Who am I?
Two years before I had to be removed from the marital home for my own safety, my wife discovered her old school reports in a box. She gave them to me and went to bed, and I spent the next couple of hours poring through them, growing more and more horrified, and angrier than I’d ever felt.
The reports could have described her as she was now. From as early as five, the teachers had been very concerned about her aggression, her deceitfulness and the severity of her mood swings. She had two sides to her character, they said – a cheerful, pleasant side, and a stubborn, aggressive side. She needed to be kinder to her peers, they said; she was spiteful to the other children, did not see the importance of telling the truth, refused to respect or obey authority, would not follow instruction or accept correction, gave up on things she didn’t want to do, and constantly veered from friendly to sulky and back again.
She was physically violent to the other children if she felt they were antagonising her, and was strangely content to hand in substandard work, refusing to persevere even though she was capable of doing better. She was disruptive, and jealous, and ruined the rest of the class’s work.
As a teenager, she hung around with much younger children that she could physically dominate. She wrote a letter to another girl telling her to kill herself.
There were so many red flags in those reports, I couldn’t believe that nothing had been done about it. Apparently, the school wanted her to see an educational psychologist, but the parents had refused, as there was nothing wrong with their precious little girl. The bullying was simply because she’d fallen in with a ‘bad crowd’. She’d been led into it. It was never her fault. And it being a private school, the headteacher couldn’t go against the parents for fear of losing the large tuition fee.
These reports were thirty years old, and they described my wife so well, they could have been written the day before. The aggression, the lying, the moodiness, the antisocial behaviour, had all been present in her when she was five-years-old. She hadn’t changed in thirty years. Couldn’t change, because she wasn’t being treated.
It was the first time I truly understood what it meant to be married to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.
I started to research online. Personality disorders tend to manifest in the young, and are caused by a combination of an awful childhood (check), a parent who also has a personality disorder (check), and a parent who is an alcoholic (check). To a certain extent, then, her nature was biologically determined – innate. But I don’t think that’s enough to create someone like my wife. With love and nurturing, even someone with the kind of bullying, aggressive, disruptive personality as hers can mature into a well-rounded individual.
Love and nurturing were conspicuously absent from her upbringing.
When I was married to her, she used to have friendships – short, intense friendships, that always ended abruptly. She’d meet up with the other person four or five times a week for a few months, and suddenly they’d just cut her dead one day. She’d always say she had no idea why.
Since I left, I’ve heard stories. She had to be the Queen Bee, with everybody in her orbit. She bombarded them with questions about what they were doing, where they were going, when they were going there. She wanted to know everything about everybody else without anyone knowing anything about her.
When one friend left her in charge of her toddlers when she went to the toilet, she returned to find them sitting on the edge of a 100-foot cliff, their feet dangling into space, and my wife nowhere to be seen. She repeatedly pried into another friend’s marital difficulties after being warned not to. She spread nasty rumours about one of the mums at school; she was caught stalking another one when she followed her home in her car.
But at the time, I didn’t know any of this.
When I read those school reports, I realised she’d been having no treatment for her personality disorder. She’d been badly let down by her parents, by her teachers, by the doctors. How different things might have been if she’d gotten the help she needed.
I didn’t want to give up on her. I didn’t want to abandon her like everyone else. If I could get her help, I thought, then we could be the family we’d always dreamed of. I wasn’t ready to give up on her. She was just a lost little girl, more deserving of sympathy than contempt.
That’s how I talked myself into staying with someone who had no compunction about hurting me.