On The Nature of Abuse

This is perhaps one of the harder pieces I’ve had to write over the years. But one that is equally important in the overall jigsaw of Borderline Personality Disorder and, specifically, my own personal experience with it.

Abuse played a huge part in what triggered my introduction to BPD. Of course, I had no clue it was abuse at the time; in fact it’s not at all novel to say that many people in these situations do not or cannot acknowledge the true nature of what they are.

I certainly didn’t. And it almost killed me.

Abuse can be insidious. It is not as clear cut as saying “did he hit you?”, or covering up scars. It is a systematic – and often systemic – exploitation of a power structure. That could be physical, it could be financial, it could be professional, but linked to all of these is the emotional.

Abuse likes to set rules for its own punishment and reward system. Behave within these confines, or risk the results. Don’t dare try and be yourself if it clashes with the very specific ideals someone sets, in front of which nothing else matters. Not your personal well-being, nor any wider concerns, nor in fact any sort of abuse from other quarters.

Abuse is often singular. And as a result, it becomes isolating.

If an abuser’s campaign is successful, you will start to question your own reactions. Was it my fault? Am I overreacting? Am I just pretending to be the victim because I don’t like this behaviour? You look at your own damage and wonder whether this is what you deserve. That being yourself has always resulted in punishment of some sort; as it has been, so it shall continue to be. This is all you attract, this is all you’re good for.

And so begins the cycle of shame. Those inside a snow globe know not of the world around them, and neither is the world privy to what goes on inside. A violent shake results in momentary beauty; stillness, the freedom to simply exist, is discarded.

To the outside, an abuser embodies that stillness. They radiate calm, often charisma, so that even the abused believes that if they fly off the handle – no matter how insignificant the transgression – it must be justified. They create an environment where it feels impossible for someone to believe you, until you look at it rationally on the other side or, in some cases, until it is too late.

And of course, most abusers would never think that they would fit this description. They steer firmly on their course, unable to introspect, bullying the world around them rather than address their own behaviour.

Their behaviour, of course, rests on an immovable worldview. Things must fall in the walls of these structures, lest they provoke a rage that seems (to them) fully deserved. You did not do as I say or as I believe. That fundamental tenet is their rationale, an avalanche of fire, and in its path fall any concerns for another person’s welfare.

These days abuse is easier to spot but more painful to acknowledge. Walking away from a situation where you see all the signs often doesn’t feel like enough of a justification, even to yourself, though you know it is the right thing to do.

These are the deeper scars that abuse leaves. A closing-off to most opportunities, but also withdrawal from something that on paper doesn’t seem that bad. It’s a one off, they’ll say. He lost his temper, they’ll say. But that doesn’t account for the tangible and genuine fear one feels. That doesn’t account for the exploitation of a power balance where, once again, the abused are the ones who have to engage in apologetic behaviour in order to level things out. To keep the peace. To maintain the imbalance.

Till it happens again. And again. And you’re back in a situation that destroys your self-esteem. For a BPD sufferer, where your own worth already lies deep underground, this could be fatal. The chain of abuse ends with a torturing of the self, till it can be taken no more.

I’ve been lucky to have avoided such situations over the last two years, but occasionally there remain triggers. Situations that one has no choice but to walk away from, regardless of how benevolent a person may seem. Situations that disregard very human concerns for apoplectic, unjustified rage. Situations that one cannot make excuses for.

And if you are having to excuse someone’s behaviour, to yourself or others, it is time to examine the nature of this relationship. Whether with your parents, a partner, a boss, or a friend. If against your better judgement you are having to a toe an enforced line, it is time to address how healthy this situation might be.

After all this time, I still have moments where I think that this is my fault. And even now, when walking away from toxicity, you question what you could have done differently. Whether this is your lot.

It isn’t your lot. And it isn’t your problem. And while you walk away wounded from yet another battle, the scar isn’t as deep this time. You’re learning to parry, to block, to swerve and – more importantly – when to retreat.

And if there is one additional thing I’ve learnt, it’s that the right self-care, the right recovery, and the right professional assistance form an armour of unbreakable thought.

It is an armour of self-respect. The knowledge that you are enough as you are. And it is this gift that I hope any other sufferers of abuse can also take with them for years to come, for even a life clad in armour, braving the elements, is infinitely preferable to being subservient in the sun.

If you feel you are suffering from any sort of emotional or physical abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247