Some of the men in this study described feeling controlled by a force or thing unknown to them as a way of understanding their experiences of emotional and behavioural responses they found unusual and at times bizarre. For some men, it was unpredictable anger that seemed to come from nowhere and take them by surprise
BPD Male: I used to think that someone was controlling me to behave in this way because I couldn’t stop it and sometimes it would come out of nowhere. I would tell them that sometimes I can be all right one minute then be so fucking angry or sad or lost that I don’t know what to do with myself …. it’s like having at least two of you living at once and sometimes it’s you…sometimes it’s this other you …… I think it’s hard to explain to other people what it’s like to have BDP. Trouble was that no-one really knows what to do with you…. when I’m pacing, when I’m angry …. Nothing can get through…. I can hear people talking but not what they’re saying……and if you get too close watch out!
His statement that nothing can get through supports the idea that this is a learnt survival strategy. If he is not present in the situation, then there is a level of protection from what is happening in the here and now and a final defensive behaviour is available if the threat does not retreat or recede; that is an escalation to physical aggression. His declaration that he is beyond help suggests how helpless he feels to change this unhelpful behavioural response to threats in his life.
All men reported multiple incidents of abuse within their family environments; the majority of men in this study reported multiple and serious episodes of physical and sexual abuse. Several aspects of these disclosures were especially important to the men; these were coming to the realisation that no-one was coming to help them and that their attackers were adult males or females.
BPD Male: Home was a mess most of the time….my dad was a drunk…. all he ever did was get up and get pissed then beat us and mum ……every fucking day he would just start ……never knew when…. but it would happen……at first I used to cry ……but it made him madder….so in the end we all learnt to fall down and it would stop pretty soon after that.
What is particularly distressing in these men’s accounts is that as young children these men had to cope with threats to their lives and the resultant psychological trauma that inevitably occurred. The impact of experiencing or witnessing extreme violence from a male attachment figure is that an intrinsic fear of extinction (death) develops in the child without the emotional capacity or support structures to manage such a complex range of emotions. The child withdraws from developing trusting relationships with other human beings or as they grow older, develops the capability of matching or defeating the threat through more extreme violence and aggression.
BPD Male: From about 4 I was sexually abused by our babysitter……the first time it happened I thought I was going to die……and for days I never spoke to anyone. But no one asked me if I was ok or if something was wrong….so I disappeared and cried it out. After that it was pretty normal so I got less and less upset about it.
This reflects existing knowledge about revictimisation of people who have been sexually abused as children. Experiencing low or no support after an abusive incident leads to a desperation for support and care wherever and with whoever this can be found.
BPD Male: I would tell them that sometimes I can be all right one minute then be so fucking angry or sad or lost that I don’t know what to do with myself …. it’s like having at least two of you living at once and sometimes it’s you…sometimes it’s this other you …… I think it’s hard to explain to other people what it’s like to have BDP. What am I likely to get up to? (Nods) well they need to know that I get upset …. Easily….and when I do it’s hard for me to calm down again
The BPD men recall how they had taken overdoses as a means to calm themselves and seek help. For both men, there is a very purposeful act of making themselves dangerously unwell in order to validate their need for help and support. This is especially clear for one man when he reports leaving a two-hour gap between ingestion and calling for help. This desire for support appears to supersede and negate the instinct for self-preservation. However, it could also be argued that making themselves dangerously unwell forces others to care for them thus enhancing their life chances.
BPD Male: pop an E and 20 mins later all is well …. until you come down and then it’s really bad………tried all sort me…. got on with speed, E’s, ketamine, and heroin the rest you can keep….
I: so either going up or opting out……is that how it goes with you?
BPD Male: yeah……. I love the ones that numb you off……. stop you feeling anything. I can’t do heroin cause it’s too nice…. afraid I might never stop……same with ketamine …you just stop being you for a bit…. it’s great.
BPD Male 2: I quickly started smoking weed…and from there E’s, speed……which I loved…. felt happy for the first time in my life when I had that …. never stopped taking drugs from there really…. they help.
Their use of alcohol and drugs were to anaesthetise their emotional pain. All men were able to make a clear connection with an increase in substance misuse and an increase in emotional distress and inability to cope.
BPD male: Then came the downers…. days of this black mood…. the thoughts in my head telling me I was useless, worthless. Sometimes I could hear a voice telling me that I was a piece of shit and that even my mother didn’t want me….so I started drinking to block that out …. When that didn’t work anymore I started to burn myself on my arms and punch walls.