Prior warning, this post is super long. There’s really no reason you would want to read it. Unless you find it difficult to navigate relationships when your emotions escalate. Then maybe you do want to read it. And maybe you want to tell me I’m not alone.
Because figuring this stuff out sucks.
Friendships are hard for someone like me with BPD. I have always known this to be the case. However, it’s interesting to find out that the more I learn about my disorder and the skills I can use to combat it, the more complex the I struggle with communicating.
I mentioned briefly that I got some difficult news on my birthday. My friend and I were both up for a school psychologist position. We were 2 of 3 finalists and we’d both interviewed on that Tuesday (my birthday was a Friday). We were told we would hear within a week, no matter what the outcome. I thought about asking her that we let each other know first if the other got the job, this way no one had to find out from someone else, but I decided not to.
I spent much of the week in a very anxious place. My thoughts lay only on that job. It cluttered my mind as I tried to sleep, work, and relax. I had an impending sense of dread, like I knew I was about to get bad news. Even as I repeated to myself “my feelings are not facts,” I could not erase that foreboding.
Cut to Friday. I’m in a pretty good mood. My parents have tried to celebrate my birthday, I’ve spent the morning taking it easy, and then I went over to babysit H & S for a little bit. They celebrated me and it made me smile. Their mom needed me to take them to a birthday party. I’d been texting with people sending me well wishes all day, including my former supervisor from the internship I just completed. I’d dropped the girls off and was walking back to my car when I saw he’d messaged me again:
“Sorry to hear about [school district].”
My heart sunk into my stomach. I felt the rest of the world grey out around me. I responded to him. “What?” Even though I knew, immediately, that for him to know I didn’t get the job meant that my friend did. We worked in the same district.
His reply: “Uh. Maybe you’d better talk to [friend].”
My mind was swirling with 1,000 different thoughts. I didn’t get the job, I didn’t get the job, I didn’t get the job. I knew this would happen. On my birthday, no less. I’m a failure. I’m worthless and they probably knew that and no one will ever offer me a job. I’ve been passed over twice now for someone else from my district. Failure. Loser. I should kill myself. Why did I have to find out today? That figures, it’s because these are the kinds of things that happen to me and always will and I can’t control that. These thoughts were all automatic, flooding out like a pipe had burst.
Then there were more. She got the job and didn’t tell me. Everyone else knew first. How could she do that? I felt angry and betrayed and hurt. I rapidly fired off text messages to her before I could even take a moment to think. “Did you get the job?” I asked. A minute passes. Then she was typing, but not quick enough for me. “Seems like you did” I congratulated her, but also caveated it with something else about how I was hurt that I had to find out from someone else on my birthday. I’ve since I deleted the text messages, so I can’t go back and look, and I don’t really want to anyway.
She replied that she had found out the day before and wanted to tell me, but didn’t want to hurt me or seem like she was bragging. She’d thought maybe she’d wait until she knew it was a sure thing. She felt stuck.
My eyes zoned in on only one part of her message. She knew yesterday? She could have told me yesterday and I could have processed this with J instead of spending the session a neurotic mess? Why couldn’t she just tell me? Betrayal. Bad friend. She’s just making excuses.
I was in no place to hear what she had to say. We exchanged maybe two or three more texts back and forth. Me saying things like “I’m happy for you, but…” and her saying things like “I didn’t want to hurt you.” I grew so frustrated that I had typed out this whole long message to her, but I deleted it and just sent her something, again, about how I was happy for her and knew she did a good job. She knew it wasn’t genuine and so did I (although I wanted it to be, and had a lot of shame that I wasn’t). She responded with a very simple “Thanks for the kind wishes.”
I was internally panicking, my emotions hot like fire. I felt sure that if I had the option to, I would have hurt myself. She doesn’t understand. She won’t understand. She won’t validate your feelings. Your feelings don’t matter, they never matter to anyone. You better just shut up now and deal with it alone. Like always. No one will ever understand you.
We said nothing to each other for a little while. I went back to the house, cried to the girls’ mother, and then tried to be productive by getting the girls packed for their vacation. A few hours later, she texted me to apologize for the fact that I’d been hurt, again explaining her position.
I took a deep breath. This was all I had wanted, for her to recognize that what happened, the way it had happened, had hurt me. That even though she’d not meant to hurt me, it had. Part of me knew that focusing on all of this was taking away from the joy she’d received when she found out she got the job. But the other part of me just wanted to badly to communicate how I was feeling. I struggle greatly with the balance of that, with knowing when is the right time to speak up for myself.
At that moment, I decided for speaking up. I sent her back a long message, saying that I understood her position and what she’d been thinking, but that I’d been humiliated to find out from my supervisor and that the whole office knew before I did. I told her that I was sorry, because I didn’t want to take away her joy. She deserved it and deserved to be happy, but I just needed a few days to be hurt and angry. I told her I’d do that privately, because I didn’t want her to feel guilty about getting the job. I didn’t want her to worry about my reactions, I just needed to have the space for my feelings and I needed her to hear that.
She responded saying she understood and that she’d leave me alone. She also said that she wanted me to know that she didn’t tell the whole office, her supervisor did, and it had surprised her to learn everyone knew. I read that text, but I ignored it, because I didn’t have anything left in me. I’d used up all my energy and wanted to just move on from it.
I was proud at the time for how I articulated what I was feeling, while still trying to take her perspective into account. I actually considered it progress. Briefly, I considered that I probably shouldn’t have said anything when I first found out, I should have waited. When I read that text to J, I told her as much. But I quickly forgot that in favor of other things.
For a few days, I totally thought I was in the right here. I thought I had a genuine reason to be angry and upset. Then I texted a group of friends inviting them to come over to use the hottub where I was housesitting. My friend responded the way you might when declining a business lunch, saying something like “Thanks for the offer, maybe another time.”
I knew immediately that she was mad at me. Immediately. And I knew, at least partially, why. It took me days before I got up the courage to message her and ask if we were okay. Secretly, I hoped I was reading into it. My feelings are not facts. But nope, I was right, she was angry.
She told me that the fact that I had blinding assumed she told everyone without giving her the benefit of the doubt was hurtful, especially when I’ve gotten upset at her for assuming that I’d done things purposely to hurt her in the past. She brought up some other comments I’d made recently that bugged her. It was a long message pretty much detailing every interaction between us in the last month that had either hurt or angered her. For the most part, she wasn’t mean, just honest. I’d reacted poorly, she felt attacked and saddled with the burden of ruining my birthday, and it had stolen her excitement over a job she earned.
Let me tell you something. Whenever I consider how I manifest the typical symptoms of BPD, I’m usually pretty proud of the fact that I don’t verbally assault my friends. I’m not someone who blows up and calls names or goes off on long tirades of negativity. But in this case, my anger had left destruction in its wake, even though I didn’t realize at the time.
She was right. I’d never given her a chance to say her side of the story. Once the emotions took hold, I’d told myself a story and just assumed it to be true. I had to admit that to her and take responsibility for it. I had to sincerely apologize for the joy I’d taken from her in favor of my own feelings.
I also had to admit to the place a lot of the “snapping” and hurtful comments she’d mentioned came from – jealousy. I make comparisons the way most people breathe; automatically. When I am jealous, it is physically hard to control, and that almost always came out towards her in a curt remark that stung her. Of course, I don’t mean to do this and I always feel remorseful later, which I told her too.
I apologized a lot and I really tried to find ways to make up for my behavior. I tried to be honest without using my disorder as an excuse. I just wanted her to understand my intention, while simultaneously accepting the role I played and promising that I was working towards doing and being better. Because she is important to me, and I wanted her to know that. She earned and deserves the job, and I needed her to know that too. I told her I’d understand if she needed a break from me
Which, by the way, is a BPD thing too. A statement I make all the time: it can’t be abandonment if I give you permission to do so.
(It can, it totally can).
She accepted my apology. We went back and forth texting for a little longer and came to mutual understanding. Now things are fine, I think. We’ve been texting like normal today and are trying to make plans for next week.
This whole situation has lit a fire of different feelings for me to deal with.
First and the most obvious was my bewilderment over what I should have done differently and whether or not any of my feelings were right or valid. I struggle endlessly with what the “truth” is, so I’m never quite sure if I’ve erred or if I’m justified in what I’ve done.
Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. I was valid in feeling upset in both the fact that a friend received the job that I wanted and that I found out about it in a less than ideal manner. It was okay to take the time and space to be upset and angry about those two things.
The communication piece still requires a great deal of work. I impulsively reacted using fabricated information (e.g. that she’d purposely told our co-worker and not me) and made statements about my beliefs and feelings that perhaps would have been valid had she actually done what I assumed she had done.
But she didn’t, and I would have known that if I could have approached the conversation in a different way.
One of the basic tenants of effective communication is waiting until you are in a grounded emotional state before addressing a controversial topic. I have to be able to recognize when my emotions are so fiery hot that I am unable to be rational or articulate. I didn’t do that on my birthday, I just reacted from a place of hurt. And in return, I hurt both of us.
I should have waited, at minimum, a few hours before I reached out to her at all. And even then, there were so many different ways I could have approached how I was feeling. Using I statements. Using just the knowledge I had at the time and letting her fill in the rest.
I was so damn hung up on what the minions were telling me was true about myself (failure, loser) that I never gave my friend a chance to tell me what was actually true about what had happened.
I can work on this. It will be a challenge, but I can work on it in the future. Not responding until I’m sure I can articulate myself effectively and without blame.
Then there’s the other piece of this. Living with the fact that I made a mistake that ruined both of our days. One I cannot fix. I can’t give her back the joy I stole and I can’t give myself back my birthday.
When I sent her that group of apology messages last night and was waiting for a response, I was able to firmly use some radical acceptance statements.
I made a mistake and I feel sorry about that, but I’ve taken the steps to make it right and I can’t do anything more right now. If she does not want to continue being my friend, it will hurt, but it is a natural consequence. All I can do is learn from this moving forward. I can not go back and change it.
I was proud of that. But it didn’t hold, because the minions are creeping back in with blame and judgment. You suck. You should know better by now. You’re going to make these mistakes again and it will mess up the relationship.
Part of it is true. I will, probably, make those mistakes again. Hopefully the rest of it is not true. She is a good friend, but everyone can only take so much. Sometimes you have to move away from others to protect yourself. I would hate to make one mistake too many, and put her in the position where she has to do that. Or anyone else.
Abandonment fears, they never completely go away.
It continues to be a challenge, sitting with the discomfort of knowing I messed up. I replay it in my head again and again, hoping for a different outcome, which just cannot happen. I want so badly to be better than that, and I feel that I have made progress, so it disappoints me when I fall back into patterns I thought I’d outgrown.
We’ve moved past this now. She wants to, and so do I. I’m still worried and will be anxious before I see her again, because I will fear that things won’t feel right and it will be my fault.
But I’m also trying to remind myself that continuing to hold onto this just increases my suffering. I can accept that I made ineffective choices and unintentionally hurt a friend, and resolve to move forward by making different choices. Being and doing better.
Radical acceptance is a hard skill to master, and I’m still just doing my best to use it sparingly.
I really hope to avoid things like this in the future. Effective communication is one of the biggest pieces of DBT; I’m not quite to the interpersonal effectiveness unit yet, but I’ve already been introduced to the topic. I want to be good at it, especially in situations that are emotional and ambiguous. My emotions always interfere with my ability to respond appropriately to friends and I’m tired of that.
Hopefully I can start to make strides to communicating better in my friendships. Hopefully I can put this situation on a shelf and look forward to better choices.