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.  🙂

Borderline and self-awareness, self-confidence and self-esteem

I grew up believing that there is nothing I can do well. The only thing I believed I was useful for was to give other people sexual pleasure. That’s sick, obviously, because I was a child.

Awareness of who we are grows through the kind of feedback we receive about ourselves. As a social species we use others as a mirror to see ourselves. By how they react to us, verbally and through behavior, we draw conclusions about ourselves.

My mother was unable to be a good mother. My needs usually went unmet. She was unpredictable, angry and often aggressive towards me. I concluded I was unimportant, unlovable, unable to do something right and that I deserve punishment just for being there.

My step-father’s interest in me centered solely around the sexual abuse. If I didn’t do what he wanted me to, he became violent. My mother often said that she only kept me around because I had made him “addicted” to me. I concluded that I had to earn my right to exist by making myself available for abuse.

At school I got held back because I did not learn. Teachers used to say that they are not sure that there’s anyone actually at home inside of my head. “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.” I concluded that I must be really dumb.

In the institutionalized years that followed people became annoyed with me very often after what had always looked like promising starts. I concluded that I may look worth saving on the outside, but that there was nothing inside of me that would keep anyone going.

As you may imagine, my self image was real bad. I didn’t like myself. Like, at all. The feedback I had received painted a very unlikable picture of me and I was convinced that it was true. Because as a social species we tend to take social feedback seriously.

Unfortunately we’re also not born with a way to tell whether the person who reflects an image of us back through feedback is a good mirror, or one right out of a fun house. Imagine you had looked into a distorting mirror all your life. How would you like the way you looked? And if you had grown used to always looking a certain, distorted way in the mirror because you never saw yourself in any other mirror, would you believe the reflection if it suddenly were different?

I went through a lot of unhappiness and trouble with the positive feedback I received after I met my family and came to live with them. Lots of fear that once they discover how terrible I really am, they will want to have nothing to do with me anymore. In lots of ways I have tried to force them to hate me and be repulsed by me. Sometimes I could not stand their presence. At the same time I am and always was mortally afraid of losing them. But I wanted to have it happen, because I was convinced that it was what I deserved and what was going to happen anyway. When things don’t match up, when everything is a mess, when you don’t know who or what you really are or are not, that’s what happens.

Lots of tears, tantrums, hugs, yelling, cuddling, passionate hating, ardent loving and most of all lots of patience later, I am pretty sure that my “self” I have been aware of, was really not very realistic but just the reflection of other people’s mental issues. I don’t feel horribly unlovable, useless and dumb anymore most of the time. I am starting to allow the thought that there are things I might be good at, that I can be a kind person who others like and some even love. That this is not just some con act, but actually part of who I am.

At the same time I do not have a lot of practice thinking those things and old habits die hard and I have moments where I get very confused and find it hard to assess who I am. What I am. What I can. That I am important to someone.

It helps that my family are aware. Sometimes my mom sings the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” chorus to me. You know, the “I belong to you, you belong to me, you’re my sweet-heart” part. She does it just because. Just because she wants to. I really like that because it feels like she means what she sings and wants me to know.

What also helps is actually DOING something useful. I have started volunteering at my mom’s former psychiatric ward. She used to be the head psychiatrist there or something and it’s a kids ward. That they know my mom and trust her judgment is probably the only reason why they agreed to let me volunteer. Anyway, I am going there once a week to just be with a little girl they assigned me to and play. To just do normal stuff with her, so she gets to just play and relax and laugh. We’re friends. She loves my long blond hair and says that when she grows up she wants to be just like me. I always laugh and tell her to pick someone else to be like, not a girl who’s way too old to not have an education and stuff. But deep down I am starting to think that maybe it’s not the worst thing. Being me, I mean. Maybe not by everyone’s standards, but my own standards are modest. Or maybe not modest, but different. But my life is different from that of many other people, so what do I need their standards for, right? 😉

I think finding the right mirrors for myself and the right standards to assess my behavior and my “self” with is one of the keys for a better and more realistic awareness of myself and for becoming more confident and stuff. Also, it helps to actually DO things that I can then assess. After all, staying on the borderline isn’t much fun. Lines are narrow. Borders are boundaries. And while boundaries are not necessarily bad, I don’t want to live ON them, but within them. And maybe sometimes beyond. In a good way. And a feeling good about myself way.

So that’s where I want to get. Slowly but surely.

Self Harm Morning **Triggering**

SelfHarmIf you’re familiar with self-harm, you’ll probably tell what’s missing from the picture sooner than I can even type it. It’s a sharpener I found around the house. Minus the blade. Because a little earlier today, after breakfast, I gave the missing piece to my mom. And my day unraveled.

I don’t know what even happened, but I wanted to cut myself real bad. Or didn’t exactly want to, but felt like I absolutely needed to. Like I was going to implode or something if I didn’t. Pressure-control.

Mom hugged me and said she was proud of me for giving her the blade. She put it away. Said the sharpener blade is rusty and ragged already. Said if I absolutely needed to cut, she’d give me a clean razor blade, but can I think of alternatives? Can I talk about what’s up?

I couldn’t tell her because I didn’t even know what was up. I just knew that I wanted to cut. So I just cried and told her all I could suddenly think about was cutting myself. Just like that. For no good reason at all. Cause I’m just fucked up like that.

Mom asked me to take her through my thoughts with me, to tell her what I visualized when I thought of cutting, so she could understand better. So I told her that all I wanted to do was slice my skin open. Big, bad, deep wounds. Wreak havoc on myself. Real bad.

And then?, Mom asked. I hadn’t really thought about the ‘and then’ part, because my focus was more on the inflicting wounds part. But she insisted. What should happen then?

I thought about it and realized that what I really wanted to happen thereafter was for her to find me, all bloody and sliced open, and then to be concerned and take care of the wounds and of me. But I was too embarrassed to tell her and felt miserable because I thought about what a nasty, manipulative person that made me and how she should just leave me to bleed to death instead to teach me a lesson or something. Which made me want to cut even more. More crying. An attempt to shove her away by hurling insults her way. And did I mention more crying? A little screaming, too. Ugly and embarrassing.

Long story short, mom wormed my little fantasy out of me eventually. And said it’s alright. That’s exactly what she’d do if I cut myself. But also if I didn’t cut myself and how about we pretended I did, because it’s probably hurting bad enough without cutting anyway.

True, that.

So that’s what we did. Mom got dressing and bandages. Then she let me explain to her what I’d done to myself with the blade and cleaned, taped up and dressed the wounds according to what I described. No mockery. No derision. No making fun of it. She’s still behaving like I actually cut myself for real, keeping me close, making sure I’m alright, making sure I keep the dressing and stuff on.

I feel better. The pressure went down. I don’t feel like I need to cut anymore. In fact I feel like I did, except that I never have. Weird how the mind works. Strangest self-harm experience ever.

On Being Adopted – Identity Issues

The other day I skyped with my sister. While we were talking, the topic of my being adopted came up and my sister asked if I ever felt weird about being adopted.

I have read a lot about issues adoptees usually struggle with, and in a way I can identify with those, but in another way their experience is different from mine. Not because of anything mental health related, just because of the fact that I was already (legally, not emotionally) an adult by the time I was adopted. So unlike people who were adopted when they were little, I had a choice about it. I wanted it, too.

What I can relate to, however, is the whole part that deals with loss, rejection, shame and identity. I only ever became an adoptee because I lost my family. Because my mother didn’t want me. Rejected me. As a person. As her daughter. Because she just didn’t care about me. That comes with an unspeakably overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and sense of being awfully undesirable.

Painful stuff, so I don’t want to go into much detail here and it’s not directly related to adoption for me either. Those feelings were there for a long time before I even met my family. But what has made an appearance after the adoption were identity issues.

Some are tricky.

I don’t share the same family history as everyone else. Everyone in my family knows each other for a long time already. They share memories and traditions and knowledge about a family history that goes at least three generations back and that they feel connected with, somehow. And it’s THEIR history, not mine, yet at the same time it is a little bit of mine, too, now. Feeling left out of something that ought to be mine, too, and having family memories that are different from theirs is difficult sometimes. It sometimes makes me feel like I’m not part of my own family. My first family didn’t want me and being with my real one, the one I have now, makes me feel left out.

Looks. I know it’s silly, but I find myself forever comparing how I look to how my family looks. I find myself being relieved that my oldest sister has blond hair, like I do, because it means that my mom and my dad can have blond children together. That’s important to me. My hair is blond. Everyone has blue eyes like I do, too. That’s another thing that’s reassuring. It means I don’t stand out as being obviously different. But they are all fairly tall and I’m short. I’m relieved that people mistakenly think it’s because I’m still a teenager and have yet to grow, but I figure they won’t keep on thinking that forever. I also have buck teeth (as you see in the picture I posted) and nobody else does. Those small things make me sad sometimes.

My name. I share my family’s last name. My mom gave me her middle name to be my middle name, too, because I didn’t have a middle name. My first name was chosen by my birth mother. I don’t miss the last name I grew up with, because it was the last name of my stepfather, who abused me. I wasn’t biologically related to him and I’m glad I don’t carry his name any longer. But even so I often feel like the same mix of things that my full name reflects. Complicated.

The contradiction that my adopted family feels like my real family and my birth family feels much less “real”, when the whole rest of the world thinks it might be the other way around. I’m always afraid that people will think that I am “only” adopted. That I’m not a REAL part of my family. When to me my family now feels like my real, true, actual family. I always feel like I need to make sure that everyone realized that I am REALLY my mom’s daughter. At the same time I’m afraid I might not be good enough to deserve to really be her daughter.

My social class identity. I’m from a working-class / underclass family. I grew up hearing that anyone who had a good job and money sucked, basically. That they were arrogant, self-righteous people, born with a silver spoon in their mouth, who have no idea of what life “really” is like and who look down on and don’t care about “people like us”. That’s what I believed for the longest time. And now my mom’s a shrink and my dad’s a lawyer, as white collar as it gets. They have a really neat house, can send all their kids to college, money is never an issue although my mom isn’t even working anymore, and I’m technically what my birth mother would have considered a “spoiled, arrogant rich kid”. Which adds so much guilt that I feel awful for even writing about it, much less identifying with it.

I suppose there are more issues, but those are the ones that came to my mind the easiest. So while I really, really like the fact that my family adopted me and that I belong with them properly and forever, it’s not always easy. It’s okay because my family knows and they help me and are understanding when I’m upset about stuff, but it can get complicated.

But even so, I’m very, very happy that I’ve been adopted and it is infinitely better than not belonging with anyone. I love my family more than I can say.  🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ImproveSelfEsteem

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

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

A very helpful therapeutic excercise

I saw F for therapy this morning. I was in a rotten mood when we arrived because while we were in the car my mom had told me we’d have to stop by the supermarket on the way home because my jerk brother had helped himself to our fruit basket when he had been over to pick stuff up this morning. I always have difficulty with spontaneous changes in plan and was angry at mom because I felt like she never considered me with anything she did.

Mad at her, I didn’t want her anywhere near me during my therapy, so I went into the room with F alone, while my mom waited. (Sometimes I want my mom along, and F lets me.) Anyway, so I was alone with F and in a bad mood and of course she could tell and asked what was up. So I explained to her how I felt like mom didn’t take my feelings seriously, yada yada yada.

Then F introduced me to a therapy technique that I found surprisingly helpful in the end – so much that I want to share, because who knows, maybe it helps someone else, too.

F asked me to conjure up before my mind’s eye what we call my “safe place”. My usual safe place includes my mom, but today I was mad at her and didn’t want her at my safe place, so I visualized my safe place without her. We do the “safe place” visualization often, so that by now I’m pretty good at going there in my mind and noticing when I need to return there if the stuff we work on during therapy gets overwhelming.

Anyway, so I was at my safe place. F then asked me to focus on the situation that upset me again, and to identify my thoughts and feelings as closely as possible. I ended up with:

  • feeling ignored
  • unloved
  • worthless
  • overpowered because the decision had already been made and I hadn’t even been asked
  • helpless
  • panicky
  • angry over feeling helpless and panicky
  • angry at mom for not doing her job as a mother right
  • abandoned

The next step was that F asked me to keep holding on to these feelings, but let the present day situation fade away at the same time, so that just the feelings remained. That was a bit challenging, but I managed.

Then F asked me to allow my mind to wander and see if it recalls a situation from when I was younger where the same feelings applied.

I did and it didn’t take very long before a situation from a group home came to my mind. It was the group home I had been in after my first hospital stay aged 15, and I had been at the group home for three weeks (or so) at the time when suddenly the woman who ran my group, a social worker or something, decided I was going to be moved to another group home outside of town. Just like this. I had only just settled in with this group, only just started to open up to some of the caretaker people there, and suddenly that woman just said “pack your things, you’re going to move later today”.

Apparently they had only taken me temporarily while they were waiting for a longer term placement to become available, but nobody had told me this. Anyway, so that was the situation that came to my mind when F asked me to see if I could find one that matched the feelings I had.

F made sure I still felt safe, and then asked me to remember the situation from the group home and my feelings in this situation as vividly as I could. And once I had that she asked, if there was anyone who I wanted to be there with me in that memory situation to help me or to give me what I didn’t get for real back then.

I nodded and really wanted my mom (like, my mom now, not my birth mother) to be there. So F asked me to imagine what would happen if she went there. So before my mind’s eye I saw myself all upset and confused and feeling helpless and afraid and angry because I was getting pushed around and shoved off to another home because not one single person in the world even cared for me. Then I had my mom come into the room with me. I made her come in, be very gentle and respectful, like she is in real life, too, and she looked at me in this way that says, without ever speaking a word, that she sees me and feels for me and wants to be there with me. Then I had her talk to me and explain to me how she is going to be my mom one day. Not yet now, because we don’t really know each other yet, and that she’s sorry we don’t, but that she’s gonna be there for me and loves me and that I’m going to be fine and that she looks forward to when we meet for real.

F asked me to monitor what my feelings did while I was imagining that, and go figure, they went away. I felt sad and unhappy for having been in such an unhappy place, but also better not like nobody loved me anymore. More sorry that I’d been so bitchy to mom.

I asked F if I could get mom for real and she was fine with it, so I went to where she was waiting and while mom was all surprised and a bit concerned that I was coming out before the time was up, I just put my arms around her neck and suddenly felt so overwhelmed that I couldn’t help crying. In the slightly-confused-yet-relieved way. It’s embarrassing, actually. I bet mom had no idea what the hell had happened.  LOL

I really liked this exercise. I felt a lot better afterwards. I can’t even explain why exactly. We stopped by the supermarket and it was okay. Once we were home again, I even felt good enough to continue with the sexual healing journey a bit. And even now I still feel kind of elated and like my family loves me and look forward to the rest of the day. Life is good. 🙂

Attachment Styles Quiz

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

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

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

LolasAttachmentStyle

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

‘Acting Out’ = Attachment Behavior in Disguise?

Last evening was one of ‘those’ evenings. I didn’t really know why, but I found myself picking fights with mom and dad, deliberately tried to drive especially mom up the walls, was clingy and hostile at the same time and basically did my best to cause chaos and be a nuisance.

Now you see, my mom has two ways of reacting to that. One is that she acknowledges the behavior and my feelings and keeps doing what she’s doing. The other is that she stops what she’s doing, calls me on the behavior and we end up sorting it out. Trouble is: I really hate both ways when I’m in this mood.

When I am in this mood, I aim for drama and escalation and people finally showing their “true colors” and mirroring my feelings of chaos and dissatisfaction. So what I aim for would look something like this:

 ~~~~~~~~~~~

Me: You’re doing that wrong, don’t do that wrong!

Mom: I’m not doing that wrong.

Me: Yes, you are! Do it right!

Mom: Lola, only because it’s not the way you want it, it’s not wrong! Things don’t always go like you want them to!

Me: No, things NEVER go like I want them to! Nobody ever considers me! I hate you! You’re despicable and a shit mother!

Mom: That’s no way to speak to me, you’re hurting my feelings! Go to your room!

Me: Your fucking feelings don’t matter to me! You hate me, that’s what! I’m done being your daughter!

 ~~~~~~~~~~~

Only that’s never what happens. Which is really, really good, mind you, but I hate it while I’m in those terrible moods. Anyway, what really happens is either:

 ~~~~~~~~~~~

Me: You’re doing that wrong, don’t do that wrong!

Mom: I’m sorry you’re feeling like it’s the wrong way.

Me: No, you’re not sorry! You just don’t care.

Mom: Now that’s hard, feeling like I don’t care.

Me: Go fuck yourself. (And I retreat, because I am annoyed that she’s so damn unwilling to fight with me. 😉 )

 ~~~~~~~~~~~

Or it ends like this:

 ~~~~~~~~~~~

Mom: Honey, you sound like you’re in a really unpleasant mood.

Me: I’m not in a bad mood, you just suck, that’s what!

Mom: I think we should go and find ourselves a nice calm spot to figure out what’s annoying you so.

Me: I don’t want to go anywhere!

Mom: That’s alright. Here’s as good a place as any. What’s bothering you?

Me: That you are doing it wrong!

Mom: How come that’s so difficult for you today, that I’m not doing it the way you think is right?

Me: ‘Cause it’s WRONG! Don’t you listen to me or are you really this stupid?

Mom: You sound like you are really this upset, Baby, that’s what I hear.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~

Can you see how it’s not exactly edifying to pick a fight with my mom? My attempts to insult her fall flat, all it gets me is mom being nice and concerned about how I feel. And she’s not just saying nice things with a sarcastic tone or something, she actually means it. I have no clue how she does it. But so much for spreading drama. Anyway, that’s how we ended up talking last night. I had been holding myself together pretty well after feeling like I had suddenly lost myself. I had been waiting it out, tried to brave it and stay optimistic. But it had taken a toll on me and suddenly I found myself crying, wanting for everything to just be okay again. And we ended up figuring out that that was probably why I had ended up picking fights and trying to drive everyone crazy: to show how I was feeling, to alert my family to my misery and to get someone to do something about it, because I was getting to the end of what I could cope with.

Mom pointed out to me that this is attachment behavior: Seeking comfort and help when I can’t cope, wanting to connect with someone to make it better. Misguided attachment behavior, because it seemingly aims at the opposite, at distancing me from everyone, ruining the relationship and upsetting who I love, but deep down attachment behavior nonetheless.

That got me thinking. At least once I had calmed down again. I think there really is a bit of truth in what she said. When I think of the times when I act out, it’s almost always a misguided way of communicating how my feelings to others, an attempt to cue them into doing something, to make something happen that I hope to be helpful, even when there is some really twisted thinking underneath it all. The message is still: “Look, I’m not well, do something, change it”. That IS attachment behavior, in a way.

So what the next step would probably be: applying that knowledge. I mean if it’s attachment behavior, then it’s probably a good idea to find a less misguided way to say “Look, I’m not well, can you help me?” than to try and pick a fight and cause chaos. At least in theory. In practice, how do I get from attachment behavior in disguise to open attachment behavior when I’m emotionally upset and feel like spreading chaos? I have no idea. But I hope a little awareness for what’s really going on is going to at least help a bit.

Confusing. But I’m a little better today.

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.

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

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