Are you in a troubled relationship? Are you heading for divorce? If so, you’re probably familiar with the terms Narcissist and Borderline Personality Disorder (aka BDP). It seems as if the decision to leave a relationship depends on your spouse having one or the other of these personality disorders. If you are a man leaving a woman, then she has to have BDP. If you are a woman leaving a man, he’s got to be a Narcissist.
It’s the battle cry of the Divorced: MY SPOUSE IS A <fill in the blank based on sex>.
I’m going to put myself out on a huge limb with this blog post. I’m willing to bet that not all men are narcissists and not all women suffer from BDP.
I may be a bit biased, and I will admit to that fact. I’m the wife who was left by my spouse and right on cue, Husband #2 accused me of having BDP. He couldn’t understand why I would get so upset over seeming little innocent activities, like his not listening to me and my feeling of invisibility as he placed a higher value on his business and our customers than he did on our marriage and me as an individual with boundaries. He felt like he was walking on eggshells, which coincidentally is the title of a book all about borderline personality disorder.
I, in turn, thought he was incredibly self-centered and narcissistic. How dare he avoid coming home after working with clients who adored him (to face my anger at his being late). How dare he want to hang out with his friend on our only day off during the week (instead of hanging out with his surly wife who was getting her buttons pushed and doing her best to push his buttons in return).
Neither of us is faultless in our behavior and I can see that clearly now. We were typical in our interactions. I can understand how Husband #2 would rather avoid coming home to my displeasure and would prefer to hang out with customers who appreciated his work and efforts. Did this make him a Narcissist? No, it just made him human.
Maybe someday Husband #2 will come to know that I was fighting for my own boundaries. Having one day off a week with him was my attempt to reconnect emotionally and his wanting to go biking with his friend on our dedicated day together was hurtful in my eyes. It’s not that I was trying to control his independent activities. It was that I was calling out that our day off was supposed to be “our day” off. He could go out with his friends any other day of the week as far as I was concerned. Was I suffering from BDP? No, I was being human.
I think we enter into a cesspool of turmoil when we try to self-diagnose our spouses. I’m not a trained therapist and neither is Husband #2. And, yet, we tried to put each other into categories that may not have been entirely accurate. Instead of seeing the good in one another, we started looking for behaviors that supported our personal hypotheses. In essence, we were traveling the road of the self-fulfilling prophecy. We treated each other in ways that would virtually guarantee that the other would confirm our own expectations of their behavior.
I can’t speak for Husband #2’s beliefs, I only know that my personal therapist laughed at the suggestion that I was suffering from BDP. Another friend, who’s son has been diagnosed with BDP for years, told me that people who casually use the BDP phrase to describe their spouses truly don’t understand the disorder and would be horrified to experience the stress of the manic emotional swings from a full blown BDP episode.
Is Husband #2 a Narcissist? Only a therapist can determine that fact and I would be doing him (and myself) a huge disservice by trying to label Husband #2 with something he’s not. So I’ve changed my approach to Husband #2. Instead of pigeon-holing him, I’ll just let him be himself.
Wendi Leer-Elias says
It does seem that the “personality disordered spouse” is the new fad. And there are certainly divorcing couples who will throw around the words either out of anger, or in an attempt to spin the divorce proceedings their way.
But that does not negate the experience of the couples where one or both of them actually have a personality disorder. It is estimated that 9.1% of the population has a diagnosable personality disorder. And due to the nature of these conditions, many sufferers go undiagnosed.
It’s important that divorcing/divorced couples and the family court system do not abuse these conditions. Both the victim of the condition and their family — most impacted are the children — live with the impact of these problems every day. To accuse someone to gain advantage, or to use the labels as epithets is insulting to these families.
Let’s refrain from throwing around labels and help those who actually have a mental disorder.
Déjà Vow says
Absolutely spot on.
X DeRubicon says
If I had read all the way down to your comment, I wouldn’t have posted. Well said.
Wendi, how do you help someone with a personality disorder? I think most psychologists would tell you that most personality disorders are untreatable or highly resistant to treatment. If you’ve never been the target of a person with a personality disorder I think it is really hard to understand how soul crushing it really is. A PD spouse will use every trick in the book to destroy your soul and your kid’s soul. I do not have a whole lot of sympathy for people with real personality disorders. They are subhuman monsters most of the time. I do, however have a lot of compassion for their spouses and children. It is not my intention to be difficult here, it is my intention to clearly stand up for victims of ongoing abuse.
Stacey Freeman says
Thank you for writing this article. Well said.
Julie Boyd Cole says
Dear Deja Vow,
I appreciate your article and the effort to write it. Unfortunately I wish that all high-conflict relatioships could be attributed to frustrated name-calling and angry hyperbole. And when a couple of gals are venting over a glass of wine, those names may not mean much and looking in the mirror and reading your piece will help.
But, sadly, the statistics show a different story. A large percentage, some studies show as much as 85%, of male-initiated custody suits are started by abusive men, who too often win full custody from their victims. Another study shows that personality disorders are thought to be driving disportionately a large number of divorces. While yet another statistic shows that a disportionate number of divorces are caused by violent abuse or exploitive behavior of one spouse over another.
The statistic that show most divorce happens when two emotionally healthy people make a decisionto part is much harder to find.
In a society where we still have laws on the books that allow rapists to co-parent with their victims, or violent parents to have free rein to continue abuse through family court at the expense of the kids, I’m not sure I’m ready to agree that the pendulium has swung too far toward over-used diagnosis. I think our society is just beginning to understand the personality disorders in general and those that drive divorce. Changes are, when we speak to a divorced spouse, we are hearing about real pain, trauma and unhealth that needs attention.
We are still living in a world where too many women live with traumatizing abuse because they can’t find anyone to support their cry for help or sadly, because a society who tells them it is their own bed to lie in. Or worse, to work on themselves in order to cause their abuser to change.
Here are what many experts are saying more and more:
1. Victims of abusive relationship are never the cause.
2. Abusers don’t seek help, so they continue abusing, even after divorce and 65% of the time, their kids.
3. Couples therapy is not only ineffective with abusers, but can actually make the abuse worse.
4. Victims of abuse spend most of their lives blaming themselves, believing they played a part and really just wanted a fanstasy of a loving relationship that eluded them despite many attempts to make it better.
I really enjoy reading your pieces, so I hope I haven’t hyjacked your well-through article, but I know too many women who are suffering deeply because too many judges, lawyers, family, parent coordinators and friends assume that their cries for help are the emotional rants of an hysterical woman desperately clinging to children or ready to take their husbands for a ride. Unfortunately, there are just not enough advocates for those who really do deal with narcissist abuse, domestic violence, bipolar disorders and borderline personalities. There is no law that addresses this well or family court judge that wants to delve into evidence-based rulings. Instead, we live in a society where victims are more likely to hear “Get over it,” or “No its time to move on.” If only it were that easy.
Sadly it doesn’t.
Déjà Vow says
Thank you for your thoughtful comments!
One thing that I’m always amazed by is the willingness to “self-diagnose” our spouses. Even when my therapist proclaimed that I was not BPD, Husband #2 was skeptical…after all, something had to be seriously wrong with me.
I think becomes easy to categorize another person and make them fit into a mold. We purposely or subconsciously look for the incidents that support our point of view.
In no way do I doubt there are people who hide their real selves when out in public, only to turn abusive behind closed doors. Husband #1 was like that for me, explosive behind the scenes yet oh so nice and mild in front of others. Only his mother and step-father ever saw the angry person.
It’s enough to make one feel crazy…
Julie Boyd Cole says
So sorry for that horrible experience. It sucks, doesn’t it. And we have a long way to go in solving the ills of society, don’t we! But, in the end, gratitude and forgiveness is the way to go. I’m also sorry that you were blamed by husband #2. That couldn’t have felt good.
I really learn a lot from your blog. Keep writing. Your story helps us all grow!
I completely agree with all that you have posted here. I do think a large majority of divorces are caused by abusers. I don’t think it was the intention of the article to dismiss this but it is articles and attitudes like this that keep people in abusive marriages. Women sometimes stay in abusive marriages because they don’t think others will believe them because many times they really aren’t believed and the attitude of articles like these do not help that. My ex husband was a cruel emotionally abusive man. I think he is probably a narcissist because he deeply lacks any empathy or compassion for me or our kids. I’m betting he will never get diagnosed because people with personality disorders rarely do. Dr. George Simon who has studied personality disorders for 30 years stopped labeling people with PD and just put them on the “character disturbed spectrum.” His work is excellent and I highly recommend reading his books. He says the vast majority of divorces are caused by people on this spectrum. If the author of this article had been labeled unfairly that is not ok either but it is always good to balance these type of stances with acknowledging that there are many spouses out there that are truly abusive, label or no label and we should support victims of this and not just dismiss it as a ranting wife or husband.
X DeRubicon says
I’ve been out with a couple of women who freely toss out these labels when describing their ex. For one of them, I’m pretty sure that it’s true, but the other’s I put in the “short hand” catagory. I asked one, how long was he in treatment before you divorced? Oh, he never got treatment. Oh, it’s what your counselor (who’s never met him) said he might have based on your one sided description. Short hand. I get it. He’s a giant pain, based on your criteria and perspective.
Really, only 15% of men seeking custody are not abusive? The mind boggles.
Déjà Vow says
Gender aside, if someone wants to complain about and categorize their ex-spouse, clearly they have not moved on yet. A huge red flag for anyone approaching a possible relationship with the complainer. Move along….