The role of childhood trauma in the development of Borderline Personality Disorder
Neriya is the second of five brothers. When he was a young child, Neriya’s parents would frequently hire Ilai,a neighborhood teenage babysitter. Sometimes Ilai would come when Neriya’s mother was in the house just to be an extra pair of hands when she was busy with a new baby. Sometimes he would look after the children by himself for weeks at a time, like during school vacations.
Because he was fun and full of energy the boys loved having him around. Ilai would take them to the park and play with them. Unlike their parents, he didn’t get angry when they were noisy or made a mess. He was like the perfect older brother. He was so perfect that Neriya didn’t say a word when Ilai would take him aside from time to time and sexually abuse him. It went on for years, but nobody ever found out. Eventually, Ilai moved away and that’s how these episodes ended.
Trouble in the Army
Neriya came to Kav L’Noar at the age of 23. He had finished the army, where he had often got into trouble for his impulsive and aggressive behavior. Sometimes his commanders had wondered whether he was making his service more difficult for himself on purpose.
He was now embroiled in several different relationships which were running almost at the same time because he kept breaking up and getting back together with all of them. Neriya was quick to feel passionately connected to people but equally quick to feel deeply betrayed by those same people. In this state of confusion, he decided it was time to see a therapist.
Diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder
Neriya’s Kav L’Noar therapist worked with him for a couple of months and began to suspect that he might have Borderline Personality Disorder. The therapist sent Neriya to a psychiatrist who confirmed that he did indeed have BPD. Neriya was crushed by this diagnosis. He felt that it meant that he would never make a success of himself, that he’d never live a normal life. Neriya’s therapist told him that BPD is surprisingly common and that there are ways to deal with it, but he wouldn’t listen.
As the weeks went by, Neriya would discuss the latest dramas over his girlfriends with the therapist, who would identify the behaviors that he kept on repeating and point out how much damage these toxic relationships were doing to him. He would dutifully thank the therapist for enlightening him and resolve to break the cycle, but then would call one of his exes and go straight back to square one.
A time to shout
Neriya gradually became more and more frustrated and despairing. He took it all out on the therapist. “We’re going round in circles!” he would yell. “What is the point of going over and over what happened to me as a kid- it happened and there’s nothing I can do about it. You’re only making me talk about it because you have no idea about how to help me and it’s easier for you if I talk about the past. What sort of a therapist are you- you obviously don’t know what you’re doing. Did you even qualify? It’s typical of my luck that I get assigned to the one therapist in Israel who doesn’t know how to do their job! What am I, your first client? This isn’t working. It’s never going to work!”
It’s never easy for a therapist to see their client in such pain and yet Neriya’s fury was very helpful. The therapy room was a safe space. Ilai’s therapist wouldn’t punish him for his rage like his army commander or use it to manipulate him like in one of his on-off relationships. The therapist simply took it as a valuable window into Neriya’s inner world. They worked together even more intensively with the benefit of the new insights.
A time to heal
As time went on, Neriya finally started to make progress. He admitted that the Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis actually helped him. As a result, he was starting to understand why he behaved in the way he did. With the therapist’s help, he began to recognize the patterns in his life which traced all the way back to his childhood. He began to accept that he was capable of acting differently. He let himself believe that he had value as a person, a feeling that Ilai the babysitter had almost completely destroyed all those years earlier. Ilai told the therapist that thanks to their work together, he saw himself differently now.
The breakthrough that the therapist was waiting for finally came when Neriya brought out his phone one session. “Look!”, he said. “I’ve deleted my girlfriend’s phone number from my phone! I’ve finished with her for real this time! I deserve better and I’m ready to find it!”
*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.