Skirting the Borderline: the Only Time It’s Them, Not You

If you’ve been following The Quantum Mind blog, you know one mind management axiom that we keep seeing over and over again is that we are at the cause of our experience, rather than the effect. This is otherwise known as having an internal locus of control.

When we operate out of an internal locus of control, we develop the view that everything we experience in terms of our perceptions and emotions, even circumstances, is our own doing. I’ve written elsewhere about how this isn’t victim-blaming in disguise, but is intended, rather, to give us agency so that we are always positioned do something about the situations we’re in, and the thoughts, feelings and perceptions we’re having.

But is there ever a time when we aren’t responsible for our experience?

It turns out that sometimes having an internal locus of control actually requires that we abnegate responsibility for a given situation. It’s actually really important to identify those occasions when that’s actually the case — otherwise, taking blame for something we didn’t in fact engender is insidiously a form of being a victim, of ourselves.

This can happen in relationships with people who exhibit symptoms of an avoidant attachment style, borderline personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder — among other personality disorders. I’ve decided to focus on this interpersonal pattern because of how prevalent it is in everyday life and because it provides a great example for that rare occasion where having an internal locus of control actually requires of us to relinquish responsibility.

What avoidant attachment and personality disorders often have in common is the sudden shift in behavior toward someone for seemingly no discernible reason. Most of us have known at least a friend, if not a partner or close relative, who seems to think the world of us one week and then suddenly meets us with indifference at best or disdain at worst.

The sudden shift can be confusing if not confronting. We might even be tempted to start to wonder if it was something we did or said, and we may consider ways we can get the grace we fell out of back. But the truth is, as the Toltec tradition teaches, it really does have nothing to do with you. It really isn’t your fault. Nor is it, strangely, their fault either. Sometimes people do this to gain advantage over others by leveraging approval as a means of control. Sociopaths who can execute such cool and calculated moves do exist, but most of the time people who play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with their approval of us aren’t even self-aware enough to know that they’re doing it, let alone why.

So why do people behave this way if it wasn’t us or something we did?

The most likely culprit is complex trauma. People who have endured some form of unresolved trauma may develop maladaptive dissociative processes to cope. These maladaptations can persist long after circumstances have changed and are not usually known to the person who has them.

A maladaptive dissociation loop is usually triggered by closeness. This is especially true of borderline and/or avoidant behavior. When a traumatized person gets too close to another and is on the threshold of experiencing a sense of safety, their brain registers this as a potential threat and institutes a dissociative loop to keep the other person at bay and the sufferer vigilant.

What’s really important here is two fold: first we need to recognize that this is what’s actually happening and not take it personally. It really isn’t anything we did. Secondly, we need to make a decision as to whether we want to keep this person in our lives or not. We simply don’t have to, there is no obligation to do so. If we do decide to keep them in our lives it would be best not to become invested either in their praise of us or the sudden distance. Instead, if we provide a constant and steady emotional cadence and presence in their lives we might actually give them with an opportunity to recognize this defensive pattern. In the best circumstances, we may even succeed at modelling how a secure attachment style might function. Secure attachment behavior is to a relationship what low glycemic food is to blood sugar levels: the release of nutrients is slow, steady and consistent, without sudden highs or huge crashes.  

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