
Boundaries are something you set. They aren't necessarily something she's going to py any attention to if there's no consequences for ignoring your boundaries, but it isn't necessary to actually engage in arguments about them.

Some assertive communication and dialogue about issues can help us determine where we are going to set our boundaries. But having got that input from her, boundaries are something you'd go away and think about, decide on, work through how you'll deal with any failure to respect those boundaries, and then communicate to her.

For example: one of mt boundaries is "I'm not going to talk to you if you're yelling at me". The consequence is easy - she starts yelling, I walk out. As long as I'm consistent with that follow through we're ahead. She may or may not continue to yell at me, but she can rely on me walking out when she does.

Boundaries like "you need to contribute $200 to the rent each week" are going to be harder. But the fundamentals are much the same.
 

Applecore

Learning
Thank you. It's an interesting thought, to focus on feelings rather than what was said. It's something I would have to go through a change of attitude to take on, because I believe strongly that words matter - without words mattering we would have no concept of agreement or consent, for example. That said, we all sometimes say things we don't mean, so perhaps I can get off my high horse about the sanctity of words - especially that I am capable of tactless use of words myself. After all, I must admit that when I asked her to contribute money to the home, there was of course a lot more behind my words: I want her avert becoming ever more dependent on me and for her to find an independent source of income for her health as well as mine.

Perhaps that is one way forward. Instead of focusing on what nonsense she said about me during her explosion, I can try to understand that she felt rejected, abandoned or unloved by me when I asked her to contribute. Unfortunately, her feelings might have been something else: perhaps she knew I want her to earn a living rather than sit at home all day rent free, and perhaps what she really wants is to sit at home all day rent free. And here's the problem - if words have less meaning than feelings, we're having to guess what the feelings are, and we may be wrong.
 

Friday

Moderator
I've just read the advice: "Try to make the person with BPD feel heard. Don't point out how you feel that they're wrong, try to win the argument, or invalidate their feelings, even when what they're saying is totally irrational." Helping Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder - HelpGuide.org

For me as a trauma survivor who has tried hard to learn how to stand up for himself, this looks a lot like advice to set weak boundaries, rolling over and inviting ever more verbal abuse. Even when what they're saying is totally irrational, I am supposed to validate it?
If one takes it in the same sense of “don’t try to have a rational discussion with someone in the middle of a panic attack”? … what the article is writing about will make more sense.

The rest of the article you linked drilled down on the importance of boundaries, self care, not co-signing bullshit, etc.

That one sections that seems to contradict the entire rest of the article? Reads to me far more as post-crisis-management. After things have already calmed down, and the person is no longer freaking the f*ck out, but talking about when they WERE freaking the f*ck out.
 
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