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Breaking up with a borderline friend
April 4, 2014 7:04 AM   Subscribe

My friend has a long history of BPD. After many years we have moved in different directions and I no longer want to deal with her drama and lies. But I also don't want to make things worse for her.

We do not live in the same city. Next time she contacts me, what should I do? We have been friends for such a long time, I don't really have the "fade out" option. But if I tell her why I don't want to be in touch any more, I'm worried she'll take it badly (self harm, damage to the progress she's made). Also I imagine she'll be angry with me but this is a lesser concern. We don't really have any friends in common any more, as others have cut her off too. I guess I'm asking, if I can't change the message, how can I at least soften it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
You live in different cities, you absolutely have the fade out option. I'm perplexed why you think you don't. I did the fade away with a woman I had been good friends with since elementary school. Duration of friendship doesn't make the fade away impossible. Just let her phone calls go to voicemail more often, take longer to reply to emails, be busy with other things.... There is no way to soften the "I don't want to be friends with you any more" message. Any sort of an abrupt cut off is going to be hard for her to take, and any attempts to justify to her why you don't wish to continue to be friends will just make things worse.

The only "kind" way to do this is to fade away.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:10 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]


I would advise cutting her off (of course, it's easy for me to say, since I'm not emotionally involved in this situation).

I'm reminded of this quote:

“When a child is young, you can catch him if he falls. Then he gets a little older and falls from a higher place. Maybe you can still catch him. But finally he’s a full-grown adult and falls off the top of a building—then you have to decide: either get out of the way or be crushed.” – The father of Scott Bailey, a crazed alcoholic / drug addict, in the book, The Splendid Things We Planned, by Blake Bailey. Quoted in a review of the book that ran in the New Yorker (or, least on the website of the New Yorker), Feb. 27, 2014, “The Biographer’s Confessions”, by Ian Crouch.
posted by alex1965 at 7:15 AM on April 4 [15 favorites]


Oh, borderlines. My heart hurts for them... but it hurts more for people who find themselves in the destruction-swath of an untreated borderline's path.

I have semi-successfully detached from a borderline friend by doing a modified fade that I guess you could call a "crisis fade". You invent/magnify crises ("I'm going through SO MUCH right now, I really just need some alone time", etc.) to excuse your gradually-lengthier absences. That gives the fade-ee some mental excuses to cushion the blow a tiny bit ("Well, she DID say she was busy!").

Be warned, though, that you may still be the target of a "splitting" response if/when she figures out what's up. If she does split on you, the best - nay, ONLY - option is total radio silence, forever. Please, please take that to heart: I learned that the super-duper hard way.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:16 AM on April 4 [9 favorites]


Don't burn the bridge.

I would just start not answering the phone, not calling back.
Go with the polite ignore and disconnect.

Whenever possible, avoid burning the bridge.
posted by Flood at 7:47 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


Don't tell her why. Just be busy. Fade away.

Have you ever had a conversation with her where she has mentioned what she does to relax or what makes her feel better when she gets disappointing news? Think back on that, and remind yourself that she does have things she can do that will help her get through the loss of your friendship. If you've never had that conversation, don't suddenly have it just before you fade.

If the only coping mechanisms she has ever mentioned to you are unhealthy, such as self-harm, just know that it isn't true that her only choice is either be friends with you or harm herself. It just isn't true. She can make other choices, including getting help if she needs it. The Bloggess recently posted a wonderful list of coping mechanisms for the lowest of mental-illness low points.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:49 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Whatever path you decide on (I think a slow-fade is definitely possible and desirable given your info) remember that your friend's mental health is not your responsibility. It is sad, but if you cannot be her friend any more that is what's right for you, and however she responds, even if its badly, is not your fault. However, I do think saying up front "I can't deal with your BPD, lies and drama" would be harsh and very upsetting. Hence- the slow fade.

(On preview: what Bentobox says, basically!)
posted by mymbleth at 7:53 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Great news! You can't make things worse for her. Only she can make things worse for her, because you are not responsible for her behavior. It's so easy for BPD people to turn their friends into martyrs, your recognition that you're not willing to be one is your ticket out. Say it out loud: "I am not responsible for her moods, her reactions, or her behavior."
posted by juniperesque at 8:20 AM on April 4 [13 favorites]


I've had to break up with a borderline friend before (though she wasn't long distance). I sent her an email and told her what I valued about her and our friendship, then I told her I felt we didn't have much in common anymore and no longer felt I had the time or energy to be the friend she deserved. Finally, I wished her well.

She responded graciously and we haven't talked since and it's really been for the best.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:03 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]


Be prepared for her to not accept your slow fade, and to throw as much drama as she can at you, the more you try to pull away. This happened once for me after I tried to gently and kindly put distance between my BPD friend over a period of six months. She felt very self-righteous about it-- that my distancing myself from her drama was deeply wronging her. She forced a confrontation.

So I recommend trying for the slow fade first but being prepared to talk about it in a straight-forward (but inescapably hurtful) way, if she won't let you go. Be resolved, regardless. Vacillation will do neither her nor you any favors.
posted by egeanin at 9:34 AM on April 4


Read Stop Walking on Eggshells to help understand how to set boundaries with people who can't. The message from me would be I expect honesty from my friends. I won't participate in drama. It takes a lot of energy to have a relationship with a person with BPD, and it's okay if you don't have that energy, and you can say so. You are not responsible for another person's behavior if you are honest and as kind as possible. And, allowing someone to assign responsibility to you, instead of themselves, isn't healthy for them.
posted by theora55 at 9:38 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


A quick ending would probably be easier to handle for her. A slow fade with excuses is a bit cruel, since she likely has to work very hard not to perceive normal friend boundaries as obvious harbingers of rejection. If they actually do indicate rejection...well...she might be really tempted to solicit care from you, chase you, see if you're really busy...drama for both of you.

Anyway, you'd likely cause less pain by being straightforward, a la Jess the Mess.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:13 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I think both theora55 and the young rope-rider are correct. Stop Walking on Eggshells is a great book with useful advice on how to set boundaries with a person who has BPD. You should do so. Also, a slow fade does seem cruel to me as well. Your friend likely has attachment issues and self-doubt. Having to ask oneself, "am I being paranoid or does Anonymous not like me anymore?" over and over for the weeks or months of a slow fade, would probably be very destabilizing. I can feel the knots in my stomach just imagining that happening to me --- and I don't even have BPD! It might cause more drama between you than a clean break would cause. Either way, though, if she is dramatic enough that she has worn you out on her friendship, it's not going to be easy to make the break. Be sure that you seek support for yourself as well during this difficult time.
posted by xenophile at 1:34 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


Hi. I have BPD. As in, if you look up the DSM-V criteria, I fit every single one to a T. I've been told by a psychiatrist that I may be a useful teaching case because of how specifically I fit the diagnosis.

One of the things most of us BPD sufferers have in common is a deep, abiding, unquenchable desire to be loved and appreciated and accepted. The drama and lies (please note that lying is not commonly considered a feature of the disorder, and seems to stem from another place entirely) are not--or at least rarely--on purpose. Every human being every day is screaming "Look at me! Validate me!"

We just happen to do it louder, more frequently, and in more (self)destructive ways.

If someone I thought of as a friend cut me off completely, I would be crushed.

If someone did the 'slow fade' I would feel worthless--I'm not worth your time, therefore I'm not worth anything, therefore back down the Ourobouros of BPD and depression.

The only way to do this ethically is to sit down face to face and say "Look, I know you have a problem," (I assume this is actually psychiatrist-diagnosed. If not, dude wtf.) "But I cannot handle being around it. I'm sorry. This doesn't make you less of a person, I just can't handle your behaviour. But here, I've found some BPD support groups and therapists who may be able to help you a lot. Why don't you get in touch with me when you're on track with that?"

Be prepared for an angry reaction followed sooner or later by tears. Be resolute, and reconfirm that you will be happy to be in touch when she is in some kind of regular therapy (possibly medicated; antidepressants and Lithium have both shown effectiveness at ameliorating symptoms in clinical studies) or at least attending a regular support group.

Feel free to MeMail me, or my email is also on my profile, if you have further questions.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:14 PM on April 4 [9 favorites]


I think honesty is better than a slow fade. I've been on the receiving end of the slow fade thing, and the long, drawn-out period of uncertainty was super painful...as well as never really knowing what the issue was. And, I don't have any particular mental health issues...I'm thinking this period of not knowing what the heck is going on might be particularly difficult for someone who is not doing so well in terms of mental health.

I 100% think people have the right to choose who their friends are and who they have in their lives, but when you're talking about a long-standing friendship (as opposed to a casual acquaintance), I do think gentle honesty is the right policy. You don't need to give every detail, but I think something along the lines of:

"I've really valued our friendship over the years, but for my own mental health, I need to cut off contact with you. I respect that you have your own stuff going on that you have been working on, but I have to respect my own needs right now. I wish you well."
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:39 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


Also agree with something closer to honesty. Slow fades are cowardly and really cruel. Yeah, it's easier for you, but is it for them? How would you feel if someone did it to you?
posted by superfille at 10:39 PM on April 4


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