Attachment is a bit of a touchy subject for anyone with a BPD label. Whether or not we have attachment issues stemming from childhood, we will probably develop an unhealthy attitude towards attachment during our so called “BPD recovery journey”. This looks different for different people. I have friends that will openly admit and claim attachment to just about anything – including professionals. I know others who have been let down and hurt so many times in their lives that they won’t let themselves form any attachments to anyone, or anything. Then there are others, like me, who are so scared of being labelled as “attached” or “dependent” and the connotations that brings with it within services that they will go to great lengths to force themselves not to feel any attachment to any aspect of their care or interactions with services, or if they do – they won’t admit it.
I’m used to comings and goings. I’m well rehearsed at goodbyes. I’ve lead quite a transient life for the past two decades, across more than one continent. I grew into an adult in the Middle East – where the countries of the Arabian Gulf have a constant ebb and flow of international expats. I’ve been to uni, I’ve travelled, I’ve been in many different jobs, friendship groups and lived in different places. I’ve been in and out of units, hospitals and day programmes – each time with a different population, even if it is the same place. I’ve had more than 8 care co-ordinators in half as many years. I’m used to moving on, I do it well even though I struggle with changes. Everything comes to an end at some point and I accept that and am OK with it.
I’ve also had plenty of constants in my life. My parents live in the same house I grew up in, I still live in the city I was born in (albeit a very different Sheffield!). I have friends who I have known for years. I don’t think I have unhealthy attachments.
So why am I so paranoid at this label? This judgement that just one part of my life puts upon me? In services, showing signs of attachment is bad. But in the rest of my life I am praised for my ability to make appropriate connections and maintain them (though it doesn’t come easily – I have to work hard at this). Even in my work – in the same organisation I receive care from – I am praised for networking, building connections and nurturing them. Log onto supervision records and I’m someone who works well with others. Log into the patient records system and it is a very different story. Suddenly I’m this clinging gremlin who needs to be shook off. Overly dependent. Must be cut off. Must not do anything to build up too much of a rapport because the dreaded “attachment” might occur.
So I don’t let myself do it. I presume I should not show any emotion or feeling when things suddenly chop and change. I wait on edge – preparing myself for when it is pulled away. If someone asks me how I feel about it I will automatically say “I’m fine, it doesn’t bother me”. I am a robot. Robots don’t have personalities. So their personalities can’t get disordered. Robots are not sentient beings, they don’t need anyone else, they don’t need attachments. I have to prove I have no attachment to any aspect of services. Because that is what people want of us. I had one clinician last year tell me “Oh I never tell “PD patients” if I’m leaving because it just causes me problems before I go.” Incredibly sorry for your inconvenience – we’re just trying to navigate this minefield!
I am the same person who goes to work, as I am the one who walks into an appointment. But suddenly what is good becomes bad and what is bad becomes good. Right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right. How am I supposed to know what is right in the world? Yes, maybe some of us do have difficulties knowing how to form appropriate attachments – but put yourself in the shoes of someone who is constantly being given conflicting messages about what is “healthy”. Is the behaviour you’re “observing” the result of a personality defect or is it simply because the person is confused and doesn’t want to get hurt and either clings or pushes away in a desperate act of self-preservation.
I hear many clinicians say “Oh its so hard to work with BPD patients, because we don’t want to run the risk of forming attachments” Replace the word “attachments” with “a healthy, trusting, reliable and working relationship” and suddenly that sentence sounds completely bizarre doesn’t it? By running the risk of creating an “attachment” you are also running the risk of providing a safe space for someone to explore themselves, nurture and grow – and ultimately fly the nest when they are ready. Because that’s how a healthy attachment starts and ends – naturally.
You are a human being. The best way to care for someone is to use your skills as a human being and not go against them.