Having BPD and dealing with the world – dos and don’ts as I see them

After yesterday’s post about dealing with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder and vwoopvwoop’s clever questions about people with BPD who are not actively trying to heal, I started to think: hey, yeah, it’s important to know what’s helpful when dealing with people with BPD, but the other way around it’s just as important. What works and doesn’t work when you *have* BPD and need to deal with the world. Or more specifically, with the meaningful people in your life.

So I figured today I’d summarize my own personal take on what helps with dealing with the world as someone who has BPD. Again, they are only my personal experiences and everyone is different, but in case it might help someone else, too, I’ll write it down. 🙂

  1.  allow healthy people into your life – it made one hell of a difference for me to be able to watch healthy behavior up close. People who model healthy coping strategies and healthy emotional regulation skills in perfectly normal everyday situations. People who treat each other respectfully, who communicate well and who are healthy, functional adults. If you have the chance to allow such people into your life, do it. Surrounding yourself with people who are equally screwed up, or screwed up in different ways on the other hand isn’t the smartest plan. Consider reducing or even discontinuing contact with people who add too much negativity, trouble and crap to your life.
  2. commit yourself to your own recovery – while there is help available, and support is important, too, nothing and nobody, no therapy, no pills, no other people and no circumstance can make you better if you are not committed to getting better. Cancel “I’d be better, if only…” from your vocabulary and stop comparing what you do to get better to the effort other people in your life make. Instead of making excuses for why you don’t work on yourself, figure out ways to stay motivated. Personally I like to compare it to all those pro-ana people with anorexia, who commit themselves wholeheartedly to not eating. That’s the kind of willpower I mean. Only instead of directing it at something stupid like making yourself more sick in order to feel better, use this kind of commitment for a useful goal, for true recovery. Do things that help you stay committed. Blog. Journal. Art. Anything that gives you inspiration will work.
  3. educate yourself about BPD – knowledge truly is power. Become your own expert. Learn about BPD as much as you can. Find out what parts apply to you. Everyone’s BPD looks different. You are living with it, so you might as well know what exactly it is. Educate yourself about as many angles on it as possible. There isn’t just one point of view, but many. Find out which ring true to you, which opinions about BPD you share and which you don’t share. Don’t rely solely on what doctors or therapists tell you, but form an own educated opinion, and always keep your mind open to learn yet more.
  4. learn about the biology behind BPD symptoms – what has helped me a lot was getting those things explained to me. How past experiences have shaped my brain, have altered my biochemistry and what happens to the brain when I stress, when I am calm, why it is, on a biological level, impossible for a brain to learn when it is stressed, all those things. Understanding what the brain needs in order to make new connections helps with telling useful attempts at recovery apart from unhelpful ones, and generally eases the guilty feeling somewhat. It also helps to know that a brain is capable of improving its own biochemistry according to the experiences it makes, like the effect a pill has – not as quickly, but without the side effects and with a lasting result.
  5. understand your symptoms – behavior has meaning. Simple as that. If you have BPD you don’t behave in unhelpful ways simply because you’re sick, but because the behavior is motivated by something. Chances are, you wouldn’t have wasted energy on behavior that was not useful, once upon a time. It can help to find out what the original use was. Often I still react in ways that were useful in the context the behavior originated in, but are no longer useful now. Trouble is, the brain doesn’t know that. So to find out what motivates your behavior helps. Personally, I found out that fear is at the bottom of LOTS of my behavior. Doctoring around at the behavioral level can work short term, but it helps me a lot more to be aware of the level below the behavior and to try and make changes there.
  6. learn about (healthy) childhood development – the way I understand BPD, it is a very early relationship disorder. Which means it is influenced a lot by childhood experiences with caregivers. Learning as much as you can about what kind of experiences children need in order to form a secure attachment helps with becoming better at recognizing the many faces of neglect and childhood trauma. It can happen in families where there is no open violence, no open neglect, nothing tangible at all. Understanding exactly what you might have missed out on as a child can help with understanding your BPD symptoms now. It can also give you ideas what you might need in order to overcome those symptoms.
  7. communicate openly with the people in your life – I know this one can be a hard one, and it’s something I continually struggle with, but each time I am successful it works wonders. Talk about your BPD symptoms, about where you are at, what you are trying to do, what you find hard to deal with and why, and maybe most importantly what you feel. I have found that often my BPD behavior has communicative value. I lash out at someone because I am hurt or disappointed or angry or confused or scared, but often I don’t say it but just put that person in the “you’re mean, you caused me emotional pain, so go to hell!” category. Saying what’s up instead is more helpful. I often don’t manage to do it in the situation, but doing it afterwards when I am calm again often works. It also helps with working together towards the same goals, instead of playing tug-of-war.
  8. be aware of what works for you – everyone ticks differently, so there are no general solutions. Finding out what works for you, personally, and why is important because you are the only one who can tell.
  9. try to put yourself in the shoes of others – it’s an important skill to have, so practicing to see things from other people’s point of view is a good thing. Living with someone who has BPD is hard. Being able to see how BPD behavior looks from their end can be quite insightful. I find it helpful to practice this ability by randomly trying to figure out how the world might look from the eyes of others. Quite literally, by imagining what the other person sees from the point of view he has, but also figuratively by considering the background and experiences this person has.
  10. be aware that you are going to make mistakes – lots of them, even. And since they are unavoidable anyway, you might as well use them to learn. Take time to analyze them. Why didn’t it work? What went wrong? What do they say about yourself? Any ideas to make it work better the next time around? Mistakes are only mistakes if you make no effort to learn from them. If you learn from them, they are not mistakes, but just another part of getting better. And yep, maybe you are going to make the same mistake a hundred times before you have learned all you needed to learn from it.
  11. be patient – it’s going to take time. It’s not going to be a linear learning curve. Good phases will be followed by bad ones. There will be improvements and setbacks or times when you feel like nothing is moving at all. It’s not because you suck, because that’s simply the way learning works. Who knows what happens inside of yourself while you see no progress at all or even a setback. As long as you stay patient and keep on learning and trying, you are still on track.
  12. try to find more healthy alternatives – appreciate your BPD behavior for what it is: attempts to cope with life, with feelings and with relationships. Try to figure out what kind of coping each behavior provides you with and then try to find healthier alternatives.
  13. look for and accept help and support – the journey towards recovery is hard and rocky and if I were all by myself, I’d probably get lost. What kind of help is beneficial is probably a bit different for everyone. Not every therapy is for everyone, psycho-drugs are not for everyone, family is not for everyone, friends are not for everyone, support groups are not for everyone, etc. Figuring out what kind of help is good for you is important.
  14. make good memories and take time to enjoy the things about you that are perfectly normal – just what it says. Making good memories and enjoying everything that’s healthy about me is a good way for me to keep perspective and a positive outlook. Not everything is terrible and hard. Having good and healthy fun along the way helps with keeping me going.

Okay, so far so good. That’s all I can think of now. If you have thoughts or want to add something, please drop me a comment! 🙂

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. prideinmadness
    Nov 14, 2012 @ 13:22:25

    Great post 🙂

    The one I find the most difficult, even though I have done it, is letting healthy people into my life. I care so much about their feelings sometimes I can’t let them go.

    • Lola
      Nov 14, 2012 @ 13:46:45

      Thank you! 🙂

      I often find it difficult to expose perfecty healthy people to my craziness, feeling awful for the mess I confront them with. I find it gets easier when the issue is addressed, though (see “communicate openly”), to learn about their take on it, what they can put up with and what they won’t, so we all know where we stand.

  2. vwoopvwoop
    Nov 14, 2012 @ 14:16:22

    this is great. fantastic advice from your personal experience, thanks so much for sharing it.
    i admit that reading “family is not for everyone, friends are not for everyone,” made me really stop and think. i’m probably going to be pondering that for awhile. i’ve never really stopped and thought that maybe those kinds of relationships just aren’t for some people. i’m supposed to find that sad, right? i mean that’s what society tells us. but i’m questioning it now.

    • Lola
      Nov 14, 2012 @ 15:05:47

      Thank you, my pleasure to share! After all, who knows, someone might find something helpful, or even just an opportinity for thought. 🙂

      Regarding the ‘family is not for everyone, friends are not for everyone’ I think society sometimes tells us a lot of crap. It kind of tells us we can only be happy with those relationships in our lives, and that everything else isn’t normal. Hell, but what is normal anyway? For me, for example, friends have never been working. I tried it, but what came of my few, short attempts at friendship was never healthy and only caused more misery. Family works for me because I got lucky for once and got one, one that I clicked with and fit into. Therapy works now, because after a shitload of mismatches, I finally found a therapist that fits with me. But DBT, for example, just was not for me, no matter how good the therapist, yet for other people it appears to be working really well. I guess it’s all about figuring out what works for you at a given time, regardless of what society (or anyone else) says. Everyone is different. 🙂

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