Traits of BPD:  Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have a Conscience?

Traits of BPD: Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have a Conscience?

There are many questions that people who find themselves in relationships with women on the spectrum of BPD or borderline personality disorder ask themselves. One of the most common questions is whether their ex girlfriend had a conscience.

Because the behavior patterns associated with BPD towards their romantic partners can appear so morally unconscionable, many people make the assumption that those with traits of BPD must have some sort of mental deficiency that keeps them from being able to recognize when they have strayed from their moral standards.

But the answer to the question of whether your ex lacks a conscience is more complex than just yes or no. What we are going to discover as we closely examine the moral fiber of the person with traits of BPD is that their minds are just like ours when it comes to the ability to tell right from wrong. Because of this commonality, in order to understand BPD-associated lapses in morals we will have to look at the human frailty that gives all people a tendency to stray from their morals.

Before we can begin our exploration let’s first define our terms. If we are going to resolve the question of whether the person with traits of BPD lacks a conscience, we have to know what we mean by a conscience. And to do that we will have to go back in history to the time when the idea of a conscience was first introduced into everyday conversation. Interestingly enough, we will find that the origin of this colloquial expression actually gives us some important insight into this behavior pattern.

The History of the Human Conscience

As we look back in time we find that historically there was a concept often used to describe lapses in morality which was later shortened into the expression now known as having or lacking a conscience. The original expression included the concept of both a good conscience and a bad conscience.

Historically these two polar forces were often explained by the presence of a good angel and a bad angel on each of our shoulders. It was thought that the good angel and the bad angel were in a battle to win us over to their respective sides. A lapse in morality was explained as a win for the bad angel.

There is another useful metaphor that helps us understand the tendency for human beings to experience lapses in morals. These days we tend to use the more modern concept of a moral compass that we carry around in our heads. Just as we use a map or compass when traveling, we may also use a mental blueprint of our beliefs of right and wrong which we continually compare our behavior to in order keep ourselves on our moral path.

Neither of these ways of looking at morals on their own allow us to fully understand what knocks us off of our moral path, but they can help us identify what it feels like when the neurological process that throws us off our moral path is engaged.

But if we are to truly understand the underpinnings of human morality there is one more aspect of this human frailty that we must clear up. We must clear up the question of whether we are completely to blame for our lapses in morals, because wrapped into the question of whether those with traits of BPD have a conscience is also the question of whether they are to blame.

Generally speaking, when we ask whether the person with traits of BPD lacks a conscience, also included in that question is whether we have the right to blame them for the pain they have caused.

Morality and Blame

From a neurological point of view, most moral lapses are neither voluntary nor involuntary, but a complex combination of the two. But in order to help make sense of this all too human behavior pattern people tend to sort themselves into two camps.

There is one camp that we might place under the historical explanation of moral lapses. They tend to assume immorality is not necessarily our fault but more the result of a lack of spiritual connection. This explanation might have us believe that we are somewhat blameless for our lapse of morals.

On the other hand, there are those in the camp who adhere more to the present-day concept of a moral compass. These people tend to assume that we are mostly in control of our moral choices and those who experience lapses are probably either too intellectually weak or too lazy to apply their moral blueprint. In other words they are mostly to blame.

The truth behind lapses in morals is much less black and white. What we will discover when we examine the neurology behind lapses of morals is that they fall into a gray area where we are helpless to some extent, but we also have the ability to intervene during these lapses and put ourselves back on moral track.

In order to understand this gray area we now have to take a look at the role of defense mechanisms in human behavior. For it is our defense mechanisms that are actually responsible for most moral lapses. Because defense mechanisms occur just below the conscious level of our minds, we can’t completely control them, but we certainly can have a great deal of influence over the level to which they affect us.

When it comes down to blame, we will find that behavior stemming from defense mechanisms cannot accurately be categorized as purposefully malicious. It may not even involve a lack of care for those that get hurt. Most of the moral lapses we experience are simply the result of a neurologically over-zealous defense system which we all must learn how to manage in order to stay on our moral path.

When we truly understand the role of defense mechanisms in lapses of morality we find we are also able to answer an age-old question of whether human beings are naturally morally deficient. Through a comprehensive understanding of neurology we can determine that yes, human beings actually are somewhat immoral by nature. Let’s take a look at why.

The Genetics of Morality

There is a certain level of genetic coding which may have been very useful in ancient times, but in our more modern world creates many problems that we would not encounter if we were lacking this hard-wiring. This coding does not make us maliciously evil creatures nor does it make us uncaring about others in a direct sense.

Our natural immorality stems from a primitive over-active defense system which is pre-wired into the human brain to create an override to our conscious thought process. Its function is to protect us from perceived threats to our psyche.

The type of pain that our defenses most commonly protect us against are the emotions connected to shame that result from interpersonal insecurity. When our insecurity is triggered, the protective center of our brain, sensing an onslaught of pain coming its way, will take whatever actions it feels necessary to avoid these negative feelings regardless of our moral convictions.

Although we all suffer from interpersonal insecurity, there are certain personality traits that make some people more susceptible to their internal defense mechanisms than others. And we will find these people also have strong tendencies to veer off their moral path.

The Insecurity Factor

There are two behavioral personality traits that leave people particularly vulnerable to lapses in morality. The first type are those who seem to have been born with an excess of emotionality. Although those with a strong trait of emotionality are usually thought to be quite empathetic and caring, problems with impulse control may also leave them with difficult challenges when it comes to sticking to their moral path.

The second type of personality that is vulnerable to lapses in morals are those that are naturally insecure. These individuals seem to be born with extra sensitivity to what others think of them. This sensitivity to negative judgment causes insecurity even when they are in an emotionally safe environment.

Of course we must also include in this category of vulnerability to moral lapses those who have a psychological history that causes them to be insecure. These are individuals who may have hardy personalities but who have experienced events in their lives that leave them highly insecure.

Those who have the first two personality traits and who also experienced a negative history will end up with all three vulnerabilities to lapses in morals. These are often the individuals who are on the extreme end of the spectrum of BPD whose traits can be literally disabling which qualifies them for an actual diagnosis for the disorder.

Now that we have established our terms and have gained a general understanding of how our defense systems work it is time to examine the defense mechanism that is most often responsible for our lapses in morality.

In order to identify the defense mechanism that causes lapses in morality we must take a look at three neurological processing centers in the brain. To help simplify things we will choose to call one of them our emotional processing center, another our intellectual processing center, and the third one we will label our defensive center.

All three of these centers perform many very complex functions which we may never fully understand. But because we use these centers every day, we all have a pretty good idea of what it feels like from the inside to use them. Every one of us has had the experience of making a decision based on our emotional processing center. And we all know what it feels like to use the more intellectual or rational part of our brain to make decisions. We’ve also all had the experience of being unnecessarily defensive.

Let’s now take a look at a three-part dynamic which forms a mechanism that can result in a moral lapse. We are going to examine how our defensive center is capable of taking advantage of a vulnerability in our emotional processing center which in turn overrides our intellectual processing center. It is this override that allows even those with established morals to from time to time lose their way.

The Mechanics of Morality

To better understand this highly destructive three-part mechanism responsible for lapses in morals let’s first look at how our emotional and intellectual centers work when we are in a healthy mental state. Our usual processing of thoughts and feelings may start in the emotional center with a raw thought, feeling or impulse. We might then pass the raw thought, feeling or impulse through the intellectual center. We will use the filter of the intellectual processing center’s rational judgment to determine what to do with that raw first impression.

To use a common example of the everyday interaction between our emotional and intellectual processing centers, we might find our emotional processing center sending us a feeling or thought that says we would like to eat. The intellectual processing center then would determine what to do about the feeling and most likely help us figure out ways to obtain food.

Although the emotional and intellectual processing centers are always in use, for most people the defense center, although available, is in what we could refer to as sleep mode. When needed it springs into action and is capable of intervening with and even overriding our other two centers. It becomes active when it senses incoming emotional pain. But because of its primitive nature it does not operate under any moral code.

On the other hand, our brain’s other processing centers are highly sophisticated and are consistently motivated by morals. This poses a great problem for the primitive defensive center. It knows there are times that it will want to override our morals in order to protect us from emotional pain and discomfort.

In order to accomplish this it ingeniously manipulates us just like an over-protective parent would with a young child. It knows it cannot justifiably convince us to behave immorally to achieve the ultimate protection from pain it desires. So like an over-protective parent, our brains will distort, edit reality, or outright lie to get us to conform to its irrational wishes. And if it feels the situation is dire, it will simply override both centers and we will find ourselves acting in ways that we ourselves don’t understand.

The defensive brain can respond to either present threats of emotional pain or triggers to chronic emotional pain that lies just below our consciousness. We’re now going to demonstrate how the defensive part of our brain may exert influence over our emotional side to get it to ignore our intellect processing center with a goal of protecting ourselves, even if it involves influencing us to behave in an immoral way.

To set up this scenario we’ll imagine a woman who has been asked to watch her sister’s children. Her sister has mentioned that there are cupcakes in the refrigerator that she made for her daughter’s class the next day. Our babysitter has morals that tell her she shouldn’t eat the cupcakes for the daughter’s class.

But the babysitter happens to be one of those people who uses food, particularly sugary foods, to lower her emotional pain and discomfort due to chronic insecurity. For her, eating sweets is not merely a physical need. It is a behavior that she uses to distract herself from painful feelings.

The way the babysitter’s defensive center gets her to protect herself from pain is by influencing her emotional processing center. The defensive center knows as we all do that the fastest way to influence another person is by appealing to their emotions.

In our scenario the defensive center begins to feed intrusive thoughts to our babysitter through her emotional processing center. It enhances her emotions by feeding in tempting pictures of the cupcakes along with memories of how wonderful they taste.

For the babysitter it may very well feel like there is a bad angel sitting on her shoulder trying to tempt her to ignore the good angel. But in reality we would have to label the defensive center of her brain the bad angel, not the innocent but gullible emotional processing center.

The emotional processing center is used by the defensive brain for a very specific reason. When we are emotional, we lose our good judgment. We are highly susceptible to impulses. We become gullible and easy to manipulate. This is exactly what the defensive mind is counting on.

At this point our babysitter’s intellectual processing center is alerted by the emotional processing center’s desire. It begins to process the wish to eat the cupcakes. But using its rational judgment it decides that the urge should be blocked due to the immorality of stealing the class cupcakes.

If our babysitter begins to listen to the reasoning of her intellectual processing center, her defensive mind may very well up the ante. It might begin to feed in excuses or justification for eating the cupcakes. It might tell her emotional mind that just one cupcake won’t matter knowing that once she starts to eat the sugary treat it will be very hard to stop.

There are many factors that will determine whether her good angel or bad angel wins. One factor is how developed her intellectual processing center is. If she uses her emotional processing center more than her intellectual center in everyday life, her defense center will have the advantage. It may also have the advantage if she is feeling particularly insecure that day. But the importance of her relationship with her sister may tip the seesaw the opposite way due to fear of her disapproval.

Let’s say her defensive center manages to get a foot in the door by convincing her to just have one cupcake. After the first cupcake the babysitter may feel very guilty, but she will also be experiencing relief from chronic emotional pain.

This will make it even easier for the defensive center to feed in thoughts that tell her that one or two less cupcakes won’t hurt as her sister would have probably made a few extra for the class. Chances are she will continue to buy this excuse until she has eaten too many for it to matter. When she later has to confess her shameful behavior to her sister, she will have no idea why she would go against her morals in this way.

We have all experienced this kind of scenario at one time or another. But let’s now look at how this same three-part mechanism works when the person in question has strong traits of BPD. We will find that the process is exactly the same although the outcome this time may have truly devastating effects.

Traits of BPD - Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have a Conscience
Let’s imagine a person with strong traits of BPD who is in a committed relationship where she has declared lifelong love to her partner. At some point when the relationship becomes too emotionally secure she may find herself inexplicably developing a roving eye. Eventually she may experience a special interest in a random person in her life.

She may not know exactly why she is interested, but the temptation to connect with this person will be very strong. At first she may treat them like a friend, but she will quickly find herself romantically attracted. She will know very well that crossing a sexual boundary with this person is wrong.

At this point her defensive mind will begin to feed in justifications that play on her emotions. It may convince her that her partner is not paying her enough attention. It could tell her that she deserves to be treated well and that she has every right to do whatever it takes get the love she deserves.

It may convince her she is a victim, that her partner is cruel to her even if he is a truly gentle soul. It may play back continual loops of fights that they had or things that were said in anger. Or she may simply be overwhelmed with the temptation.

A person with BPD will have exponentially more insecurity than the average person due to sensitivities to the negative judgment of others. These individuals often live with a low level of paranoia about people’s intention to hurt them emotionally.

Because of this combination of sensitivities their defensive center will be in full alarm during most interpersonal interactions. And having been highly emotional and with near phobic reactions to negative judgment of others for most of their life, this individual will have little to no skill using their intellectual processing center to provide essential intelligence to their emotion radar system.

A person with strong traits of BPD will be at the mercy of their defensive center. In other words, there will be little to no resistance from the intellectual processing center. But being at the mercy of one’s defensive center does not fully answer our question of whether the person with traits of BPD lacks a good conscience. Because no matter how strong our tendency may be to continually lose our moral path, each of us has the ability to after the fact recognize harm we have done to others.

BPD and Moral Reset

We all have the ability to set ourselves back on track after a lapse. The willingness to acknowledge our lapses and make amends to those who have been harmed is a very important aspect of our good conscience. And even if we find ourselves unable to resist the temptation again, causing our amends to fall on deaf ears, we still have the option of seeking help from professional counselors or spiritual mentors.

So the question now becomes why does the person with strong BPD traits, when confronted with the harm they have inflicted on others, instead of confessing dig themselves even deeper into a moral hole. It seems that these individuals, when confronted with their misdoings, will do anything in order to avoid the charges including deflection, attacking the accuser and outright lying. Even when clear proof is offered they will deny their moral lapse.

Just like so many of the behavior patterns associated with BPD we will find that attempts to deny lapses of morals is a common reaction from anyone suffering from severe insecurity. We can observe this kind of denial from abusers of all types and also from those who engage in any form of addictive behavior.

The person with severe insecurity, whether they have traits of BPD or not, is in a Catch 22 where the moral lapse they engaged in initially to ward off pain has future consequences that are guaranteed to put them in even greater psychological pain.

The mental gymnastics the defense center must use to protect from being accused of the immoral actions taken to soothe pain will be much less subtle than the original feeding in of tempting and justifying thoughts. And for this reason the individual will experience the defensive center’s manipulation in a different way.

When confronted with a lapse in morals they will experience an inexplicable inability to admit to immoral behavior. Their sensitivity to negative judgment leaves them incapable of admitting to behavior which carries such a high level of social stigma. In order to avoid the label of immoral, they will happily obey the directions of their defensive center to deny, deflect or attack, no matter how outrageous this behavior may appear to those on the receiving end of their defense mechanism.

Related Posts:

BPD and the Nice Guy Personality Type

Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have Traits Of Borderline Personality Disorder?

Breakups With Women With Traits of BPD – Five Misconceptions That Keep Men From Letting Go and Moving On

Identifying Traits of BPD In Women Before Relationship Commitment

Romantic Idealization And Devaluation In Women With Traits of BPD

Women With Traits of BPD – Why Men Stay

Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have Traits of BPD: How to Let Go of the Good Times

Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have Traits of BPD-The Defense Mechanism of Projection

Note To Readers: I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who have taken the time to post in my comments section. Your questions, opinions and personal stories form an invaluable contribution to this important discussion.

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