DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: About four years ago, I had a nasty breakup with someone who, if I’m being honest, I hadn’t been in a relationship very long. And honestly. it was probably best for us both. We brought out the worst in each other, and we were really never going to work, even if the relationship wasn’t actually abusive.
But, I have Borderline Personality Disorder, and with that comes that sometimes, I form incredibly intense attachments extremely quickly. And this was one of those times. It even contributed to the breakup! And it’s contributed to that it’s four years later and still cry myself to sleep over her at a regular basis.
I’ve tried everything I could think of, and I like to think I have a pretty solid perspective on that relationship: I didn’t lose the best thing that ever happened to me, I had a lot of New Relationship Energy and got overly attached to a relationship that was never really likely to work in the first place. I was and still am polyamorous, neither of us were the other’s only partner at the time, and I continue to have multiple extremely positive relationships, honestly probably the best in my life so far.
But despite my best efforts, I just can’t get over her. What should I do, to get over an ex I just can’t shake my feelings for?
Past Is Present
DEAR PAST IS PRESENT: Borderline Personality Disorder’s primary symptoms are forms of emotional dysregulation; that is, one’s emotions are frequently out of control and swinging in wide arcs. This means that – as you mention, PiP – that you form intense attachments very quickly. But the opposite side of that spectrum is a deep and consuming fear of rejection and abandonment. In fact, a lot of doctors suspect that the seemingly impulsive behaviors are a form of self-sabotage; a person who pushes people away either as a misguided form of emotional self-protection (“you’re going to abandon me, so I’m going to reject you first, so you can’t hurt me as much”) or self-punishment (“I’m an awful piece of s--t who doesn’t deserve to be loved”).
Similarly, a lot of people with BPD have issues with a sense of identity – often finding that their sense of self changes drastically. Part of this may stem from seeing oneself as being defined by one’s relationships.
Now part of the problem with the human condition in general, and for neurospicy folks in particular, is that just because you understand something intellectually doesn’t mean that you are going to stop feeling about it.
This is the issue with things like Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria; intellectually you may recognize it for what it is, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to magically stop feeling it.
I mention this, PiP, because I think that’s part of the issue you’re having. You may have a good intellectual understanding of what happened with your ex and why things didn’t work out… but that’s not the same as dealing with the emotional side of it. So perhaps part of the solution would be to address the emotions – and specifically, the emotions that you still feel towards her.
I wonder if part of the reason why your break up still f--ks with your head is because of what it feels like – not in the sense of “the relationship didn’t work because reasons, and that makes me sad” but in the sense of the end of the relationship felt in some way like a rejection of everything about you as a person. Or perhaps it’s more of a sense of having lost a significant part of yourself when the relationship ended and ended so badly. A third possibility is that perhaps some part of you feels guilty – that you f--ked things up (unwittingly or deliberately) because you’re supposedly an awful person?
So perhaps the solution here isn’t about understanding why the relationship failed or recognizing that it wasn’t The Best You Ever Had. Perhaps it’s to look inside and ask “what’s this making me feel and why?” When you’re crying yourself to sleep, what, precisely, are you feeling? When you continue to mourn the loss of the relationship, what is the size, shape and depth of the loss? What part isn’t there that should be there? What directions are those feelings pointed in – away from you (loss) or towards yourself (blame, self-recrimination)?
My guess – based admittedly, in part, on my particular neurodivergence combo platter coming with a free side of RSD – is the latter. That you feel like you lost something good (even if it wasn’t The Best), because of something inherent to you. Perhaps it feels like a loss due to an inherent flaw in yourself. Perhaps it feels like you screwed it up and now you can’t trust yourself not to f--k up other good things in your life. Regardless of the exact shape and scope of it, I’m willing to bet that it feels like it’s about you more than anything else.
And therein lies the problem. You can recognize how you contributed to the break up happening… but recognizing it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re done blaming or punishing yourself for it.
This is why I would suggest that the first step towards finally getting over her would be to turn inward and do something I’m guessing that you haven’t done yet: you want to forgive yourself. You want to forgive yourself for, among other things, loving not wisely but too well. You also want to forgive yourself for making mistakes, especially mistakes spurred on by your condition – a condition that is literally defined by self-sabotage and impulsive, self-destructive behaviors.
It’s not your fault for having BPD and having BPD doesn’t make you a bad or unlovable person. But between the way society tends to view BPD and the way that BPD and similar conditions can affect you, it sure as s--t can feel like that. So part of managing the aftermath – lo these many years later – is to be willing to forgive yourself and say “I made mistakes then, but I was making the best decisions I could at the time. Now I know differently, and I’ll do things differently in the future.”
And if there’s a part that feels as though you lost something of yourself when that relationship ended, then you can resolve to find it within yourself. It’s not lost, so much as misplaced; you’ll find it will return to you after you choose to let your ex go.
It’s rough, to be sure. But this is why self-acceptance and self-forgiveness are critical parts of self-improvement. Nobody has ever shamed themselves into being a better person, just a sadder, angrier or more bitter one. All it does is allow the wound to fester. Forgiving yourself lances the wound, allows it to drain and to finally fully heal, which is what ultimately allows you to improve.
So explore the shape and scope of those feelings, PiP… and then forgive yourself for what’s happened before now. The past is merely prologue; understanding it is what ultimately allows us to move into the future.
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