Learning to communicate needs directly and effectively is something everyone struggles with at some point in their lives. For folks with borderline personality disorder (many of whom grew up in incredibly invalidating or abusive environments) this can be especially difficult.
Maybe you “test” loved ones to determine if they love you enough to stick around even in your “ugly” mental health moments. Perhaps you pick fights with a significant other in times when you are unsure if they really want to stay. Or maybe you push people away because you are secretly hoping they will “show” you they really care by refusing to go.
If this sounds like you, please know you are not alone. We wanted to know what kinds of things people with BPD do that are code for “don’t leave me,” so we asked our Mighty BPD community to share their experiences with us.
It’s important to remember that people with BPD who struggle with communicating directly are not doing so to manipulate others — they are often simply struggling to get their emotional needs met and don’t know how to ask directly. The source of this behavior is not malicious, and people with BPD are not doomed to have difficult interpersonal relationships forever — though it often means doing therapeutic work to truly heal.
If you need some guidance for communicating directly and effectively, check out this piece that breaks down three tips based on Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT) that can help you get your needs met and become an “interpersonal ninja.”
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. “Fish” for Reassurance
“Sadly, I try to somewhat ‘fish’ for answers by suggesting that the person should leave me. I will say things like, ‘It’s OK, I don’t blame you for leaving,’ or ‘I know I’m becoming too much for you.’ This usually results in my friends giving me reassurance that they aren’t leaving, and often prompts them to give me extra attention or care when I’m low. It’s one of the most manipulative things I do and I hate it.” — Megan G.
2. Push Everyone Away
“I’ve been known to push my boyfriend away. Makes sense, right? I don’t want him to ever leave me, yet I continue to push him away. If he texts me, I’ll purposely take hours to respond and usually they are very brief. If he says he wants to spend time together, I’ll tell him we need more time apart. He often gets frustrated at first then once he figures out what I’m doing, he gives me the reassurance and attention I didn’t know I needed.” — Alisha H.
3. Lash Out in Anger
“I rage at everything the person isn’t doing to keep me around. It’s so backwards and makes us both so miserable, and I can hold it off for a little while because I know it’s backwards, but it always comes back.” — Kassandra M.
“I get so mean. I push them away to see the extent they will go for me. Will they stay? Then once they do leave, I break down. But if they stay, I keep pushing the limits. It’s an ugly cycle.” — Kady L.
“I isolate. I’ll say ‘no’ to plans I wished all week to happen. I’ll feel like a friend doesn’t want to be around me because of an off facial expression or intense word and instead of talking to them about it, I will hide away in my apartment and won’t text or talk to anyone.” — Emily T.
“I stop responding to messages and stop hanging out with people, just to see if they care enough to reach out and ask, ‘Are you OK?’ or ‘Are we OK?’ I wait for them to prove they care even though I’m showing on the outside that I don’t care. But I do. I care so much that it kills me. But when they don’t reach out, it proves my point that they never did care in the first place. It is a never-ending cycle.” — Jenna K.
“Telling them to leave me alone. That’s the last thing I want when I’m scared and in pain. It’s me begging you to prove that you don’t want to leave me.” — Amy C.
5. Ask Constantly If Loved Ones Are “OK”
“I ask, ‘Are we OK?’ I ask this so much because I need reassurance that things are OK between myself and the person. I ask my best friend this question at least once a day just so I can know she’s not going anywhere…” — Cameron H.
6. Give People the “Silent Treatment”
“I just go silent, don’t speak for as long as it takes for someone to notice something is wrong. It’s usually because I’m afraid of coming off as too needy if I straight-up tell them something is wrong and I need their help or support.” — Grace P.
7. Pick a Fight
“I push people away by creating problems that don’t exist. I get upset at comments made even when they aren’t directed at me. Because of my own pain, I create conflict in order to isolate myself even though all I want is for someone to tell me they’re there for me and they love me anyway.” — Lauren H.
“I overshare. I am compelled to share detailed information about things that are happening in my life to acquaintances and even complete strangers. I hate that I do this, but it is really hard to stop myself. I think it’s one way I ask for help without asking for help.” — Monika D.
9. Get “Clingy”
“I get so clingy! If I have a ‘favorite person,’ I always want to know what they’re doing, when I will see them next and get scared when I don’t get a text reply right away or a phone call answered. Then I get the voice in my head that says, ‘omg they don’t like you anymore, make them change their mind, keep talking!’ As long as they answer back, I feel OK, but as soon as it takes a while to hear back, I get panicked!” — Robin E.
10. Leave Before Being Left
“It’s like the quote by Marilyn Monroe: ‘A wise girl leaves before she is left.’ I push people away, so I’m in control and less likely to get hurt. I will try to burn bridges to see if the person cares enough to fight for me. For me, this goes for all relationships, including friendships. If/when they don’t, I beat myself up mentally/emotionally and tell myself it’s because I’m unworthy, broken or ‘too much.’ When they do, I become clingy and overly apologetic about being the way I am.” — Valene K.
11. Drop Everything for Others
“I do a few different things that mean ‘don’t leave me.’ The big one is that I’m a people pleaser. Even if the favor a friend has asked of me isn’t something I want to do, or what they need is an inconvenience, I’ll help them. Someone needs a place to stay? I open my doors. Someone needs groceries, even if I barely have enough money to feed myself? I’ll buy them groceries. I’m constantly dropping things I’m doing or putting myself in awkward situations so I can be there. Be somewhere. Be anywhere but obsolete, which is what I would be if I wasn’t a people pleaser. In all this I’ve had thousands of dollars stolen from my house, electronics, jewelry — someone even stole my car once. You’d think I would have learned my lesson by now, to stop being a people pleaser, that there isn’t always good to be found in a person, so-and-so is just using me, but I don’t learn. Wash, rinse, repeat. The cycle continues.” — Lindsey M.
“I apologize, tell people I’m sorry for being a burden to them or for bugging them. I cry and genuinely feel awful because I’m sure people hate me for asking for something. Then I go overboard in thankfulness, to the point that I’m afraid people are going to get annoyed with me again. It’s a vicious cycle.” — Katy W.
“I can get overwhelmed with guilt when it comes to my loved ones. I tend to repeatedly say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ Oftentimes I’ll say this when I’m in crisis due to a disagreement or argument, but every once in a while an intrusive thought will trigger me and I’ll start apologizing. It’s me apologizing to them for being the way I am, my way of saying, ‘I know I’m a lot, but please, I’m working on it. Don’t leave me.’” — Kelsey E.
13. Profess Love Constantly
“When I’m in a relationship, I will near-constantly profess my love to my significant other. I think if they know how much I love them, they won’t leave. But it doesn’t work that way.” — Rachael S.
14. Go to Sleep
“[I say,] ‘I think I’m just gonna try and sleep.’ I don’t really want to sleep, I just want to stop talking about whatever it is, especially when I’m in a spiral of bad thinking. I want them to stay, but not say anything.” — Ciara L.
15. Devalue or Exaggerate Negative Qualities of Loved Ones
“Just starting to devalue my closest friends. That is usually my plea and cry for them not to leave me. This happens especially when they don’t contact me for a while. This is how the poison starts, but really it is fear of abandonment, fear of separation or even just fear in the nature of the friendship. So I would say every devaluation is strangely a ‘please don’t leave me’ moment.” — Andrew L.
16. Speak Negatively of Yourself
“I tell them I’m not worth having them around. Some days I really need that reassurance from them and I need to hear them tell me I’m worthy, not just show me.” — Desiree K.
17. Give People the “Option” to Cancel on Plans With You
“Offering them an out. When we already have plans and I am in a bad spot, I see if they will keep the plans if I offer a way out of the plans. My friends haven’t caught on and the plans are typically canceled.” — Steph T.