Vir Cotto's BDSM Blog

Borderline and Co-Dependency in the Scene: Part 3 - Warning Signs in Your Partner

In this multi-part series of posts, I'm bringing my personal experience and research to bear to show what an unhealthy relationship with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder looks like, as well as then provide resources for improving the situation.

In my [first posting][] on this topic, I discussed how good a relationship with a Borderline feels at first. In my [second posting][], I discussed the ways that a non-Borderline can begin to feel inside a relationship with a Borderline. In this post, I'll be documenting some of the behaviors that a Borderline can do within a relationship.

These behaviors are very unlikely to show at first. It can take a lot of time for the Borderline behaviors to begin to exhibit. We'll discuss why that is in a later posting, but for now, it's enough to know that these behaviors can and often do exhibit themselves, and that they should be a warning sign that something is wrong and action needs to be taken.

In the previous posting, I discussed the appeal of a relationship with a Borderline. If the relationship with a Borderline stayed that way, then we wouldn't be calling it a disorder, we'd be calling it heaven.

Of course not all of these behaviors will always be present. These are all behaviors that I've either seen or are well documented in the literature, but they weren't all present in my partners, or in different partners. Unlike the literature, however, I am providing my experiences of how these dynamics can play out in a power exchange relationship as well as a normal romantic relationship.

Lastly, before I go into the behaviors or warning signs themselves, I want to say again that these posts are not an admonishment of individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder. I still think and care a great deal about my former partners with BPD and I know that with dedicated treatment, BPD can be treated. It is not a relationship death sentence, it's a challenge, but before it can be overcome, it must be identified- and that's what this post is about.

Emotional Impermanence

Cognitive impermanence is the developmental stage of a child when they are unable to recognize that just because they can't see an object, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Emotional impermanence is the idea that when the parter of a Borderline isn't present in the room, that they don't register emotionally to them.

Emotional Impermanence can be very hard to spot. In fact, it's so difficult to notice that I only recognized it months after the relationships had ended. This manifested in my relationships in several different ways. One way was that a partner might not contact me, even if we pre-arranged that they would. Later, they might say they lost track of time, or got caught up in the moment. In some cases, it could be days between contact. When they were with me, it would be the same powerful, wonderful intensity, but if they weren't in contact, they might entirely forget me.

It can be hard to spot this and even harder to bring it up. Everyone loses track of time sometimes, and no one wants to appear jealous or overly possessive (especially if they're poly). At the same time, when your loved one, who earlier in the day proclaimed their love for you, doesn't speak to you for hours or days, it can be jarring and confusing.

When I did bring this up in the past to my own partners, it was often a topic that set off a reaction (discussed more later). Partners would either express guilt at having forgotten about me, or they would claim that I was being overly controlling, suspicious or even paranoid.

Unstable Boundaries

Another area that I've found issues with Borderline partners is around the area of personal boundaries. At first these can manifest as seemingly unrelated odd behaviors but really all stem from the same boundary issues. A borderline may express a deep desire to connect. Things may escalate quickly emotionally or physically. They will often take the relationship to a very serious place very quickly, as discussed in the first section.

They have have boundary issues around physical things. They may also have difficulty separating what is theirs from what is yours. With one partner, they began to use and take things that belonged to me, and when I confronted them about it, they would become reactive, often asking why I was so possessive or greedy, or talk about how much they needed the items that they took.

On the flip side, this boundary relationship is often not reciprocal, or can flip very quickly, with the Borderline asserting boundaries that are often not reciprocal. For example, they may find it acceptable to take/borrow from you, but if you do the same, they may become upset.These boundaries don't always have to be about things, they can also be about time allocation, personal relationships, etc.

It can be difficult to see this, or understand it. After all, everyone has places or things that they're sensitive about. Within a D/s dynamic, these kind of issues can be seen as asserting limits or bratting, especially as these boundaries can change and shift rapidly.

Compliance / Pathological Accommodation

Of all of the destructive patterns around the intersection of BPD and BDSM, I think that the issue of compliance is the most prescient and most complex. We in the BDSM community are part of a culture that centers around communication and consent. But what happens when the other person consents to an activity that they don't want? What if they suggest or even insist on wanting to do an activity that they deep down fear or despise? Now what if they themselves are unaware of their true feelings on it? The psychological term for this is Pathological Accommodation.

Unfortunately, the words "Pathological Accommodation" fail to capture the complexity and nuance of what this looks like in practice. When I first heard the term, I imagined someone going "Okay, I guess." but the term really means that someone will agree to something that they don't want. They may even convince themselves that they want this thing, until of course the reality sets in and then this can lead to them being triggered.

If the Borderline person is a submissive, then this can be particularly difficult, because this kind of conflict can be easily confused with the conflict many submissive folks have at one time or another with doing something that they may not want to do but their Dom/Owner/Master may want. I call this type of activity "compliance" rather than submission. And unfortunately for many Borderlines, compliance was demanded of them in their childhood which can lead to D/s itself being a trigger.

Delayed Emotional Reactions

One of the most difficult aspects of BPD to identify is the issue of what can appear to be Delayed Emotional Reactions. Basically the Borderline will act as if nothing is wrong, they may even appear happy and cheerful, but something will be brewing under the surface, something that may manifest itself either as set of micro-aggressions or as a huge explosion.

Combined with the Pathological Accommodation described in the previous section, it can be nearly impossible to determine what's going on with them. This can lead to a constant state of confusion about the Borderline's mental state, as well as bending over backwards to try to figure out what's going on when they tell you one thing, but your experience tells you another.

Inability to Take Responsibility for their Emotions or Actions

One of the most terrifying times in my kinky life with a Borderline parter is the day after a particularly wonderful scene, my partner told me that she had cut herself. She hadn't cut herself for years before that, and blamed me because I quote "must have done something wrong" to elicit such a feeling in her.

Borderlines often do not see themselves as an active part of the narrative. They see things happening to them, but not their own actions or contributions. It can appear almost like an aphasia, where they can't even speak about their own participation or contribution. This can be complicated because when a conflict arises in a relationship, many of us are used to talking with a partner and each owning our part and moving on. A Borderline partner may not be able to see their part or talk about it. Asking them about it, they'll simply switch to what you did. It can be literally impossible for them to see their own part in a conflict.

Desire to Connect Deeply And then Reacting To It

As mentioned in a previous post, a Borderline will often express a desire to connect quickly, especially in the realm of D/s. Where this can become problematic is if they then have a strong negative reaction then fulfilling the act that they expressed interest in.

This can be in either a vanilla or kinky context, but what I found was that the very thing that my partner wanted most was the thing that for them was the most triggering. This included her stated desire to be collared. After months of asking me to collar her, when I finally offered her a test collar to see how things went, she was over the moon happy, expressing gratitude, expressing loving feelings, always wearing it and speaking with pride at how pretty it looked, for about two weeks. Then on the the third week, in a fit of rage, threw the collar.

This is an extreme example, but it was not the only one. It can be be very difficult to understand how someone would ask for something repeatedly over a period of days or months, for them to express extreme joy and then have them reacting negatively (including screaming, crying, cursing or physical violence) in reaction to that exact requested thing. Nonetheless, this can happen.

Rapid Change in Mood

One of the hallmarks of BPD is that the person can have what appear to be rapidly shifting moods. A Borderline may tell you that they love you one minute, and literally the next minute, tell you that you're a monster and they hope that you die, and then the following minute tell you that you're the only one for them and that you're the partner of their dreams.

I'll go into more of the mechanism of why this is in a later section, but these extreme, rapid shifts can be very frightening and or can appear to be manipulative (a topic I'll touch on later in this post). For now, just consider it a warning sign that if your partner is rapidly shifting from expressing love to expressing hate, with no in between, that they may have BPD.

Unstable Sexual Affect

Unstable sexual affect can be difficult to pinpoint and difficult to diagnose, especially because the literature on BPD shows more cis women being diagnosed with BPD than cis men (there's not a lot of literature on trans folks and BPD). But since cis women's sexual affect can be highly carried based on things like hormonal changes, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly where things change sexually, but my experience was that when sexual affect changed, it was a substantial change.

Sometimes this would manifest in my partners being highly sexual, extremely romantic, sexual, kinky and connected. They would be highly orgasmic and want to share to do all the wonderful things that vanilla women in my life hadn't wanted to do. But just as starkly, when their sexuality would switch off, it would be off entirely, with no desire to be intimate or close. One partner even found intimate touching to be physically painful. Only then, to have her sexual appetite return, and be voracious, and intense up to the point of it being scary.

Avoidance / Substance Abuse

I'm very lucky in that none of my partners have been heavy substance abusers, but the co-occurrence of Borderline and substance abuse is very high. This can often be a very extreme form of avoidance, which is something that I have encountered in my partners. This can come in the form of playing video games obsessively, or getting lost in other activities in which one can "turn off".

Many of us in the BDSM scene enjoy these types of activities, so I hesitated to even mention it, but when it gets to the point of interfering with one's work/school life, or when it becomes substance abuse, then it is worth paying attention to.

Unstable Personal Identity

All of us have different 'identities' that we take on in our lives. For people in the scene, we understand this even moreso. You're an employee in one context, a parent in another, and a slave in another. We intrinsically understand that each of these identities does not invalidate the other and none of them take away from the whole. That's not what I'm talking about here.

What I mean by "Unstable Personal Identity" is more stark and pervasive. A Borderline may appear to be an entirely different person in a different social context. They may speak or move differently, or espouse views that differ from the experience you have of them.

We'll go more into why this is the case in a laster post, but when I first encountered this, I was very confused about why my partner was suddenly sounding/acting/moving different, using different words than she might use with me, and seemed to be an entirely different person.

A Borderline may even tell you that they feel like a different person when they're around different friends, or they may latch onto different identities. Again, we in the BDSM community are understanding and welcoming of exploration, so this can be tricky to spot. There is no hard and fast line on where the behavior moves from being queerly to concerning, but it's something to watch for,

Dirty Blows and Atomic Bombs

A couple knows a great deal about each other's inner life, and so when fighting with a loved one, it can either be an exercise in restraint or an exercise in causing as much harm as possible. If we know our partner has issues with their parents, for example, we might avoid saying something like "Maybe this is why your mother never loved you!" or if they're sensitive about their weight, not calling them fat.

Unfortunately, when a Borderline is upset, they will often do exactly this. They will use the thing they know will hurt their partner most deeply and use it.

Manipulative Behavior

While the previous section can be considered a form of manipulative behavior, there are others, and a Borderline will find the ways that will elicit the greatest response. This could be an attack, as above, or an appeal, eg something that they know you will enjoy (eg being extra subby, or expressing interest in doing something you want to do). This could also be to use logical arguments that you've used, social pressures, or even lying to other people- all behaviors designed to elicit the response that they want.

Drawing In and Pulling Away

One of the signatures of BPD is actually the title of a book, "I Hate You, Don't Leave Me". A Borderline has a very conflicted relationship with connection (as mentioned above), but these flips in view can happen virtually instantly, with one minute a Borderline saying they love you, and literally thirty second later, them telling you they hate you, or visa versa. Similar affect changes were discussed in previous sections, but nowhere is this more pronounced than in discussing the relationship itself, where the Borderline will literally flip between expressing the deepest love, and the most venomous hate. To a non-Borderline, this is very confusing, very heart wrenching behavior that can leave you completely emotionally wiped. We'll discuss why the Borderline does this in a later post.

Reactions to or Memories of Things that Didn't Happen

One of the most common stories from people who have been in relationships with Borderline partners is that they will tell other people stories that didn't happen. It's easy to classify this as manipulation- and in some cases it is. In other cases, the Borderline will actually be living out a completely different reality than everyone else.

In PTSD, people talk about experiencing Flashbacks. This can be very similar. One partner believed for years that I'd struck her during an argument. She has told her therapist and others that I'd been physically abusive. It was only when I proved to her that this was impossible, that I was not even in the same building as her at the time, that she accepted that her memory of the event did not match the event.

Unfortunately, this kind of occurrence can lead to very serious accusations, and unlike a situation where someone is lying, the Borderline will absolutely believe that their experience is true, and will react to it, including body language. The aforementioned partner would flinch when I'd raise my arm (even innocently), leading other people to believe that I'd physically abused her, even after she knew that it hadn't happened.

Self-Harm/Using S&M as a Means of Inflicting Self-Harm

Probably the most poignant part of how BDSM intersects BPD is in the area of sadomasochistic play. Many Borderlines will engage in some form of self-harm, including self-flagellation, cutting or burning. Some Borderlines are also sadomasochists who enjoy things such as impact play, electro-play, needles or other painful activity. Masochistic play, on its own, is not a problem, but it can be a problem when it is used as a mechanism for self-harm.

To really understand this pattern, we can go to my very first Fetlife writing [here][] called Catharsis. It was about the experiences I'd had with a partner who loved being spanked and the tears of joy that would follow. These scenes were always intense, always powerful and ended in a warm, loving embrace all the stress of her life was drained away.

Cathartic release can be the end goal for many types of play, and many people will talk about how much they enjoyed a scene in terms of cathartic release as an almost holy grail experience.

The problem comes in when "play" becomes a substitute for "Hit me until I can cry". For people who bottle up their emotions, cathartic release can act like a pressure valve, and play can help them release that valve. On its own, this is also still okay. The problem happens when this experience becomes necessary or demanded.

One of my most terrifying memories is having my partner ask me for a scene, me deciding to go light on her (because of this very concern), and waking up the next morning to see deep scratches in her thighs. She told me that she had taken a fork from my kitchen drawer and used it to cut into her thighs because I had quote "Not hit her hard enough" the day before.

In this case, I would argue that we were not playing at all, but that she was using my sadism as a means of inflicting self harm. In other words, the scene was no longer mutual and I was being mislead about her motivations- a type of consent violation. And like victims of other consent violations, I felt very sick afterwards, mentally and physically, and it took a long time before I could play again. Still to this day, that image that I woke up to is burned into the inside of my eyelids.

It can be quite an emotional shock to realize that what had seemed like perfectly normal and wonderful sadomasochistic activity is actually self-harm in disguise. I also wish that I had an easy way to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy behaviors and motivations, but I can't. The only advice I can offer you is to examine how the Borderline partner reacts to being told no, or to a scene that is less intense but still enjoyable.


Everyone has a bad day, and no one can or should expect perfection in their partner, but if you are experiencing these behaviors in your partners, you should be taking these warning signs seriously to see if either your partner is getting the help they need (whether they are Borderline or not) or whether you need to remove yourself from the situation.

In the next post, I'll be discussing the progression of Borderline in a relationship.