How do I tell someone I think they have Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder - Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted

BPD anyone?! – Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in “Girl, Interrupted”

This is one of the questions I get asked a LOT. It’s also a search term that leads people to my blog a lot. “What can I do when I suspect my friend or someone I otherwise care about has BPD?” or alternatively “How do I tell […friend’s name…] that I think s/he has BPD?”.

So I am going to write about that. That said, I do feel a bit overwhelmed with the question, because I feel like it is not my place to give people advice on something that can potentially have an effect on other people who I don’t even know, which is why I put this post together with the help of my mom (not the dysfunctional mother I grew up with, I might add, but the mom who’s my mom now, after adopting). She is a psychiatrist. Not my psychiatrist, obviously, because that would be just weird, but that’s her profession anyway. So she knows what she’s talking about and I feel more confident doing a ‘how to’ piece on this matter having discussed everything with her first.

So here we go: How do I tell someone I think they have Borderline Personality Disorder?

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1. Diagnosing someone is not a layperson’s call. Psychological conditions can be tricky. Symptoms overlap. It can be hard to diagnose someone with the right thing even for trained professionals whose job it is to know ALL the symptoms of ALL the disorders. Unless you are a trained professional who is seeing this person in a professional context, you can not diagnose anything and even if you are convinced BPD is it, you might be awfully wrong. Even professionals can get it wrong – and so you can, too. Always keep that in mind.

2. Before you tell anyone anything, stop and think about yourself for a moment. Why do you want to suggest to someone they might have BPD? Why is it important to you, if you are completely honest to yourself? If the answer to that is anything that comes from a place that is not solely genuine care and concern and love for the other person, then you are about to start off into an unhealthy direction anyway and should not go ahead with it. If there is anything at all that causes you to get own positive feelings out of telling someone, then stop reading right now, get the idea of telling the other person out of your head and start to deal with and take responsibility for your own feelings that put you on this path instead.

3. Keep in mind that self harm is not BPD. I have seriously seen people who thought that everyone who self-harms must automatically have BPD. That is totally not true. If your only clue is that someone self-harms, then you have an extremely thin case to go on and should not go ahead suggesting s/he has BPD at all.

4. Do not drop a label on anyone. If you carefully considered all of the above things and still feel like you want to let someone know you think they have BPD, then consider now that dropping a label on someone can be extremely harmful. Borderline Personality Disorder is a label with a lot of stigma attached. How would you feel if someone suggested you have something that people generally feel strongly and very negatively about? Therefore going ‘hey, I’m quite convinced that you have Borderline Personality Disorder’ is a really bad idea. After all if you come from a place of genuine care, concern and love – which is the only case in which you should still be reading this – you do not want to freak anyone out or harm them, or do you? Therefore you should be extremely cautious with dropping labels. Properly inform yourself instead and learn all you can about what BPD is and what it not is before you proceed.

5. Check if your relationship is one where suggesting someone has a psychological condition is appropriate. That’s a biggie. Are you a concerned friend or partner? Then you’re probably good. Are you just a co-worker, classmate or an acquaintance? Chances are it’s not your business to get so intimate with someone as to suggest they have a psychological problem. Are you a mother, father, sibling or other relative? Please go back to #2 and re-assess it. Carefully. Family – especially family of someone who might have BPD – is often a playground of hidden agendas, underlying power or mind games, wanting to tell someone for the sake of feeling superior or making the other feel inferior, etc. If you feel like you’d get any kind of personal satisfaction out of telling your family member they have BPD in the guise of being concerned, then don’t go ahead. If that is the case it’s quite likely you have just as much of an issue as the person you suspect has BPD and speaking up will only end up in your respective issues playing off of one another in an unhealthy way. Suggest you as a family have things going wrong instead and try to find professional help for the family as a whole – yourself included.

6. Always present what you are suggesting as your own opinion, because it’s not a fact and you might be wrong. If you have come this far and still want to go ahead, before you say anything at all, be aware of the relativity of your perception and thoughts. Even when you feel very convinced that you are right, you might still be wrong. What you are about to say is just a suggestion based on your own impression and opinion. State it as that: a possibility, not a fact.

7. Suggest it in a helpful and respectful way in a suitable moment.Suitable moments are moments where everyone is calm, when there is enough time to talk, even if it should turn into a longer talk, where you feel reasonably close to the other person and where you can make very clear that genuine care, concern and love is the place you’re coming from. Never talk in a place where others could overhear you, because that makes people generally uneasy. Suggesting something in a helpful and respectful way includes asking if the other person wants to hear your thoughts. You could say something like “I noticed you are struggling with a couple of things and I feel sad for you, which is why I am wondering if you would like my opinion/thoughts on it.” If you are actually friends and your friend or partner feels safe and positive about your relationship, chances are s/he will want to hear your opinion or thoughts. If s/he does not want to hear it, respect it, because if your thoughts are not welcome to start with, your thinking they have BPD is probably not going to go down well either.

8. Don’t say it in a way that suggests they have a bad personality or are a damaged person. If your thoughts are welcome, be careful to suggest your suspicion in a way that does not make the other person feel awful about herself. BPD is not a death sentence. It’s not a terminal, unalterable thing. It is simply a pattern of unhealthy ways of relating to people and the emotional issues that cause it are treatable. BPD isn’t the result of someone being a bad person either, but most of the time it’s a perfectly normal person who has experienced things that were really hard on him or her and made it necessary for her to develop these now unhealthy strategies to live their life somehow. Oftentimes they have survived things you have not and that’s something that deserves respect, not making the other person feel bad for themselves. That the ways of feeling and thinking and the behaviour are maladaptive now in normal contexts is all that is wrong, and that can be very hard. But there’s treatment available, people with BPD can be good people. Don’t feed into any misconceptions about BPD. And don’t use judgmental language and vocabulary.

9. Be prepared for the consequences. Even if you suggest it out of concern and love in a respectful, helpful way you might still trigger a response you didn’t want to trigger. The other person might get defensive. Or angry. Or sad. Or desperate. Or discard what you said. That you felt you needed to suggest to them that they might have BPD might temporarily damage your relationship. Or permanently. Be aware of that. If you are right about your suspicion, then the other person having BPD means that her relationship patterns follow their own dynamics to start with and those might include effects you didn’t want to cause. There’s little you can do about it. Knowing your own boundaries, staying calm yourself and not taking the response too personally (if you were actually coming from a place of concern and did not follow a hidden agenda) are the best things you can do. Ask if there is anything you can do for the other person. Be there for them if they want to. Give them space if they want space. You can’t force anything upon them.

10. Leave reacting upon it or not to the other person. You might think the other person should seek help, but whether or not they do it is their decision. Keep in mind that you have been thinking about the whole issue for a good while now, but to the other person your suggestion has suddenly caused a new situation. They might need time to think. They might come to a different conclusion than you. And that’s okay. You can point out options regarding what can be done, but no more. The rest is up to them. Respect their reaction. The only case in which you should intervene is if their reaction poses an immediate danger to themselves or other people. Everything else and they’re good, even if you don’t agree with it.

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So much for my suggestions about how to deal with telling someone you think they might have BPD. My mom and I did our best to try and consider all the aspects. We hope you find it helpful and wish you all the best. Feel free to let me know what you think.  🙂

In hiding

Hey there, y’all, and thank you for your comments. I just want to say that I’m not ignoring you, but rather I’m in hiding today. The last couple of days took a strain on me, more than I realized probably, and I’m unwell today, physically and emotionally. So I’m recovering from recovering or something. I don’t know. I hope tomorrow will be a better day.

No right to feel bad

I’m feeling increasingly crap these days. I’m having a much harder time eating. I don’t sleep through the nights anymore. I’m even more touchy than I usually am. I spend a large part of the day crying. Small things set me off. A constant feeling of trepidation closes in on me. It’s really unpleasant. It exhausts me. I feel bad.

And at the same time I am terribly reluctant to post about it, because I feel like I have no right to complain or even feel a little bit bad at all. I’ve been reading blogs of people who really struggle. So much they don’t want to live anymore. That’s serious. And while I have had flirts with the feeling, I’ve never been that bad. Depression isn’t so big a part of my lucky bag of mental health conditions.

I also have a mom who’s not working, but is only doing the household and helping me get better, a dad who earns enough that the family is nowhere near financial want and siblings who are quite understanding and don’t look at me funny (most of the time) when I am being difficult. I really lucked out with the life I have now. I feel awfully guilty for struggling. Guilty for not being better. Angry at myself for wanting to write that I’m not feeling good, because it’s illegitimate. Because it only shows how ungrateful I am. That I don’t deserve any of the good I have. I feel like a sham for saying I’m struggling, even when it’s true, because I’m just too thin-skinned and have no right to feel sorry for myself.

That’s how it feels. Like I ought to be ashamed of myself for even writing this post. Like I should give my life and the good things I have to someone who would use them. Not whine, or struggle or feel bad despite everything. It makes me want to hurt myself and punish myself by NOT doing it at the same time. Because not doing it is more torturous. Which I deserve.

Feeling awful and guilty about not feeling bad enough, yet considering it bad already. I kind of notice it’s a sick and twisted thought, but I can’t get rid of it.

I can’t think

Just what the title says, really. I can’t think. Since days I feel like my ability to think is getting slowly snowed in. Just now my mom asked me how I would feel about going to the mall later today. And what does my mind do? It goes “mall . . . mall . . . mall . . . shopping . . . mall . . . do I want that . . . mall . . . “ and that’s it. Insert me pulling the thought back up from a black, sticky bog every time you see the tree dots.

I want to pull my thoughts together so bad, but it’s so hard. Has gotten increasingly harder for some days now, actually. Same with writing for my blog. It takes me so long to write a post, it’s ridiculous. Whenever I think I have found a good thought, it slips away again, back down into muddy, murky waters and I have to stick my arm back in and grope around in the dirt until I get a hold of it again and can pull it up for another brief moment to look at it.

I guess it’s some kind of dissociation going on. Or maybe not. I don’t know. I want it to stop.  😦

Feeling inadequate

 

Feelings of inadequacy are something I continually struggle with. Whatever I do, I can’t help comparing it to what other people do and feel like I don’t measure up to that. I use other people’s reactions as gauges too, and somehow they never (seem to) react as positively to me as they do to others. And if I do, by exception, get a positive feedback, I only wait for it to go away again, for the other person to see she was wrong.

My conclusion is that I must be stupider than most people, with less interesting things to say, less abilities, less charms, less charisma, less personality, less value and less worth. That whatever I do, I will only ever be at the bottom of the pile. That there I have an aura of ‘she’s laughable, ignore her’ around me that other people will recognize before long. Even when I compare myself to other people with mental health problems I come off badly. Like even by those standards I am inadequate.

Sometimes I wonder if those feelings are the direct result of rejection and abandonment. My mother cut ties from one day to the next, surrendered her parental “rights” (burdens) and that was that. I meant nothing to her. She jumped at the first chance to get rid of me. And while I know – in theory – that that says more about her than about me, my feelings are not as easy to convince. Even as a daughter I was inadequate. So much so, that my mother, who I had lived with for 15 years by the time, didn’t hesitate to throw me away like trash.

I guess that is probably why I can’t get past feeling inadequate. Why whenever I compare myself to others, they come off so much better. Why so many things come across to me as evidence that people think badly of me and wish I wasn’t bothering them, even when I try to be nice and helpful. Then I withdraw, because my feelings are hurt and at the same time I don’t want to bother them with my presence anymore, knowing they will be happier when I’m gone. And if someone wants to reconnect, I make it hard for them. Turn them down. Try to drive them away and alienate them with all my might. Make them hate me. To validate the way I feel, and to keep myself from getting hurt again. Unless I am beyond caring and offer myself as a willing victim for whatever it is they think I deserve. Easy prey.

The results of feeling inadequate.

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

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

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

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

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

Sex from the perspective of my troubled mind

I have been avoiding this topic, because it’s triggering for me, but I feel like I am in a good place today and it’s been on my mind lately. So I figure since it is a vital part of my struggles, I’ll write about it. The good thing about writing myself is that I’m in control over what I write. Even so, there will be mention of some unpleasant aspects of what is part of my sex experience, so if you are sensitive to that, please read with caution and stay safe.

Okay, so I guess what I’m writing about is what a sick puppy I am in regard to sex.

Sexual abuse was an ongoing part of my family experience growing up, and that’s all I’m gonna share about that for now, because I’m still uncomfortable facing those experiences more close up than just knowing they are there. What this is about is the mess I am in now in regard to sex. An inventory of where I’m at, so to speak.

When I’m in a good place emotionally, having a good day, I am not interested in sex at all. I don’t have sexual feelings, I don’t flirt, I don’t think about sex, don’t want to think about it. I even feel repulsed by it and like I’m going to be happy ever after if it never becomes a part of my life again. I shy away from thinking or talking about it.

When I’m in a less good place, however, it’s one very different story. Negative emotional upheaval is dangerous for me with regard to sex. I find myself nursing thoughts of sexual scenarios and they all include things that I feel repulsed by when I’m in a good place. Violence, humiliation, punishment, pain, getting used and dominated – that’s what I think of then, and what I get aroused by. It’s hard to describe it, because it’s not even a positive kind of being aroused, but a form of self-harm, I guess, similar to the desire to cut. Only instead of a razor blade, I go looking for destructive, degrading sex, because I feel turned on by it, even when that’s sick. Sex with repulsive guys, old lechers, creeps who are into sick shit, fantasies that involve family members and impulses to act upon them . . .  everything, whatever opportunity comes along.

I have come to a point where I don’t act upon those desire anymore, but it’s still very much there, and a really terrible thing, because being very sexually aroused yet knowing I mustn’t act upon my sick fantasies to stay safe is awful. And afterwards the shame and guilt and self-hate for feeling aroused by those sick scenarios in the first place is overwhelming.

It is one more reason why I really should tackle that stupid basement of mine, as I guess all the unresolved childhood trauma and the sick connections it left in my brain play a big part in this mess. I literally feel like two people about it. One side, the side when I’m well, wants to have nothing to do with sex, feels repulsed and everything and does not have any sexual feelings whatsoever. And the other side, when I’m unwell, gets up to no good in the blink of an eye, aroused by the sickest sexual shit. That’s a conflict that’s really hard to live with.

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.

“But you are such a pretty girl!” – – – “Why, thanks for the guilt trip”

Today when I woke up, what was on my mind were the words of one of my former therapists. I had just turned twenty, if I recall correctly, and was in the same glum mood my birthdays always bring about, so I spent the therapy session looking out of the window, mute, ignoring my therapist’s attempts to help me the best I could. I felt ‘what’s the use anyway?!’ about everything.

So after the session was over and I was on my way out, the therapist took me by the arm to stop me and shook her head while looking me in the eye. Then she said something like ‘I really wish I knew why you don’t grasp that chance you’re getting here’. In the sullen mood I was in I just shrugged and mumbled something about ‘what’s the use’, to which she shook her head again and said: “But you’re such a pretty girl!”.

I remember that at the time I was confused more than anything, because a) I don’t think of myself as pretty at all, and b) even if I was, what have looks to do with therapy?! Not knowing what to make of that statement I tried to do what I did with the rest I learned in therapy – forget it. But I couldn’t. The sentence kept coming back to me later that day, and the following day, and the following week and month and years. Crisp as if she’d said it only yesterday, I have ever since heard her voice in my head saying it over and over again.

“But you are such a pretty girl!”

It was probably meant to be… what… encouraging? Uplifting? Well, shit, I don’t really know what way she even meant it. But I know what her statement did.

I started to feel guilty. People consider me pretty, so I ought to be better. I shouldn’t be feeling so low, after all I’m “pretty”. Whatever “pretty” is, pretty people are obviously not supposed to be feeling shitty. I’m not feeling pretty, but people think I am, so I should be living up to that expectation. Should I be feeling pretty, too? Am I ungrateful for not feeling pretty? I must be ungrateful! Ungrateful and repulsive, because here I am feeling afwul and despicable, despite being so “pretty”.

People seem to believe that physical looks are like some special gift – and in a way I see where they come from, after all everyone has been given a face and you can’t do much about the way you look, unless you pay lotsa bucks to some plastic surgeon. So you could probably say that physical looks are a “gift”. But hey, most people look perfectly fine, not disfigured or anything, and entirely okay to look at, so what’s the big deal? Why that statement? Why the implication that someone who’s nice to look at, should not be neglecting herself so? Would it be more okay to do that if people considered me ugly?! Would my therapist have said “yeah, well, just go on feeling crappy because you’re ugly to look at anyway”?!

Looking back, I think that after I had heard that comment I got a lot worse than before. I stopped putting effort into looking nice. I didn’t wash my hair often and was probably not smelling good because I dodged showering whenever I could get away with it. I started using black eye liner and lipstick and nail polish. I didn’t care if my clothes were dirty. I tried my best to not look pretty, just to get rid of the guilty feeling.

I got better about it after I met my family and moved in with them. Mom insists on hygiene, I get new clothes if I want or need them, my clothes land in the washing machine when they’re dirty, and I kind of started to want to look pretty so they would like looking at me. (With frequent lapses to the opposite, but altogether I do want to look nice now.) But with it the worrying guilty feeling came back, making me feel like I shouldn’t be having a mental disorder, shouldn’t be struggling so much when, after all, I’m “pretty”.

Inside of myself I think ones outer appearance does not really say much about what that person looks like on the inside. I sure don’t feel pretty, but more like the way I look is some curse. Who knows, maybe if I had been a really ugly child, maybe my stepfather wouldn’t have wanted to abuse me then. Maybe he would have been repulsed, left me alone and put his dick elsewhere. Maybe my mother wouldn’t have felt threatened and would have thought “gee, she’s ugly, but at least she can be useful around the house” or something. I don’t know. And maybe if I was ugly, it would not be so darn easy to find some willing moron who doesn’t hesitate to let his pants down to fuck me. Maybe I’d be way better off now if I’d been looking less appealing. But even with those thoughts on my mind, I can’t really shake the guilt off.

So thanks a lot, therapist M, for the ongoing guilt trip. What a stupid thing to say. I wish people were less focused on looks.

Boredom and BPD – or: Borderline brain doesn’t agree with ‘normal’

I’m having a good day today. No misunderstandings. No hurt feelings. No arguments. Everything has been smooth sailing so far. Great, eh?

Guess so. After all, it’s what I strive for. Feeling normal. Not intensely good. Not incredibly low. Just normal. Perfect, right?!

NO! At least not really.

While I’m glad I’m not having an emotional rollercoaster ride today, I’m totally and utterly bored. In bold capital letters. B-O-R-E-D. It’s gnawing at me while I’m hanging around, not finding satisfaction in anything I do. It’s like being stuck in a deadening pit of unbearable nothingness.

Listening to music? – boring

Watching mom do housework? – boring

Helping with housework? – boring

Talking with mom? – boring

Playing the guitar? – yep, you guessed it: boring.

It feels like I’m about to drop dead from boredom or from gathering dust or something.

So I started bugging mom. “Do something with me! Something more fun than housework! No, playing a game is boring. Something else! No, I don’t want to go anywhere, I want to do something in the house. No, something else! Why aren’t you done with the stupid washing already?! How long can it take!? No, I don’t want to help so it goes faster. Geez, get ready, I’m so bored! Hey, look, I’m gonna eat laundry detergent!”

And seriously, I was this close to having some, only to make something happen, because of course mom wouldn’t just watch me eat laundry detergent. So while I wasn’t really planning on eating it, and wasn’t even feeling like I really wanted to, I would have only to make something exciting happen. Anything. Anything that doesn’t feel so unbearably boring.

So the wash waited as mom rolled her eyes, went for a playful wrestle for the detergent and while I was laughing (yay, finally something going on!) she declared if I wanted action, it would have to be something harmless, no absurd threat ploys with laundry detergent. We ended up playing ‘grab the thingy’ with a clothespin instead, which is a little rough and tumble game that consists of nothing more than trying not to let the other get their hands on the whatever it is and taking turns when the other was successful. It’s silly, but fun to play, and kind of intense when mom and I play, and it usually ends in laughter. So that was good. Not boring.

Thereafter mom addressed the boredom itself. I asked her why I can’t just enjoy a good day, and feel so awfully bored instead. She suggested it might be because my brain is not accustomed to average levels of excitement and feels like something is wrong if it is underwhelmed. After all my brain was exposed to very high levels of arousal for prolonged periods of time during my childhood. Threatening situations, stressful situations, painful situations and a need to be permanently alert. It has adjusted to those high levels of arousal, by releasing chemicals to match that intensity. It has not, however, learned how to produce dopamine (a joy and excitement chemical) in response to normal levels of excitement. So it doesn’t recognize normal things as good enough to trigger a response, because it’s still waiting for some high level of arousal happening. Hence boredom when there’s not.

But she also said the good thing about brains is that they can adapt to new situations. It’s a slow process, because one can’t just alter the natural brain chemistry over night, but she said it’s going to happen. So I’m hoping it will happen. If only patience was my more of a friend. At least interpersonal excitement, like getting intense attention through a little rough-and-tumble game, does trigger a happy brain response. I guess that’s something, after all this kind of excitement is usually available. As for the rest, time is probably my ally. Sigh. What do you guys do if you feel unbearably bored?

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