Coping with Anger as a ‘Collateral Non’

Coping with angerContributed by Alicia Danielle.

If someone close to you has Borderline Personality Disorder, you have in all likelihood been through quite a bit of conflict and strife as a result. People with Borderline Personality Disorder who have not yet entered BPD treatment or who are still struggling to develop the necessary life skills to avoid frequent conflicts can exhibit behavior that is self-destructive and damaging to their interpersonal relationships.

Naturally, when one has been on the receiving end of rages, lies, and manipulation, it can result in accumulated anger and frustration. Carrying unexpressed anger can cause a host of problems both psychologically and physically.

Life as a ‘Collateral Non’

A quick disclaimer: In this article, I am referring to one person I know who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). In no way do I wish to imply that all people with the disorder will exhibit these behaviors or behave as this person does. She is one example and I don’t want to imply that her actions are typical of all people who suffer from BPD.

I am what is referred to in some Borderline Personality Disorder communities as a “collateral non,” meaning I am not in a primary relationship with a person who has BPD, but am witness to the havoc they bring into a loved one’s life. My brother is currently in the midst of a contentious divorce from his as yet untreated BPD wife. They have two very young children and it is on their behalf that I found myself carrying around an unbearable amount of unresolved anger.

Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition that has a profound ripple effect, as the conflict in the primary spousal and familial relationships often spreads to all of those friends and relatives surrounding and witnessing the dysfunctional relationship.

Since my brother and his wife separated, she has gone out of her way to turn their oldest son (who is only three-and-a-half years old) against his father and our whole side of the family. The term for this kind of behavior is parental alienation. Parents with BPD sometimes manipulate their children into believing the other parent is bad in order to assuage their own fear of abandonment and ensure that the child is “on their side.” This can have severe detrimental effects on how a child develops emotionally and psychologically.

As I witnessed ever-increasing incidents where my nephew parroted the cruel comments his mother was making about his father, his grandparents, and me, I began to cycle through a host of negative emotions on an endless loop. I had no idea how to process the feelings that came up for me when this happened. I was scared to death, I was furious, I was sickened, and I was overwhelmed with sadness for my nephews.

I thought about the situation constantly. Worry and anger became my baseline emotions for about a year. I stopped calling my friends, or seeking new ones for that matter, as I couldn’t see why anyone would want to hear about this terrible drama that had become the central defining factor of my life. I had back problems, trouble sleeping, and I was frequently depressed – all symptoms of the anger I was unable to let go of.

Letting Go Through Mindfulness

I can’t say when the exact moment was that I dropped the emotional load I was carrying, but I can say that mindfulness techniques and radical acceptance helped me do it. For many months, I worked with my own therapist on accepting that my role in this family drama could be nothing more than being a loving and supportive aunt and sister, that I had to step back from it and focus on my own life and well-being.

One day, the concepts that I had grasped intellectually clicked into place on a deeper level, and I truly accepted that I had no control over my sister-in-law’s actions and never would. It is not on me to mete out “justice” or “save” my nephews, and my own anger contributes nothing but more tension and negative energy to a situation fraught with those things already.

I do not have to like any of what is happening, but accepting that it is happening is a simple way to detach. Mindfulness techniques teach that we can sit and observe our emotions without investing additional energy into them and making them more powerful and consuming.

Today, I find some peace knowing that simply being a loving presence in the lives of my brother and nephews is a meaningful contribution and that what I don’t contribute (anger) may be as important as what I do.

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