The Five Stages of Discovery for Family Members
| Paul Mason. MS, CPC, and Randi Kreger
Excerpt from Stop Walking on Eggshells
Sidebar: A Reader's Response
A Family Members Discovery and Reaction to Borderline Personality Disorder
People who love someone with Borderline Personality Disorder seem to go through similar stages in their discovery and learning about the disorder and the recovery of their own lives. The longer the relationship has lasted, the longer each stage seems to take. Although these stages are listed in the general order in which people go experience them, most people move back and forth among the different stages.
This generally occurs before a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is known. Family members struggle to understand why borderlines sometimes behave in ways that seem to make no sense. They look for solutions that seem elusive, blame themselves, or resign themselves to living in chaos. Even after learning about BPD, it can take family members (sometimes referred to as "non-BPs") weeks or months to really comprehend on an intellectual level how the Borderline Person is personally affected by this complex disorder. It can take even longer to absorb the information on an emotional level.
Outer-Directed Stage - Focus on the Person with Borderline Personality Disorder
In this stage, non-borderlines turn their attention toward the person with the disorder, urging them to seek professional help, attempting to get them to change, and trying their best not to trigger problematic behavior. People at this stage usually learn all they can about BPD in an effort to understand and empathize with the person they care about. It can take family members a long time to acknowledge feelings of anger and grief--especially when the Borderline Person is a parent or child. Anger is an extremely common reaction, even though most family members understand on an intellectual level that Borderline Personality Disorder is not the borderline's fault. Yet because anger seems to be an inappropriate response to a situation that may be beyond the borderline's control, family members often suppress their anger and instead experience depression, hopelessness, and guilt. The chief tasks for family members in this stage include acknowledging and dealing with their own emotions, letting the Borderline Person take responsibility for their own actions, and giving up the fantasy that the Borderline Person will behave as the family members would like them to.
Inner-Directed Stage - Focus on Ones Self
Eventually, family members look inward and conduct an honest appraisal of themselves. It takes two people to have a relationship, and the goal for family members in this stage is to better understand their role in making the relationship what it now is. The objective here is not self-recrimination, but insight and self-discovery.
Armed with knowledge and insight, family members struggle to make decisions about the relationship. This stage can often take months or years. Family members in this stage need to clearly understand their own values, beliefs, expectations, and assumptions. For example, one man with a physically violent borderline wife came from a conservative family that strongly disapprove of divorce. His friends counseled him to separate from her, but he felt unable to do so because of his concern about how his family would react. You may find that your beliefs and values have served you well throughout your life. Or you may find that you inherited them from your family without determining whether or not they truly reflect who you are. Either way, it is important to be guided by your own values--not someone else's.
In this final stage, family members implement their decisions and live with them. Depending upon the type of relationship, some family members may, over time, change their minds many times and try different alternatives.
When it comes to chosen relationships, we found that the Borderline Person's willingness to admit they had a problem and seek help was by far the determining factor as to whether the couple stayed together or not... If you are looking at this right now, know that you are not alone.
Stop Walking on Eggshells - Paul Mason, M.S., C.P.C, Randi Kreger
Paul Mason, M.S., C.P.C, is a co-author of "Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About has Borderline Personality Disorder." Mason is currently the program manager of Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services at St. Luke's Hospital in Racine, Wis. In addition, as a psychotherapist, he specializes in treating people with borderline personality disorder and their families.
Mason earned his Bachelor's Degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin and his Master's Degree in clinical psychology from Marquette University. He is a member of the American Counseling Association and the North American Association for Masters in Psychology (NAMP).
Randi Kreger is an author and freelance writer. More