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.

Why my mom is a “good enough” parent, and why my mother wasn’t

I happened across this thesis yesterday and although I only skimmed it, I found something interesting about how parents are supposed to be “good enough” parents. So I asked mom and she said that’s a concept coined by a psychologist named Winnicott and it means that parents don’t need to be perfect, never making mistakes, but that they need to be “good enough” in order for the child do develop in a healthy way.

I thought that was interesting and decided I want to compare the parenting my birth mother did and the parenting my mom now does and see what I get. I’ll write my take on my mother’s behavior in blue and my take on my mom’s behavior in purple.

So trusting the thesis being a good enough parent requires parents to:

  • To teach and guide

my mother – teaching and guiding, I don’t know if that applies to her at all. Does it count if you are taught something by learning to fear the consequences if you don’t do it? The only thing she deliberately taught me was that everyone who didn’t take advantage of someone else when given the chance to get away with it was stupid.

my mom – she takes lots of time to teach me things. Perfectly ordinary things, like how to attend to my personal care, how to use a washing machine or how to cook something, but also things like how come I tick the way I do, how to make sense of my own behavior, that of others and everything. And she does it over and over again, even when it’s the same thing she showed or explained to me ten times already.

  • To instill morals, values, beliefs, ethics

my mother – she instilled the belief that you’re dumb if you don’t cheat the system, take advantage of people or cut them bad deals or lie when you can get away with it. And that it’s okay to take your anger out on others.

my mom – it used to annoy me how ethical she is. If she gets her change and the cashier gave her too much, she always alerts them. She’s all about treating people well and being honest and all that. I used to not get it. Why put myself at a disadvantage when the other won’t even notice? For quite a long time I accused her of only doing it to hone a holier-than-thou attitude, so she can feel morally superior. But I was wrong. Especially lately I got to realize that she does it because it feels good to treat others well, because it makes it easier to feel good about yourself and… hm… I guess because it’s the right thing to do. Sounds weird coming out of my mouth, but go figure, now I actually think so.

  • To discipline

my mother – her idea of discipline were threats and punishment in any shade you think of. I was mortally afraid of irritating her and provoking anger, so I was probably very well behaved, but not out of anything but terror.

my mom – I can’t recall a single event where she punished me, but at the same time she attaches great importance to discipline. If we make agreements, she expects I observe them. And if I don’t, she will follow up on it, will try to figure out how come I didn’t and what I need in order to have an easier time observing the rules the next time around. It’s very important to her. It’s only the minor rules that she lets slip sometimes, stuff like not having candy before dinner.

  • To set limits

my mother – she was setting limits alright. Lots of random limits. Whatever she said was a new rule or a limit. It was kind of confusing because whatever angered her was overstepping a limit, and what she demanded changed depending on her mood, so I was always on guard about it. Stuff that was okay to do yesterday, that she even asked of me, I would often get punished for doing the day after.

my mom – she is also setting limits alright. But they don’t change and most of them make sense, because she takes time to explain them to me, so we’re usually in some sort of agreement over the rules. But yeah, I live with lots of rules and limits. I don’t have many of the liberties other people my age have, but then, I don’t have the emotional or social skills most other people my age have either. So it’s kind of okay, because the rules and limits keep me safe. I guess that’s what it’s all about.  

  • To follow through

my mother – she was actually fairly predictable in the negative regard. If she said I was gonna pay for something, I was gonna pay. In the positive regard, not so much. If she had a good moment, she would sometimes promise me something, like that she was going to get me something from the store, but she almost always forgot about ever having said something like this, or laughed at my disappointment, saying she’d only been kidding me and how stupid was I to have believed I’d be getting something. Most embarrassing memories.

my mom – I have yet to see her not follow through with something. She doesn’t make promises she can’t keep and she doesn’t ever forget any single thing she said. She must have an elephant’s memory or something. It’s me who forgets stuff, but never her. So yeah, whatever she says, she will follow through with it, and if she does change her mind about something, she always explains to me why and makes sure I’m gonna be okay with it. Crazy, but that’s her.

  • To listen

my mother – she didn’t think I had to say anything worth listening to. “You shut up” was her standard response, even when later it was “why didn’t you fucking tell me?!” when I would have actually had something important to say. So no, she didn’t listen very well.

my mom – yeah, she listens. Even to stuff I don’t say or don’t want her to hear. She even keeps on listening when I run off at the mouth and swamp her in verbal diarrhea. She alerts me to my nonsensical nonstop talking and tries to get me back on a more normal track, but even so she listens, if sometimes with a pained smile.

  • To protect and to keep children safe

my mother – she didn’t protect me any. Not from my step-fathers abuse, not from anything. She was threatening and dangerous herself.

my mom – yes, she protects me. She enforces rules that protect me. She knows many of my triggers and takes them into consideration when we plan something. She even doesn’t allow other people to mess with me. She also makes sure I feel safe around the house. That she is a safe person, my safe person, is probably the most important thing about her. I feel safe when she’s there.

  • To help the children internalize skills such as trust

my mother – not at all, the only thing I learned from her was to trust nobody and nothing

my mom – we’re working on trust every single day. We discuss it, she makes a point of being trustworthy and she encourages me to trust others and helps me figure out what makes people or situations trustworthy and what doesn’t. So while I’m still nowhere near having internalized it yet, I hope I’m getting there.

  • To help children feel safe by instilling self-confidence and use of adults

my mother – the only thing she instilled was self-hate, low self-esteem and a belief that adults are dangerous and other people are out to get you anyway

my mom – she tries her best to improve my self-confidence by showing me how to be successful at doing things and by encouraging me to try out things and calling to my attention the things I am good at. And with the safety, I already wrote about that. I use her to feel safe a lot.

  • To provide unconditional love

my mother – she didn’t know what love was, much less unconditional love, unless maybe for my stepfather. She loved him like he was the best person ever, whatever weird reason for. But other than that resentment and hate was her thing, not love.

my mom – I almost don’t dare write it out, so as not to jinx it, but I think she does love me unconditionally. Of course she disapproves of it when I behave in a bad way, but she still loves me. I don’t always feel it – no, actually, I often don’t feel it, because I can’t believe it – but she says she does, and acts like she does and I’d like to think that she does. I feel a little bit safe enough to believe it, too. Sometimes.

  • To provide consistency, predictability, reliability

my mother – no consistency, predictability and reliability at all, except for negative stuff. That always came.

my mom – very consistent, predictable and reliable, even when I try my best to force her into giving it up at times

  • To be aware of and open to what the child needs

my mother – she was only aware of herself and what she needed

my mom – she’s often aware of what I need before I even know that I need anything. She talks about my needs and taking them seriously and giving me what I need all the time, too. Way more than I wish she did, sometimes, but that’s the side of me talking that wishes I didn’t have any needs at all. So it’s good she does it.

  • To provide the basic needs

my mother – she used food, clothing, warmth and shelter as things to manipulate and punish me with. Letting me stand outside in the cold, not giving me food etc. were her ideas of “fun” sometimes.

my mom – she provides for all basic needs. There’s always food, she makes sure I eat enough, she makes sure I wear appropriate clothes that keep me warm and all that.

  • To pass on traditions, culture, prayer

my mother – I don’t know if she even had anything she could have passed on

my mom – yeah, she passes on those things a lot. Traditions around holidays or birthdays are what comes to my mind the most. I have big issues with holidays and birthdays, but somehow as her and my family’s traditions become familiar and “traditional” (as in having a history with them I can look back on) it gets a little easier.

  • To teach about issues such as sexuality, oppression, etc.

my mother – she didn’t speak about those things. Not that I can recall.

my mom – we talk about those things when I can do so in a healthy, safe way. She made sure I know the facts about sexuality, for example, which I must admit I was not very familiar with, other than how having sex works.

  • To develop a secure attachment

my mother – she was not someone anyone could have a secure attachment to. She didn’t want me to attach to her either. She wanted me as far away from her as possible

my mom – she is someone to securely attach to, but I struggle a lot with those relationship issues. So working on those is probably what we do a lot of the time that we spend together, and I can see that she spends a lot of energy on making sure that we’re emotionally in touch and that I feel safe in our relationship. Relationship trouble always takes priority over other things.

  • To model healthy problem solving and feeling management techniques

my mother – she modeled how to drown problems in alcohol, but hey, too bad, they know how to swim, which of course I only realized after I had started drinking, too. Drinking, manipulation of others and violence were about the only problem solving and feeling management techniques I learned from her.

my mom – yes, she models healthy emotional skills and all that. And when she makes mistakes, she says so and apologizes and I think that she’s able to model all those healthy skills is what makes her a safe person to be around. I know I can be unstable and put an emotional burden on her and act out and all that, because she knows how to handle it. She doesn’t lose her cool and doesn’t fall apart over it, making it safe for me to put my mess in her face, plus I can see how she handles it, which I learn from.

Whew, I think that was the longest post I wrote so far. I don’t know if it’s even meaningful to anyone but me, but in case it may help someone else to consider those categories, I’ll post it. 🙂 It helps me to remind myself of those things. It helps me to realize why it’s okay and a healthy thing to love my mom and to still need her so much. And it helps me to realize that maybe it’s not all my own fault that I am so messed up, but that maybe my mom was just not good enough and caused a lot of the crap, too. And it helps to realize that the things that my mom now does, and that I sometimes feel are restrictive and all that, that she does those for a good reason and that it can help me get better, because that’s just the kind of things a good enough parent does.

Things that make me feel safe & loved

Since feeling safe and loved is something I struggle with a lot, I thought maybe it would be good to make a list of things that help those feelings along. To get some clarity, and maybe to actively seek out those things when I run low in a way that’s a little more constructive than becoming a nuisance to those around me.

So let’s see.

Things that make me feel safe:

  • Knowing someone is home with me.
  • Being in the same room with mom or dad.
  • Having the lights on at night.
  • That mom and dad don’t yell and only rarely raise their voices.
  • Having the same predictable routines every day.
  • That my mom keeps an eye on what I do and where I am. (Okay, it’s annoying, too, especially when I’m up to no good, but then, it’s kind of the point that she notices when I drift south before I’m all the way there, even when I hate it at the time.)
  • That mom takes my hand when we’re out and about on the streets, so I can relax and don’t need to stress about getting lost, and neither about losing face by actively taking her hand (yes, life is complicated).
  • Knowing in advance what’s planned for the day.
  • Getting things explained to me, so I don’t feel left out or stupid for not knowing something.
  • Getting included.
  • Mom and dad staying calm when I’m upset.
  • That we talk about things in the family.

So far so good. I have a feeling that those were the easier ones. The ‘love’ part is more difficult because I have an even harder time feeling loved than feeling safe, and I also feel more embarrassed about the things that make me feel loved. But I guess the point of this post is to try and figure it out and be honest about it, so here goes.

Things that make me feel loved:

  •  Sitting on mom’s lap. Yes, physically I’m kind of too big to be sitting on her lap, but emotionally there’s not a single thing in the world that compares to it. I’m lucky I’m small and light, but I guess I’d like it just as much if I were tall and big. (Poor mom, though, in that case.) It feels loving and safe and like she must really love me if she allows me on her lap. After all you don’t let people be that close who you don’t really like that much, right?!
  • Small things like mom and dad never leaving the house and waiting for me outside, even if I dilly-dally and they are long ready to go. I’d probably be way faster if they waited outside, because I hate being left behind, but they always wait and only leave the house when I’m with them.
  • That they see through my relationship tests and use them for good stuff. I often construct situations that invite them to give me negative relationship messages, to punish me or to discipline me. I am annoying on purpose to see what it takes to make them snap and lose it and show their “true face”. But instead of snapping or losing it, they acknowledge that I’m stressed, make me aware that I’m stressed and try their best to help me figure out what I need to feel safe in our relationship again. That they do that instead of taking the easy way, makes me feel like they care about me and love me.
  • That my mom pays attention to what I do, even when it’s nothing important, and either smiles or says something to let me know how she feels about what I do. I often do things just to see if she will notice, and nine out of ten times she does. That makes me feel like I’m important to her and like she loves me enough to care.

Those are only four things, and I’m sure there must be more, but I have a really hard time becoming aware of those things. I’m actually pleased I made it to four, plus explanations. 😉

Love Conquers All – the power of love . . . and its limitations

I grew up in a very loveless home. The closest thing to love were probably the moments when my stepfather was comfortably drunk and watching football, being at peace with the rest of the world, as long as my mother went in and out of the room to provide a ready supply of beer and food. During those moments she was the most important person to him and no crap came my way. Sometimes, in a rare moment of generosity, I would be given a handful of potato chips. I used to love football. With some luck it meant calm and peace while it lasted.

Most other things that could be considered ‘love’ were one big tangle of sexual abuse. Hugs and cuddles were never just hugs and cuddles. That I was not used to real love and understood positive attention and affection to be mere precursors to sex probably made it quite obvious to people in the helping profession that I was pretty much in need of love.

Maybe I should mention that to most people I seem to look physically attractive. I’m short and light and have long blonde hair. I look younger than I am. I seem to look a lot more innocent than I am, too. 

I was aware that many people I met along my way – social workers, nurses, therapists, you name them – took to me. For reasons of pity, charity, so I could be their success story, or just because they were idealistic . . . I don’t know which. For some reason I attracted their attention, even when I tried to be invisible. I can’t count how often someone thought that what I needed was love and kindness, someone to take an interest, good experiences . . . and I’d be better.

I suppose it’s a lovely thought. Love conquers all, and all that. But I never bought it. Love is just a word. If someone was kind to me, I absorbed all of the good stuff that I could take, I liked the person and even thought they were the one who would save me, that they were finally the one good person, but as screwed up as I was I had unrealistic expectations. That someone good couldn’t possibly disappoint me. So when it happened, I turned on them. I am capable of very awful behavior, and they were sure to get the worst of it. And I turned on me as well, for being such a horrible person.

But often before they disappointed me, I disappointed them. They invested feelings in me – some even said so, that what I really needed was some love – and were bitterly disappointed when I did not react as they expected. When I lied to them. Didn’t open up. Didn’t get better. Stole from them. Or others. Or that when they were so generous to invite me to their house I ended up having sex with their husband.

So they gave up. Declared me beyond repair and a despicable creature. Even by crazy people standards. Abandonment. Once again. Like I knew was going to happen. Fuck love. If love did shit, I would have gotten better. I hate love. Nothing but lies and deception and people feeling you owe them.

Then I met the people who are now my family. Went to live with them, because heck, what did I have to lose? Government run group homes sucked. So once again someone wanted to love me. Great. I knew how this was going to end. Knew it by heart. But hell, I’m a sucker for attention and they gave me plenty. Against better knowledge I also don’t tire of being tricked into feeling like THIS person will be the one good person, the one who will fix it. So I got a set of new therapists and family people.

And the mom there loved me. Said so, too. In English: everything was set up for failure!

Except that it worked out. The mom there was kind and affectionate, patient and gentle. But she was also not easy to manipulate. She would not melt with pity at some tear-jerking story I dished up. She was firm and consistent. She could be fun and good times, but no-nonsense, too. Yet never threatening. Or, well, very threatening, because I found love threatening and relationships threatening and everything threatening, but she managed to see that I was scared and found ways to bring the fear down to levels I could tolerate. She never allowed for situations to end before I felt safe, for the time being. More than once that meant staying up all night.

She has become my mom. She loves me. And it makes all the difference. Sometimes she, too, says “love conquers all”. Then I laugh, because that’s what all those people before her thought too, and I know how that turned out. But my mom is not delusional. She does not mean it in the way that love itself fixes stuff. It doesn’t. 

My mom has a metaphor that she uses when I laugh at her for saying love conquers all. She agrees that the way that won’t work is when people expect love itself and love alone to do the fixing. She says that’s like loving on broken china. You can love and love and love it all you want, it won’t magically become undamaged. BUT if you really love that piece of china, it will give you the strength and endurance to go looking for ways to fix it, even when it isn’t easy. The china will never be the same as before, because it will always have been fixed, but if you love it enough, you’ll do the very best you can to mend it the best possible way, even in the face of difficulty and setbacks and things taking a long time. Even when it doesn’t turn out perfect. Or not the way you originally wanted it to.

And even when I still laugh at her (come on, who’d spend ages trying to fix a piece of china? 😉 ) I think she might have a point. I think I finally got what love is. And I love my mom back. So, so much.

Love conquers all. Or well. Maybe not all. But a lot. If used properly.

(And now I’m done being philosophical. For at least a week. LOL. That took ages to write!)

Just a poem

It’s not often as I wish it were, but every now and then I write poems. Here’s one I’ve written some time ago, but thought about a lot recently. No great poetry. Just my feelings.

And in case you can’t read my scrawl:

Love you – hate you – love you
do you or don’t you
need you to love me, too

Alive in your presence
if you see the essence
of me

Afraid to love you
I try to abuse you
to drive you away
but I want you to stay
with me

as close as you can
hold me tight
If you love me,
I’m alright.

by Lola

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