bipolar vs borderline
April 27, 2020 6:00 PM   Subscribe

this has become my godzilla vs gamera. i'm bipolar, friend/coworker is borderline (not in therapy). how the crap do i make this work?

work has been extra terrible lately. i have my own set of coping mechanisms, but my borderline friend has...none. i have been trying to be a support for her, because i work with her the most, but it's quickly getting out of control. as soon as one mistake happens, everything snowballs until she eventually just totally shuts down. i don't mind being a friend and trying to help, but she is becoming an emotional vampire, nd the way things are now, she's causing more trouble at work than necessary, and i'm dealing with the blowback. if i knew her better, i would be recommending hospitalization.

but this is also starting to affect my own ability to cope with this.

i don't want to hang her out to dry, but how can i protect myself/my brain while also trying to be friend to her?
posted by megan_magnolia to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When someone is drowning, you want to stand on the shore and throw them a life preserver. That keeps you safe while giving them help. Unless you are a trained life guard, you don't want to swim out to rescue them because in their panic they may well pull you under. I think that is where you are not.

It sounds like this is beyond your ability to fix - you've tried swimming out to offer help and she doesn't have the capacity right now to take advantage of it. Instead you are risking your own mental health being pulled down and then two people are lost instead of one.

My advice is to think about what you CAN do that recognizes that you can't fix her problems for her. If you aren't a good enough friend to talk about therapy/medication/hospitalization then you need to be focused more on the work related side of things. Let her know when there is a problem. Do what you can to help out but don't more than what you can manage. Don't feel obliged to protect her from the consequences of her acts at any cost to yourself.

Also, unless she has acknowledged that she had a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, please don't use that label. It is overused and often in a very negative way. Especially if you need to talk to others about her behavior, focus on the behavior itself rather than trying to capture it in a label that could cause more damage than good.
posted by metahawk at 6:20 PM on April 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

can you define your terms a little bit? like I'm not sure how someone can be both "shut down" and an "emotional vampire," because I associate that idiom (shut down) with lack of communication and a blank affect, and that can be difficult in a co-worker when you need to communicate, but it is an emotionally undemanding state by definition.

but then if you know she's got a diagnosis and what specifically it is, she must have told you at some point, which sounds like over-sharing and boundary confusion.

so maybe these are happening at different times? but what exactly is she demanding from you? If by "hang her out to dry," you mean tell the truth to your superiors about how much work you have each been doing, you should absolutely do that. If you can't do your own job until she does hers, and she's not doing hers, you don't do it for her. that's not being a good friend, that's doing two jobs for one salary and you just don't do that. if she asks you to lie for her, you don't do that either.

(but if by "hang her out to dry" you mean tell your superiors she's mentally unwell and needs to go to the hospital, absolutely don't do that. not unless someone's life is at risk. I doubt you mean this but the question is vague enough to invite speculation)

(but if by "hang her out to dry" you mean stop talking to her about anything but work and superficial stuff, yes, probably do do that.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:23 PM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Though it may sound trite, the SET approach is surprisingly effective.
posted by fairmettle at 11:52 PM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure the framing of this of diagnosis vs diagnosis is really useful, aside from that you have the commonality of having mental health disorders to contend with in your respective lives. I think framing it in concrete actions and behaviors would help you get better answers here, as phrases like shut down and emotional vampire and your bipolar... Don't mean much in a work situation.

From what I'm getting from this, things kind of spiral once something goes wrong, and you can't fix it. If you are coworkers, then that's really management's job to try and sort out.

There is this mix of friendship and coworking which is really really hard here and making this harder. Work needs to really be about the job first. That's why they pay you. You can be her friend and emotional support, but not really during buisness hours. A comment or two is fine, but really your time needs to be focused on the job.

I'd ask yourself what boundaries do you want to set with this person? How will you enforce them? What kind of relationship with this person do you actually want?
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:55 PM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Borderline Personality Disorder is kind of a dysfunction of close relationships - if you didn't have a close relationship with her, it might not even be noticeable she has this.

Fear of abandonment, distrust, and an inability to feel as any permanence of other people's love and compassion, leaves sufferers constantly seeking validation that other people do care for them...
But if you don't believe what people say, how do you get proof? Well, someone who rescues you when you're 'drowning' must care for you, right?
So... you drown.

Drowning means someone can show that they love you. Until you pull them under, and they can't cope, and so you find the next person, and you have an even deeper need for the person to "prove" themself, because the last person left, right? Eventually?

And meanwhile, a lot of people *want* to rescue someone, they want to feel validated that they are a good person! So they fall into the rescuer role rather than, say, cheerleading someone to swim for themselves.

So, the most important thing if you really *want* to help someone with BPD - you cannot drown yourself. You cannot let them drown you.
Because then you really will have to leave, and they will have prooved their internal belief that everyone will abandon them.
You cannot let them escalate the emotional stakes until it's a 'life or death' emotional situation, even if that's their habit.
If they try and convince you that they will drown unless you exhaust yourself, you have to keep standing on shore, saying, I'm not coming out there, but I *am* still here for you, and I've thrown out a life ring for you to pull yourself back.

I cannot - come over or talk with you at 3am on a work night again, to 'stop' you hurting yourself.
I am having my needed sleep, but I will call you tomorrow night at x time as usual, and I want you to look after yourself.
Predictable and consistent is better than (, thinking you are) riding into the rescue.

That's for real close relationships.
For a workmate, the best thing you can do is know them, accept them as they are, but keep treating them professionally. Predictable, consistent, a little boring.
Being clear on the, yeah, I have also had mental problems, which is why it is really normal to have coping mechanisms. How are your coping mechanisms going?
Oh, you're talking about something distressing? Yeah, sounds like your coping mechanisms need some help.
This would be a good thing to discuss in group therapy /I've heard DBT is good for this/this is a good thing to tell your Dr / etc etc etc.

Someone with BPD is often enacting a pattern of abandonment, and you will never be their rescuer, because they need to rescue themselves, so stepping back to a level of involvement you can healthily and consistly maintain is what will help you, and them.
posted by Elysum at 5:16 AM on April 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

If you're in therapy, talk this situation through with your therapist. What's reasonable for you to do as a coworker and a friend (but not a close friend), what is not reasonable, what are the risks to you, what are appropriate precautions.

Is friend aware that she has BDP? Is she open to therapy? Has she been in therapy in the past?
posted by bunderful at 6:47 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

but then if you know she's got a diagnosis and what specifically it is, she must have told you at some point, which sounds like over-sharing and boundary confusion.

While your coworker is definitely showing strong overstepping of boundaries, I'd like to gently push back on the notion that sharing a diagnosis of a mental illness is crossing a boundary in itself. Borderline Personality Disorder is incredibly stigmatised. Just like any mental illness, people should be able to talk about their illness without shame.
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:52 AM on April 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

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