On an entirely separate subject…
I am on several polyamory email lists and web-groups and communities, and there’s something I see over and over again than I’m going to try to summarize here. And then give my opinion about.
It starts when Well-Meaning Person* posts for advice about a poly relationship they are having with someone who is, to put it succinctly, emotionally unstable. Like, seriously unstable. The manifestations I see most often cited are things like: the person has wild swings in their feelings of self-worth, an inability to identify internal preferences (including sexual), and a tendency to become involved in intense and unstable relationships, often leading to emotional crisis. The unstable person can be extremely charming, but also extremely insecure, is prone to making recurrent threats or acts of self-harm; they experience chronic feelings of emptiness, and they display excessive efforts to avoid abandonment.
And the Well-Meaning Person wants to know how to do poly with someone who is like that.
The answer is: NOT. You can’t do it. A person who behaves like that is not equipped to handle the emotional challenges of polyamory. None of those behaviors are fun to be around, but it’s the last one that’s really a killer for poly. That’s why I italicized it. The phrases are taken from a textbook description of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Now, BPD is a diagnosis that some people think is valid and some people don’t. I’m not qualified to diagnose anyone, but I have met people who act exactly like that description. So I can’t say if it’s inappropriately slapped on people who don’t warrant it, but I do know there are folks running around who fit it.
So, what such emotionally unstable people should do about how they are is outside my scope of expertise. But I know something they should not do, and that’s try to be polyamorous. The part about insecurity and excessive efforts to avoid abandonment? Yeah. I think some of the unstable people think if they have more lovers, they’ll feel more loved, and thus safer. But it never seems to work out that way. (I suppose if they were polyamorous and all their lovers were monogamous, maybe. But that’s usually not the way it is.) Polyamory requires an ability to tolerate and self-soothe some short-term emotional discomforts, and to trust that one isn’t going to be abandoned. This kind of unstable person does not possess those traits.
In these situations, I sometimes try to suggest that this simply isn’t going to work. Well-Meaning Person usually doesn’t want to hear that. There’s an idea that WMP could stop the unstable person from manifesting those behaviors, if the WMP person just knew how to comfort and reassure the unstable person properly. That’s what I call the “I Can Love Them All Better” fallacy. No. You can’t. You can love someone in spite of the behaviors, but no matter how much or how well you love them, you will not love those behaviors out of existence.
The “Love Them All Better” thing is often bolstered by other people on the list making suggestions for what kind of med/therapy/ect the unstable person should be doing. None of which is bad information, and if the unstable person wants resources, I’m all for giving them. But to me, the way the situation is expressed, and the way the advice is given, it often subtly reinforces the idea that the WMP person should be fixing the unstable person.
I really don’t agree with that. Adults are responsible for their own physical health. Unless you fall unconscious on the sidewalk, if there’s something wrong with you, you are the one responsible for either dealing with it yourself, or getting someone to help you deal with it, like a doctor. I think the same is true of mental health. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help. You should, definitely. But you have to be the one doing the asking, and then doing the work it takes to get fixed.
However, I’m definitely not going to argue with anyone on the internet about their relationship. I’m not Sigmund Freud or Dr Phil or anything – what I say is based only on my personal observations. And no one stops doing anything – including having relationships with emotionally unstable people – until they’re ready to. It’s sometimes hard to watch Well-Meaning People run around and around in a hamster wheel
But I can vent about on my blog. So I did.
*Yes, I know I have posted before about how "help" is sometimes just a nice word for "control". But today, we’ll give the WMP the benefit of the doubt.