Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Borderline and Emotional Intelligence

The Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) individual distinctively has a challenge managing emotions. Whether the emotions stem from the fear of rejection or abandonment, acting appropriately in social settings, handling children with love & affection, or spinning into manic or depressive states, the emotions of the BPD are intense, unpredictable, and volatile.

The BPD may be socially inappropriate, to the point of embarrassing those around her. Through all the books & research that I have encountered regarding BPD, I haven't heard any of the experts mention Emotional Intelligence (EI). In fact, as of 2008, the relationship between EI and BPD had only been examined in less than a hand-full of studies.

Salovey and Mayer define EQ as, "The ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth." In the most recent study (Wiley Interscience 2008), a relationship between EI and BPD was recently identified. EI was found to overlap considerably with alexithymia (an inability to experience & communicate feelings consciously and a construct associated with emotion processing & emotion regulation). The relationship between alexithymia and BPD suggest that difficulty identifying, differentiating, understanding and communicating emotions and feelings (somatic sensations) impairs ability to regulate emotions. An inability to discriminate emotions and somatic sensations explains why people with BPD who are distressed use deliberate self-harm as a means to emotion regulation.

Another study (Emotional Intelligence and Borderline Personality Disorder) suggests that the affective instability, chronic feelings of emptiness and inappropriate, intense anger of BPD are all indicative of challenges with processing emotion or low EI. Similarly, other characteristics of BPD such as impulsivity, self-harm, fear of abandonment and dissociative symptoms are abnormal responses to emotions; therefore, those with low EI might display these behaviors and characteristics due to insufficient ability to manage their emotions. Additionally, a low EI is related to all the main BPD symptoms.

I can affirmatively conclude that BPD is the contributing factor for the mess of emotions and resulting erratic behavior that my BPD mother exhibits. From a very early age, I realized how inappropriate my mother is in social settings, how she didn't manage herself very well in personal settings, and how she didn't really have a 'filter'. After I studied EI while earning my master's degree, as well as studied BPD, I know that my mother may have a high Intelligence Quotient (IQ) but a very low EI. Let's discuss the constructs and how they apply to my mother (Understanding My Borderline Mother):
  1. Self-awareness — the ability to read one's emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions. Due to my mother's overwhelming fear of rejection and abandonment, her gut feelings are tainted, and thus her decisions are rash, quick to judge, and irrational.
  2. Self-management — involves controlling one's emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances. She has very little self management and doesn't adjust her reactions or behavior according to the situation. Therefore, she will act the same at a fine dining dinner party as she would in a concert. She will act the same with rowdy friends as she would with professional colleagues of her husband's. She doesn't filter what she says, talking about some of the most inappropriate topics and subsequently doesn't observe the reactions of others as these rude things are coming out of her mouth. She doesn't take any context cues from those around her, not realizing she is offending so many, and thus not managing herself appropriately.
  3. Social awareness — the ability to sense, understand, and react to others' emotions while comprehending social networks. She does not react to other's context cues in social situations, realizing one person should be handled in one way, whereas another should be handled differently. She will be boisterous and aggressive to each individual regardless of how they present themselves to her-- and she doesn't acknowledge, in her actions, the differences in those in the social setting.
  4. Relationship management — the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict. She manages to deflate, demotivate, and destruct those close to her. Although she appears loving, supportive, and empathetic to the outsider, her sudden shifts in mood, self-destructive behavior, paranoid distortions, and obsessive ruminations are very apparent to those closest to her. Additionally, she doesn't manage conflict, she creates it. She drums up crusades and creates conspiracy theories, trying to recruit as many people to her cause and spending countless hours on her mission. See subsequent blog entry: Adult Children of Parental Alienation that outlines my mother's efforts to alienate us kids from our Dad.
When I think back on it, the first evidence of low EI was evident was when I was around 5 years old and she would lock herself in a dark room for a day or longer (In the Beginning); she would cry uncontrollably upon the notification that my Dad was going out-of-town for business; she was cruel to my Dad's parents; and she was always in an angry or dark mood. She maintained this behavior through my youth.

When I was a teenage, she was very inappropriate socially (It's My Fault)-- flirting with boys that visited at the house by batting her eye lashes, making her eyes really big, wearing tight jeans & high heels while strutting around in front of them, and laughing this loud, haughty laugh. She also would engage in inappropriate conversation with my friends regarding drinking and sex while using profanity. She would talk to me about sex (in a friend to friend way, not mother to daughter way), use plenty of foul language, and listen to explicit music with me.

I remember going to professional settings with her (my step-father's medical meetings for example) where I would cringe about how she conducted herself. She would talk about topics that I found uncomfortable, and I could sense the company found the topics awkward or inappropriate as well. I remember her talking about nasty and gross topics at the dinner table when we had friends over-- and they would be disgusted, questioning our mother's behavior. My mother thought she was being "cool" by using foul language, and she used it to such an extent that a very Christian boyfriend wouldn't date me anymore after hearing her talk.

By the time I was a young adult, I found myself making excuses for her to company (Years with my Mother)- or I would be so embarrassed that I would leave the room. One time we were out at a VERY fine dining restaurant with a large group of people, some of which we knew and some we just met. She started talking about her hysterectomy and its complications. I could tell how appalled some of the people were-- and I wanted SO MUCH to crawl up underneath that table.

Throughout my life she has had groups of friends and then dumped them, replacing them with entire new group of friends. At this point in her life, she doesn't have any long term friends to speak of except one that lives across the country. The friends that are dumped wonder what the hell happened, which includes the one that lives across the country as she was dumped at one point for over a decade. My mother also seems to weasel her way back into the estranged friend's life at serious times. For example, when her ex-friend was on his deathbed, she suddenly was at this man's side and talking about how much she loves him. She relishes drama and being on a crusade-- and this type of situation fits that desire.

When she's in a social setting, she feels as if she has to fill in the gaps and entertain, so many times she rambles about things that are inappropriate, laughs an obvious fake laugh, and thinks that she's making people feel comfortable. In reality, she is making people uncomfortable with the constant chatter and the questionable topics. Sometimes she'll divulge private information about family members -- even when they're right there. Many times I remember feeling my blood pressure rise when hearing her speak about my private life or private issues. One of the first times that she met my in-laws (my husband and I weren't married yet), she talked about some information at a fine dining dinner that my mother-in-law had privately told my mother. And when you confront her about what she said, she turns the table on you and says that you are being ridiculous and shouldn't be so sensitive.

My mother definately doesn't have a filter for what she says, but she also doesn't have a filter for how she reacts. She flies off the handle, changing from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde instantly when she feels threatened, if you don't agree with her, or if the topic is my Dad. And the fall out from the Mr. Hyde can last for months-- with her viewpoint of what happened morphing further and further from reality. During these episodes, she'll write letters / emails that become more and more deranged. She'll try to get as many people on her side as possible, telling all sorts of lies, exaggerations, and misleading statements.

My mother lives and breathes the situation to the point that she believes her own lies. I think the only way she can live with herself after the dust settles is for her to believe her own lies. Her husband is so intimidated by her that he doesn't help to keep her head in reality. He won't contradict her as he doesn't want to feel her wrath, so he goes along with her rants and twisted accounts. His complacency and seeming agreement with her only reinforces her belief that she is right-- that her bizarre reality is correct.

The amazing part of all of this is she was an Alcohol & Drug Rehab Counselor who has undergraduate work in Psychology. She dealt with all sorts of personality disorders and otherwise and was educated in the field of disorders, yet she has been unable to identify with any of the symptoms on her own. She hasn't connected the dots that she has cut off all family members (father, sister, son, daughter), and that she is alone by her own doing. She hasn't connected the dots that she has been married three times, each marriage failing because she cheated on her husband. She hasn't connected the dots that she is taking massive amounts of anti-depressants for depression but has manic spells characterized by unlimited spending and eating, as well as bouts of not living in reality-- and that she has stated that her son is BPD but doesn't recognize it in herself.

Basically, she is not in tune with her own emotions due to a low EI, and therefore, she is not able to comprehend the depth of her personality dysfunction and its ramifications. The BPD manifests itself in a low EI which cripples the ability to identify areas in ones life that need improvement or serious attention.


  1. You know what's weird...my mother always says that though I have a high IQ, my EI is low so I'm in short a nobody. She knows she has borderline, she knows about this relationship between the two and she does not want to change a thing. She IS fully aware of what she does.

  2. DivorcedAndLovingItNovember 16, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    It's not so much believing her own lies...with bpds, feelings are facts. My ex-husband has bpd and npd. He accused me of not supporting him when he was diagnosed. I said I read five books on bpd, encouraged him to see his counselor and psychiatrist regardles of the cost, encouraged him, and went to a NAMI Friends & Family class: what more did you want me to do? But those facts were incidental to his feelings. His feelings "make" something true.

    1. EXCELLENT point that *feelings* are *facts* for BPDs... very true. Thanks so much!

  3. While researching for a book I am writing with my father called Blind Vision from Trauma to Triumph I began to unravel our families trauma. My father was blinded in the Vietnam war after trying to escape his marriage to my mother upon returning to the states with war trauma it only got worse. Today I am trying to educate my family yet often times I hear...I know, I know but their behaviors rarely change. As for myself I have done years of self healing, and even became a coach and speaker. I am on a mission to educate families on the trauma cycles. Great blog. Hope you are still writing and doing the work