At the root of Borderline Personality Disorder, the singularity from where all of the effects of the disorder sprout, is the distorted perspective: My feelings are inherently irrelevant and shameful. Devoid of worth.
People with the disorder adopted this ‘belief’, or subconscious certainty, during a relatively small window of time in their critical formative years; somewhere between birth, and four or five years of age. They arrived at this subconscious perspective by drawing obvious conclusions from the subtle (and sometimes, not-so-subtle) unhealthy attitudes and behaviors that their emotional teachers themselves consistently showed towards feelings. In all cases, our emotional teachers are our parents, or immediate caregivers.
There is a second erroneous belief, or foundation perspective, that sprouts directly from the first one. It is: If my feelings are irrelevant, shameful, and worthless, then I myself must also be inherently irrelevant and shameful, devoid of worth. After all, your feelings are you.
(Note: People with Borderline Personality Disorder are not naturally, consciously, aware that they live with these fundamental perspectives.)
You’re wondering how this all translates into infidelity.
I'll be using a man as the protagonist through most of this article, because I myself was the man, and I am simply describing real-life, past, scenarios. However, if you are a woman, the causes and effects are no different for you.
Because of the two powerful, erroneous perspectives that folks with Borderline Personality Disorder live with, which I defined at the outset, they have no sense of inherent worth. If in your experience, people with the disorder seem self-assured, it’s because they are acting - something they have gotten very good at doing. Nevertheless, they truly cannot generate their own authentic sense of inner affirmation, or worth, for themselves. This leaves them with only external sources as a way to feel good about themselves.
If emotionally-healthy people are mammals, people with emotional disorders are cold-blooded reptiles, like snakes, and not in the way you think:
Snakes are incapable of generating their own body heat. Still, they need it to get around and live. So what do they do? They go lie out in the sun, their bodies heat up, and after awhile, they’re good to go. That is to say, they're good to go until the external heat wears off, then it’s back to the sunbeam.
So those with Borderline Personality Disorder get a compliment on their looks from the secretary at work. This is ten minutes in the sun. After an hour, it wears off, and they’re back to feeling shameful.
On a good day, a handful of girls flirt with the guy who has Borderline Personality Disorder, and he scores a phone number. This might be like a whole day in the sun. Maybe the effects last for two or three days. None of it matters: His true, underlying belief, has not gone anywhere. Beneath it all, he still believes he is devoid of worth. So when the warmth of external affirmation, or validation, begins to fade, what is still there, waiting? The feelings of worthlessness.
There does not exist enough external affirmation in all the universe to undo, reverse, or replace, what one simply believes is his or her inherent state. No external source of validation is real or lasting. Our foundation perspectives involve concrete conclusions about reality - and no superficial, external factors have any effect on them.
So it doesn’t matter how much you, as the wife, or girlfriend, care for this guy we’re describing. Contrary to romance novels and movies, 'love' is not enough. It cannot undo, reverse, or replace, the distorted, unhealthy, perspective that your husband lives with. His fundamental perspective about his worthlessness involves inherent realities, from his subconscious point of view.
It’s not a reflection of any sort of 'insufficiency' or failure on the part of the wife or the girlfriend. Until that husband does the work required to identify and correct his inner, erroneous perceptions, he will continue to be reliant on external sources for fleeting, superficial, inferior, validation.
Interestingly, these effects don't always lead to infidelity. For some, the effects manifest instead as an intense 'fear of abandonment'. That is, because an individual subconsciously believes himself or herself to be completely devoid of inherent worth, and is unable to generate validation from within, one subconscious fear as a natural result is that he or she is at constant risk of being dumped. (In reality, there is no such thing as adults being 'abandoned'. Listen to episode 35 of The Last Symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder podcast to understand why.)
In cases where infidelity happens, you can easily see the reasons behind it. A full-on affair, especially if it is with somebody we are exceptionally physically attracted to, is like a whole week in the sun – at least in the beginning. Starting off, the effects last much longer than a mere compliment, or some sexually-charged text messages.
In some cases, it becomes like a person who tries one little sip of alcohol, which slowly intensifies with time into a case of full-blown alcoholism.
For a long time, as a married man, I craved the attention, the flirting, the walking right up to the line and stopping short. But the disorder needs more and more all the time, just to provide, and maintain, the same sense of validation. It really does become a drug.
It was inevitable: Eventually I had one affair. Then I had two. Then, somewhere along the way, I couldn’t get enough. Once I reached this evolution of the disorder, my need for external validation had snowballed to the point where if I slept with only three women a week instead of four, I again felt worthless.
The need evolves, a tolerance develops.
What is another natural effect of this scenario playing out? Additional shame.
You see, the two distorted core beliefs of Borderline Personality Disorder are simply 'shame', elaborately described. Shame, and the two distorted core beliefs that I described at the outset of this article, are one and the same. There is a reason I don't simply say that 'shame' is the root cause of the disorder, and I instead define for people the message, or beliefs, that the shame communicates. This is because in order to truly do the inner work of identifying and undoing these causes, one must intuitively understand the nature of it in full detail.
What generally happens after a man or a woman crosses the line into infidelity, in their desperation for a break from worthlessness? While in the moment they might feel the warmth of validation, what are the effects of these actions afterwards?
We have already explained how there is no external validation in the universe which can undo, reverse, or replace, the subconscious perspectives which are generating these behaviors to begin with. So, after infidelity, once the warmth has worn off, and the person begins to think about the reality of his or her betrayal, does this contribute to their sense of validation, or does it instead add to their overwhelming sense of shame?
It's clear, isn't it? The subconscious nagging thoughts are of this nature: This behavior proves what I have already always known; that I am shameful and devoid of worth. This is why I was able to do this thing that I have done.
So in regards to the bigger picture, far from helping, infidelity generally only creates a wheel of shame. Around and around it goes. The shame created the impulses in the first place, and the result of following through on the impulses creates more shame, which in turn creates more unhealthy impulses of the same nature.
It is critical that people with Borderline Personality Disorder become mammals – by identifying, and correcting, the distorted core beliefs I spelled out here, so that they can finally generate their own sense of worth and affirmation within themselves. This is the cure to the entire disorder.
Infidelity itself is not evidence that one has an emotional disorder. Emotionally-healthy people choose to have affairs all the time. My explaining this has nothing to do with moral considerations whatsoever. Rather, I am simply stating the reality in terms of emotional health and emotional unhealth.
When discussing matters of emotional health, it is rarely - so rare as to practically be never - the behavior itself which can be classified as healthy or as unhealthy. Instead, it is the motivating forces behind the behavior which determine if it is emotionally healthy or emotionally unhealthy.
For example, take two women who exercise at the gym for ten hours a day. The first woman does it because she is convinced that her very worth as a person depends on looking like a movie star. The forces motivating her to spend ten hours at the gym are unquestionably unhealthy. Therefore, her behaviors are evidence of emotional unhealth.
The second woman spends the exact same amount of time at the gym, doing the exact same workout routine. However, what motivates her is not that she believes her worth as a human-being depends on her figure. Rather, she values her health, and sees her body as something with inherent value, worth taking care of as best she can. Therefore, this woman's behaviors are evidence of good emotional health.
So, behaviors are not what determine good emotional health or poor emotional health. Rather, it is the motivating force behind behaviors.