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Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life © A.J. Mahari March 2010

Change Your Life - Change Your Thoughts Ebook by A.J. Mahari

Punishment and Revenge in BPD Ebook by A.J. Mahari © A.J. Mahari 2010

Punishment and Revenge in BPD Ebook by A.J. Mahari

Full Circle - Lessons For Non Borderlines Ebook by A.J. Mahari © A.J. Mahari 2007

Full Circle - Lessons For Non Borderlines Ebook by A.J. Mahari

The Power of Gratitude - Healing - Recovery - Wellness and Getting Unstuck © A.J. Mahari December 2010

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Quest For Self - Building Conscious Self Awareness - Ebook/Coaching Guide/Workbook and Audio © A.J. Mahari January 2011

Quest For Self - Building Conscious Self Awareness Ebook and Audio by A.J. Mahari


Incapable of Intimacy: The Borderline Push/Pull

Borderlines are incapable of intimacy which leaves non borderlines experiencing borderline push-pull which can be crazy-making. By the very nature of BPD, borderlines as the result of their defense mechanisms of splitting, projection, and narcissism, can't help but push-pull. When those with untreated Borderline Personality Disorder try to get close to someone - attain emotional intimacy - they immediately fear engulfment so they push away or push the non borderline away. On the other hand, or relatively quickly and perhaps within the same interaction, the slightest moving out or distance taken by someone upon whom they feel dependant sends the borderline flying back to pulling for more that very closeness they just had to repel. Until and unless a borderline gets adequate treatment and begins to change and recover from BPD (to some extent) he or she is simply not capable of consistent, congruent, age-appropriate emotional intimacy. Something that many non borderlines continue to remain in denial about and hope against hope about. © A.J. Mahari - added November 10, 2007.


This article examines the borderline push/pull that is a hallmark of BPD when a borderline tries to be emotionally intimate with a lover or friend. It was written in answer to questions from a non-borderline.


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I was asked this question on an email list by a non borderline:

A non-borderline asks: "Can you to talk in more depth about the experience of push/pull in intimacy -- what it is like for the non-borderline and how does a borderline hurt them with his/her behavior?"

Firstly, I think it prudent to mention that when one is in the throes of BPD (and certainly within the throes of a triggered "reality" -- meaning acting out of the past --dissociated to one degree or another from the "here and now") that often there is not much if any true insight or understanding into just how one's behaviour is effecting someone else; or that it is at all. This is part and parcel of the narcissistic reality of the borderline. Again, as I have pointed out in other articles, one of the major ways that BPD effects borderlines is by preventing or stunting their emotional growth/maturity. So much of the borderline's behaviour (especially when triggered) stems from the narcissistic child-like reality of being the centre of the universe. The borderline does not think or feel this way to be cruel but because they have not matured and developed, emotionally, beyond this conception.

In hindsight now I can say that it can take a lot of gut-wrenching work to understand exactly how one is hurting a non-borderline partner (or friend) with their behaviour. Some borderlines may have fleeting (inconsistent) insight into this from time to time but overall the borderline's preoccupation and or obsession with (what is essentially the absence of) self makes it next to impossible for him/her to be aware of much emotionally beyond what they are feeling and experiencing.

In my healing this was one of the last insights to come -- it was grief-filled and one of the most difficult ones to integrate. Realizing how I had treated (and hurt) others (those who cared about me and loved me) was very painful. It was something that didn't mesh with who I knew myself to be at all. Though I take full responsibility for how I did hurt others it was never my intention to do so.

For me, at core, the push/pull in intimacy came out three things:

1) A shifting sense of reality: The past and the here and now melding together too often....therefore my past partners would become one of my parents....in my psyche and I would then respond in the now to them (then) the ways in which I responded to my parents as a child/teen. I would be triggered back and not catch on to the trigger until I had already "acted out" my past and done damage to a loved one.


2) Not knowing how to take care of myself: I did not have the mental health or the maturity to identify my own needs and then meet them myself. It was my shifting of this responsibility onto others that caused me to be needy and demanding. It was this neediness and demanding along with the inherent perceived/learned helplessness that led me to pull for what I though was intimacy (someone else meeting my needs was my borderline definition subconsciously). When the intimacy was not what I wanted it to be I would then push it away and be angry and full of rage, feel hurt and cheated and then want to get even with the person for that. (I did not understand this when I was doing it though)

3)Ambivalence: (and an unstable sense of identity) believing and not believing I was really loved or cared for and about... up until a couple of years ago it was still next to impossible for me to hold the big picture. (To appreciate what was really happening in any given interaction between me and someone else -- overall as opposed to what I perceived as happening from a narcissistic point of view) So in the absence of the big picture, and seeing only bits and pieces of it I could not consistently hold (or remain aware of) what was in fact, transpiring between my significant other and me....old paranoid, non-trusting thoughts that they were trying to "f___" with me would keep coming up. (Thoughts that were born out of the damage of all the abuse I suffered as a child at the hands of my parents.)

The reason a borderline engages in push/pull behaviour is simple (yet to truly understand it when borderline is complex) Intimacy in my youth was what *SO* hurt, damaged and wounded me. (and many borderlines) It wasn't really intimacy but it was all I understood intimacy to be. So what happened as I got older (still not maturing emotionally due to the BPD) was that I (like anyone) wanted/craved intimacy....but the second I got some I was terrified that my past was going to happen all over again. (That I would feel annihilated) This, then.....along with my own ambivalence and lack of emotional maturity saw me conjure up certain thoughts (based upon fears that were based upon past experience with what I thought intimacy was) that would then lead me to strike out either because I misperceived stuff and felt I was being hurt or lied to and or because I had already made up (what was at the time) my very cognitively-distorted mind about what the other person was doing or was about to do to me.




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This distortion, the belief (based on nothing but the past) that the person, in the here and now, is going to "get you" then leads a borderline to "act out" --push away....after pulling you in...and the entire thing (the distorted fear of the borderline) then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can take years to come to own and understand this though. A big part of BPD is the distorted thinking. In the throes of distorted thinking one *CANNOT* see that it is oneself and not the other (non-borderline) that is doing the pushing and pulling and that is causing pain and heartache to a person that they claim to love and who is trying to love them. (Thus causing themselves more pain at the same time)

It's as if a person loving a borderline is a hot burner. And the borderline, in childhood got really burned on that burner....well...the borderline both needs the heat from that burner but very much fears that burner.....so in this dilemma then the borderline approaches the burner....seeks the heat, but once close enough to be warmed gets overwhelmed and terrified (perhaps the level of heat is too great and or not what the borderline expected or wanted that minute) and so pushes away from the burner.....or pushes the burner away from them.

After some time passes the borderline gets cold again and fear and all needs to bring that burner, that heat, closer again...and so the cycle goes.

When I was involved in push/pull in a relationship I would literally through my need bring a partner closer. Once they had moved in closer I would realize that they couldn't meet my needs for me (though when in the throes of BPD I did not understand this). Upon realizing they couldn't meet my needs (and no one can meet the basic needs of another-I didn't know this then) there would be the anger of an infant left alone, terrified and screaming in a crib ....hungry, thirsty and with skin hunger, longing to be touched and held....and the push...the "I don't care", the "f___ off" the "screw you"; all of which really are what the borderline is saying about their own relationship to self at that given moment, would follow. It was the pain of realizing that my needs couldn't be met by this person that (again I was not consciously aware of this then) would cause the push as I felt overwhelmed, annihilated and furious that I was being left alone with in the company of all of my own unmet needs. Instead of understanding that I had to meet my own needs and that I had to take personal responsibility for myself I (for years) continued to transfer this onto a significant other (as if they were a parent instead of a partner) When I told a partner or friend to "get lost" I was "losing myself" too.


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The point I really want to make here is that until a certain amount of healing is done and or insight is acquired by a borderline they are just NOT capable of intimacy. To expect that they are is to set yourself up. The non-borderline is looking for and expecting adult intimacy in a relationship while the borderline is trying to find the parent (s) they never had and is seeking to be re-parented.

Push/pull is the ultimate expression of borderline ambivalence and it is born out of intra-psychic terror. It is not something designed to just hurt the non-borderline. In different ways it hurts both the borderline and the non- borderline.

I hurt my significant others with push/pull by being demanding: making demands that they could not possibly meet (again I didn't know that then) and then when they did not meet my demands and take care of me etc (and at that point in my life it was *ALL* about ME) I would lash out. The mindset was, well, you "screwed me" so "I'll get you". When I was borderline and needy like that my partner's inability to meet my needs.....or in essence to be my parent was a major trigger back to all that my parents didn't do that they "should" have done. It would trigger the loss and if one is not in a place to feel and to deal with one's pain it is then thrust out onto the one closest.

In my past I was emotionally and physically abusive to a partner (years ago) because I projected my stuff/past and my feelings of helplessness and lack of control onto her. (And because I did not, at that time, take responsibility for my feelings and my pain) She then, in effect, the closer she got to me (the more I "needed" her) became the "monster" in the closet...in my mind...when really (as I well know now) the "monster" was my unchecked emotions and my failure to take adult personal responsibility for my own stuff and feelings. The monster is not the borderline it is the borderline's inability to take personal responsibility and to clearly differentiate the past from the "here and now". The "monster" is the damage that was done to the borderline as a child and the "monster" is BPD, itself.



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I would name call, belittle her and play tons of head games. I was manipulative. I left this relationship almost four years ago now. I think I have just gotten over most of the grief for how badly I hurt this person in the last year or so. I have finally forgiven myself. Regardless of what happened there comes a time (once you've owned your behaviour and mistakes) when you have to realize that you did do the best you could do with what you had or knew.

I would like non-borderlines to know that (as was the case for me) I believe that borderlines (many, maybe not all) deep down care greatly about the hurt that they perpetuate against you. (When they are aware of it -- when they can see it -- often borderlines will project it out onto you so that you- the non-borderline are then accused of all the actions and behavoiur of the borderline) In order for the push/pull to stop the borderline must take responsibility for it.

In summary, though I was not consciously aware of this then, I "needed" to hurt her as much as I hurt because she was unable to validate my pain. (Of course expecting anyone to validate or hold or take care of one's pain is childish and not realistic -- again, I know that now, but I did not know that then.) It was very much a love-hate relationship. Whenever there is love/hate someone (if not both parties) are going to be severely and repeatedly hurt. It is NOT healthy.

I was also hurting myself through her which is the ultimate narcissistic reality. A borderline, so lost to self, often sees "other" as self and thus treats "other" the way they have been treated.....very abusively. Borderlines have all the charm and charisma in the world and are good at attracting others....they have to be because (until they heal enough to know themselves) they do not and cannot exist in the absence of the mirrored image of self that comes only from "other".

Within the realm of intimacy the borderline asks the impossible of both his/herself and the significant other in his/her life, without knowing it. Both then are destined to fail. More relationships than not are also destined to fail. Until a borderline heals to the point of the insight that I have now there is no way that they can escape the perpetuating of the push/pull cycle.

Borderline Personality Disorder, though complex, can be simplified, in the realm of the push/ pull reality when intimacy is attempted, by saying that a borderline (active throes of BPD - not yet done some healing) is incapable of adult (emotional) intimacy because the very nature of the disorder is such that they have not emotionally matured to the degree required in order for emotionally healthy-adult-intimacy to exist. To believe anything less is to set yourself up for continued heartache. And to all the non-borderlines who continue (quite understandably) to ask me if they can help "their borderline", the answer is no. "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." It is not in your best interests (or the best interests of the borderline in your life) for you to try to take on the responsibility of getting the borderline help or of leading them to the water. Borderlines have to first find the ocean that is their pain on their own and then they must learn to swim across it and to find both the professional help that they need and the help from within themselves that they need to tap into in order to get well.


© Ms. A.J. Mahari, November 26, 1999







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