Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Understand the Drama Triangle. Understand BPD.

While BPD is prominently mentioned here, it is NOT the intent of this article to suggest that any readers have it. The intent is to show how "split" many people with CPTSD can become, and how such splitting can result in a confusing oscillation between co- and counterdependency

If you came here from having asked a question about being used as a sex object, read "ProcessFiend's" reply to the original poster on this reddit thread first. (Most people will develop a pretty good case of frustrated rage from repeating that mistake expecting different results, for sure.) 

Having very often been neglected, ignored, abandoned, discounted, disclaimed, and rejected -- as well as invalidated, confused, betrayed, insulted, criticized, judged, blamed, embarrassed, humiliated, ridiculed, victimized, demonized, persecuted, picked on, dumped on, bullied, scapegoated, assaulted, (and sometimes even) molested, incested and/or otherwise violently abused -- by others upon whom they depended for survival in early life, the Grinker-Meissner Level Four, adult borderline is sometimes (not always) one of author Aaron Beck's Prisoners of Hate in the hunt for blood. (This is not true of all people with BPD, but it is very often the case in the "hair trigger" Petulant and Impulsive types of BPD.)

Many people with BPD were raised by mothers who did know how to regulate their own emotions, and could not show their children how to self-soothe, or worse, were the actual sources of their children's relentless fear. These borderlines cannot shake their belief that they are still going to be victimized by those to whom they must attach because it is equally terrifying to them to be alone. They are trapped by a classic double-bind in Erik Erikson's "trust" and "autonomy" stages of psychosocial development in emotional infancy or toddlerhood, and It Doesn't Feel Good

It is utterly imperative to them that they not find themselves at the bottom of the Karpman Drama Triangle. Which, of course, means that someone else will have to occupy that corner so that the borderline can experience themselves as competent, powerful and secure. Righteous anger sometimes ensues. 

I have thus far encountered over 200 people with BPD. All of them display the traits of complex post-traumatic stress disorder. For them, some components of their BPD (not all of them, by any means) represent the best coping and defense mechanisms they can come up with to defend them against threat in a hostile and/or uncaring world. For the BPD who went severely "petulant" and "impulsive" at their home base, as opposed to "self-destructive" or "discouraged," others who are codependent make perfect victims upon whom to vomit their understandable frustration and rage. 

Millon's research-based, four types of BPD is a spectrum that runs from the most extraverted and externalizing to the more introverted and internalizing. One who understands Martin Seligman's concept of "learned helplessness" and George Vaillant's list of "defense mechanisms" can also see that the same spectrum demonstrates more energized and potent defenses among Petulants and Impulsives (who prefer to occupy the two positions across the top line of the Drama Triangle because they fear abuse), and more learned helplessness among Self-destructives and Discourageds (who usually settle for the bottom corner of the Drama Triangle because they fear isolation). 

I'll try to illustrate this graphically for everyone:

Petulant . . . . . Impulsive . . . . . Self-Destructive . . . . . Discouraged
Most extraverted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Most intraverted
Most externalizing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Most internalizing

In addition to those categorizations, Roy Grinker originated and William Meissner developed a sort of "intensity scale" of symptoms that ran from something like "occasional" and/or "mild" through "regularly observed" and/or "moderate" to "pretty much constant" and/or "severe," though they called the two ends of their spectrum "more neurotic" and "more psychotic."

What I have observed over the past 15 years is that Petulants and Impulsives tend to congregate but get in fights with each other... while Self-Destructives (especially in the digital age of social media; one need only look at the posts on reddit's SelfHarm to see that) and Discourageds tend to hang with each other, but not with non-SDs or non-Discourageds. The problem, of course, is that -- under stress -- a SD or (more occasionally) Discouraged may "flip" to Petulant and wreck the relationship.

All that said, please do not think that the borderline is anything like conscious or mindfully aware of, or anything like at "detached choice" about, his or her character or temporary position-taking on the Drama Triangle. The Petulant-Impulsive borderline is not essentially an anti-social or a sociopath, thought they may have such traits when aroused into a defensive posture. To him or her, the whole paradigm of their lives was in-struct-ed, in-doctrine-ated, programmed, conditioned, socialized and normalized long before they were old enough to have any real grasp of what was happening. In some respects, they are automatons programmed to deal with the world through a filter of mostly unconscious paranoid projection and dire need to strike a balance between their terror of being abandoned, isolated and alone... and their relentless expectations of being used and abused yet again, just as they were as infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers and possibly well into adolescence. As fearful as they are of being alone, they are equally fearful of being abused, and that is one very powerful and frightening double-bind.

Aside from personal observation, the experts I learned a lot of this from are listed at the end of this article.

It seems to me that the best thing one can do to "manage" a relationship with a borderline is to understand what is described above, as well as in Bockian's, Chapman & Gratz's and Friedel's books for people with BPD and their intimates, as well as look into...

1) The Patterns & Characteristics of Codependence on the Codependents Anonymous website;

2) "The Five Stages of Recovery" at pairadocks.blogspot.com to see where one is in them;

3) The "Karpman Drama Triangle" schematic of avoidance and control strategies in interpersonal relationships;

4) Codependents Anonymous and Emotions Anonymous meetings (you can find meeting locators on their websites);

5) "Jiddu Krishnamurti on Loneliness vs. Being Alone" at pairadocks.blogspot.com, further quoting Krishnamurti at his best on being alone vs. being lonely;

6) Practicing some thought questioner & mindfulness inducer like the "10 StEPs of Emotion Processing" at pairadocks.blogspot.com, so that one is able to continue to sense what is going on and know what to do about it;

7) Pia Mellody's book, Facing Codependence;

8) Anne Wilson Schaef's book, Co-Dependence: Misunderstood, Mistreated;

9) Barry & Jane Weinhold's book, Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap;

10) "The StEPs to Freedom from Emotional Blackmail" at pairadocks.blogspot.com, and Susan Forward's book, Emotional Blackmail on manipulative relationships;

11) Patricia Evans's book, Controlling People on the same topic;

12) Pia Mellody's book, Facing Love Addiction, especially with respect to the flip flop from addiction to avoidance;

13) Anne Wilson Schaef's book, Escape from Intimacy on the same topic;

14) Barry & Jane Weinhold's book, Flight from Intimacy on the same topic;

15) DBT's "FAST" boundary-setting skills set (on DBTSelfHelp.com).

Related Articles:

Teasing out the BSDs from BPD.

Hurt People Hurt (other) People. 

Why is Intimacy so Difficult for Us? 


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  1. Rodger:

    I used to make a habit in 2002-03 of reading Helen's BPD site and also the Hoover/Land of Oz stories.

    And 200! That is probably 190 more than the average person would admit knowing - not counting all the people with BPD traits.

    Theodore Millon seems to be big on Wikipedia.