“When Hope is Not Enough”

When asked by On The Borderline to write a blog post about my book, I was at first delighted. Then, I was at a loss for words. This situation is not the norm for me considering I have written hundreds of thousands of words about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and about living effectively with someone with the disorder. My book, When Hope is Not Enough: a how-to guide for living with and loving someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, seeks to provide loved ones of people with BPD with resources and tools to more effectively manage the relationship. My name is Bon Dobbs and I have been living with a wife with the disorder for twenty years. I also have a daughter (one of three daughters) with BPD traits. Five years ago, I was at my wits end. I was ready for divorce and angry and asking myself: “What about me?” or “How is it that someone who supposedly loves me can treat me with such distain and disrespect?” Many people told me to leave my wife, that she was an incurable, a lost cause. However, that is not what I did because I still loved her deeply, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of “leaving” my child. Instead, I began to research the disorder carefully and to participate in my daughter’s therapy, learning facets of the disorder that I never before considered.

When I read other books for loved ones of people with BPD, including several quite popular and therapist-recommended ones, I found that I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I knew more about the disorder, sure, yet I was left without the “know how” to build an effective relationship with my wife and daughter. When Hope is Not Enough is my attempt to communicate the “know how” of being an effective partner and parent of someone with BPD. I began to realize that, in a sense, my loved ones and I were speaking completely different languages and that, most often, this disconnect between what was being said and what was being heard led to conflict, rage, misunderstanding and “out-of-control” behavior. I just wasn’t hearing what my loved ones with BPD were saying.

In late 2005, I began to research the skills necessary to learn the language of my loved ones. I trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy Family Skills Training (DBT-FST) and in Mentalization-Based techniques. Most of all, I practiced these skills over and over again until they became second-nature to me. It took time– almost 2 full years– before I became fluent in the language of emotions and of BPD. When I had mastered the skills, I felt it was important to share those with other loved ones struggling with BPD in their families. So, I wrote a book.

I often have people ask me whether it is “right” that I had to change myself, even if there was nothing “wrong” with me. My answer to that question is usually something like: “Well, I don’t know whether it is right or wrong, I just know that it worked. I had to do something, and I only had the power to change myself and my own attitudes and approaches.” I couldn’t control my loved ones, even though I tried (and failed) for many years.

When Hope is Not Enough is part personal story, part how-to teaching tool. It relates how I (not a doctor or mental health professional) was able to understand my loved ones, live with them effectively and build trust, respect, empathy and love. I felt it was necessary to share my success story and to support all of the loved ones of people with BPD who wish to stay in their relationships and want to do so more effectively than they had in the past.

My view of BPD has completely changed in the past five years. I discovered that skill acquisition by the family member, not hope, can make a world of difference in the relationship. When Hope is Not Enough is my attempt to communicate the “know how” of effective relationships between people with BPD and their loved ones.

My book is available on Amazon or as an eBook from my website www.anythingtostopthepain.com.


3 Responses

  1. I don’t think you changed. I think it was important for you to learn about the illness. Plenty of family members learn about their loved ones’ illnesses; how else would people with children or spouses with cancer, autoimmune disease, heart condition, or any other kind of disability learn to take care of their loved one? I think it’s very important to be aware, no matter what type of illness it is.

    I don’t think that being educated is changing yourself at all. You did the right thing and I’m glad that you were even able to write a book about it to help others. Kudos to you!

  2. Perhaps you’re right. I didn’t really change, yet my awareness of the power and importance of a person’s emotional life has changed quite a bit. Also, because the awareness changed that opened up a dimension of life that, in essence, enriched my view and made it more whole. I just never understood the power of emotions and, once that was understood, I realized I also had to change my approach to emotional situations. This has benefited all of my relationships – yet especially those with my wife and daughter. In order to change my approach, I had to change my attitude towards emotional situations, towards judging other people and toward the assumption that other people thought and felt as I do. These changes, in concert, makes it feel as if *I* have changed, but ultimately, I am still the same person – I just behave and interact more effectively!

    Thanks for the kudos!

  3. Hi, I have in the last three years (age 47) experienced a relationship with what I believe to be a borderline male..I loved him like I’ve never loved before but also went through more emotional turmoil and what felt like mind games and intent to cause me distress and pain than ever before. I have had to end the relationship as I have dependant children and it was making me ill trying to navigate the waters. As with each withdrawal I have attempted I have ended up being drawn back in, being made to feel like the guilty party who over reacted, only to be treated badly again. This time I have to see it through but it’s a dreadful and emotional trauma for me as I feel, i am abandoing him…and like hundreds of others despite everything that’s happened I want the HIM that I see and feel.. I don’t believe he wants to be in the place he is in, but cannot reach into and feel at peace with anywhere that doesn’t feel secure. I was secure and he could have trusted me totally but constantly tested me and sabbotaged any good. My worry is that sometimes borderline behavior crosses over into narcisistic characteristics? This break up has seen desperate attempts to get me back, even the admission that the difficulties could be his?  My biggest difficulty is trusting that he is not just in a game to feed his need to hurt control and emotionally disregard another and I would really like your view on this? 

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