I truly believe that having irrational trust issues is a type of illness. (Your 6/18/11 post.)
Optimist, yes, you are describing the traits of a mental disorder (not a disease). Specifically, the behaviors you describe -- temper tantrums, verbal abuse, fear of abandonment, I-am-a-victim mentality, emotional instability, lack of impulse control, rapid Jekyll-Hyde transformations, and black-white thinking -- are classic traits of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), which my exW has.
Significantly, his having these traits -- even having them at a strong level -- does not necessarily mean he "has BPD." For that to be the case, the traits must be so strong that they satisfy 100% of the diagnostic criteria for having full-blown BPD. Only a professional can make that determination.
Yet, even when BPD traits fall well short of that diagnostic threshold, they can make a spouse's life miserable and destroy a marriage. Moreover, after you've been living with a man for over a year, it is easy to spot the red flags
(i.e., strong occurrences of the traits) when you know what to look for.
There is nothing subtle about temper tantrums, verbal abuse, pulling your hair, and spitting into your face. Hence, although I do not know whether your H has most BPD traits at a strong level, Optimist, I am confident you will spot any and all red flags that exist if you take a little time to read about them.
He loses control when he gets angry. (5/5 post.)
The primary hallmark of being a "BPDer" (i.e., having strong BPD traits, regardless of whether they meet the diagnostic level) is the inability to regulate one's own emotions. This is such a central feature of BPD that, for two decades, a large share of the psychiatric community has been wanting to change its name from "BPD" to "Emotional Regulation Disorder." The result is that BPDers, like young children, experience far more intense feelings and do so more frequently.
This is not to say, however, that a BPDer "cannot control himself." Rather, like a child throwing a temper tantrum, he can control it but chooses not to do so. He makes that choice because he has no strong incentive to do otherwise.
If you doubt this, you can verify it with a single phone call. Simply call the police to your house the next time you witness a temper tantrum. When there is a knock on the door, you will see an "out of control" temper tantrum completely vanish within ten seconds -- to be replaced by the calmest, most genial man you've ever seen.
He has trust issues. (5/5 post.)
All BPDers have trust issues. Because they are so emotionally unstable, they know they cannot trust THEMSELVES. Until they acquire that skill -- and doing so would require years of weekly therapy -- they are incapable of trusting anyone else.
This means that you can NEVER prove to him that you truly love him. Sadly, the harder you try to do it, the more insistent a BPDer will become that you do not. Even worse, he will keep administering "love/loyalty tests." Passing each test does not make him trust you. Rather, it only results in his raising the hoop that you must jump through on the next test.
He even knows where these thoughts stem from (dad died when we was 3, did not have a male role model in his life, mom had to work a lot-wasn't always there when he needed someone, instance of sexual abuse....(6/18/11 post.)
The fear of abandonment is one of the two great fears all BPDers have. Their other fear is engulfment (from intimacy). As you say, these fears originate in early childhood, usually by age 3 or 4. Indeed, a recent study of nearly 35,000 American adults found that 70% of the BPDers reported having been abandoned or abused in childhood. As to the sexual abuse he experienced, it GREATLY increases a child's chances of developing strong BPD traits if such abuse happens in childhood.
He is not happy with himself. (5/5 post.)
BPDers do not simply have low self esteem. Rather, they are filled with self-loathing and shame. Moreover, they have such a weak sense of who they are that they tend to emulate the personalities of people they are around at the time.
This is why BPDers tend to behave differently around different types of people. This is not done in an effort to be manipulating but, rather, to fit in and be loved. BPDers need to be around a stable person who will center and ground them. This is why, despite their painful experiences when being in relationships, they keep returning to relationships over and over again. They hate to be alone.
He's a black and white thinker.
Optimist, you are very perceptive to have spotted the B-W thinking. This all-or-nothing thinking is why your H can flip -- in ten seconds -- from adoring you to devaluing you (or even to hating you). And then he can flip back again just as quickly.
B-W thinking is most evident in the way a BPDer categorizes everyone -- including himself -- as "all good" or "all bad." Moreover, he will recategorize someone from one polar extreme to the other -- in only ten seconds -- based solely on an innocuous remark or minor infraction. This is why your H likely has no close long-term friends (unless they live a long distance away).
B-W thinking occurs in BPDers because they are extremely uncomfortable with ambiguities, mixed feelings and uncertainty. A BPDer therefore shoehorns his perceptions of other peoples' intentions and motivations into a B-W dichotomy -- not seeing that real people live in the gray area in between those polar extremes. This B-W thinking also will be apparent in his frequent use of extreme expressions like "I always
..." and "you never
My husband is overly mad for a reason that I'm not sure of.
You don't know the reason for the anger because, if he is a BPDer, the reason likely occurred before he was five years old. Since then, he's been carrying enormous anger and shame inside, right under his skin. This means you don't have to do a thing to CREATE the anger. Rather, you only have to TRIGGER the anger that is already there.
Moreover, even if you don't say or do some minor thing to trigger his anger, he will release it periodically anyway. Subconsciously, his mind will project a bad thought or bad deed onto you. Because projection works entirely at the subconscious level, he will consciously believe the outrageous allegation coming out of his mouth.
He has depression... (5/5 post.)
Most BPDers do. Strictly speaking, depression is not a BPD trait but, rather, one of the side effects of having strong BPD traits. One such trait is having chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom. Not surprisingly, that can result in depression. It also can result -- as seems to be the case with your H -- in his filling up his hours with time spent on the computer.
I feel like I come to this site when I get really confused.
"Confused" is exactly how you should be feeling if you've been living with a BPDer for several years. Indeed, you are fortunate you don't feel like you are going crazy. Of the several dozen mental disorders, BPD is the ONLY ONE with the reputation of making many of the partners feel like they are going crazy.
The reason is that BPDers are so unstable that they alternate every few weeks from adoring you to devaluing you -- or from wanting to make passionate love one minute and wanting to divorce you the next. This induces a feeling of craziness in many partners because they spend years trying to figure out what they are doing wrong (not realizing that the BPDer is emotionally unstable). Hence, therapists see far more partners and spouses of BPDers coming into therapy than they ever do of the BPDers themselves. If you were living with a narcissist or sociopath, you would be just as miserable as living with a BPDer. But you would not feel so utterly confused.
Then I ask, "Why do you think I want to 'go home'?" Him: "I just know. I can tell." Me: "How do you know? Can you read my mind? You can't just assume that." (4/28 post.)
Optimist, that behavior -- another hallmark of BPDers -- is called "hypermentalization." It occurs when a BPDer over-interprets the social cues given off by other people. In this respect, BPD is the polar opposite of autism -- because autistic people under-interpret those social cues (or, if the autism is severe, the person is totally oblivious to those cues).
This occurs because the BPDer, being unable to regulate his emotions, gets such intense feelings that his perception of other peoples' intentions and motivations becomes distorted by those intense feelings. This is why BPD is said to be a "thought distortion." Significantly, this does NOT mean BPDers are "crazy," which would imply they have a distorted perception of physical reality. On the contrary, they see physical reality just fine.
That thought disorder is easy to identify with because it happens to all of us whenever we experience intense feelings, such as when we are infatuated or very angry. Indeed, we've experienced it so many hundreds of times (when angry) that -- by the time we are in high school -- we know we cannot trust our own judgment when we are very angry. That's why we all try not to take any action until we have time to cool down. That does not work well with BPDers, however, because they typically have the impulse control of a child
It's really frustrating because later today or tomorrow, he'll say: "No, I don't really think that. I'm sorry I was being that way. No, you're not doing anything wrong." (4/28 post.)
Again, you are seeing black-white thinking, where he flips in seconds from "splitting you black" to "splitting you white." One reason for this -- in addition to the reasons I gave above -- is that BPDers have great difficulty in seeing "object constancy." That is, they have trouble recognizing that people generally have stable personalities and thus are essentially unchanged from day to day. Hence, when a loved one is out of sight (or out of town), a BPDer has difficulty realizing he is still an important part of her life.
My husband is a charming, funny, intelligent, kind-hearted guy.(5/5 post.)
So was my exW. Indeed, most of the BPDers I've met are a lot more fun to be around than other people. Because their emotional development is stuck at about the level of a four year old, they tend to have the warmth and purity of expression that otherwise is seen only in children. My exW, for example, is so charming and disarming that, when total strangers talk to her for only a half hour, they walk away with the feeling they've known her for a long time.
My husband just thinks he's the only one in pain.
Like all the other personality disorders, BPD has a strong aspect of narcissism underlying it. My personal view is that, whenever anyone is in substantial pain, it is natural to become self focused and narcissistic. This is why most people are such a pain to be around when they are sick and hurting. For that reason, and because their emotional development is stuck in early childhood, BPDers typically lack empathy.
He hasn't beat me, but he has pulled at my hair, spit in my face, and said horrible, horrible words to me.
Without treatment, it likely will get worse and may progress to physical abuse. If it does become physical, you should know that a Canadian study (pub. 2004) found that nearly all "batterers" have a personality disorder and half of them have full blown BPD. Those results are described by Roger Melton at Romeo's Bleeding - When Mr. Right Turns Out To Be Mr. Wrong -- Health & Wellness -- Sott.net
He said, I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have done that, I'm ashamed. He does seem genuine.
He is genuine. And he is equally sincere when he is verbally abusing you. That's the way black-white thinking works. As I said, because it occurs at the subconscious level, the conscious mind truly believes the nonsense coming out of his mouth -- until he flips from one state to the other.
Each time, it gets worse. (5/5 post.)
Yes, without treatment, it usually does get worse. As the years go by, the BPDer gets increasingly resentful of your inability to fix him or make him happy -- an impossible task.
Well, he didn't say he'd try my idea until I was telling him that basically I'm done, I'm getting all my stuff. Now he's saying he'll do ANYTHING to make it work.
Yes, a BPDer is so fearful of abandonment (and having to live alone) that he usually will promise anything to get you back. And he will absolutely mean it -- while he is saying it. Yet, being emotionally unstable, he rarely will deliver on those promises.
I know that our relationship has become unhealthy. (5/5 post.)
Yes, your relationship is toxic, being harmful to both of you. But, significantly, the toxicity is not something HE is doing to you. Rather, it is something you BOTH are doing to each other. It takes two willing people to sustain a toxic relationships for several years. Of course, his contributions to that toxicity are easy to see. Yours, however, are much harder. I will be glad to discuss with you what you were doing wrong -- if you like.
For now, I will simply say you went well beyond being the "pleaser," as you say. I would rather say that -- like me -- you are an excessive caregiver, a person whose desire to be needed (for what you can do) far exceeds your desire to be loved (for the person you already are). This means that we will walk right past all of the emotionally available people (boring!) until we find someone who desperately needs us. And this means that, if you divorce your H, you are at great risk of running right into the arms of another man just like him.
How can I get my husband to stop this vicious cycle?? (4/28 post.)
Neither you nor a team of psychologists can do a thing to fix him. Your H is the only person who can manage his issues and doing so would require years of weekly therapy. Although strong BPD traits cannot be cured, they can be managed if the BPDer learns how to do so. Sadly, it is rare for a BPDer to stay in therapy long enough to make a difference.
I recently left my husband, and I told him I wouldn't come home until he could prove he would change (aka, go to counseling, look for a job, etc.)
Excellent decision. Your current predicament, however, is what to do if he does get a job and seek therapy. Namely, how will you know when he is actually improving??? Like a smoker who is always "quitting," a BPDer typically is always greatly improving every two or three weeks. Indeed, while a BPDer is splitting you white, he typically will be much more loving and passionate than a regular man. It is because the good times are so incredibly wonderful that the spouses are willing to tolerate the terrible bad times. So, again I ask, how will you be able to spot the real improvement???
I raise this question because, for 15 years, I spent a small fortune taking my exW to weekly visits with six different psychologists (and 2 MCs) -- all to no avail. What I found was that, for the therapy to work, the BPDer must want it so badly for herself that she goes willingly -- not because you are insisting on it as a condition of remaining married. If the BPDer does not really want the therapy, he likely will only play mind games with the therapist.
It just makes it hard when he says all the right things, and makes me feel bad, like I'm failing this marriage and giving up.
For excessive caregivers like you and me, GUILT is what keeps us stuck in toxic marriages. For us, the notion of walking away from a sick loved one is ANATHEMA. It goes against our family values, our religion, our sense of commitment -- indeed, against every fiber of our being.
Yet, if the BPDer is not improving in therapy, walking away is exactly what we must do. The reason is that, by staying, you will be harming HIM (not only yourself) with your enabling behavior. That is, you will be allowing him to continue behaving like an angry four year old -- and GETTING AWAY WITH IT.
In that way, you will be destroying his only opportunity to confront his own issues and to learn how to manage them. This is why it is so important that a BPDer be allowed to suffer the logical consequences of his own bad behaviors.
We are going to see a couples counselor.... (4/28 post.)
If your H has strong BPD traits, a MC likely will be a total waste of time. The reason is that a BPDer's issues go far beyond a simple lack of communication skills. Hence, until he has had several years of IC, MC likely will not be productive.
I just want some advice or anything really.
As an initial matter, if you suspect your H has strong BPD traits, I recommend that you NOT tell him. If he is a BPDer, he almost certainly will project the accusation right back onto you, believing YOU to be the BPDer. Instead, simply encourage him to see a good psychologist (not a MC) and let the psych decide what to tell him.
Second, I suggest you read more about the BPD traits to see if your H exhibits most of them at a moderate or strong level. An easy place to start reading is my brief description of them in Maybe's thread at My list of hell!
If that discussion rings a bell, I would suggest you see a clinical psychologist -- for a visit or two by yourself
-- to obtain a candid opinion on what it is you are dealing with. I also would suggest you read Stop Walking on Eggshells,
the best-selling BPD book that is targeted to the spouses. And, of course, I would be glad to discuss the issue with you here and point you to good online resources. Take care, Optimist.