Mind Reading

In some past DBT sessions I learned that I ought not mind read, because nobody can read minds and I’m getting it wrong anyway, making myself miserable. But I beg to differ. It is possible to read minds. My mom can. You don’t believe me? Because nobody can read minds? Well, trust me, she can. And does. Now don’t get me wrong. She’s not a psychic, nor has she swallowed a Magic 8 Ball and I’m quite convinced that she can’t read people’s minds at random. (Reassuring, isn’t it?)

That said, she still IS a mind reader. And whose mind does she read . . . ? No brainer. Mine. And while she gets it wrong now or then, the times when she reads my mind only too well outweigh those errors. Massively.

For example with any given silly thing one could get up to, there is a certain probability that I won’t do it:

With a likelihood of 95% Lola won’t use that blade on herself.

With a likelihood of 75% Lola won’t dissociate in the supermarket.

With a likelihood of 30% Lola won’t feel rejected when the answer is no.

With a likelihood of 82% Lola won’t resort to inappropriate, suggestive behavior.

With a likelihood of 99,8% Lola won’t try to kill herself.

Just the same that leaves us with a certain probability that I will. So considering the above things, there is a 5% chance I will cut myself, a 25% chance of dissociating next to the fruit display, a 70% chance of feeling rejected when turned down, a 18% chance of behaving inappropriately towards others and a 0,2% chance of a suicide attempt. And that’s only a small sample of all the things that I might or might not get up to.

The mind reading comes in REAL handy here. I don’t quite know how mom does it, but she usually knows what I’m up to before I’m up to it. For example she lets me roam the supermarket aisles freely on most days, but some days are ‘hands on the cart’ days or ‘no chatting up strangers’ days. Similarly on most days the kitchen knife drawer is unlocked. But then on other days it’s locked. Plenty of knives when I don’t plan on using them, but real hard to come by one when I feel like I need one. Creepy when you think of it.

She also knows what I want to say before I even say it. Like this morning. Picture my mom in the kitchen and me dragging my feet down the stairs. I walk up to her, look at her and she looks back. I still think about good reasons for asking her to cancel my doc appointment and she already raises her eyebrows and shakes her head no. I ask “What?!”, indignant that she anticipated the question, and she just smiled and replied “It’s not negotiable, honey. We agreed on it, you and me both. I’ll help you if you feel stressed, but we’re going.” Me, I mutter: “Make me and I’ll hurt myself”, to which she simply replies: “I love you and we’re going. Would you like toast or cornflakes?”

On another day this whole conversation might have taken a different turn, she might have taken my threat seriously or we might have even stayed home. But today she knew I was just talking and not really too stressed to go nor going to hurt myself. She also knew that today I wouldn’t feel rejected over her turning my request down. Not to speak of the fact that she knew what I meant to ask in the first place.

So I’m going. Stupid mind reading. At the same time, if I am honest, I couldn’t feel more happy. She notices what’s up. She cares. She’s paying attention. She understands. She loves me. And she won’t make me do things when I can’t do them. Because she can tell when I can’t. Though the flip side is that she makes me do stuff when I actually can. So I guess I’m off to some stupid health exam. Whatever. See ya.

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10 Futile Tips to Increase Self-Esteem & ONE That Actually Works (for me)

Anyone struggling with mental health issues is quite likely to be struggling with a low self-esteem, too. Unless, maybe, you’re a narcissist, but trust me, then your true self-esteem is probably not so grand either. 😉 If you are struggling with self-esteem issues, you probably are not short on good advice on how to increase it that people have given you over the years. I sure am not short on this kind of advice.

The problem is, those tips never really worked for me. Not a single one of them. I wrote them down below along with the objections that I have. Then I’ll tell you the ONE thing that actually works to improve my self-esteem. But before that, here’s all the “good” advice:

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1. Don’t compare yourself to other people. I don’t really see this working, because isn’t it an inbuilt thing that humans compare themselves to other humans in order to relate and to survive? Isn’t it a way to develop positively, too? Imagine we didn’t have the ability to look at other people and see what they are doing and then compare it to what we are doing. . . we’d be unable to learn from others, if we weren’t able to compare people and behavior. So why should I stop comparing? For example I see that my mom manages emotions so much better than I do. I want to be able to do that, too. Shouldn’t I be looking and comparing what she does to what I do, in order to figure out what she does differently and why she manages and I don’t? I don’t see how my self-esteem would grow from stopping comparing. I mean I do want to know where I stand in relation to others, because I am a social being. Maybe the conclusions I draw are not the best, but really, that’s not the same as the thing itself being bad.

2. Don’t put yourself down. Okay. Good in theory. No putting myself down. But what shall I do instead? Pretend my lacking abilities aren’t there? Yay, I have awesome emotional coping skills. I rock. I’m awesome. – Unrealistic much? Hey, but at least I’m not putting myself down. So okay, maybe I’m gonna feel better about myself initially, but sooner or later I still don’t have any better emotional coping skills and run into a big mess because of them. I’ll still feel bad about myself in the long run. Also, there is a reason for which I put myself down. I can’t just resolve that by making a decision not to do it any longer. The reason needs figuring out and addressing, else I’m only gonna feel worse about myself because I don’t really manage to not put myself down.

3. Strengthen yourself with positive affirmations. Hmm… I have nothing against positive affirmations. I can write them on pieces of paper and stick them to the bathroom mirror and when I run out of toilet paper, I’ll even be grateful they’re there. But repeating something positive over and over again isn’t going to make it feel more true to me when I have an aversive reaction to what the affirmation says in the first place.

4. Accept compliments. I would. And I can pretend that I do. But in order to accept something, it needs to fit in with my belief system. Imagine someone told you the world is a flat disk that people fall off of once they come too close to the edge and expected you accept it. Everything you know tells you they are wrong, and you feel like there is plenty of proof that they are. But chuck that, accept it anyway. Would you?

5. Change your beliefs about yourself. Oh, I would. In a second. If this was a rational kind of belief system, I’d be changing it so much and so awesomely you’d stand in awe. Problem is, those beliefs aren’t rational. Rationally I do already know that I have no reason for my self-esteem to be so bad. But guess what, this isn’t a rational belief. It is tied deeply into my emotions and my experiences and my history and they just shrug logical reasoning off like a pesky insect and will rather go and get the fly swatter than accept it keeps on bothering them.

6. Find out what you’re good at. Good idea. If in order to believe I’m ‘good at’ something my bad self-esteem wouldn’t always interfere. My bad self-esteem tells me that even when I’m good at something, I’m not good enough by far, and the thing that I’m good at isn’t a very valuable thing anyway. So if I were just able to find out what I’m good at, I wouldn’t be struggling with such a lousy self-esteem in the first place.

7. Don’t allow people to treat you with a lack of respect. Define ‘lack of respect’ please. It is a highly subjective thing, what one considers as a ‘lack of respect’. If someone pushes me around I don’t recognize that as a lack of respect, because I feel they are right in doing that, and not lacking anything. I’d need to feel deserving of a certain level of respect first, in order to properly realize when someone is treating me with less than that.

8. Dress nicely, maintain good hygiene, work out, eat well, etc. I have nothing against those things, other than that if they don’t match how I feel, instead of making me feel better, I just feel an inner dissonance and like a fraud because the way I look and eat and stuff is not appropriate to the way I feel inside. Eating is a big one for me. I just CAN not eat when I feel like I’m not deserving of the food. I want to, my rational mind knows there is no reason why I would not, but I just CAN’T. Not until I feel better about myself. So dressing nicely, maintaining good hygiene etc. feels backwards to me. Like saddling a horse that isn’t yet even there.

9. Be helpful and kind to others. So good in theory, so hard when all those emotions get in the way. I try to, really. I try really, really hard, because it’s important to me. But the expectation makes me feel like a failure when I don’t manage, because I know it should be the least thing to be kind to others and to be helpful. And having such a bad self-esteem, I often don’t even feel like anyone would WANT the help I could offer, because it’s not good enough, and like nobody would even CARE for my being kind, because I am annoying them. So I end up feeling afraid of being kind, because I feel like they would misunderstand my attempt at kindness as an attempt to bother them and would turn away from me over it.

10. Don’t dwell on your past experiences. Uhm-kay?! They just contributed big time to who I am, so why would they be important, right? Cause as humans we tend to ignore past experiences, or what? Trust me, if I could just be a clean slate and start over, I’d totally do it! But… not working. Experiences shaped who I am. My experiences shaped my emotions. In order to understand myself, my emotional reactions, my automatic thoughts and beliefs, I actually NEED to take those experiences into account, so I can make sense of the mess I am. And hey, maybe even eventually move beyond it. Sorry if you consider my wanting to be more aware of how my past influenced to be ‘dwelling’ on my past experiences.

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Okay, so all those didn’t really work for me. Like, at all. But one thing IS working. And this one thing is:

ImproveSelfEsteem

That, and only that, is where the modest amount self-esteem that I have collected in the meantime comes from. That is what helps me with drawing better conclusion from comparisons with other people. That is what helps me with not putting myself down so much. That is what slowly replaces the negative beliefs I have about myself with better ones. That is where I get a healthy idea of how much respect I deserve from. That is what helps me make sense of and come to terms with my past experiences to then let go of them. And that is what makes me more sure that I can actually offer kindness and help that others would appreciate.

Only this one thing. Go figure.  I actually need to get a horse before I saddle it.

Attachment Styles Quiz

Since I wrote about attachment behavior earlier today, and then happened across attachment again while reading others’ blogs, I ended up searching the internet for information and happened across an attachment styles quiz. Being an online questionnaire it’s not a medically-regocnized test, obviously, but I thought it was fun and took it anyway and I found it relatively good, even, to get a rough general idea. The Website belongs to A Diane Poole Heller, who’s apparently an author and attachment and trauma specialist. The questions are designed to apply to couples, but I figure it works just as well with significant others who are not partners.

The catch is that in order to see your results you need to subscribe to her website, but hey, I get a lot of junk mail anyway, so one more hardly matters. :-/

Here’s what my results said. (If you want to take the quiz, too, click on the picture, I linked it to the quiz.)

LolasAttachmentStyle

No big surprises there, and my feeling says that my results are even pretty accurate. I’m happy that I scored at least 13,3% Secure Attachment. I’m quite sure that wasn’t always so, just as I’m sure my Disorganized piece was way larger once. Which means that I’m actually getting somewhere. So even when I got quite a colorful attachment pie, it could be worse.  Like, all green, or something. That’s probably how it looked when I was little. But colorful is definitely better. 🙂

On Comfort Food, an Eating Disorder and Exercising Moderation when using Symbols

Comfort food

As I am writing this, my mom is getting ready to make me a bowl of Cream of Wheat. All day long the stupid Cream of Wheat has been on my mind and the longer the day went on the more I craved it. So much that I eventually started to cry because we didn’t have any at home, like the world was going to end because of that.

Cream of Wheat is a comfort food for me. It’s what I used to eat when I still lived in my childhood home. It’s one of the good memories. On lucky days my mother used to make it for me when I was little. Nobody else ate it and she made it only for me. Probably only because she had to keep me fed somehow and it was cheap and quick to make, so when we had it, that’s what she made, but the reason didn’t matter to me. It was special. It was the best thing in the world.

If I could, I’d still be eating it way more often than I do. It’s what love tastes like to me. Love and being cared for and being lucky. And looking back on my life, there were times when it was the only thing I would eat. (Hello, eating disorder.) The staff objected a lot. But there were entire months where I rather starved than have anything else. And I mean anything.

I don’t have it nearly as often nowadays. Am not allowed to, because of the fine line between using and abusing something. I am prone to tilting toward the latter.

Unsurprisingly, comfort food is less about the food than what it stands for. It’s a symbol. In my case it’s a symbol for being loved and cared for, for a lucky day and being special. So you might wonder “well, those are good things?! So what’s wrong about having it? Treating yourself to good things ain’t bad, right?! After all Cream of Wheat is hardly bad for you!”

And I suppose that’s true. I guess the problem it is that it remains a symbol.

Symbols are nifty things. The best thing about them is that we can make them our own. We can be in control over them. I believe that is what temps me so much about it. I have the power to make Cream of Wheat, if I want to. I can determine when it happens, how it happens and in what fashion it happens. It’s safe. It’s independent. It’s controllable. Those are darn tempting things for me. I happily settle for that if I can.

So much, in fact, that I tend to reduce to it. And that’s where the bad comes in. While it is a good symbol for sure, it is, at the end of the day, only a symbol. It’s only Cream of Wheat. It’s what it stands for that I crave. What it stands for are the real things: Love. Being cared for. Feeling special to someone. Feeling lucky. Those are relationship things. All of them. So in reality relationships are where to look for them. Because while a symbol is better than nothing, the real thing is were true satisfaction and fulfillment comes from.

It’s easy to forget that, because the real thing is also scary and unpredictable and more intense and holds the power to harm or go away. That drives me toward the symbol. But at the same time I understand why it’s important to resist the tug and turn toward the real thing instead.

I guess that is why my mom insists on making me the Cream of Wheat, instead of letting me make it for myself. To get the relationship back in. And why she insists on my not having it too often. Like, every day. So I don’t pseudo-satisfy my emotional needs. And why she insists on figuring out what’s stressing me today. So I can learn to solve that, instead of blanketing it with porridge. Reasonable, I suppose.

But first I’ll have Cream of Wheat now. After all moderation doesn’t mean to dispense with it altogether. 😉  Yum!!

Forever on the outside, looking in

Being on the outside, looking in. Feeling this way is maybe the most basic and most continuous feeling that I have. Feeling disconnected. Like I am standing outside a house, looking through the window, seeing the people inside, seeing them interact and be meaningful for one another, yet never feeling part of it. Never feeling like I could possibly be a part of it. Feeling like I’m forever only on the outside looking in.

Sometimes people turn my way, see me and interact with me, maybe smile or talk with me, but it’s always through the glass, and after a while they will turn to other people again. Real people who are inside with them. Not me outside the house.

Coming to live with my family hasn’t changed that. Having gotten better hasn’t changed it either. My most basic feeling is one of disconnectedness. The only person I feel connected to is my mom, but not in the way that I feel like I can be inside the house with her. Whatever I do or whatever she does, I never make it inside the house. Instead it feels like she’s forever coming outside to be with me, even when it’s cold out here and it would be way nicer inside. But since I can’t go inside, she comes out, no matter the weather out here. Sunshine, rain, snow, heat, wind… she’s coming. She even comes to sit in the doghouse with me, if that’s where I have retreated to.

It makes me feel loved and connected to her. She’s my safe person and I love her more than I can say. But it makes no difference to feeling like I am forever outside the house, looking in.

My oldest sister, she’s similar to me in that way, also someone who hangs out on the outside of social relations a lot. I just noticed it again on Thanksgiving. And since she’s also outside anyway, we kept each other company a little. But that, too, didn’t get me inside anywhere.

I don’t know what’s with that, that I seem to be unable of ever being inside. Inside where other people are, where it’s warm and comfortable, where people are caring and connect to each other and are meaningful to one another. Sometimes I reach out to people, feeling like maybe I could make it through the door, try to be kind, try to show them I care, but then something happens . . . for example they ignore my attempt, which feels like they turn their back and close the door, or many other people are already there, who are already caring, and I feel dispensable and like what I can offer is too insignificant compared to what other people can, or like I would only bother them, forcing them to have to react to me somehow, and then I retreat by myself. Discouraged, I just step away from the door. Go back in front of a window from where I can at least watch and imagine how it would be to be inside. Or, if that’s too painful, retreat into the doghouse, telling myself I don’t need anyone anyway.

What the heck is wrong with me, that I can’t get into any house, ever? I really don’t know. From out here it looks like most people – normal or disordered, it doesn’t matter – can get inside houses. Maybe not all the time, or maybe they don’t want or can’t stay inside all the time, but at least they *can* go inside. Even my sister. Only me, whatever I do, I always only get to the window, on the outside, looking in.

The Power of Touch

In the family I grew up in, touch was rarely a good thing. When my mother touched me, it was usually rough and careless. Or it was to cause harm. My step-father could be gentle, but it was tied to sexual abuse, which was another bad kind of touch, and he was very capable of inflicting great physical pain as well. Touch was generally not a good thing to happen.

After that I spent eight years belonging to and with nobody. Touch did not usually happen, and if it did, it was in the context of random sexual encounters. Not the best kind of sexual encounters, so it was no gentle and ‘nice’ touch. It was basically a continuation of what I already knew.

Then I met and moved in with my family. I was very suspicious of touch when we met. Or I understood it to have sexual implications. Gee, that woman is being gentle, she smiled and ran her hand over my shoulders, does she want to fuck me? Don’t laugh, that was what I thought. And I was suspicious of her motives for being nice for a long time. By now I call her mom and don’t think she wants to get in my panties anymore. (Snicker.) And I have learned to enjoy touch.

I used to go stiff and had an urge to squirm when I was touched. Now I can enjoy it. So what happened?

The most important thing is probably that I experienced that there is such a thing as safe, loving and respectful touch. That it can actually feel good. What made it feel good was that my mom always challenged me with regard to touch, but never forced it upon me. Forced touch is not safe, loving or respectful, it just sucks. Mom always respects it if I shrug her off, but never tires of trying again. And over the course of many, many months, the kinds of touches I would tolerate gradually increased.

Safe, loving and nurturing touch also has a tendency to reinforce itself. It feels good. Physical touch releases oxytocin, which is the chemical in the brain that is connected with everything good. It is an antidote to stress chemicals. It promotes bonding between two people. It helps bring the brain into a state in which it is capable of learning and re-wiring. It causes a good, safe and warm feeling. In short, it’s a pretty awesome chemical.

And then, on a psychological level, the fact that my mom touches me is really important, too. For one thing, it means that she is not grossed out by me. I have issues with feeling disgusting, and that sometimes makes it very, very hard to accept touch. But in turn the fact that my mom touches me, wants to touch me, helps me feel better about myself. After all, she wouldn’t touch me if she was repulsed by me, right?

For another thing, it means that she loves me and that I’m special to her and that I am her child. This is especially important to me because I was not born hers. But now I am and it means that she may touch me. Other people may not, but she may, because she’s my mom. If she stopped touching me, it would probably make me afraid that she doesn’t love me anymore, doesn’t want me as her child any longer. That she touches me is a daily reminder that everything is alright.

On a practical level it helps me feel myself. I have not a very good body perception and my mental representation of my own body has been really bad. The sensory feedback helps me be more aware of my body as a whole, of the individual body parts, and how it all feels. And how it feels different to get touched in different ways, like light touches, firmer touches, hugs and everything else. It all feels different.

And for yet another thing, the way in which my mom touches me, loving and gentle and nice, gives me positive messages about myself. She thinks this is the way I should be treated. I don’t always agree, but it does feel good nonetheless. It probably also helps me to tell unpleasant touch, like the kind that borders on abusive, apart from good kinds, because I *know* good kinds now.

Well, and for one last thing, it’s nice. I like it, because it calms me down, but also excites me in a good, happy way. I love the attention that goes with it. But also the slight thrill of trusting someone else to not hurt me and getting my trust rewarded with touch that feels good. It’s relaxing, too. Look at that picture of me smiling. That’s one of the rare authentic, happy and relaxed smiles that are usually reserved for my mom and for moments when we are “in touch”. Figuratively, but quite often also literally, like because I snuggled up to her, or she is stroking me.

I’d say that’s a pretty long list of the advantages of touch. That said, I’m still very far from being a touchy-feely person in general. I’m still guarded around most people and feel uneasy and uncomfortable when they want to touch me. I’m still quick to think of touch as sexually suggestive when I’m in a bad place, emotionally. I also struggle with certain kinds of touches, because they are triggering for me. Someone grabbing my upper arm, for example, makes me panic, or someone touching me when I don’t expect it, or from behind, unless I know exactly what’s happening. I also still hate getting touched by people who I don’t fully trust. But even with all those limitations it is very, very nice to now have a counterweight.

On being an “adult with BPD”

It’s funny, because even as I type that sentence I snicker, it sounds so weird. I can’t speak for anyone else, so it might sound perfectly reasonable to others, but every bit of my BPD experience tells me there is no such thing as an “adult with BPD”. To me it’s an oxymoron, a statement that contradicts itself.

Adults know who they are. Adults know where they stand in life. Adults are capable of mature ways of thinking and feeling. Adults can accept responsibilities. Adults can make commitments and see them through, because they are able to realistically tell what they are capable of doing and usually have enough stability in their life so that outside factors won’t completely throw them either. Adults can handle their feelings. Adults can enter balanced relationships of give and take. Adults have enough emotional and social skills to deal with frustrations. Adults know how to keep themselves and others safe and healthy . . . I know that adults can struggle, too, and that things can be very hard for them, too, but in general they don’t fall apart and don’t just suddenly stop being adults.

People with BPD struggle with all those things that adults are capable of. When I look at myself, I know that I am very much capable of adult rational thought – but that’s about the end of it. I am an adult by years, but not by much else.

If you try to reach me as an adult, if you treat me like I were one, I will try to react like I were one. But it will be all façade. All faking it. I can only pretend to be an adult and it will work for a while, but you will not reach me. Can not reach me. Because there is no adult there. You will struggle just as much to tell who I am, as I am struggling, because all you get is air. A pretend adult.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like to get talked down to, either. I hate to feel overlooked and I hate it when someone isn’t taking me seriously. I’m really sensitive to getting called ‘childish’ or ‘immature’. I hate condescending remarks that suggest I’m an utter failure and not worth the time or effort. I feel horrible if I get talked to like I won’t understand a word that consists of more than two syllables. And just the same I hate it when people imply I am not my own person somehow.

I do, however, appreciate it, if people are – in a respectful way – aware that there is no adult at home in my body. I feel lost if I get adult responsibilities shoved my way. I feel lost if things are up to me. I feel lost if people expect me to be able to deal with the same things an adult can. And feeling lost makes me feel scared and helpless and terrible and like I can’t tell who I am at all anymore other than this great big failure, and that’s never a good thing to happen.

This probably sounds extremely weird to people who have grown up in a normal home in which they have learned all the things people need to learn in order to become an adult, who have yearned for the day when they finally get more freedom and more responsibility, for the day on which they can break free from the restrictions that their parents put upon them. It probably sounds weird to them that I yearn for the opposite.

I yearn for someone to provide healthy boundaries, healthy limits and making healthy choices for me. I yearn for someone to narrow my room down to something I am capable of handling. I yearn for someone to take me seriously, to love me and to give me a sense of who I am. I yearn for someone to care enough to limit my responsibilities and give me structure and a space I can overlook, and to help me with being successful within those limits. It makes me feel protected and loved, cared about and cared for and it makes me feel recognized for who I am, instead of who you wish I were.

I am convinced that the main reason why I have been able to improve as much as I have so far is that I found my family who were willing to be my parents for real. I live with many limitations. Other people in their mid-twenties who are proper adults would probably cringe and run. I’m not allowed to go places by myself. I’m not allowed to use social media, or to make phone calls that they know nothing of. They want to know where I am and what I am doing at all times. I am not allowed to surf the internet without someone keeping an eye on what pages I look at. I’m not allowed to lock a door in the house, except the bathroom door, which they could open with a tool from the outside if they thought it necessary. People who are of age shouldn’t get restricted like this, right?

Well, but in my case: wrong. My perspective on it is different. It doesn’t feel restricting, it feels safe. I’m okay with it. If I seriously disagreed, they wouldn’t be so restricting, but they are and it feels like they care. I don’t want any of those freedoms, I just want to feel that they are there, that they really love me and see the child that I am inside, without looking down on me or devaluing me for it. It’s the best kind of therapy I ever had. I’m gonna grow up when it’s time.

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