This is part 9 of my second series about the similarities and differences between those with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. For the second series, here is part 1. Here is part 2. Here is part 3. Here is part 4, part 5 , 6, 7, and 8. T o see a list of the 10 parts of the first series, click here and view the top of the post.
If you found yourself choosing the unhealthy answers, you probably have a controlling partner, and/or one who believes that he should have more power than you. This may be overt, with him just saying so, or covert, done in a more passive-aggressive way (see the examples below).
No matter how much you share your values with her and try to explain, she just seems to be coming from a different place. And as time passes you begin to wonder who's really right, and if you're as controlling as she says you are (she's really projected her own stuff onto you, but once again you're at a loss, frustrated and confused).
As you know by now, people with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders have very specific child-like needs they may not even understand. For example, narcissists need their narcissistic supply and sense of superiority; they have an image, the False Self, that must be maintained at all times. It takes quite a bit of manipulation to maintain the right environment.
People with BPD need to regulate their emotions and keep you at the proper distance: not too close, not too far away. They must protect themselves from abandonment and being alone. They don't have sophisticated interpersonal skills to get what they want, so they use techniques (such as suicide threats) that lead others to feel manipulated.
You have your own reasons for submitting to them. You may be afraid they will abandon you, you want to keep the family together, it's for the kids, you have religious beliefs that tell you to hang on, you may be primed for this kind of behavior from childhood, you hope things will change one day, you're trying to fix them, you like the sex, you're afraid of retaliation, and you aren't financially set.
Also, you think they're just under stress and things will get back to normal, you feel sorry for them because of their abusive childhood, you're trauma-bonded or have the Stockholm syndrome, you think this is normal, you think they may be right, you don't like confrontation, you don't know how to set boundaries, and you pride yourself on your giving nature. Or all of the above. And even if you put up a protest, you know nothing would come from it but a major argument.
But there is a price to pay: your beliefs about what is normal are getting skewed and twisted—and you know this on some level when you have enough strength to think about it. You don't feel safe. You're keeping secrets from friends and family. You don't feel joy in life any more, and the person you first fell in love with doesn't resemble this person you're living with.
If you are the codependent sort, you may also be trying to control things in your own way. For example, a woman says:
I think I handed over the power in our relationship in the beginning. I used to let him make all the decisions and went along with everything because I was afraid of speaking up for myself. That created problems later when I got stronger and didn't want to go along with everything. He felt betrayed when I finally told him that I didn't really like watching a certain television show, because I'd told him early on that I loved the same shows that he did. It made him wonder what else about me wasn't authentic, and we had several tangles about that kind of thing—what kind of bread we buy, how often we travel, what we do on holidays. It was really my own fault for not saying how I felt right from the start. That was my way of controlling things, as he's often pointed out.
Other stories about power and control:
JOHN: She got control by screaming, yelling threatening, acting out. In essence, she did so by acting as one would expect a child under the age of three or four to behave. She lacked verbal skills when out of control, lacked any degree of respect for what are appropriate and reasonable boundaries when it came to observing mine. She wailed unintelligible demands and threats, with no intent of rationality to them. As with a screaming infant, her demands for attention were such that I was unable to ignore them.
CHERYL: He had to know where I was and what I was doing or else he could not relax. He would get in rage if I did not answer my phone even if I was on the phone with someone else.
JOANNIE: He is just driven to try to control life to be as close to his perfect image of what it should be. I think he learned this in part from his family. I think he has a great fear of things not being perfect and this fear drives him to try to control.
BRAD: My wife had to control EVERYTHING; from the television to what restaurant we ate at, at what time. She had all the power, controlling me with rage, bullying me with fear tactics and sleep deprivation, as well as isolation from friends and family. All of my actions had to be dictated by her, even going to sleep was not a decision that I could make for myself without drawing fire. When I finally told her that I was leaving her she was astonished that I had made that decision without her!
KAREN: He cannot face the world or people. He is terrified to 'be exposed' as he mentioned himself. This has made him very anxious in social settings. Sadly, this means that he is inadvertently in charge of who and when friends come to visit.
CLEO: I find myself adjusting repeatedly to suit my husband's new lines of thought and future plans. Interestingly, he is aware of his impulsive, "erratic" behavior and always feels very guilty after he can see how much I have had to change things around to suit his new needs. It's quite sad to see and I wish I could take it away instantly, but I can't I know. Even if I had the power to do so, I am very well aware that it is not up to me to make these changes. I am nothing more than an observer, watching on helplessly.
LEON: She always had to choose where we went to eat and what we watched on TV or what movies we went to see. She would often say, "You pick, I am tired of the responsibility of choosing everything, I want your opinion." So I would pick and then she would say, "Oh, I am not hungry for that, or I don't want to watch that show, or I don't want to see that movie." It was nuts. I would look at her and say, "I do choose or give my opinion and you almost always shoot it down." She would agree and say that she just needed control of things.
BEA: She even tried to control how I had emotions, often getting upset if I didn't express myself in a certain way or a certain time frame. I can so look back and see how much I tried to build my entire existence around her and what she thought or felt. I am still trying to unravel why I let it go that far. I am a strong person and everyone has said to me that they could never understand how I let her control so much of me and my life. She is a powerful person and everyone describes her that way. I was allured by that power. I am sure it was a projection of wanting to see that in myself.
CATHARINE: He plays it like he doesn't have any control. Throughout our relationship he would "joke" that the only reason he got married was so that he didn't have to make decisions anymore. He would actively refuse to make decisions about things that affected us both, such as our finances, picking out new apartments, grocery lists, etc. By refusing to make any sort of decision, he was controlling who in the house had the responsibility for making all decisions. He'd also refer to me as the "house manager "or "social secretary."
SONYA: I have 99.9% of power and control in my relationship. My husband will not make any decisions or take on any responsibility. I guess in a twisted way that controls me and forces me to be the responsible adult.
KITTY: My husband needs to have power. It was a constant power struggle in our house. If I brought up a need of mine, he would immediately twist it around so that I was "selfish" and "uncaring." When we fought, he would push the issue until I ended up in tears. I learned that I could get him to stop the sling of nastiness that he spewed forth if I cried. He figured this out too and pretty soon it stopped working. He wouldn't stop until he broke down whatever barriers I used to emotionally protect myself. At one point he raged at me because he could see me "checking out" and the thought of me not being emotionally engaged with him during a rage fueled his abandonment fears.
JENNIFER: After a fight he would basically demand an apology out of me. If I refused, saying that I felt I had nothing to be sorry for, he would start a whole new rage about how I am "emotionally selfish" and I "just don't get it." He would apologize for losing his cool, but he always had to qualify it with some sort of excuse. For example, he'd say, "I'm sorry you think I was yelling at you, which wasn't yelling, but I just can't deal when you don't answer my questions." Or "I'm sorry you think I'm mad at you, but I'm just mad at the situation."
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Randi Kreger is the owner of BPDCentral.com and the Welcome to Oz online family community. You can find her books "The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder," "The Stop Walking on Eggshells Workbook," "Stop Walking on Eggshells," and "Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist," at her store at BPDCentral.com.