Hysterical Woman Problems: JealousyPosted in Borderline Personality Disorder, Polyamory, PTSD, Relationships, Sex By Nikki On February 11, 2013
I’m pretty vocal about my mental health issues when it comes to having PTSD, among other things. I’m not saying it’s always easy to explain these conditions to people or even be able to predict how I’m going to react in certain situations, but I’ve been pretty adamant about trying my damnedest to do so with as little shame as possible, even if it’s just to get more people talking about it.
A little over a year ago, it was suggested to me by a male therapist who I only saw once that I might have Borderline Personality Disorder, the disorder that everyone tells you to steer clear from, date & friendship-wise. I’m not so loud about this one because the stigma is really embarrassing and isolating, no matter who I’m dealing with. A year later, I have not officially received that diagnosis – in fact, my psychiatrist has gone as far as to say that she definitely does not think I have it – yet she urges me to go through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (commonly used to manage the symptoms of BPD, as it’s technically considered “untreatable”) to help manage my emotions. This is when I thank the Goddess for having a doctor who understands trauma – especially in respect to how Borderline Personality Disorder is a diagnosis often thrown at women who have PTSD, especially from abuse. A lot of doctors would rather mark you as “untreatable” with the modern-day equivalent of FEMALE HYSTERIA. Strong emotional responses, and big emotions in general = hysterical. Don’t worry, people with BPD – I know I have internalized BPD-phobia, and it’s definitely because I meet nearly every bit of the criteria for a diagnosis before the most recent DSM changes.
One of the most common things people with BPD have in common is abandonment/attachment issues. Mine run incredibly deep & I feel that I need to warn people about in advance so they can give emotional consent about whether or not they want to invest in a relationship with me. I feel the need to warn them that I’m incredibly sensitive, have a lot of unexplainable triggers that result in dissociation (a whole other article!), and that I have problems trusting that people aren’t going to randomly disappear. And while I own these feelings, actively work on them & and try my hardest not to bring them into my relationships (often going as far as to isolate myself for periods of time when I’m feeling them), they still come up. They still permeate every single aspect of my life. With such BIG emotions, I have to ask for a whole lot of patience & understanding in all types of relationships. People who are diagnosed with BPD often have the tendency to either dive in way too deep or constantly prevent themselves from dipping their toes in the water at all, all due to fears of abandonment. Some of us are trying our hardest every second of the day to figure out some sort of healthy balance for our interpersonal relationships to the point where it gets super confusing. Many of us are very, very tired a lot of the time because of this. Sometimes, I sit around and think about how fucking un-cute that must sound to all of my potential dates and I feel really fucking defeated & lonely.
To my own credit, I think that I’m pretty awesome, and a fabulous girlfriend and date. I’m a babe, super fun, nurturing, love alone time, like to stay busy with personal projects, rather insatiable, am a total sweetheart, not a privacy-invader, have a great sense of humor and a fondness for spoiling folks. Dating me, I hear, is really spectacular. I’m still super tight with the vast majority of my exes, so I even break up well. So don’t avoid someone with PTSD/BPD symptoms just ‘cause you hear it’s an untreatable nightmare.
People often ask me…. having these huge emotions and insecurities, why on earth would I want to be in open relationships? People talk about “Not being able to do polyamory because they get too jealous” or that they “are too insecure.” I most certainly understand the hesitation, and I totally get jealous and insecure. But the truth is, if you’re gonna get jealous in a polyamorous relationship, you’re gonna get jealous in a monogamous one, too. And in a monogamous relationship, that jealousy often manifests into an ominous black cloud of distrust in the event that one of you develops feelings of attraction for someone outside of the agreed-upon configuration.
Let’s say you and your partner are monogamous and your partner develops a crush on someone else. You know when this happens ‘cause you can tell, and maybe your partner denies it because you’re just not supposed to be crushing on other people since you’re dating each other. Or maybe they confess. This is where the trust goes to shit, jealousy takes over, and the relationship starts to get a lot less awesome. Maybe the crush doesn’t even need to happen – when I was in monogamous relationships, I would often be irrationally terrified that my partner would meet someone who “better” for them than me and then leave me as a result. Simultaneously, I found myself leaving partner after partner for new partners, despite still loving the previous ones. It’s how my brain works, and it’s why I struggle with monogamy. I know I get attracted to people, and so do my partners. I just don’t believe that *I* could possibly be the only person my partner wants to have sex with, and I certainly don’t want to repress emotions I feel for others because I’m only “supposed to” be having them for one person at a time. Monogamy doesn’t keep a partner with you if an attraction to someone else materializes, which seems to be what a lot of people hope it will do.
What’s amazing about being in an open relationship is that this attraction (which is a normal, human emotion that is not magically suppressed by monogamy!) is okay, and that the attraction, if it turns into something more than just an attraction, DOESN’T mean that your partner has to choose between you and this new person. You still get your partner, and others if you want them! Magic! Neither of you have to feel guilty for being attracted to other people because you can still be with each other and others without shame. Therefore, the attraction, and perhaps the subsequent new relationship, doesn’t have to be terrifying & jealousy-inducing.
But obviously, it’s sometimes still going to be terrifying & jealousy-inducing. Especially if you have some pretty serious mental health stuff going on… you know, like Borderline Personality Disorder, or PTSD, or abandonment issues that dominate your life. Changes in the amount of time you get to spend with a partner might trigger said issues. You might even be happy for this new person because they are now lucky enough to be spending time with your totally amazing partner who is deserving of all of the love in the world, but it can be really hard to not fall into “They are better than me because of this, this and this,” or “They are more fun/smart/cute” and “I bet they don’t have fucking HYSTERICAL WOMAN PROBLEMS.” I think that being in a non-standard mental condition complicates this – it’s constantly reinforced that when we have personality disorders, our thought patterns are wrong. We have ‘disordered thinking,’ not just thinking. We’ve been told forever that we’re too emotional or too sensitive, that are feelings and fears are not based on reality.
Sometimes, as a “HYSTERICAL WOMAN,” I feel like I can’t talk about being jealous or insecure without feeling as though my emotions are not valid. That everything I say or do is considered a response to me being CRAZY so that it can be dismissed immediately as irrational thought. That no matter what I say about how I feel, I’m “falling victim to programming” because I can’t feel totally secure all of the time. A lot of books and articles about poly/open relationships talk about jealousy being a real, valid emotion, yet something that we should be working toward being completely immune to because it indicates that we have a desire to own/control our partner. I don’t like the way that is phrased, because to me, it makes me afraid to feel an emotion – afraid to be jealous, because simply feeling jealous supposedly indicates some unhealthy desire to dominate or abuse. The truth is, despite whether our jealousies are rooted in our “programming,” reactions to spending less time with a partner, or anything else in the world, they are based on SOMETHING. They are valid. Our reactions are okay to talk about, if we want to talk about them. If you can be responsible with your jealousy and not harm your partners with it, why should feel ashamed to feel it?
There is definitely a wrong way to talk about being jealous of your partners’ other partners’ WITH your partner. Assuming that nobody’s boundaries have been violated… you absolutely cannot go into the conversation expecting your partner to magically whisk away your jealousy. It just ain’t gonna happen. And if you have BPD or abandonment issues, you are likely familiar with the feeling of wanting a quick cure for some overwhelming emotion. Understand that your jealousy is coming from within – it’s your interpretation of events, people, ideas, time and emotions. That doesn’t mean it’s not real, but it is your emotion. You can ask for reassurance of their feelings for you. You can provide ideas of things that you need in order to feel better and give your partner the option of whether or not they can fulfill them. But you cannot ask your partner to take away your jealousy, and you cannot expect your partner to have a silver bullet fix for your hurt feelings. You have to be responsible for your own emotions. Realize that there is going to be a lot of work you’ll have to do on your own, with your friends, with your therapist, with books. Do good things for yourself and validate yourself privately… relationships are not easy, and the fact that you’re talking about this stuff is pretty awesome. Even though your partner can’t fix this feeling you have, it’s still okay to have it!
I sometimes worry that because NOBODY thinks that insecurity is attractive (“I am attracted to a woman with confidence!” says everyone in the entire world except for abusers), talking about having jealous feelings, if I am having them, will me less desirable to date. And what will THAT mean for my relationships? If I get jealous of someone else in a partner’s life, will that make me less hot/sexy/dateable? Will that drive a partner away from me and closer to his/her other dates? Is that what really happens, or is that the fear of abandonment talking? There’s no telling, but it’s important to not get hung up on that and remember how special YOU are, and the things that make your connection with that partner unique – your relationship with that partner is not going to fall apart because that partner has a completely different special thing with another person. And, your relationship with your partner will not be destroyed by your jealousy unless you don’t work with it on your own. I just don’t believe that anyone is immune to jealousy. Even those poly folks you know who seem to successfully juggle lots of relationships fall victim to such feelings. Chances are, your dates’ other dates even get jealous of you, even if you have HYSTERICAL FEMALE PROBLEMS.
My personal poly goal has always been to have a primary relationship with a loving, supportive, babely partner who feels safe and comfortable exploring other relationships, sexual or non, during her time with me, who also encourages me to do the same. To some, this configuration is too hierarchical – some people don’t want a girlfriend or a primary partner; they just want a bunch of awesome people in their lives. But to me, it comes naturally to have a primary partner when the right person comes along – I have always been a “primary partner” kinda guy. I love so damn hard and making a strong connection comes naturally to me, both as a person who maybe/maybe not has BPD and as a Taurus woman ruled by Venus. It is the place in relationships that feels the most comfortable to me, with my desire not to stifle or be stifled, as well as my need to feel grounded in a relationship. I have even heard this be referred to as “not poly,” which I disagree with. I still can have a lot of awesome people in my life, as can my partner, and they are all incredibly significant. I love seeing my partners happy, and I know happiness ain’t always easy to come by. The thing that gets me to that place, as well as gets me past a lot of jealousy issues that come up with non-monogamy, is having (at least) a casual acquaintanceship with my partners’ other partners. I don’t like to make this casual acquaintanceship have anything to do with our mutual partner – I like it to be casual talks about things, just getting-to-know-you type stuff. Saying hi, addressing one another. I find that this decreases the jealousy that comes up on all sides – making human connections, seeing that these other people in your partners’ lives are good people who aren’t out to hurt you.
Relationships take work, monogamous or not. I am not always at this idealistic, happy-go-lucky, jealousy-free place, and this is often magnified by eleventy-billion when I’m having a BPD/PTSD flare-up. Sometimes I feel utterly destroyed when a partner hangs out with a sweetheart who isn’t me when I feel like I’m feeling particularly needy. Sometimes the abandonment kicks in immediately and tells me “You have been forgotten.” Part of this is learning to manage my emotions rather than manage my relationship – figuring out what my emotions are, giving them names, and working with them directly. I’m still working this out, just like everything else. Because, on the flip-side, my partner(s) and I all get love and sex and abundance, because we all deserve it – all of those things come with their own unique challenges, and while it can be hard, it can also be easy and awesome!
Everyone gets jealous, in poly OR monogamous relationships. And jealousy can be scary to talk about, especially when your giant emotions are already seen as “too much.” But, jealousy doesn’t go away when we internalize it – it turns into a giant pit of burning flesh inside of your stomach, which leads to other mentally & physically damaging things. Like anxiety, like ulcers, like bowel problems. Talk through your jealousy, say it out loud. Say to your partner, “I feel jealous about you spending your birthday with another partner” and your partner may simply tell you “I love you so much and I can’t wait to do something special with you for my birthday” and you remember that everyone is human, life is short, and everyone deserves as much love and admiration and time with special people that they can squeeze into their years on this earth. Including you.
Nikki is a 30-something crazy queer big-haired gothy dirtbag femme Taurus in Portland, OR who grew up junkie class in NJ. She loves making magic, making music, drawing maps & talking to the dead. She's an anxiety-riddled, panic-stricken, scaredycat tough-as-fuck abuse-surviving agoraphobic weirdo with PTSD, ADD & a tendency to dissociate. She once thought that it was a problem that she found secret meanings & messages in everything that she encountered, but now realizes that it's a gift for survival.
Thank you do much — I read this article right when I needed to.
I have a beautiful partner who is naturally poly, and I’m an anxious/depressive/abuse-surviving monogamish person trying not to ruin our relationship. We’ve tried being open before, and even after switching back to monogamy, I still have a horrible tendency towards jealousy. If anything, trying to avoid it makes it even worse.
This article just gave me the courage to try to open myself up to the experience of an open relationship again. We’ve had our good moments with our bad ones, and I don’t want to continue to stifle my partner in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid an emotion that is going to happen anyway.
OMG, THANK YOU!
I have been scouring the internet for weeks for something exactly like this. See, here’s the thing, before my partner of 18 years came out as poly to me a month ago I had zero idea I had BPD. Self esteem issues like whoa? Sure. A horrible dread of ever being alone ever? You betcha. A history of abuse, neglect and being raised by a parent with bipolar. Why yes. It had never even occurred to me until his first date with his new lady friend triggered complete dysregulation. I have been struggling so hard (the dysregulation continues) to be okay with this. To separate the trigger from the cause as it were. But it’s hard, you know? When I’m lucid, it’s fine. I love my partner more than ever and I know he’d never leave me. When I’m not. . . well, he’s an evil abuser who is taking terrible advantage of his poor mentally ill wife *and* the young woman he’s also seeing. I often suspect, lucid and not, that his other partner may also have hysterical lady problems and that is, honestly, disquieting. But, as they say, not my monkeys, not my circus. Except when it feels like it is.
To see someone with such similar issues to me saying it’s possible to get past the mountain of pain. The disordered thinking. The mood swings. To hear it’s possible to get to a point where I can separate my disorder from my actual opinions which are that poly is fine and once I’ve been through a million years of DBT I could probably enjoy more partners and that my lovely spouse deserves to be happy.
I want to get there. I really do. Thanks for giving me some hope.