What is a Favourite Person?
It might seem obvious, even innocuous when somebody says that you are their favourite person. Gee, how flattering! However, if you have BPD though, or are the FP of someone with BPD you will probably be aware that this is not as innocent and congenial as first appears. We’re not talking best friends here: we’re talking serious dependency (possibly co-dependency) issues that can be damaging, upsetting and draining.
Amongst all the disparaging BPD related information that floats around the internet I think you would be hard pushed to find anything more disparaging than discussions around the issue of a Favourite Person. Favourite person, FP, is a term given to THE relationship which someone with borderline relies on more than all the others in order to have a sense of self, a sense of worth and a sense of stability. Our FP can be anyone, regardless of how well we actually know them. It might well be someone we are in an intimate relationship with, but could just as well be a counsellor or work colleague.
What happens when we adopt a FP?
We quickly become emotionally dependent on our FP and this dependency can be obsessive and very unhealthy for both parties. Depending on whether our needs are being met we will adore you (idealise) or hate you (devaluise) – an occurrence that is commonly known as ‘splitting’. Often we will put your needs before our own which in theory might sound great, but the down side is that we expect the same from you and obviously this is both unrealistic and unreasonable on both sides and certainly no way to conduct a relationship. You are our anchor, until you do, or don’t do, something that we consider a rejection of some sort. We will panic and flounder like a boat on stormy seas that can only be calmed, yes you guessed it, by you coming to save us and re-anchor us.
Our emotions will be dictated by our interactions with others, especially with our FP. Satisfying interactions will reap joy and idolisation, unsatisfying interactions will pretty much end our world. We will want your attention and validation, constantly, and when we feel your attention is divided we will feel utterly bereft, rejected, and incredibly angry. All the time and attention in the world will not be enough for us. We have incredibly high expectations of you (after all, our sense of being depends on you) and whilst this is both unrealistic and unfair on you, we are not setting out to be cruel, greedy or manipulative. We are simply trying to survive with some sense of meaning, and feel some sense of self.
You will likely feel suffocated, exhausted, confused and desperate and, understandably not sure how long you can keep going with the level of intensity and heightened emotions involved with your FP. You may find yourself doing things just to please them, or not doing things that you need or want to do for fear of yet another outburst or meltdown.
If you are living with someone with BPD and you are their FP you probably know this already. You’ve probably felt it and if you’ve looked around the internet you will have read that this is the stark reality of being an FP. What you might not have read, what you may not know is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things that can be done by both sides to make the relationship more equal, more realistic, less stressful and more enjoyable.
The following tips are based on the assumption that you (the non-BPD sufferer, although let’s face it – we all do suffer together in our differing ways) really do care about the person with BPD, or at least you don’t want to cause them any more pain or distress.It will take hard work and commitment on both parts to make this kind of relationship work, but it CAN work. You may have to go over the same ground again and again, repeat yourself, reassure the BPD, be very patient and very calm even when that is tough for you.
Likewise I am assuming the BPD sufferer reading this is wanting to learn to manage their behaviours and work hard to create a healthier relationship. On our part, we will need to listen – really listen to you, trust you, challenge ourselves and our automatic assumptions, and be as calm as we possibly even when our insides are turning volcanic at an alarming rate.
So, the ideal healthy relationship would be one that is equal with flexible but ‘firm’ boundaries, mutual respect, an equal measure of give and take, reasonable expectations from each other and an understanding of each others’ perspective, or at least a willingness to work towards this together!
There are certain things that can be addressed together to help begin the process of bringing a healthy balance to the relationship:
Work them out together, calmly, kindly. For example; on Tuesdays you will go to the gym after work, Fridays you will go for a drink with colleagues on the way home. Every other Saturday you will have lunch with your old friend from school.
Of course we can’t plan for everything in advance, but if there is some predictability, reliability and routine it will help us manage our expectations and give us time to make alternative arrangements ourselves if we wish to.
As a rule, relationships work on a basis of give and take. Make sure that your relationship is one where both sides give as much as they take. Of course, sometimes one will need more support than the other, but one-sided relationships are not healthy for either party. If you feel the balance is out of kilter, then address this together, when both of you are in a calm and stable place emotionally.
We are both adults, so be sure to always treat each other as such. Not only will this engender greater respect for each other, it will also encourage us to take full responsibility for our emotions and responses particularly in stressful situations.
All of this might sound horribly structured and regimented – no way to conduct a relationship, surely? It will not always be so and, if you can both persevere through the difficult stages of learning to manage BPD, things will improve and there will be much more room for flexibility and spontaneity.
What can you do?
- Learn as much as you can about borderline personality disorder. Understanding is key to learning to manage BPD. (you will find this at the top of each blog list: I cannot emphasise this point enough and I make no apologies for repeating myself!)
- By now you probably know the signs of over-dependency or one-sidedness in the relationship . When you spot these signs talk to us about them, ask what would help us feel more secure and stable (within reason – always within reason!)
- Whenever possible don’t have ‘serious’ talks via text – talk face to face so we can see your expressions and body-language and we can see that you still care. It is so easy to misread a text – or to read too much into what is or isn’t said.
- If, for example, you will be in meetings all day and can’t talk then let us know. Tell us you’re not ignoring us, but…
- If you need to cancel or postpone plans with us, do so kindly and gently and calmly. If you are cancelling because of our behaviour be honest about that too – you may need to do a bit (ok, a lot!) of reassuring but it is important that your needs are met, and that we are made aware of the impact that we have on others.
- If you can’t be with us for a longer period of time then let us know every now and then that you are thinking about us and you care.
- If something is on your mind let us know. Don’t fall into the pattern of protecting us and don’t let us fall into the pattern of only ever taking from you. It is good for us to be reminded that you have needs too and that you are not infallible.
- Be clear when you are talking to us about your plans. Don’t be too ambiguous or vague, and check that we understand what to expect.
- Wherever possible don’t spring surprises on us! If you know you have plans for saturday, then tell us as soon as you know – don’t wait for Friday night or Saturday morning. This will give us chance to plan something to do ourselves and to figure out some coping strategies if we need to.
- Don’t make unhealthy efforts to meet our needs. You might feel that this is what you should be doing to keep the peace or keep you safe but in the long-term this will only increase our unrealistic expectations of you.
- Stay as calm as you can when we panic, and always let us know you still care (no matter how frustrated or angry you might be feeling).
What can I (we) do?
- Learn as much as you can about borderline personality disorder. Understanding is key to learning to manage BPD.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! For this, you need to push as hard as you can against the borderline instinct to only have one person in your life that can meet all your emotional needs. Find other friends and other means of support outside of the relationship with your FP – this will also give you the chance to discuss your perspective objectively with people other than your FP should the need arise (which it will!)
- Remember that your FP has their own emotional needs and limits, and allow them space to feel what they need to feel and express it when they need to.
- Find a therapist, or a peer-support group, where you can rant and rage if you need to but try (really really try) not to lash out at your FP when they tell you they’re going for a drink with colleagues after work.
- Don’t wait for, or expect, your FP to fix you. Only you can do that – with help, yes, but ultimately nobody else can fix you.
- Lower your expectations of your FP. Sounds impossible I know, but try to keep in mind that they are in fact only human. They have flaws, they have feelings and needs, and they have limits. They also have other friends, other interests and a life beyond that which they have with you. They are a fellow person, not your personal saviour, your personal property or your personal therapist. Try to remember this when you are feeling abandoned, and ask yourself are you being reasonable in what you expect?
- Before you retaliate to a message or comment that you feel is somehow ‘against you’, stop and read through the message again. Remind yourself of the qualities of your FP and ask yourself would they really say ‘xyz’ when they know how you’d feel? Probably not, so then ask yourself is that really what they are saying? If you need to check, then go ahead and check but if possible wait until you’re calm before doing so. And don’t panic if you don’t get a response within seconds (remember to question your expectations) – that is not proof that they were being horrible on purpose. I repeat – it is not proof!
- If you are feeling let down or rejected try to see the situation by reversing roles: would going for a drink with a friend after work mean you loved your FP any less? If you didn’t pick up when they rang because you were getting on the bus and couldn’t talk, would it mean you had rejected or abandoned them? These kind of internal challenges may not be possible until further down the line of managing our BPD, but the time will come when you can begin to answer this without ‘no, but…’
- Don’t make unhealthy efforts to meet your FPs needs. You might worry that they will stop loving you if you don’t idolise them in this way but remember these are your fears talking – not reality. The more you can treat your FP as an equal, the better you will feel.
- Find other ways to feel validated and worthy, other than through your FP. This will take a lot of hard work, and it will probably take time for you to feel any lasting benefits of this, but it will not only take the pressure off the FP to meet your emotional needs, it will also relieve you of the pressure and panic of the possibility of losing them .
It may seem that constantly needing to send an extra text for reassurance, or telling us – again – that you love us and won’t leave us is simply pandering to our needs but relationships don’t work without compromise on both parts. As long as neither parties compromise themselves in order to appease the borderline behaviours, accommodating each other in order to promote balance and security can not be a bad thing.
If you are prepared for a long, hard, and sometimes painful slog then there is always hope.
If you have any questions, ideas or things that have worked for you, please feel free to write these in the comments section below.