Not Even My Social Anxiety is Clear-Cut

One label among my mix of diagnoses is ‘Social Anxiety Disorder’, which is also called ‘Social Phobia’. It’s probably hard to differentiate it from the PTSD at the same time, but it’s got all the markers of a social phobia. For those who are not familiar with it, the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Social Phobia are (for adults, shortened):

A. A marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.
B. Exposure to the feared social situation almost invariably provokes anxiety.
C. The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.
D. The feared social or performance situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety or distress.
E. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situations(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine or functioning.
F. In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.
G. The fear or avoidance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance or a general medical condition and is not better accounted for by another mental disorder.
H. If a general medical condition or another mental disorder is present, the fear in Criterion A is unrelated to it.

As far as I can remember back, I have always had a social phobia. My threshold for anxiety in unfamiliar situations in general is very low and if they are social situations, I often feel physically sick with all the anxiety. My heart rate accelerates, I get sweaty palms, I feel nauseous and like I’m frozen.

School was never fun for me. Interaction with others was the most awful thing. I was always a shy, lonely child. Some teachers were concerned about me and it was the most mortifying thing when they tried to talk to me about stuff. Tried, because I didn’t really talk. I’d nod or shake my head, but rarely talked, or at least no more than a soft ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Most teachers didn’t notice, though, because I was quiet and didn’t draw any attention in class and they probably were happy with that.

When I lived in group homes and attended therapy groups, it was pretty much a repeat of how it had been in school. Only there it started to cause problems, because I was expected to interact with the other girls, to talk in front of them and to share things about myself while other people were watching. That was horrific. I was nervous only being in the same room with them, forget talking. So I remained mute, avoided eye contact and they seemed to understand that as a sign of defiance more than anxiety. And I guess part of it was defiance, but it was protective defiance because I was afraid.

Today I’m still wary of situations where people who I don’t know might talk to me and I’m extremely nervous about going to unfamiliar or busy places. It’s somewhat easier today because I don’t need to go places alone, though. I feel comfortable and unafraid at home, especially with mom, so having her with me helps because I feel like I’m safe in her presence and can “hide” with her. Not physically, but by knowing she can tell how much I can take and will take over when I can’t take any more. That’s fairly liberating, because I feel much better about new situations when I’m not facing them by myself. I feel like it’s safer to be a bit more courageous, too, because in case it gets bad or overwhelming, I’m not alone.

Strangely, at the same time, I also have this whole other, opposite side to me. (Like, because things being easy and unambiguous for once would be boring or something.) Sometimes I go into what’s like an entirely different personality mode, almost, for which social anxiety isn’t a problem at all. I think it’s a semi-dissociated state or something, and it kicks in when I go into a “fuck all the world, I don’t care, bring on the destruction” state. That was the mode that took over when I ran from the group homes, for example, or the mode that ended with me having sex with perfect strangers. I’m not shy at all about talking or being in social situations then, but it’s like I’m not even really being “me” in those situations.

And once more I’m left feeling like a fraud when I suffer from social anxiety symptoms, because I know that I’m also capable of being perfectly anxiety-free at other times. How can two so opposite sides be really there? That’s what I ask myself then and feel like I can’t even trust my own behavior or thoughts or feelings.

Lately those anxiety-free episodes have become far and few in between, though, and I think that’s even kind of a good sign, because those socially uninhibited person that I can turn into is a very unhealthy person for me to be. Kind of a protective, tough persona that I picked up as a means of coping along the way, not my true self.

But I feel like I’m starting to ramble. This post doesn’t really even have a point other than “it’s complicated” maybe. Ah well, I’ll post it anyway. Because it IS complicated and weird, being both extremely afraid socially, and able to just ditch all anxiety in other situations. Complicated. And social anxiety sucks.

BPD and Confusing Contradictions

Sometimes I wish there were not so many contradictions. Can two opposite things be true at the same time? Can I feel something and not feel it at the same time?

For example I was doing some serious thinking about why I get so aggressive with mom sometimes and try to lure her into a nasty fight. I do it because I feel like I need to force her to admit to the fact that if she’s honest, she’s hating me, I realized. But just the same I do it because I feel like she truly loves me and shouldn’t be loving me, so I show her how nasty I am.

Hello lunacy or what? Do I feel like she really hates me or do I feel like she doesn’t hate me at all, but really loves me now? Wouldn’t one exclude the other?

Truth is, both feel equally true at the same time, and I am left feeling like a fraud or a liar, because how COULD both be true? How could I genuinely feel like deep down my mom really hates me, when I’m also convinced that she must truly love me? It doesn’t add up. One statement must false.

So what happens? Splitting happens and I switch back and forth between the opposites. But splitting is unhealthy and surely can’t be the solution. Which leaves the problem of what else to do with the confusion and the contradictions.

My mom often says “people are complex and big systems. There is room for several things at once in them”. So I try to think that maybe I’m really not so much just this one coherent person inside, but that I consist of many different sub-selves who kind of go through a casting of votes before I react to something, and sometimes they are 50/50 about how I feel or what I should do. Not in the DID sense, where the sub-selves are properly developed people who have split off, but just in the sense that maybe what I think of as “me” is really not so much just one entity, but rather the sum of many aspects of me, who can all have different or opposing opinions about stuff.

Kind of like this, maybe?

Contradictions

Maybe I need to figure out which part says what and why in order to avoid feeling like a walking contradiction, rather than thinking of myself as a fraud for feeling and behaving like one thing, while the opposite is just as true.

Hmmm. Food for thought.

Resilience – too stubborn to stay down

Duncan (nobodysreadingme) said yesterday that he admires my resilience. I found that a curious thing to point out, but sweet and touching, too. It has also helped me realize, looking back, that I actually must be kind of resilient. I’ve had my flirts with depression, and I certainly get low and desperate moments with a hopeless mood that makes me feel like my whole life is shit and maybe I should die. When they are there those feelings are really strong, but those moments don’t usually last and never really have. Sooner or later I always feel like ‘fuck all, I’m not gonna do anyone the favor to just go away for good’ and that ends the depressive mood.

It’s a feeling that I have known for a long time already, and I remember having it towards my mother mainly. She made it no secret that she hated me for being alive and often said things like ‘I wish I had aborted you when I still had the chance’ and while that always made me real sad and I felt like I shouldn’t be living on one hand, I also had the ‘fuck you’ reaction. Maybe that was because I knew that while I was getting hurt, I also had something my stepfather wanted. I remember being conscious of that fact. I remember knowing that that was why my mother both hated me, and couldn’t afford to lose me, because without me, my stepfather would probably not have stayed with her.

In some perfectly weird and twisted way that gave me power. It was power I wish I would never have had, because look at the mess my life turned into because of how fucked up everything was, but even so, I think that’s where my resilience comes from. I was aware that despite all the pain it caused me I was important, even when it was in a sick way, to both my parents. I think that was what gave me the leverage to develop my ‘fuck you’ attitude that keeps me from staying down. I’m somehow too stubborn to. Weird how life works.

Anyway, I’ve made a list of the things that I think contributed to my ability to stay alive and not give in during the three major phases of my life so far:

1. The time during which I live at my childhood home (0-15)

I HAVE: what my stepfather wants, everything my mother hates, myself.

I AM: an involuntary sex object, a scapegoat, a loner, different, secretive, distrustful.

I CAN: die inside, tolerate pain, read subtle changes in people, tell which is the safer of two options, hide from harm, wait things out, distract myself.

2. The time I spent in mental health care (15-23)

I HAVE: several diagnoses that tell me who I am, myself.

I AM: a mental health case, a calculating sex object, a loner, secretive, distrustful.

I CAN: dissociate, ignore people, rely on myself and self-destructive acts to keep a certain balance, self-medicate.

3. The time after I met my real family (23-now)

I HAVE: myself, a supportive family, my mom, a good therapist.

I AM: a daughter, learning to trust and how to be trustworthy, recovering, artistic.

I CAN: think about myself and my behavior, accept my mom’s help, keep from self-medicating and increasingly from self-harming, too, let myself in for safe relationships, look towards the future.

Life sure is weird and complicated.

Healthy Selfcare

Selfcare

Healthy selfcare is an area that I continually struggle with, so I thought I’d write a little about it. Let’s start by looking at what it is.

I think healthy self-care is the ability to look after oneself properly, to make healthy choices and to take care of the own wellbeing, be it physical, emotional, psychological, etc. I think it’s an important key to be able to live a good life.

I also suck at it. Big time. Seemingly easy tasks are quite challenging to me. But lets look at everything in some order. I’ll name the things that I think should belong to my healthy self-care routines, and will then briefly discuss each.

Sleeping ~8 hours during the night. Ideally I should sleep from around 11pm to 7am. Should. In practice I have a hard time feeling ready to go to sleep. I have a hard time sleeping through the night. I wake up too early. And then, when it’s finally time to get up I’m often sleepy again and wish I could stay in bed.

Eating healthy meals. This one is okayish by now. I have gotten used to eating mostly non-processed foods, stuff made from scratch, fruits, raw vegetables, that kind of thing. I still like candy and fast food, but it’s okay if I don’t have too much of it. So yay, one area that actually is okay.

Preparing healthy meals. Uhm… I have difficulty with that part. If I were left to my own devices about what meals end up on the table, I’d end up in the convenience aisle of the supermarket. And that’s bad. I am trying to learn how to prepare proper food, but it’s a big fight against myself. Once I’m doing some cooking with mom, it’s actually not that bad, but even so… the next time around, I’m just as bad.

Showering, washing my hair, brushing my teeth, dressing in clean clothes etc. Another really hard one. I do it because mom doesn’t let me get away with not doing it, and I even kind of like the fact that I usually end up attending to all the hygiene stuff, but I know that if I nobody but myself was responsible for it, I’d still go back to neglecting my hygiene. I can’t really tell why. It’s just that it seems unimportant somehow, even when I know it is not.

Getting exercise, fresh air and sunlight. Another hard one. I quite like being outside once I am doing it, but getting to the point that I decide to do it is hard. I lack the self-control necessary to pick myself up and actually do it.

Keeping my surroundings clean and orderly. Okay, I seriously suck at this one. My room is almost always a mess, even when I don’t really do much in it. And where I go, the mess follows. It’s involuntary, it just happens. Maybe it’s the lack of order and organization within myself spilling everywhere. Maybe it’s me feeling reminded of my birth mother by all the order, because she was obsessed with keeping things clean. I have no clue. I don’t dislike it when things look clean and neat. I just don’t manage to maintain it.

Regulating my emotions. That I’m bad at this area of healthy self-care is probably what justifies my diagnosis of Borderline the most. I’m working on improving my emotional regulation skills, but it’s hard and I still need help. I have a hard time relaxing and soothing myself and getting off unhealthy trains of thought.

Doing something sensible and fulfilling. Ha, check it out, I only recently discovered this one in the first place. I have no education to speak of, I have no professional training and I am still quite far from being able to hold down a job. But I have discovered that I like doing something worthwhile with my time, something meaningful. I think that’s what keeps me interested in blogging. It feels like a sensible thing to do, and I feel like that is actually improving my mental health a little.

Abstaining from substance abuse. I’m doing surprisingly okay with that one. I used to abuse alcohol a lot, and I had become addicted to benzodiazepines. Which is kind of easy in places where they get doled out like crazy-people-candy. But I successfully went through withdrawal and have not used since. I’m also okay-ish with letting alcohol be alcohol. Sometimes it’s still tempting, the thought to just drink, but I manage to resist. Oh, and I don’t smoke! That’s a plus, too.

Having healthy decision-making skills. Soooo many challenging things factor into this one. Stopping and thinking properly before reacting, having self-discipline to do what’s sensible and not what’s easy or habitual, being able to tell what a healthy decision looks like… I struggle with those.

Socializing in a positive way with nice people. My social anxiety gets in the way with this one a lot. I feel uncomfortable with people who I don’t know. But at least I spend a lot of time (ALL the time, lol) with my family, and that’s a LOT more socializing than I was used to doing. And I like it, too. It’s definitely healthier than not speaking with most people and withdrawing from activities.

Accepting help when I need it. Mom said I should include this one. And I guess she’s kind of right, after all being able to accept help when I need it helps with getting myself taken care of. It’s also probably the one thing I am actually good at by now. I let mom help me. She helps me with all the self-care things, which probably means they are not strictly speaking SELF care things any longer. She says it’s okay, though, everyone has to be taught, or teach themselves, if they don’t know, so well, I’m learning. I guess that’s the good news. I guess I can learn to take care of myself eventually, by watching mom, by accepting that she helps me and by following her “Selfcare 101” schedule. She’s teaching me how to get better at doing those things myself. I guess I’ll get there. Sometime.

There probably are still several areas that also are part of a healthy self-care missing, but those were what I could think of.

 

Please read: a message from my Mom regarding comments

Hello, everyone. I (Lola, lol) have gotten comments that I noticed where a bit distressing to me. Mom noticed and we had a discussion about it and only during our talk, which consumed a large part of the night, I noticed that I wasn’t coping so well with those. The most recent comment was that of you, Kyle, which was:

_____________________________

I’ve a question… a bit more on the frank and callous side of questioning this time around, but…

– How does your Dad and brothers react to your sexual advances? Not even your brothers have given in to them? However, you stated in another post that one of your brother’s friends gave in, what happened after that? Did you inform your brother about it, and did those two stop being friends after, or was it all swept under the rug? Also, you speak a lot about your mom, but never your dad and brothers, are you guys particularly close?

– You used to dress lewdly around the house, most likely to give out more sexual advances, right? I’m still confused as to how this would be fair for the others who give in to their hormones to accept you and then be hated later for it. What if someone devised a test like that towards you? I understand you have been through a lot, but I’m just saying the tests are rather unfair.

– What is the difference between an ‘appropriate’ sexual partner and an ‘inappropriate’ one?

_____________________________

I had promised to answer it today, but I’m not going to. Instead my mom wanted to write something to everyone who comes to my blog regarding comments. Please take a minute to read it. Thank you. 🙂 Here’s what my mom wants to say:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dear readers and followers of Lola’s blog,

as you may or may not have picked up from my daughter’s past blog posts, I – Lola’s Mom – am involved with her blog in the background. My job is to make sure Lola does not cross healthy boundaries on her blog, but just the same I am here to make sure that my daughter’s blog is a safe place for her. Therefore I am monitoring both Lola’s post and the nature of the comments she gets.

I am very pleased that most comments are of a very kind, respectful and supportive nature. That speaks highly of you. I appreciate that greatly. Thank you very much. You contribute a lot to making this a good and beneficial experience for Lola.

On the opposite side of those comments would be the obviously rude or offensive comments. Those will get deleted right away, but I am equally pleased that none of the comments so far have fallen into this category. This, again, speaks highly of you, the readers and commenters, and I thank you very much.

I am less pleased, however, with comments such as the above, that are not wrong in and off themselves, yet border on inappropriate for my daughter’s mental health blog insofar as they touch on the grey areas in between, and are, indeed, frank and callous.

My daughter is very brave to use this blog to share her thoughts, her perceptions of the world and her feelings especially regarding the issues she is struggling with. She is making herself vulnerable by sharing those things. She is not doing so to satisfy anyone’s curiosity or because she wants or needs scrutiny, but because she is trying to overcome the embarrassment and shame and the unhealthy tendency towards secrecy, that comes with struggling with mental health issues and from having been sexually abused. She uses this blog as a tool to aid her in her recovery.

As such, it is vital that she feels safe and in control here, on her own blog.

I want to put an emphasis on the fact that I am not singling you, Kyle, out to imply you meant harm. I assume in your favor that your questions are fueled by genuine curiosity and a desire to enhance your understanding. Nothing is wrong with that at all. Sometimes an innocent intention, however, does not suffice. It is not a simple matter of black or white here, we are treading very much on the finer lines in between. Things that happen on this grey ground are infinitely more difficult for my daughter, because among those fine lines she has great difficulty telling what is healthy for her apart from what is unhealthy for her.

Questions such as the above are unhealthy for Lola. The underlying tone of the questions, what gets conveyed beneath the words, is subtly invasive and offensive. I readily assume that it is inadvertent, but that does not cushion the effect.

Also saying ‘I understand I am being bold / my question might be callous / that you have been through a lot, BUT . . . ’ does not make the ‘but’ part of the question any more friendly or more appropriate. It just makes it harder for my daughter to call the question bold, callous or inappropriate. This kind of masking, even when unintentional, is not appreciated. If you are already aware that your question might be bold or callous, then please have the courtesy to draw the appropriate conclusion yourself and don’t ask it in this way.

So instead of looking at the question of appropriate vs. inappropriate sexual partners, I would very much like to look at the question of appropriate vs. inappropriate comments for my daughter’s blog.

Appropriate comments need to be respectful. In this case respectful means that you need to consider how what you say will impact the person you address. You are addressing my daughter Lola. Appropriate comments are considerate of her emotional situation. I am aware that this is a very subtle rule and that not everyone finds it easy to look at things from someone else’s point of view, especially if that ‘someone else’ is struggling with mental health issues. It is, however, the most important rule and it will be enforced, because this blog needs to be a safe place for Lola.

Inappropriate comments are those which fail to be respectful. Again, we are all human and making mistakes is human. Neither Lola nor I assume that it happens on purpose. We are both aware that it can be very hard to tell when a comment starts to be disrespectful and why. I apply sensitive standards to protect my daughter’s mental health. It may be a case of trial and error for you to find out what is okay and what is not. Nonetheless, if comments that fall into the ‘not appropriate’ category appear, I am going to delete them along with a link to this post to help you understand what has gone wrong.

And lastly, the fairness of decisions regarding what’s appropriate is relative. Kyle, you asked how it would be fair for the people who live at our house to have involuntary hormonal sexual responses triggered and then later be hated for it. The simple answer is that it is not fair. Just the same as it is not fair that Lola was sexually abused. Many of the behaviors she employs as a result of that are not ‘fair’. There is absolutely no need to make her feel embarrassed or guilty over it by asking how she would feel if people behaved that way towards her, however. Life is very rarely fair, and if someone knows this, then it is Lola.

‘Fair’ itself is a very artificial standard. What’s fair and what is not depends on a multitude of factors. Therefore my decisions regarding which comments are appropriate and which are not can seem ‘unfair’ to some of you, because I make my decision based on what is ‘fair’ towards Lola and her emotional capabilities. That is the way we judge ‘fair’ at our house. When something surpasses Lola’s abilities, then it is not ‘fair’ to put her in the way of it. When we are the ones capable of a more mature response than she is, then it is ‘fair’ that we carry more responsibility for how we handle the situation than she does. And that does not mean that Lola is excused from having to try to the best of her ability to be fair towards others as well, but just that we need to be sure that we know what the actual best of her ability is at a given time.

And to go back to the question of what constitutes an appropriate sexual partner, much the same thing is true. Appropriate sexual partners are respectful of how what they do will impact the person they do it to, which makes their behavior safe. Appropriate sexual partners may misstep, but they will stop when asked and will want to learn from it to make a better judgment the next time around. And appropriate sexual partners can tell that fairness is relative to the ability of the people who are involved and that in order to be fair they might have to contribute more than the less capable partner. Those basic principles of appropriateness can be applied to a multitude of situations.

I am glad that this opportunity to clarify what makes comments appropriate came up. It gave Lola and me a reason to discuss how we deal with them.

To summarize in a nutshell:

Comments that fail to be sufficiently considerate of my daughter’s emotional vulnerability will be deleted and provided with a link to this post. If your comment got deleted, it does not mean that you meant harm or made some grave mistake, but just that what you wrote was inappropriate to Lola’s abilities to deal with it. What exactly IS inappropriate is subject to change as Lola’s abilities improve or experience temporary setbacks. Please know that even if your comment got deleted, you are still very welcome to enjoy reading the blog and to comment again – just try to adjust your level of considerateness to the level of Lola’s abilities.

I want to thank you very much for your understanding regarding the necessity of this boundary.

With kind regards,
Lola’s Mom

Q & A Tuesday ~ On BPD, boredom and frustration

QandA

I’ve gotten a bunch of questions in a comment, and since it would be a novel length comment back, I’ll answer them in a post instead. Here we go. Please be aware, though, that even when the questions ask “how is this for people with BPD in general”, I can’t really say.  I can only say how it is for me.

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Q: You stated that when you’re bored, you want someone to share that pain with you? Is that a common trait of BPD?

A: Like I said, I can only speak from my own perspective and I’m no shrink or anything, but I’d say boredom itself is a fairly common trait in people with BPD and I might not be the only one who has a tendency to end up sharing the misery. For me it is not about actively wanting to make anyone miserable at all, though. I feel bad about making others miserable. For me it’s more that I feel like it’s so unfair that everyone seems busy and content, yet I’m so endlessly bored and don’t know what to do about it, and then it kind of starts to feel like “if anyone cared about me, they would help my misery”. Then I’m like “hey, look, I’m bored” and if nobody reacts I get a little more annoying in the “heeeeeey, really, I’m bored!” way. Then, if nobody reacts still, I start to feel like they don’t care. My thoughts go something like “great, nobody cares about me, I knew it! They don’t like me, they just pretended, but when it gets inconvenient for them, they show their true colors. I hate them. They suck. They don’t deserve to be so content doing whatever they are doing.” But sooner or later my thinking gets a twist again and my thoughts turn on myself, like “but then, they are right in not caring. Why would they care about me? I’m horrible. I can’t even keep myself entertained. Like a baby. Of course they don’t care. They wish I wasn’t even here. They think I’m despicable and they are right. I am despicable…”

So depending on where in my line of reasoning I start to act, I’ll either try to make them miserable in return because I get angry and hurt over them not caring, or I do something to punish myself for being the way I am if I’m already further down the line. That usually forces them to interrupt what they are doing, too, because chances are I’ll do it somewhere where they are sure to notice, just to see if, by any chance, they DO care after all. (Luckily it doesn’t really get to any of those points for me, because I have a mom who is aware of my sensitivity to relationship messages. So she usually reacts to my ‘hey, look, I’m bored’, takes it seriously and helps me find ways to cope with it.)

Well, and of course, this is what happens with me, and I can only speak for myself. Others with BPD might have different mechanisms and different lines of thinking. Everybody is different.

Q: Would it be possible for someone BPD to do an activity by themselves instead seeking someone else to ‘share the pain’?

A: I think it would be possible. Not everyone with BPD will probably want to share the pain in the first place. Like I said, everybody is different. But I think that even with someone like me, who has a certain desire to ‘share the pain’, it’s possible to do an activity by myself instead. It depends on how well I am at that moment and how well I am able to resort to my own coping skills. If I feel pretty secure in my relationships at that time, if I manage to remind myself that it’s NOT them not caring, but just me being bored, then I just try to busy myself, like by drawing a new zentangle or blogging or, well, trying to engage mom or someone else at the house in a more positive way.

Q: Is ‘Non’ the right term for someone who doesn’t have BPD?

A: Suit yourself. 🙂 Non is fine because it’s short and I know what you mean. I’ll take anything, as long as it’s friendly and I know what you mean.

Q: From what I’m gathering here, there’s a lot of narcissistic traits, or at least from what I’m reading, and a lot of self-pity, with a disregard for others, notably your loved ones?

A: For me, I wouldn’t say there is a genuine disregard of others. Not in the ‘I basically don’t care about others’ way. I care a lot about others. I try very hard to be kind, I want especially my loved ones to be pleased with me, I admire and love them a lot, and how they feel matters greatly to me. What gets in the way is my emotional mess when it comes.

My feelings are easily triggered and pretty intense. I think that may be the part that ‘Nons’ have the hardest time relating to. I get pretty much the same kind of feelings everyone does, but very quickly and several times as overwhelming. Add to that that I have emotional coping skills matching that of a little child. My emotional regulation skills don’t suffice. So I do what any child who is overwhelmed does – I cry for my mom to fix it, and stop caring whether that’s convenient for her at that moment, or whether I hurt her, too, in the process, and I feel upset if I perceive her attitude as uncaring, because that directly ties in with traumatic experiences for me.

So I wouldn’t say I am particularly self-pitying, just that when faced with the full force of my emotions, I have trouble looking beyond it. Kind of like that: if you got acid on your hand and it burned terribly and you could see your flesh sizzling away, you’d probably stop caring whether it inconvenienced someone if you cried for help and got in people’s faces about it, because it hurts so much and gives you a panic. It wouldn’t mean you have a general disregard for others, but just that you are in a situation where you are suffering so much that you temporarily can not be bothered with caring for others, but need relief from the acid on your hand and need your wounds attended to. That’s how I experience emotional distress. So even when it looks like I wallow in self-pity and disregard others’ over it, I don’t really. I just don’t know what else to do about the emotional acid.

Q: On the last bit, would you prefer everyone to fail as you were to? Now, when I say fail, I mean you may inevitably come to succeed, but another has done so before you. Would you rather be stuck on the same problem and get frustrated (and who knows what else… would something like that trigger a psychological regression?) until you give up or eventually get it (and feel satisfied, possibly?) or have someone help you?

A: When emotionally well, I don’t want anyone to fail. When I get into an emotional unbalance (like because I am failing with something and get these overwhelming thoughts that I must be truly retarded or inept, a terrible failure myself, and certainly nobody will want such a failure in their lives) I can temporarily want others to fail, too, for two reasons.

1.) To feel better about myself, because if others fail, too, then the task must be real hard, which means that maybe I am not such a complete failure after all, if they don’t manage either, or

2.) In the hope that they will see how terrible I feel about it, because they experience the same thing, so they will then understand why it upsets me so much.

I don’t really do very well with being stuck with a problem by myself, because I easily slide down the fateful line of thinking “I must be a failure to suck so badly at this, nobody wants me if I am such a failure, I will lose them”. (Okay, that’s shortening a really long line of reasoning, but this is the essence of it.) So instead of keeping trying I will get discouraged, blame the problem for being too hard (so nobody starts thinking it might be me being the failure) or become overwhelmed with emotion (which leads to drama, that’s probably where the regressive behavior would start, so yes to that) or have someone help me (which is, all things considered, probably the best possible solution, if I manage to get someone to understand that I really need help and what reason for). Well, yeah, and if I do keep at the task long enough to actually get it eventually (which doesn’t happen so often, for abovementioned reasons), I feel very satisfied and pleased with myself.

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Okay, that’s it. Today’s little Q&A. I hope that my answers made sense?

Psychological Regression – the perils and the power

Regression

For quite some time now I have wanted to write a follow up post on my first post about regression. I’ve brooded over it for weeks now, never finding quite the right words to say, only ever adding ideas and thought fragments, never getting to coherence. But I think I have finally managed. Please note, though, that everything I write is solely my own personal opinion that comes from my own experience with the subject and fom reflection alone and with my mom.

Psychological regression is the term that is used for when people engage in behavior that is associated with a younger age or earlier developmental stage than they really are. This kind of behavior is often considered to be immature, infantile, childish, self-indulgent, egoistic or inappropriate. It can range anywhere from harmless, like sucking your thumb or chewing on the ends of pencils, to potentially dangerous, like doing hard drugs.

I believe that in itself psychological regression is neither good nor bad. It just IS. I believe that whether it becomes bad and a peril, or good and a source of healing energy, depends first and foremost on what we make of it. So let’s have a closer, nonjudgmental look at what it is. Since I am no stranger at all to regression, I’ll provide examples from my own life where I can.

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Key features of psychological regression:

Psychological regression can range anywhere from very subtle to very noticeable.

Subtle regressive behavior is usually socially accepted within either the society as a whole or a social group. Excessive smoking, drinking, partying or a devil-may-care attitude, all those can be socially accepted and still be regressive behavior, if the person who’s doing them should be able to operate at a more mature level.

On the other end of the spectrum regressive behavior can also be very noticeable. Most of my own regressive behaviors range there. My default way to dress, look and behave is that of a younger teenager, for example. Biologically I am in my mid-20s, but people think I’m way younger than that. And it gets even more noticeable when I resort to things like my pacifier or throw a tantrum that makes the terrible twos look like a picnic. Very noticeable, trust me.

Psychological regression is self-centered.

While regressive behavior can be very interactional, aiming to get other people to react in a certain way, it does not, in itself, consider other people and their needs. It is self-centered and thus fairly reckless. When I behave younger than I am, I do it because something inside of myself calls for it, even when it is inconvenient or annoying or frustrating for others. It does not really care about others very much, it’s only about me. Which leads to the next point.

Psychological regression satisfies needs.

Regressive behavior aims at getting people something that they feel is necessary in order to end a state of deficiency. It can be hard to figure out WHICH need a certain regressive behavior satisfies, but I believe every regressive behavior satisfies one. It might be the need to feel important, seen, provided for, indulged, valued or loved. Or the need to relax, feel safe, to be distracted, to forget, to avoid something or to create security. Or some other need.

Psychological regression is a coping response to psychological distress.

Distress is what happens when the level of stress exceeds the person’s ability to cope with it in a healthy and appropriate way. Psychological distress usually involves feelings and their going out of balance. When the person ran out of healthy, appropriate and mature ways to cope with it, she resorts to regressive behaviors that have, on earlier developmental levels, been known to provide relief. For example I have a pacifier and at home I am not shy to use it. Not because I think it’s “fun” or “cool” or because I want to call special attention to myself, but because it helps me cope. It soothes me. It helps me calm down. It helps me feel safe. If I were capable of more mature ways to achieve that, I’d use them, but as it is, I am happy I have any way at all.

Psychological regression can’t just be “snapped out of”.

As I illustrated above, regressive behavior is not about being lazy or unwilling to bother for maturity, but the best possible way to satisfy a psychological need and/or cope with psychological distress. Neither the need, nor the distress just go away if they are unattended. Therefore it’s not possible to just “snap out of” the regressive behavior that is used to cope with them. People don’t go for the least mature way to deal with things on purpose, after all, but because more mature alternatives are, for whatever reason, not available to them at the time. So “snapping out of it” is no real possibility. And not really desirable either, because while it’s possible to suppress the behavior for a certain time, it’s not going to improve the well-being of the person in the long run. For example I can take the pacifier out of my mouth when a neighbor drops by. But discontinuing my coping behavior means my stress level rises again and while I can endure that for a little while, it better not be a long while. So just “snapping out of it” is off the table, please.

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Okay, so much for what I believe psychological regression to be. Like I said, I think that in itself this is neither bad nor good. It just IS. At the same time, however, I have grown convinced that regressive behavior can be a very powerful source of healing and psychological development, but that it can also become a really destructive force that can even put the self and others at substantial danger.

I think whether regression becomes a peril or a benefit largely depends on those two things:

Are the people who are primarily involved aware that it is happening?

Are there safe boundaries in place within which the regressive behavior takes place?

I think if the answer to either of these questions is “no”, then the regressive behavior becomes potentially unhealthy and a peril to the person who employs the regressive behavior, as well as to other people around the person. Why?

  • because without awareness it’s easy to get stuck
  • because without awareness it easily leads to feelings of unhappiness and negative attitudes towards oneself for repeatedly failing to “cope better” like other people can
  • because without awareness people generally just accept the behavior or make random and often futile attempts at improving it, so that the regressive behavior doesn’t go away and can ultimately get in the way of achieving ones goals
  • because without boundaries it can end up involving abuse and harm done to oneself or others (like by coping through drugs, casual sex, little commitment to adult commitments and because of the general inconsideration of others that regressive behavior comes with)
  • because without boundaries regressive behavior can easily lead to yet more regressive behavior, with the person eventually losing sight of more mature ways to react or losing the desire to get there, ending in a vicious spiral at the end of which the person gets less and less capable of living a mature and happy life

If the answer to those two questions about regression, however, is:

Yes, the people who are primarily involved are aware that it’s happening.

Yes, there are safe boundaries in place within which the regressive behavior takes place.

then it is possible to gain access to the power that lies within psychological regression and regressive behavior. For one thing because it is possible to recognize those positive things then. And for another thing because if there are awareness and safe boundaries, the behaviors can get addressed and worked on, too, with consideration for the potential and positive aspects of psychological regression. So what are those?

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In my experience the positive aspects are:

Psychological regression is an important signal.

Regressive behavior makes an important statement about where the person is at in her psychological development. For example I dress and behave like a teenager, because that’s where I feel I am at in large aspects of my life. I have a hard time relating to many adult things, like getting a job and being a productive member of society. I feel like there are things I need to take care of first, before I can advance, because I’m still stuck between being a child and being an adult. Which means that at the moment I can go both ways. While I am writing this blog post, for example, it’s pretty much the adult in me who is writing. But in situations that involve my emotions, I’m usually very much drawn to the child-like side.

In my original development I have experienced several traumas at various stages of my development. Those are not resolved yet, so I keep getting drawn back. Looking at what I get drawn back to is very helpful, because it helps me, my mom, and my therapist with figuring out what my issues are, exactly. So that is definitely a very positive aspect, that the regressive behavior can give us a pointer on where to dig for stuff that needs some work.

Psychological regression is a form of self-soothing.

Like discussed above, it is a coping mechanism. If used with awareness and within safe boundaries that is something positive. Being able to revert to regressive behavior that satisfies my needs and calms me down is good because it gives me a certain sense of self-efficiency that I would otherwise lack.

Psychological regression is an opportunity to make up for something that has been lost.

This ties in with the needs thing mentioned above. I know that for myself, many times my regressive behavior gives me a good feeling, like maybe it’s not too late yet to make the experiences I missed out on. For me most of those experiences are interactional. My mom responding to a tantrum like I were little. Or sometimes I play possum when it’s time to get dressed, hoping that she will pick up on the cue and dress me, because I like feeling like she cares about how I look, because she’s gentle when she puts clothes on me and because it’s fun. We’re both aware that we’re “playing little” and that it’s about adding a fuzzy and warm experience and not just me trying to maneuver her into doing something because I’m a sick manipulator who enjoys a little power trip. No, I’m just in need of some experiences that I had to miss out on. And I believe that collecting those experiences and being aware of them will ultimately help me progress. Going forward by going backward. Go figure!

Psychological regression is an opportunity to recover some innocence.

At least for me it is. At times it feels like I employ a regressive behavior solely for reclaiming some of the innocence that was stolen from me. Cuddling with mom, for example. She’s my one really safe person and while I know that I am in my mid 20s and technically should not want to sit on my moms lap and / or require her to cuddle with me so much, I do. Because I enjoy it. Because I enjoy that it is innocent and safe and because I don’t feel like I am this old anyway. I enjoy that I feel safe with her, that she can hug me and kiss me and touch me and that it feels innocent and like the way it is supposed to be. Like it should have been all along. I could add more examples, but hey, this is really long already.

Psychological regression can serve as a moratorium.

Fancy word, eh, moratorium? 😉 Mom used it. It means delay or postponement or something. Kind of like buying time before proceeding. Sometimes that’s just what’s necessary. Everybody needs breaks. Even the best progress can’t just improve and improve and improve without a breather, without a little orientation backwards, too. Sometimes you just need to make sure everything is still safe, that you can get a break when you need one and that you have time and a space to do some catching up before you go somewhere. To prepare. To collect your resources. To summon your energy. To get ready for tackling something. Psychological regression can help with doing that.

Psychological regression can be a recreational space.

Hm, just what it says, really. Regressive behavior can be relaxing and comforting and de-stressing. Especially if it’s harmless regressive behavior that shouldn’t really be bothering anyone. So it’s okay to value it for what it is, a recreational space, rather than devaluing it as childish or immature. Really.

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There you go, that’s been a long post, but one I have brooding over for a long time. Congratulations if you’ve made it all the way through! Feel free to take one of the sparkly bags of invisible candy over there, I made them myself. Do also feel free to share your own thoughts on regressive behavior as well! 🙂

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