Big, the behaviors you describe -- e.g., the verbal and physical abuse, temper tantrums, rapid flips between Jekyll and Hyde, and black-white thinking -- are classic traits of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), which my exW has. Of course, only a professional can diagnose BPD (i.e., determine whether her BPD traits meet 100% of the diagnostic criteria for having full-blown BPD).
Yet, even when the traits fall far below that diagnostic level, they still can be strong enough to destroy a marriage and make your life miserable. At issue, then, is whether your W has most BPD traits at a strong level.
Significantly, I don't know the answer to that question. I nonetheless am confident that you can spot such strong traits when you know what traits to look for. There is a world of difference between diagnosing your W (which only professionals can do) and spotting strong occurrences of the traits. There is nothing subtle about BPD traits such as verbal abuse, temper tantrums, and fear of abandonment.
Life with my wife is like riding an emotional roller coaster. There is no stability whatsoever.
Emotional instability is the key hallmark of BPD because BPDers (i.e., those having strong BPD traits) have great difficulty in regulating their emotions. Indeed, this is why a large share of the psychiatric community have been lobbying for two decades to rename it as "Emotion Regulation Disorder."
The only other disorder that is notorious for producing emotional instability is bipolar disorder. The behaviors you describe, however, are far more consistent with BPD traits than bipolar traits. If you want to know why I say that, please see my description of the differences between those two disorders in my post at http://talkaboutmarriage.com/anxiety...ml#post1175425
A third possibility, as Satya pointed out, is that your W is suffering from a brain injury or brain tumor. Such brain damage can cause strong BPD traits to suddenly happen. Yet, those occurrences are extremely rare. Hence, if this behavior did not start right after a bad car accident, it is extremely unlikely that is the source. (A fourth possibility -- causing temporary BPD traits -- is a strong hormone change, as can happen during pregnancy or postpartum.)
Her father died when she was young and she was seriously abused (both physically and emotionally) by her mother and brother.
BPD is strongly associated with abuse or abandonment in early childhood. Indeed, 70% of BPDers report that they were abused or abandoned in childhood. Although most abused children DON'T develop BPD, such abuse GREATLY raises their risk of doing so.
My wife will become furiously angry over the most seemingly trivial things.
Due to the childhood abuse or abandonment, BPDers carry enormous anger inside throughout their lives (if they don't obtain many years of treatment). The result is that, if your W is a BPDer, you won't have to do a thing to CREATE her anger. Rather, you will only have to say or do some minor thing to TRIGGER the anger that is always there right under her skin. This is why a BPDer can burst into a rage in mere seconds.
My wife has abandonment and intimacy issues and I am trying to be understanding.
These are the two things that BPDers are so fearful of. Specifically, they greatly fear abandonment
and the engulfment
caused by intimacy. Like the rest of us, BPDers crave intimacy because they want to be loved. When they get it, however, they cannot tolerate it very long.
The reason is that they have such a weak sense of who they are that, when they are close to someone with a strong personality, they feel suffocated and controlled -- like they are disappearing into thin air and being taken over by your controlling personality. That "engulfment" is a great fear.
Trying to live with such a person is a lose-lose situation because the two fears (abandonment and engulfment) lie at the polar extremes of the VERY SAME spectrum. This means that, as you back away from her to avoid triggering her engulfment fear, you necessarily are drawing closer to triggering her abandonment fear. Importantly, there is no happy midway point where you are not too close and not too far. That Goldilocks position simply does not exist. I know because I spent 15 years in the futile effort of trying to find it.
This is why BPDers typically engage in an endless cycle of push-you-away and pull-you-back. That is, when you are intimate with a BPDer, she will create fights over nothing at all in order to push you away. Then, as you back off to give her breathing space, her abandonment fear will eventually kick in and she will start acting very loving to pull you back into the toxic relationship.
Said she felt guilty and ashamed that she would blow up over such a non-issue.
BPDers are filled not only with enormous anger but also with enormous shame and self loathing. It therefore is extremely painful for them to recognize a flaw or mistake that they make. The last thing a BPDer wants to find is one more thing to add to the long list of things she hates about herself.
She refuses to take any responsibility for her actions and only sees herself as a victim.
To avoid the pain of feeling the intense shame deep inside, a BPDer categorizes everyone (including herself) as "all good" or "all bad." This has the advantage of allowing her to think of herself as "all good," thus avoiding the pain associated with recognizing that she has made a mistake. The disadvantage, of course, is that -- on those rare occasions when she cannot avoid seeing she has made a mistake -- she is utterly demolished because she starts thinking of herself in those moments as "all bad."
This "black-white thinking" is one of the hallmarks of BPDers. Moreover, they will recategorize someone -- in just ten seconds -- from one polar extreme to the other based solely on a minor comment or infraction (real or imagined).
It feels like regardless of what's happened or ongoing she has to see herself as a victim.
One of the hallmarks of BPDers is that they are convinced that they are victims, always the victims. As I said, a BPDer has a very fragile, weak sense of who she is. Hence, to the extent a BPDer has a self image at all, it is of being "The Victim." This means that, if your W is a BPDer, you will be allowed to play only two roles if you want to remain married to her -- because both of those roles will "validate" her false self image of being "The Victim."
One role, which you played full time during the courtship, is to be her "Savior." In that capacity, you validated her false self image because the obvious implication of all the saving you were doing was that she must be "The Victim" in need of being saved. But, of course, she only wanted validation. She did not really want to be saved at all. That's why every time you pulled her from the raging seas she would jump right back into the water as soon as you turned around. Sadly, your role as "Savior" evaporated as soon as her infatuation was gone. It will return periodically only during those moments when she is "splitting you white" (i.e., seeing you as "all good"). Those moments will become increasingly farther and farther apart.
The other role you are allowed to play is being "The Perpetrator," i.e., the cause of her every misfortune. Without a "Savior" around to validate her victim status, the only other way to do it is to have a full-time perpetrator who can be blamed for everything. And because the blame usually is placed subconsciously (through projection), her conscious mind will actually believe it is true. This is why it is common for intelligent BPDers to make such outrageous accusations that you will marvel that an adult can say such things while holding a straight face.
I've found that if she is able to talk things through -- without me offering any kind of commentary -- this can help to calm her down.
If your W is a BPDer, the childhood damage caused her emotional development to freeze at about age 4. She therefore never learned the more mature ways of defending one's ego. She never learned, for example, how to do self soothing or how to intellectually challenge her intense feelings (instead of accepting them as accurate reflections of reality).
Moreover, as long as you continue being her "soothing object," she will have no incentive to confront her issues and learn how to do those things for herself. Hence, by protecting her from the logical consequences of her own childish behavior, you likely are harming her. You are allowing her to continue behaving like a spoiled four year old -- AND GET AWAY WITH IT.
It feels like I'm living with two people, and I never know when my wife's furious alter ego is going to turn up.
A common complaint -- when someone is living with a BPDer -- is that it feels like one is living with a person who is half-way to having a multiple personality disorder (now called "Dissociative Identity Disorder"). As I noted earlier, BPDers are notorious for flipping -- in only ten seconds -- from loving you to devaluing you (even hating you). And they will flip back just as quickly.
My wife comes from a very controlling family and I honestly have no desire to control her.
If she is a BPDer, she will feel controlled by you whenever you draw close to her. The feeling is so intense that she will feel convinced that it absolutely MUST be true. With BPDers, feelings are so intense that they accept them as facts and do not intellectually challenge them. It therefore usually is impossible to convince them otherwise, no matter how compelling your arguments and evidence are.
I want my wife back.
If she is a BPDer, the woman you now see -- flipping between Jekyll and Hyde -- IS YOUR WIFE. What you saw during your courtship period was not representative. During courtship, a BPDer's infatuation holds her two fears at bay because she is convinced you are her savior and are nearly perfect. Yet, as soon as the infatuation starts to evaporate (typically after 3 to 6 months), her fears will return -- with the result that you will start triggering her anger and rage to appear.
She's still adamant about not going to counseling.
As I said, the last thing a BPDer wants to find is one more thing to add to the long list of things she hates about herself. BPDers therefore are very resistant to going to therapy. Therapist Shari Schreiber says that you have a better chance flying to the moon strapped to a banana than ever seeing a BPDer stay in therapy long enough to make a difference.
I don't know what to do and I would appreciate any advice.
If your W has strong BPD traits, MC likely will be a total waste of time -- until she has had several years of IC to learn how to manage her anger and other emotions. The issues you describe go far beyond a simple lack of communication skills.
I therefore suggest that you see a psychologist -- for a visit or two by yourself -- to obtain a candid professional opinion on what it is you've been dealing with. Because BPD is a possibility, your best chance of obtaining a candid view of your W's issues is to see a professional who is ethically bound to protect YOUR best interests, not hers. Therapists generally are loath to tell a BPDer -- much less her H -- the name of her disorder (for her own protection). This is why I recommend that you see YOUR OWN psychologist to obtain a candid assessment of what you are dealing with.
I further suggest that, while you're waiting for an appointment, you read about BPD traits to see if most sound very familiar. An easy place to start reading is my description of them in Maybe's thread at My list of hell!
. If that description rings a bell, I would be glad to discuss it with you and point you to good online resources. Take care, Big.