Stop Walking on Eggshells: How to Deal With Borderlines

stop walking on eggshells

Stop Walking on Eggshells (2010) is a help-manual for people who have a close relationship with a borderline person.
The authors first provide an overview of the borderline personality disorder (BPD), as well as advice on coping techniques and cures.

Bullet Summary

  • BPs are slaves of their emotions and extremes in their feelings and behaviors
  • Wild swings of emotions make it difficult for BPs to stick to things and nurture long lasting relationships
  • Self-mutilation, suicide threats and the explosion of anger are common (and often tools to coerce you into paying attention to them)

Full Summary

About The Authors: Randi Kreger is the founder of BPDCentral.com, which she claims to be the largest community dedicated to borderline personality disorder. Paul T Mason is vice president of clinical services at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in Racine. His research on BPD has been published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Traits of BPD

Patients are classified as BPD when they present at least 5 traits of the following:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  2. Unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, alternating between idealization and devaluation
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self image or sense of self
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
  5. Suicidal behavior (threats, self mutilating behavior)
  6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety ranging from a few hours to a few days)
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

What BPD Means In Simple Terms

People with BPD feel and do the same as any other people do.

They just feel more intensely, and act more extremely.
Their more extreme behavior is a direct consequence of feeling more intensely coupled with a general weaker self-control.
Indeed, BPDs have difficulties in regulating their behavior.

BPD In Relationships

People with BPD look to others to provide what they can’t provide to themselves.
Such as:

  • Self-esteem
  • Approval
  • A sense of identity

They look for a nurturing caregiver with never-ending love and compassion to fill their void.

BPs are always terrified of losing a relationship (extreme anxious attachment) while at the same time they have such low self esteem that they don’t understand how anyone could be with them.
BPs have trouble differentiating between physical absence and abandonment and they can continually call their partners to reassure themselves they’re not alone.

They seek and long intimacy, but their behavior only makes intimacy more unlikely.

The best predictor for a BP to keep a relationship is to get into therapy and taking steps to cure themselves.

Communication Misunderstanding

BPs often misread messages in the most negative way possible.

For example, if you cancel a date because you had to work longer, they might jump to the conclusion that you don’t want to see them ever again because you don’t love them anymore.

If you say you are so proud of your daughter, your BP wife might hear that you love your daughter more than her.

For BPs it’s hard to understand that you might need to cancel and still wanted to see them.
Or even deeper, that you can might be angry with them right now, but still overall love them.

Why BPs Self-Mutilate

The reasons why BPD self-mutilate vary widely, and include:

  • Feeling alive
  • Express anger at someone
  • To number themselves
  • Punish themselves and express self-loathing
  • Relieve stress and anxiety
  • Feeling in control of their pain
  • Seeking relief from emotional pain
  • Asking for help

If the self-mutilating behavior is taking too big of a toll on you, step back. The best way to support someone, in the long run, is taking care of yourself in the short run.

Suicides (Threats)

Between 8% to 10% of people with BDP commit suicide.
Many BPs also make suicide threats without actually every attempting suicide.

When a BP is threatening suicide:

  • Don’t get into an argument whether they’re serious about dying
  • Don’t accuse them of manipulating you
  • Be cautious to give in just to prove that you care (the same will repeat again and again)

Communicating With BPs

One woman says the only way to make her anger subside is when her husband tells her:

I know you’re scared and not angry (then hugs her)

And anger melts away.

One BP recommends not to tell BP to calm down because they are not in control of their emotions and it only makes them feel worse.

Enforce Your Boundaries

It’s important that you enforce your boundaries and assert your limits for proper communication and behavior.

Don’t say that you want it like that because it’s “normal” or “expected”.
Just state it as the way you want it.

For example, you can say that when things get too intense and the BP starts screaming, you will stop the conversation and return to it later when you’re both calmer.

Stay away from arguments on whether your arguments are right or wrong.

BP: you’re a selfish / bad person
You: I understand you think I’m a bad person, but I feel good about myself and I’m proud that I respect myself enough to set this limit

Or:

BP: you must hate me
You: no I don’t. Quite the opposite. I care about you that I want to work together to make a better relationship. But I also care and respect myself, which is why I’m bringing this up

And some more proper communications:

You: There are no villains here, we just see things differently

You: I’m not willing to take more than 50% of the responsibility

You: I know you want an answer right now, but I need time to think

Whatever limits you decide to set, it’s important you don’t accept abuse and rage. It’s bad for your relationship, for your self esteem and for possible children.

3 Cs and 3 Gs

The three Cs and three Gs is a system for dealing with people affected by BPD:

  1. I didn’t cause it
  2. I can’t control it
  3. I can’t cure it

And the three Gs:

  1. Get off the BP’s back
  2. Get off the BP’s way
  3. Get on with your life

Protecting Children From BPs

If you don’t have children yet, the authors recommend you postpone children until the BP has taken steps forward in therapy.

Some of the stories in Stop Walking on Eggshells really make you understand how difficult it can be to raise children with DBP.

Children might plot against their parents or lie to cause troubles to their parents. You must also be vigilant that they don’t cause harm to other siblings.
BPs don’t know boundaries, and in the extreme that might mean abusing siblings.

But whatever happens, they say, remember that it’s the disorder that is causing the problem and that BP children need love as much as other children (and maybe more).

Love the child, hate the disorder

Distortion Campaigns

Distortion campaigns are webs of lies, false accusations and other harmful behavior the BP engages in to damage you.

It doesn’t have to be from intimate partners, and can also come from former friends.
The problems with BPs is that when you end a friendship or relationship they don’t remember the good of the relationship. Or they fail to see you as a whole person with both good and bad.
You can easily become the embodiment of everything that is bad and evil for them.

To guard against possible BP revenges, think in advance. What can they do to harm you and what can you do to defend?
With prevention don’t forget though that you might want to avoid stoking their fire with too an aggressive defensive plan.

Risk Factors for BPD

There are several biological and environmental risk factors that combine to increase the likelihood of BPD.

Environmental factors can include:

  • Abuse (albeit it’s not a major predictor)
  • Ineffective parenting (from drug use to mental illnesses)
  • Chaotic home situations
  • Sudden loss of caretaker

Stop Walking on Eggshells then goes into current medications and treatment. It says that mindfulness as part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy is very promising.

I won’t get into the medications here as new drugs and researches come out every year and a few Google searches can provide more updated information.

stop walking on eggshells

Real Life Applications

Cure Yourself
If you are a BP there are good news: people do get better. Be willing to stare at the reality of things and work on yourself, do work on increasing you your emotional intelligence (check Goleman, Tradberry).

Avoid BPs Who Blame You
BPs who yell at you, abuse you and make public drama while at the same time refusing any cure are low quality people.
Having had an experience like that, I would advise you don’t date them unless they are willing to take part of the blame and work on themselves.

CONS

Lots of Stories, Less Science
Quite frankly, I’m not sure this is a con.
I highly appreciated the author’s heavy immersion into discussion boards to get real life stories. This is not a medical text, but it’s “medical enough”.
Why did I even put it as a con then? Well, you know me… I like the resources and the data too.

BPDs Overlapping With Other Psychiatric Disorders?
The authors make some examples that seemed more on the sociopath/psychopath end of the spectrum. Like the girl at 14 who tried to hire gang members to kill her parents.

PROS

Great Overview
Very good overview of the borderline personality disorder which gives both the medical information and the practical, “day-to-day” translation of what it means.

Awesome Recommendations
The recommendations are very, very good.
Including the communication tips, they are of very high quality.

Review

I very much enjoyed “Stop Walking on Eggshells”.

Without getting too technical and clinical, it gives a very good overview of the borderline personality disorder. And it gives great suggestions and recommendations and how to handle BPs.

I had a girlfriend with BPD, and reading this book was a bit like a jump in the past. For a guy who had never experienced anything similar it was shocking to see her starting to get drunk as quickly as possible to numb the pain and get my attention.

And of course, when she started scratching her hand more and more furiously till it started (lightly) bleeding.

If you are dealing with a BP, definitely get Stop Walking on Eggshells.

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