Stop Walking on Eggshells

When someone in your life has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder

Borderline/Narcissistic Behavior Is Not About You

Try detaching with love

This blog entry is a small section from The Stop Walking on Eggshells Workbook, New Harbinger, 2002. It's about detaching with love, which is part of the process of acceptance. Originally conceived as a way to relate to an alcoholic family member, detachment with love is actually a tool that we can apply with anyone.

 

You do not want to be held hostage to your borderline family member's capabilities or desire to change. That means accepting the fact that seeking treatment is entirely her decision. You can tell her how your actions and words make you feel and suggest solutions. But what she does with that information is out of your hands.

What is in your hands is your emotional reactions to her borderline behaviors. As a comparison, there is a popular saying posted in many workplaces that says something like this: A crisis on your part does not necessarily mean a crisis on my part. The employees of the printshop of the hospital where I used to work posted it in an effort to step the tide of people showing up with last minute jobs that were all "very, very important."

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The implication was simple: Think through your photocopying needs a few days before a major meeting, not 20 minutes beforehand, you lumphead. If you don't, we're not obliged to put aside someone else's scheduled job and make them suffer because you didn't have the foresight to take care of it earlier. The printshop employees there set a limit--and a good one, otherwise their life would have been total chaos.

Detaching with Love

"Detaching with Love" is your own version of that saying. It does the same thing: keep your own life from becoming a series of BPD-related crises. In this case it means, "I care about you, but I recognize that you must make your own choices in life. I can love you, but I can't live your life for you. I can point you in the right direction, but I can't push you down the path."

Just like hospital employees are responsible for giving enough notice to the printshop, the BP is responsible for the crises she creates. Just like it is human nature to wait until the last minute to complete a task (ask the post office the evening of April 15), it is a BPD trait to create dramas, consciously or unconsciously. You can make those emotional dramas your problem or you can let the BP handle them as best she can (given the appropriateness of the situation and the age of the BP).

If you take responsibility for the BP's chaos, you risk reinforcing that behavior and causing yourself a lot of grief. If you let the BP handle her own problems, it's more likely that she'll learn how to take care of things herself or avoid dramas altogether.

Letting Go of the BP's Problems

The first step in detaching with love is to emotionally let go of problems that do not really involve you. Naturally, the BP will try to make it about you either directly ("This is your fault!") or indirectly (failing to get the forms to apply for college as promised and protesting that you should have done it even though the BP agreed to the task).

Once you learn to emotionally let go of what you can't control and stop letting the BP cast you as the star of his dramas, you can express love and concern while assuring the BP he can handle the dilemma by himself. If you keep doing this consistently, the BP will realize that he doesn't have to create tests to prove you love him. And when you stop covering up mistakes, cleaning up messes, and taking responsibility for his problems, he can begin to grow emotionally and begin taking real responsibility for himself.

Detaching with love starts with you. You must truly convince yourself that you are not responsible for another person’s disorder or recovery from it--even if that person is your child. Naturally if the BP is under 18, you will have to use your own common sense and make your detachment age appropriate. But no matter how old the BP is, you do not have to let the BP see you get flustered, upset, or lose control. The calmer you are and the more you can let him take responsibility, the more you will reinforce that he is capable of taking care of the problem himself.

Remember it's Detaching "With Love"

It's important to remember the "with love" part. Detaching with love is not a way of treating someone one else, judging them, controlling their action, or implying approval or disapproval. If the world were a store and someone came up to you looking for the auto parts section, detaching would be like saying, "I'm sorry, but I'm not the sales clerk. I don't know where the auto parts are; perhaps you can find a sales clerk at the customer service counter." It's not saying, "Let me find out for you," and it's not snapping "Do you see me wearing a uniform? No? Then leave me alone!"


Exercise: Learning to Detach with Love

Coauthor Paul Shirley first learned this Action Step at a retreat intended to nurture spiritual development. However, because it can serve as a powerful catalyst to help individuals free themselves from old entrenched patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, he is offering three different versions so you can find one with language that makes you comfortable. Feel free to rephrase the wording if need be so the Action Step feels more comfortable for you.

 
Think of the first name of the person from whom you would like to detach. Use the person's first name whether or not that is how you would ordinarily address that person, such as, for example, your parents. I will use the name "Joe" as an example. Now repeat the following sentence in one of the three formats. You may repeat it out loud, or silently in your imagination:

Format 1: "I release Joe into God's care, and Joe releases me into God's care."
Format 2: "I release Joe to the Light, and Joe releases me to the Light."
Format 3: "I release Joe to his own highest good, and Joe releases me to my own highest good."

Take about 20 seconds to concentrate on this message, and repeat the sentence several times. Some people experience an immediate sensation of inner peacefulness. If you wish to, savor them for longer than 20 seconds. Next, write down the first names of other people you need to detach from.Then, for each person, say each statement and savor it for about 20 second, then repeat it.

Detachment Phrases

Use phrases like those below to show you care, yet place the responsibility for the problem back where it belongs. Check the ones that seem most appropriate and practice them until you have them memorized and can use them in stressful situations. The more you practice them, the easier they will be to use. Since you know your own situation best, write in two other responses that follow the ones given.

_____ The BP: "Where did you put my wallet?"

_____ The non-BP: "I don't know where you put your wallet. Why don't you think about where you last used it and retrace your steps from there?"

 

_____ The BP: "It's your fault we're lost."

_____ The non-BP: "I don't feel at fault. Let's stop at the nearest gas station and you can ask for directions."

 

_____ The BP: "I can't do this. Would you do it for me?"

_____ The non-BP: "I understand it may seem overwhelming. If you break up the task into smaller pieces, it will look a whole lot more manageable."

 

_____ The BP: "There's no way I'm going to take responsibility for this! If you hadn't (done such and such), this never would have happened!"

_____ The non-BP: "I don't feel responsible, but either way, arguing is not going to solve this problem. Perhaps if you (do so such and such) this problem can be solved."

 

_____ The BP: "I can't do what I told you I'd do. Something else has come up."

_____ The non-BP: "I can see your dilemma. But you promised me you would do this last Tuesday, and I expect you to keep your promise."

 


 

Randi Kreger is the co-author of Stop Walking on Eggshells.

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