Do you want me to say it's funny, so you can contradict me
and say it's sad? Or do you want me to say it's sad so you
can turn around and say no, it's funny?
-- Edward Albee
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Regardless of how a Controller with a Borderline Personality Disorder can alter and tailor his appearance to deceive others, he still presents with a clear and characteristic personality pattern. This pattern usually emerges in three stages or roles: Vulnerable Seducer, Clinger and Hater. These stages cycle and often swing wildly from one role to the next, but through drawing a picture of how these stages appear, a basic portrait can be loaded into your developing Controller-detection-system.
At first, a Borderline male may appear shy, vulnerable or "ambivalently in need of care." This is the first clue: beware of men who feel like lost puppies. If you experience an urge to take him home and feed him, don't- especially if you are in an emotionally needy state. But if you can't stop yourself, then avoid a future feeding frenzy on your soul by making a careful scan for the following reactions and characteristics as you enter this spirit-eater's lair.
In the beginning, you will feel a rapidly accelerating sense of compassion for whatever painful plight he has gotten himself into, because he is a master at portraying himself as the "victim of circumstance." But listen closely to how he sees himself as a victim. As his peculiar emotional invasion advances upon you, you will hear how no one understands him - except you. Other people have always left him because of their "insensitivity." He is always being betrayed, just when he starts trusting people. But there is something "special" about you, because "you really know me."
It is this intense way he has of bearing down on you emotionally that can feel very seductive. You will feel elevated, adored - almost worshiped. And you will feel that way quickly. It may seem like a great deal has happened between the two of you in a short period of time, because every conversation is so intense, and his attention is so focused on you. But if you're paying attention, you will feel his adoration by the third date, or sooner. Initially, it feels like an invisible army of sweet, chocolate ants is subtly infiltrating you. But the invasion may be hard to notice because it feels good, just as the Trojans must have felt good when they towed the Trojan Horse into their city, only to discover it filled with Greek Berserkers bent on destruction and conquest. Heed the warning that Cassandra gave to Troy's King Priam; "Fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts." But it's difficult to say no to a gift from the gods, especially if you have already tapped one too many dry relationship-wells.
Here is a man who may look like a dream come true. He not only seems to make you the center of his attention, but he even craves listening to your opinions, thoughts and ideas. If you have never experienced a man treating you like this before, it can seem like you have really found your heart's desire. But like anything that seems too good to be true, it usually is. While you may think you're about to enjoy the tasty pleasures of a Mr. Goodbar, Mr. Goodbar is about to take more than a taste out of you. And borderline men emotionally eat their women whole.
Once he has successfully candied his hook with adoration, he will weld it into place by reeling in your attention and concern. His intense interest in you subtly transforms. He still appears to be interested in you, but no longer in what you are interested in. His interest becomes your exclusive interest in him. This is when things begin to feel "uncomfortable." Your thoughts, feelings and ideas fascinate him, but only when they focus on his problems. You can tell when this happens because you can feel him "perk-up" emotionally whenever your attention focuses upon his feelings and conflicts. Those moments can emotionally hook your compassion more deeply into him, because that is when he will treat you well - even tenderly. That's why, if you confuse pity with love, you'll believe you're in love with him. Especially if your maternal instinct is strong and rescuing is at the heart of your "motherly code." Following that code results in the most common excuse I hear as a therapist, as to why many women stay with borderline men, ".... But I love him!" Adult love is built on mutual interest, care and respect - not on one-way rescues. And mothering is for kids. Not grown men.
But, if like King Priam, you do fall prey to this Trojan Horse and let him inside your city gates, the first Berserker to leave the horse will be the devious Clinger. A master at strengthening his control through pity, he is brilliant at eliciting sympathy and identifying those most likely to provide it-like the steady-tempered and tenderhearted.
The world ails him. Physical complaints are common. His back hurts. His head aches. Peculiar pains of all sorts come and go like invisible, malignant companions. If you track their appearance, though, you may see a pattern of occurrence connected to the waning or waxing of your attentions. His complaints are ways of saying, "don't leave me. Save me!" And his maladies are not simply physical. His feelings ail him too.
He is depressed or anxious, detached and indifferent or vulnerable and hypersensitive. He can swing from elated agitation to mournful gloom at the blink of an eye. Watching the erratic changes in his moods is like tracking the needle on a Richter-scale chart at the site of an active volcano, and you never know which flick of the needle will predict the big explosion.
But after every emotional Vesuvius he pleads for your mercy. And if he has imbedded his guilt-hooks deep enough into your conscientious nature, you will stay around and continue tracking this volcanic earthquake, caught in the illusion that you can discover how to stop Vesuvius before he blows again. But, in reality, staying around this cauldron of emotional unpredictability is pointless. Every effort to understand or help this type of man is an excruciatingly pointless exercise in emotional rescue.
It is like you are a Coast Guard cutter and he is a drowning man. But he drowns in a peculiar way. Every time you pull him out of the turbulent sea, feed him warm tea and biscuits, wrap him in a comfy blanket and tell him everything is okay, he suddenly jumps overboard and starts pleading for help again. And no matter how many times you rush to the emotional - rescue, he still keeps jumping back into trouble. It is this repeating, endlessly frustrating pattern which should confirm to you that you are involved with a Borderline Personality Disorder. No matter how effective you are at helping him, nothing is ever enough. No physical, financial or emotional assistance ever seems to make any lasting difference. It's like pouring the best of your self into a galactic-sized Psychological Black Hole of bottomless emotional hunger. And if you keep pouring it in long enough, one-day you'll fall right down that hole yourself. There will be nothing left of you but your own shadow, just as it falls through his predatory "event horizon." But before that happens, other signs will reveal his true colors.
Sex will be like a rocket ride on the Oblivion Express. Anyone who can be so instinctually tuned in to reading your needs and manipulating them can also pinpoint your g-spot with the fine-tuned skill of a Swiss jeweler cleaving a diamond. It will seem wonderful - for a while.
The intensity of his erotic passion can sweep you away like a strange destiny on the blue sea of august, but his motive for lusting upon you is double-edged. One side of it comes from the instinctually built-in, turbulent emotionality of his disorder. Intensity is his trump-card. But the other side of him is driven by an equally concentrated need to control you. The sexual pyrotechnics, while imposing, are motivated from a desire to dominate you, not please you. And, after a while, too much of a good thing might actually be too much, to the point where you feel like buying an arc-welding kit and forging your own cast-iron chastity belt. Or perhaps his erotic intensity will be there in a more cunning way. A borderline-sociopathic patient once described this "way," as if he had just invented the light bulb. Little did he know that thousands of erotic Edisons had already preceded him.
Shortly after he had seduced and married his third wife, a Controller named "Tom" developed a calculating and classically "I hate you-I love you" borderline way of sexually controlling his woman. Since he knew that the marked conscientiousness of his wife's character made her particularly loyal, he was certain his method of erotic control would work because, no matter how much she desired sex, she would never seek it with someone else. This was the key to his method, and his way of making her feel simultaneously responsible and guilty for her own desires and his cunning manipulation of them.
Knowing that he had control of her loyalty, he would "work" her sexual longing by timing its gratification. He would do this by turning her on, then losing interest by feigning "a tough day at the office," "a sore back," or some other pretext. All the while, his borderline instinct for reading her level of sexual frustration watched and waited, until he could tell that she was in a state of carnal gridlock. Then he released the laser intensity of his loin-lions upon her now fever-pitched libido and gratified her to the nth-degree.
To increase the agonizing effect of this cycle upon her, he added two more factors of frustration. He initiated the first by catching her while she secretly masturbated. And when he caught her, he always feigned outraged and agonized sexual betrayal. This ratcheted up her sense of guilt even further. Then - just to twist that ratchet one last click - he dropped using excuses like tough days at the office and sore backs for one that was a psychological coup de trompe' of controller manipulation. He started accusing her of sexually abusing him!
He had completely succeeded in deceiving her into believing that she was manipulating poor, erotically-exhausted him. And he had gotten her to cling to him! Once a Borderline Controller has succeeded in this kind of sexual "trick," or in other less genital manipulations, the Hater appears. This hateful part of him may have emerged before, but you probably will not see it in full, acidic bloom until he feels he has achieved a firm hold on your conscience and compassion. But when that part makes it's first appearance, rage is how it breaks into your life.
What gives this rage its characteristically borderline flavor is that it is very difficult for someone witnessing it to know what triggered it in reality. But that is its primary identifying clue: the actual rage-trigger is difficult for you to see. But in the Borderline's mind it always seems to be very clear. To him, there is always a cause. And the cause is always you. Whether it is the tone of your voice, how you think, how you feel, dress, move or breathe - or "the way you're looking at me," - he will always justify his rage by blaming you for "having to hurt you."
Rage reactions are also unpredictable and unexpected. They happen when you least expect it. And they can become extremely dangerous.
If a Controller is solely Borderline, his rages may remain verbal. You might be ducking a lot of dishes, glasses and other breakables, or the occasional airborne frying pan or flying cutlery set. But do not deceive yourself into believing that he is not directly aiming any of these missiles at you. Sooner or later one of them will "just happen" to hit you-or the kids, the cat or dog. And his excuse will be, "It was an accident," or "I didn't mean to hit you," or the ever-classic "Why didn't you duck?" - Not, "Why do I act so insane?"
With a Borderline, there is also the danger that one of these rages will precipitate or be precipitated by a temporary or long-lasting psychotic break. If this happens, a scattered state of rage may instantly become a precisely aimed attack, with you fixed in the cross-hairs.
If you sense any explosion coming, or one has already begun, leave. Do not try to "reason" him out of it. Immediately grab the kids, cats and dogs and get out now. Don't worry about what the neighbors or anyone else will think if he chases you outside. "Witness statements" to the police can help if you need to file a restraining order.
While there is never a guarantee that a solely borderline Controller will become physically violent or not, they will always become verbally, emotionally and psychologically abusive. Just keep one simple fact always in mind, regardless of whether a Controller is borderline, narcissistic, sociopathic or sadistic: Whenever any of them are criticizing characteristics in you, they are making autobiographical statements about themselves.
Blame is their way of unloading their character defects onto you. Listen closely to the hateful things they say to you about you. You are listening to verbatim descriptions of their character defects. This is extremely important to remember, especially in the midst of verbal attack. These are the only moments when you will hear the truth about the man who lies concealed behind the steel wall of his personality disorder. But never point that fact out to him. If you do, it may be the last time you see him alive. But not because you're still around to know he's not dead.
As we move along through this series of articles, try not be intimidated by "clinical" terms, such as 'personality disorder,' 'borderline,' 'sociopath,' etc. They are just words professionals have come to use in describing different technical aspects of mind and personality. The issue here is learning about control and Controllers. In particular, this series is about learning clear-cut, practical ways of spotting them and dealing with them. Think of Romeo's Bleeding as both map and compass. It is designed to help you safely navigate the often-treacherous waters of romance, love and finding the Right guy to have as a boy-friend or even as just a good friend.
This series of articles is condensed and modified toward a Young Woman's perspective, from Control><Counter-Control: How to Identify and Overcome Controlling Men and Women-At Home to Corporate Battlefield, © Roger Melton, 1998, which has yet to find a publisher.
Next in this series > Romeo's Bleeding: Part 6-Counter-Control.