Dealing with a divorce is a process that is undoubtedly fraught with emotional pain, stress, uncertainty, feelings of helplessness, and deep-seated financial concerns. However, the process is much more intense and painful if you happen to find yourself in a relationship with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder. Borderline Personality Disorder or "BPD" affects 2% of the adult population, and is actually more common than Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. If you suspect that you are in a relationship with someone who has BPD, it is important to learn as much as you can so that you are equipped with the right tools and frame of mind to cope with the impending divorce. This is especially true if you have children in common with a person who has BPD, because you will need to know how to handle not only your own future dealings with that person, but also how to ease the path for your children. Note that BPD is a difficult disorder to diagnose. However, the American Psychiatric Association publishes a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) which provides diagnostic criteria for mental disorders including BPD.
According to the DSM-IV, Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by,
"A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by "splitting" or alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
- Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self shown by uncertainty in at least two areas. (These areas can include self-image, sexual orientation, career choice or other long-term goals, friendships, values).
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving).
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.
- Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood. (E.g. Shifts in mood; intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
- Chronic feelings of emptiness or worthlessness.
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
- Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms."
As these criteria indicate, dealing with a person with BPD is extremely difficult and may even be emotionally wrenching. Please be aware that even if you do find out that the person you once loved has Borderline Personality Disorder, you are not alone. We urge you to take the steps necessary to learn as much as you can about the disorder; whether it is consulting with professionals in the field, reading books regarding the topic, or researching the disorder online. There are also many support groups which you may join to help guide you as you work to try and protect yourself and your family during this difficult time.
For more information, below are recommend reading and links to various resources which you may find useful:
"I Hate You, Don't Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality" by Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D., and Hal Straus.
*National Institute of Mental Health
*Borderline Personality Disorder Central - A site for information and support for family and friends of someone suffering with BPD.
*Borderline Personality Disorder, Family: Facing the Facts, When a loved one has Borderline Personality - Support for the Family and Partners.