“Crazy isn’t being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you or me amplified. If you ever told a lie and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child forever.”
― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted
Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
is a disorder that for me resembles being constantly on a roller coaster. Going up and down fast, constantly, and being afraid of your life. Then getting off, just to get in again, despite feeling terribly sick.
I’ve had BPD since I remember, however it’s not how I used to call it. At first, when I had no idea that such a syndrome exists, I was simply unhappy.
At the age of 25 I’ve managed to go through 2 suicide attempts,
panic attacks, dozens of relationships, abuse alcohol and drugs, get
a collection of cutting scars on the forearms and other body parts,
and couldn’t spend a weekend without engaging in some sort of “self
In one word – I was extremely tired of being myself.
Because I’m a therapist now, I’d love to say that it was therapy that saved me, but truth is that, at the beginning, I was incapable of finishing any therapy (therapy drop down number for BPD patients is very high). I always managed to find 100 reasons of why I should not go to another meeting: either the therapist was stupid or she didn’t look as I expected her to be, I already felt “better” or just didn’t have time.
Now, that I think I about it, I know that the mine reason of avoiding therapy was that it was very damn difficult. Only talking about emotions can be very difficult for people with borderline and I quickly started to blame therapists about the negative emotions I felt during the sessions.
Luckily, because I studied psychology, I had access to materials and knowledge that helped me better understand my condition. Although I didn’t participate in systematic psychotherapy I took part in many conferences, workshops and training that taught me how to better manage the emptiness, control emotions or improve my relationships with others.
Below I will present 3 techniques, or rather 3 groups of techniques – as they can be done in various manner, that turned out to be especially helpful for me. All of them derive from Acceptance and Commitment therapy, which is the therapeutic approach that is closest to my heart.
I hope that they will help also other people struggling with borderline and make their lives a bit easier or at least, will make it easier for them to contact the specialist.
1. Make some space for freedom.
Impulsivity is one of the biggest problems in BPD. Usually, if I wasn’t overwhelmed with negative emotions or the feeling of emptiness, I was busy fixing the effects of my impulsive behaviors.
They usually involved sex, substances, fights with significant others or cutting.
Engaging in this kind of activities is a very common way of dealing with unaccepted emotions among people with BPD (and not only) as they bring a momentary relief. Sadly, the consequences of these actions bring additional negative emotions and feelings of guilt. We can very quickly find ourselves in circle, that’s very hard to get out from.
Taking this into consideration, its important to create a space between emotion or thought and reaction to it. We don’t have much control over what we feel, but we can decide what we will do with this feeling and how we will behave when a certain emotion will appear.
In this short moment lies our freedom to choose a reaction that will be based on our values, on what we care for, and won’t be just an escape from fear and anger.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
– Viktor E. Frankl
In this moment you can feel that you’re not capable of controlling your actions and that you don’t have enough space to make decisions. It’s ok, I will show how to extend that moment a bit.
Here comes mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of observing what is happening around us and inside of us without trying to evaluate the experience. It’s a kind of a meditation that can be done in various ways, so you can adjust it to your needs and choose one you like most.
Here I wrote down some of my favorite ways of practicing mindfulness. These exercises can bedone shortly: few minutes a few times a day, or in long, 30-40 minutes sessions. After some time of practicing you should notice that you have more space to contain difficult emotions and that your moment of freedom has expanded.
Remember to register every little successes. Every situation when you don’t repeat old schemas is a success. Maybe next time instead of starting a fight you will manage to leave the house for a walk? Or instead of reaching for alcohol or drugs you will be able to wait out the wave of difficult feelings?
If you can’t act constructively in the present of emotions, wait for them to fall. Only then consider what (and if any), reaction would be appropriate.
My first rule is: don’t make the situation worse than it already is.
2. Engage into actions that are important to you.
The first point was about “not doing”, the second will be about things that we should be doing in order to make our life better.
I will start with a metaphor I heard on a workshop once. I think it pictures well what I’d like to say.
Imagine that you own a big garden and plant a lot of plants and flowers there. The garden is really big and it takes a lot of time to keep everything in order there. You plant fruits, vegetables and many beautiful flowers. But after a while you start to notice that weed starts to grow next to your precious plants. You don’t want that pest to have place in your garden so you try to get rid of it, dig it out and throw away. But by the time you get rid of one, the next ones start to show up in other places of the garden. So you spend more and more time trying to get rid of them as well. After some time, you start to neglect the other plants, the one that you actually wanted to have in your garden. Neglected, they die slowly. When you were to busy to with the weed, things you most cared for, perished.
What would be the solution?
What can be done in order to keep the garden as we want it?
Let the weed grow. If you take enough care of the things you love and value, there will be little place for the bad things to grow. They will still show up from time to time, but they will not overwhelm you and won’t rule your life.
So, how to start?
Start easy. Think what is actually important to you? How would you like your life to look like if borderline wouldn’t be a problem? Is it your relationshipthat you value? Do something nice for your partner, tell him he looks nice today, prepare her favorite food or show interest in things she/he is interested in.
Maybe friendships are most important to you, but you feel alone? Smile to some random person while standing in a queue or ask your coworker how his weekend was, even if your mind is trying to convince you that you suck and that person will never like you.
In almost every moment there’s an opportunity to set you feet and your hands in the valued direction.
‘’Little things? Little moments? They are not little.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
3. Find out what is that you’re feeling.
I remember that it took me awfully much time to realize what is it that I’m feeling, and understanding that those feeling are not called out by people or events on the outside, but are „produced” by me. Before this discovery I used to blame others of what I felt.
So, for example, wild fights with my ex partner about completely trivial things, like him being late or going out with friends, where a usuall thing, on day to day basis.
In my interpretation his actions indicated that he neglected me and did not take me seriously, so I reacted immediately with anger. Meanwhile, what was at the root of such emotions was my very strong fear of abandonment. This is a very common issue for people struggling with borderline. Anger often only covers up other feelings that are much harder to accept.
“(…) by showing anger, they often cover up the feeling of regret. The problem is that anger will not help you cope with sadness – it will create an even greater distance between people when we need their closeness the most. “
– Masculinity, a new look, S. Biddulph
Only when we realize what we really feel and where those feelings come from, can we make a conscious decision about what to do in a particular situation. We can imagine that distancing ourselves from the partner, at the moment when we already feel abandoned, will not help. But telling him about your feelings and asking for support in this difficult moment could do a lot of good.
So, recognize your emotions, the real ones. Then accept them. They will be with you for some time, but it’s completely normal. If you let them, they will eventually fade away and change (as pointed out in the first point: mindfulness).
In conclusion, we can include the above considerations into a chain in which subsequent links are interdependent:
self-awareness <=> acceptance <=> engaged action
I hope that the stages I describe will also help you live the life you want to live, and be the kind of a person, you would like to be. With borderline or without.
P.S. Remember also that well-chosen therapy is a huge help and sometimes the only solution. Do not be afraid to seek help!