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Gunnel Bobbing with a Borderline Personality Disorder

October 14, 2013

He describes a vivacious woman, someone to whom he felt immediately attracted, but is somewhat confused about this too, at times wondering if it was she who was immediately attracted to him. In any case, their immediate infatuation was intense and intoxicating. He never felt so quickly part of a woman’s life before. She as much told him how wonderful he made her feel and he in turn felt great.

During this infatuation stage, it felt like there was a permanency about it. It felt as if this was a love that would last forever. Within a matter of weeks, they were talking about their future and impressively, their goals and values seemed in harmony.

He recalled when things started to change. His attention had been off work and on her. His work began to suffer and he needed to refocus.

She wondered why she seemed to slip in terms of his priorities. It didn’t take her long to mention her dissatisfaction with his attention diverted from her. He explained and she pouted.

With little appreciation of his need to attend to his responsibilities, she took his change as a reflection on her and their relationship. It got worse. He was chastised for turning cold and uncaring when all he was doing was his best to keep up with a growing mountain of work.

By this time they were living together.

Whereas prior absences were met with intense lovemaking, these more recent absences were met with resentment and withdrawal. He would explain himself to her and she would help him to understand himself as self-centered and selfish.

He accepted her view of himself and sought to change. She was enamored and returned to her adulation of him. Perfect harmony once again.

Work again resurfaced with pressing need for time and attention. He felt like he was slave to two masters with no measure of balance. Like a man standing on the two sides of a canoe, he was gunnel bobbing, shifting back and forth between competing expectations and needs for attention.

As time went on, her consternation grew. As her consternation grew, she became more vicious in her comments. He of course would vacillate between trying to appease and then get angry himself and at times explode and at times withdraw.

They were well past the infatuation stage in what now appeared as a toxic highly charged and volatile relationship. As things continued, she would vilify him yet clung to the relationship. She would present him as abusive, passive aggressive, emotionally cold and withholding. She would do this with venom in her voice and at times so distraught so as to be depressed and suicidal. It was his entire fault as she told it. She of course felt justified in her rebuke of him and even her abusive manner in letting him know.

He felt trapped, responsible and scared. He did not understand how something that started out feeling so good, transposed into something where he didn’t even recognize himself let alone her.

When it was good, it was great and when it was bad, it was disastrous.

Such is life with someone who has a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). One minute you are on top and the next, you are not only yesterday’s news; you don’t rate as wrapping for the trash.

Persons with BPD (predominantly women) show tremendous instability in their interpersonal relationships. From their perspective, you are either for them, or against them and it doesn’t take much of anything to create a drastic swing in terms of how they value you. For some, there might not have even been a real transgression on the part of the partner as much as a misinterpretation of even distorted interpretation on the part of the one with BPD.

This is crazy making and off-putting to say the least and very often there is little recourse or much one can do to right the perceived wrong. The fellow cannot win for losing.

In the event your partner is unable to appreciate issues originating with herself, there may be no way to live with or even extricate yourself from the relationship unscathed. The real challenge in terms of either living with or leaving from a relationship with someone with BPD, is to maintain behavior that is beyond reproach.

Do not engage recklessly; do not seek retribution; do not expect to set any record straight. Maintain your civility. Do not impose yourself, even if caringly upon the person with BPD because even well intentioned behavior, if imposed, will run the risk of being seen as controlling and again put you at risk of being vilified.

The challenge in maintaining a relationship with someone with BPD is being still and at ease in the midst of turmoil and their castigating behavior. It becomes a greater challenge to remain still and at ease even if their behavior escalates to self-harm, threat of suicide or actual suicidal behavior.

Do not accept what is inappropriate, yet do not behave offensively in return. Therein as you remain balanced, the person with BPD may then return to a closer state of balance too, but no guarantees. Gunnel bobbing is a way of life for those who seek to maintain a relationship with someone with BPD. Try to hold steady yourself. Get help for yourself to understand the nature of this disorder and if you are seeking to maintain the relationship and your partner poses a risk to herself or others, get help for her. Safety first, her consternation second.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847 

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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3 Comments
  1. As I child I could not wind fr losing. (BPD mother.) it took most of my life to date (60+) to recover from all that flowed from her wounded BPD mothering. But it is well to note that rater than destroying my capacity for empathy, it seems to have fed it. Fueled it, even.

  2. This is interesting piece of information, Gary. Thanks but it seems to conflict with my thoughts of people who are negative minded and cannot seem to value theirselves enough to derive a constructive positive attitude to life but always seeing the negativity of everything in life and not wanting to change or improve theirselves. Will you say they are BFD?

    How can you differentiate both symptoms of the people?

  3. I was a social worker until I retired two years ago. I had many clients suffering from BPD, and I totally agree with Gary’s analysis of how to have any sort of relationship with them, even if it is not an intimate one, but professional. I found the only way to sustain this relationship was to stay calm, neutral, and not to react emotionally. Very difficult to do!

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