This makes no logical sense at all -- how can someone fear being abandoned but fear being close at the same time -- but is very real.
Yes, I know, craving what you most fear is such a paradox that it is difficult to comprehend. But we can often gain some understanding of paradoxes by finding a poetic reference to them using terms and concepts we already understand. An ex-partner (of a BPDer) on another forum provided a poetic description I found very helpful. He wrote, "When a BPDer talks about intimacy, it's like a vampire talking about sunrise: every one of them wants to see a sunsrise, but they are frightened to because it means death if they do."
The paradox actually makes perfect sense, however, when we consider the BPDer's delimma -- always having to choose between two evils: moving closer and triggering her fear of engulfment or moving away and triggering her fear of abandonment. The conumdrum, of course, is that the solution for one fear is the very thing triggering the other fear.
This is why, when you are married to a BPDer, a wonderful evening or great weekend often is followed -- the very next morning -- by an argument that she creates out of thin air. Although she does not consciously realize it, she creates the fight in order to get breathing space. Indeed, the push-you-away and pull-you-back cycle you likely have witnessed every week or two is a hallmark of BPD.
Because your W has an unstable fragile self image, any time you draw close in intimacy (real intimacy, not just sex) she will experience engulfment. It is very frightening because she feels like she is being taken over by your strong personality -- like she is evaporating into thin air. To get breathing room, she will push you away. It may happen that same night or the next morning, usually taking the form of her creating an argument out of nothing.
Yet, as you back off to give her space, you will trigger her other great fear, abandonment. So, after her tantrum dies down (they typically last about five hours), she may wait a few hours (or days or weeks) and will then start reeling you back in. Of course, as you draw close, the cycle starts all over again. For 15 years, I kept hunting for the "Goldilocks" position between "too close" and "too far" to avoid triggering both of those fears. I can tell you that, if that safe midpoint position exists at all, it is a knife edge that is continually shifting.
Our first problem, before we got married, was that she pushed me away completely (and nastily) for a week for no reason. ... I think that she realized that if she married someone else would take residence in her home and psyche, which freaked her out.
I believe you are correct. A woman with a weak, fragile, unstable sense of herself has a tremendous desire to live with a man having a stable personality that can center and ground her -- providing her a sense of normalcy and a sense of direction. Yet, when she gets exactly that, she will feel controlled and dominated and feel like she is loosing the little sense of identity that she has. It is a very frightening feeling. This is why you cannot fix her by loving her. Trying to do so is the equivalent of trying to help a burn patient by hugging him.
I even tried to explain to her that most things in the world are shades of gray, but only now I see she probably didn't have any idea of what I was talking about.
You likely are correct. As Pidge explains, she felt for decades that her way of thinking was mostly normal. Because a BPDer has been doing the all-or-nothing thinking since early childhood, she typically has no idea that other people do not do such black-white thinking so frequently.
Do BPDers know what they are missing? Do they really think they are "normal"? Doesn't the process of turning one white knight after another into a punching bag cause them to reflect or seek therapy?
My understanding is that, although the thought distortions (e.g., projection and black-white thinking) are usually invisible to BPDers, they nonetheless are aware that the false image they project is false. Narcissists, in contrast, are so totally out of touch with their real selves that they usually are convinced their false self image is true, which is why they become very indignant with anyone refusing to validate that glorified image.
And, yes, a few BPDers will be sufficiently self aware -- and have sufficient ego strength -- to seek therapy after reflecting on the large number of departed friends. Yet, as Pidge points out, it is rare for that to occur. The ones that do tend to be very low functioning BPDers who are in such severe pain they are forced to confront their illness.
The vast majority of BPDers, however, are so high functioning that they are able to conceal their BPD traits from business associates, casual friends, and strangers -- because none of those folks pose a threat to their fears of abandonment and engulfment. It is very unusual for a HF BPDer to be willing to enter therapy, much less complete it. Therapist Shari Schreiber says you have a better chance riding to the moon strapped to a banana than ever seeing a BPDer stay in therapy long enough to make a difference.
This is why spouses and ex-partners (like you and me) so enjoy the rare opportunity to converse with a treated, self-aware BPDer like Pidge. Folks like Pidge are so rare that I've never met one in my private life even though I've met numerous BPDers. Yet, due to the wonders of the Internet, I have conversed with nearly a hundred "self awares" in the past five years. I always find it a joy to do so. After 15 years of living with a woman who could never see the elephant in the room -- and taking her to six psychologists who would never mention the word "elephant" for fear of alarming her (and voiding insurance) -- it is such an unmitigated joy to speak with folks who not only can see the animal but also have decided to stop feeding it.
It's tragic, actually. She is very intelligent, a high functioning professional, but empty inside somehow.
Yes, many HF BPDers are extremely intelligent and do very well in intellectually demanding professions. A common complaint is that they feel an emptiness inside that leaves them feeling unhappy most of the time. As you found out, it is impossible to fill that void. Moreover, you will not get much appreciation for trying. The lack of any lasting appreciation is largely due to the BPDer's inability to regulate her own emotions, resulting in a daily flood of intense feelings that push aside whatever feeling of appreciation she once had. Hence, trying to build up a store of good will (on which to draw during the bad times) is futile. It is no more productive than building a sand castle beside the sea. It will be washed away by the next tide of feelings flooding her mind.
So we have everyone who is one step removed from her thinking she is the absolute greatest person, professional, and casual friend. But there is a telling absence of people who are really close to her.
Like I said, a HF BPDer can be outgoing, caring, and generous to casual friends, business associates, and complete strangers. They cannot trigger her two fears. There is no LTR to be abandoned. And there is no intimacy to create engulfment. Those folks, then, never see her dark side. This is why you can expect them to believe whatever terrible things she says about you during the divorce. Ex-spouses and ex-partners typically lose most of the common casual friends.
It must be difficult for a person not to have any solid emotional bearings. I can't imagine not having solid, stable (not usually intense) relationships with family members, close friends and colleagues.
Yes, it is extremely painful for a BPDer to lose the stable man in her life. What some BPDers have told me is that they don't so much miss the man himself as they do the stability he provided in their lives. This is one reason that BPDers hate to be alone. And it explains why they are so driven to find another man to live with even though they are aware it likely will result in another painful breakup. As you said earlier, Berilo, "it's tragic." I wouldn't wish this illness on my worst enemy.
That said, the illness can only explain the bad behavior, not justify it. It is important that, if your W is a BPDer, she be held fully accountable for her own actions. Doing so likely provides the only opportunity she will have to confront her BPD traits and learn how to manage them. This means that, if you were to continue walking on eggshells so as to keep her in the marriage, you would be harming her by enabling her to continue behaving like a spoiled four year old.