Girlfriend Has a Split Personality

Reader’s Question

I’ll call my girlfriend of four months, Coralie. We are about 40. Coralie was abused and tortured as a child, and raped as a young woman. In her younger days she was/is a thrill-seeker, race car driver, skydiver, etc. Her father, whom she loved very much, died a horrible death when she was about 24.

Coralie has a split-personality, V—, who comes out in times of stress. V— is the tough, no-nonsense woman who goes to work 10 hours a day at an animal hospital seeing death all around and the occasional saving of a few lives. She’s also the one who does all the dating on a superficial level…no depth, no emotions involved means not getting hurt or abandoned, as was the case with her father and husband. Coralie is the main personality, the loving, compassionate, fun one.

Admittedly, she loves animals because they offer unconditional love, where people do not.

Here’s where I come in. I met Coralie about four months ago and according to her, I turned her world upside down. I had depth, emotion, intelligence…totally unlike the guys she was with for the previous two years. We only saw each other on the weekends because of our jobs. Every two or three weeks she would “run away,” meaning she would shut down, not want to talk or see me and try to break up with me. (This was probably V— doing this). This has happened about four or five times in these four months. She made every excuse she could to get rid of me but I saw through it and stood my ground. I saw she was scared of commitment and that she did love me, but she tried so desperately to break up with me because she was afraid of getting hurt. I constantly reassured her that I would not abandon or hurt her, as was the case in her past. After a day or two, Coralie would come back and love me and this process would start all over again in about two weeks.

The latest installment of the “Runaway girlfriend” is she thinks she’s allergic to me. She wants to hear no other possibility than that she’s allergic to me when she gets a rash after seeing me. Even if it’s not me as a person, if it’s say, my cologne, she doesn’t want to find out what it is. Personally, I think the rash she gets after I leave is from stress. Stress from trying not to fall in love with me. Stress from fighting between being in love (which Coralie wants) and being unable to get hurt and single (which V— wants).

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My conclusions:

The alter-ego, V—, came about as a defense mechanism when she was young to protect Coralie from being abused and hurt. She is still around because she was needed when her father died and when her husband left her. V— is also the superficial dater and cannot get hurt, as opposed to the emotional and vulnerable Coralie, who can. She became friends with two people after they divorced so she could be in control. If you’re friends with the mistress, there’s no reason for the ex not to be friends with you. I think this is her way of keeping the ex from completely abandoning her.

She runs from me because she’s afraid to fall in love. If she truly falls in love and gives 100%, she fears she’ll be vulnerable to being hurt and abandon agained, in addition to losing control, which I constantly reassure is not the case. I always stay committed…especially when she runs…because she has been hurt and abandoned before and I think she needs this stability and reliability in the toughest times. I became friends with V— and accepted her to gain her trust, although V— is unsure about me for the moment and V— does not want to be put out of a job — which she knows will happen if I stick around.

Everything I’m telling you I have told her. I have exposed the reasons for who she is to her and I think that by slowly breaking down these walls, she’s getting better, I think. She’s been volunteering information about her past to me that her husband of ten years never knew, so I think this is a good sign. If I ask about rough times from her past she totally will not talk about it, so it will be a waiting game. Of course I suggested that she see a psychiatrist and she refuses.

I also suggested that she slow down at work. Sixty hours a week at such an emotional place is really stressful for her. That probably will not happen soon. And no, I’m not leaving her and finding someone else. We do love each other and we both know it.

My questions are these:

Are my conclusions correct?

Am I doing the right thing?

What else can I do/not do to help her?

Do I address V— when she pops out, or continue to go with Coralie?

Psychologist’s Reply

The individual you describe is highly engaging, complex, and challenging — so much so that you are probably failing to recognize your severe risk in this relationship. In only four months, you have focused your life and thoughts on this individual who is highly unstable, manipulative, and even abusive to you. She is totally controlling you with her “symptoms” which may be real or part-real, part-manipulation. While you try your best to deal with her new symptoms and behaviors that surface on a daily basis, the bottom line is still the same — she refuses professional treatment and continues to control and manipulate those around her.

In reality, if she’s working for a living then her symptoms are not that bad…at least as bad as she presents to you. You mention several times that she has tried to end the relationship — four or five times in four months. This is not the product of another mysterious identity — this is a game. I think you’ve fallen into a spider’s web here.

From a clinical standpoint, this is a very dangerous relationship for you. This individual will emotionally exhaust you, then quickly move on. What you are witnessing is a lifestyle of instability and a personality disorder — not something you can fix with compassion and/or understanding. After four months, and it’s getting worse, I would recommend developing a strategy to leave this situation rather than become more involved in a no-win relationship. In such a short time she has you totally focused on her life, her history, and her bizarre behaviors. My reply may sound harsh, but I think you’re in trouble here and need to think about saving yourself before more emotional damage is done.

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