#22 – Proof That Borderlines Are Motivated for Psychotherapy and Can Fully Recover

BPDTransformation used to be one of my commenters but has not posted anything in his blog in over a year, or made any more comments here.   Edward (his real name) wrote fascinating, intelligent, and extremely well researched articles about BPD, which he was diagnosed with. At some point he came to believe BPD was a bogus diagnosis, a catchall for an array of symptoms that weren’t easily classified or understood. (Some people believe BPD and C-PTSD are the same disorder, which does make sense to me).

Edward, who became BPD-free, writes here about how motivated many borderlines are to recover, and how effective psychotherapy can be in healing this disorder. This flies in the face of the common belief that because BPD is in the Cluster B group of personality disorders, that it’s just something you have to resign to yourself to having forever.

The article, like all of Edward’s articles, is a bit on the scholarly side, but is still a very good read and helps reduce the stigma against people with BPD.

BPD Transformation

This post will answer critics who say: “Borderlines are not motivated to attend therapy. Borderline patients don’t stay in treatment. At best, therapy can manage but not cure BPD.”

These statements are absolutely false. Yet these myths continue to appear online, often being communicated to people recently diagnosed. As the studies below demonstrate, most people diagnosed with BPD do want help, most will stay in good treatment, and most do recover to different degrees.

Earlier posts have elaborated my dim view of the (non) validity of the BPD diagnosis. Since it cites studies using the BPD construct, this post might be viewed as hypocritical. That may be a valid criticism! Nevertheless, these studies provide evidence that people with “borderline symptoms”, however defined, can be motivated and recover both with and without therapy

Study 1:  88 Borderline Patients Treated Twice a Week for Three Years

Highlights: Led by Josephine Giesen at…

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The Dangers Of Self Diagnosis

Good article about why we shouldn’t try to self diagnose. I am VERY guilty of this.

Comments here are disabled; please comment under the original post.

Journey Toward Healing

Result: 66/80
Probable diagnosis of PTSD

That’s the result from an online test that I took last night.

It started when a blogger friend wanted some advice on a post she had written. So I gave my thoughts on the situation. She was worried that maybe it was post traumatic stress (which, until this afternoon, I thought was the same thing as PTSD), so I suggested that she search for the DSM criteria on it. She came back to me and it turns out that she didn’t ‘qualify’ for the diagnosis.

By now I was curious too, and decided to also take the test. “Just for fun”. As I was reading the questions and working my way through them, I felt this chill run down my spine. Those questions struck a major chord with what I have been experiencing lately. And the high score I got at the end…

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A new day.

sunrise2

It’s the first day of Summer (or is it the second?), and things look much brighter today than they did last night. In the midst of a severe BPD/C-PTSD “episode,” (I’ll explain more in a minute), I published a post, “Why I’m a Wreck,” which I just set to private and will probably delete eventually. I thank all of you for your prayers and good wishes. I feel like I have a family here. ❤

I’m very symptomatic right now and overreacting to everything. I’m paranoid and hypervigilant. I see evil everywhere and demons in every corner (but the demons are only in my own mind).  I’m having trouble being mindful and trying to stay in the present.  I’m thinking in a more black and white way (splitting) than I have in a long time. I’m catastrophizing and imagining the worst possible outcomes about everything.  I’m “going off” on people and getting angry at them for no reason.    Example: I don’t agree with my roommate’s religious views, and I became very judgmental and actually yelled at her, telling her what she believed was “stupid.”  I immediately felt terrible about it and apologized; being so judgmental is not like me (but it is like me when my BPD is in full bore).   When a lot of things happen at the same time, it can really overwhelm anyone’s system (even if you’re free of BPD or C-PTSD) and it’s hard to keep your grip and stay mindful.

An example of my “catastrophizing” was believing my son has NPD. I talked to him again today, and he certainly does not. He may have a few of the traits of narcissism, but he does have empathy and he isn’t manipulative and he doesn’t play evil mindgames. He was in a bad mood last night and it was late. We talked today and he was much more sympathetic.

Two things have brought on this sh*tstorm of triggers and symptoms.

1. I’m getting deeper into therapy, into the really “difficult stuff.” It isn’t fun anymore. It’s hard, painful work now. I found this hard to believe when I started, that I’d get to a point where I’d be in so much pain as buried traumatic memories begin to emerge to consciousness. I have to keep reminding myself that this is all good; the pain and “regression” back into earlier ways of dealing with stress means I’m healing.

2. My father’s death. I’m grieving in my own way, but more than sadness is a lot of anger, and a lot of old, painful memories are being triggered by this too. I’m actually remembering events I thought I’d long forgotten.

God works in mysterious ways. It was my father’s time to die, but it also happened at a time where I felt “stuck” in therapy–not moving any faster and not able to access buried emotions brought on by trauma. My father’s death has made it possible for me to do this work, and it is work.

As for my daughter, her moving back in with me, as one of my commenters (Susan?) said in the post I just deleted, may be the best thing for both of us. I just need to set some firm boundaries but I think she will respect them. I never thought her living with her dad was a very good idea.

And, I’m not sure yet, but there may be a out of state move in our not very distant future–one that would bring the three of us (me, and both my kids) together as a family again and have a fresh start.  I don’t want to get my hopes too high about this though.  But it could happen.

Where did BPD stigma come from?

stigma_truth

In recent years, BPD has earned a very disagreeable stigma, so disagreeable that people who have a BPD diagnosis are refused treatment, being told they cannot get better or feared by professionals who might treat them. NPD too, hasn’t always been as demonized as it is right now. NPD and BPD have become almost interchangeable in the narc-abuse community. I don’t recall it being that way in 1996 when I got my BPD diagnosis, and I don’t remember ever being told I was hopeless or unredeemable or evil or anything like that. I was treated pretty much like any other psychiatric patient, and was given therapy and put on antidepressants. I was obliged to take a DBT class, which at the time I blew off. (DBT is like CBT but exclusive to Borderlines–and it does work. The fact it worked for me makes me think maybe I *did* have BPD but no longer do!)

BPD was always classified as a Cluster B disorder, ever since its introduction into the DSM in 1980 (it was recognized, however, for much longer than that, and popularized as a disorder in the 1960s because of the research of Otto Kernberg, a German psychologist who studied “the narcissistic and borderline personalities,” and other “disorders of the self.”).* All “Cluster B” means really is the person has a weak, fragmented or nonexistent sense of self. Not being able to access a “true self” means they become either cut off from or cannot regulate their emotions. One of the results of this is a lack of empathy (but BPDs are the most empathetic of all the B’s, and some have normal levels of empathy). In NPD, a strong false self takes the place of the true one, which is a very dissociative symptom. In BPD, there’s not a strong false self like with NPD, but there is a weak and unstable one, and the person isn’t ALWAYS showing that false self. Some BPDs act quite a bit like over-emotional or unstable narcissists (or narcissists in the midst of a breakdown due to loss of supply). Others act like covert narcissists or just act neurotic and insecure but are otherwise nice people. Some feel their emotions too much, including empathy. A few are antisocial. I’m not sure why BPD (and maybe NPD) isn’t classified as a dissociative disorder, because essentially the person is cut off from their “self” in some form or another and that is what dissociation means. I’m not sure what the mechanics are in ASPD (antisocial personality disorder) but they are very different from either Borderlines or narcissists because they aren’t dependent on others to boost their weak egos. They are psychopathic and just do what they want.

bpd_stigma_quote

So the Cluster B’s, including BPD, were already around, but until the mid-1990s, no one thought of them as anything but mental illnesses or for ASPD, a kind of “adult conduct disorder.” They were psychiatric labels and nothing more. The narc abuse community started in 1995 or so, and Sam Vaknin was pretty much the first one online who wrote about it. Of course, he has NPD but even so, he first called attention to the “evil”-ness of NPD/narcissism (actually it was M. Scott Peck but at the time he wrote “People of the Lie” in 1983, the term “malignant narcissism” wasn’t in vogue yet and there was no connection of “evil people” to people with NPD. There was also no Internet to spread Peck’s concepts like wildfire the way they could have been in 1995 and later. But over time, M. Scott Peck’s book has become one of the most popular in the narc-abuse community) After Vaknin established his online narcissistic abuse community and wrote his popular book “Malignant Self-Love,” more narc-abuse sites got established (many or most of them started by victims, who were understandably angry at the narcissists who had abused them). Soon “narcs are evil” became a sort of meme, and by association, so did all the Cluster B disorders earn a “evil” reputation.

There are benefits to this, of course. Victims are being more heard than ever before. People are paying attention and avoiding narcissistic abusers. But some people who carry a Cluster B label are being hurt too, especially Borderlines (or people–usually women–who were erroneously diagnosed with it). Some experts want to get rid of BPD and just re-label BPD as Complex PTSD (probably not a bad idea). There are MANY similarities. The vast majority of BPDs are not anything like malignant narcissists and are not sociopathic at all. Most just act extremely insecure, needy, and maybe “high maintenance.” They can be manipulative or act out to avoid rejection. They may collude with people with NPD, however. But it’s possible to find these same types of behaviors in many people with Complex PTSD. Are they actually the same thing?

Another reason for the BPD stigma could be the tendency for narcissists and borderlines to form partnerships or be attracted to each other. In such a pairing, the Borderline is almost always the abused or codependent partner. In several “couple killings,” one of the criminal partners, usually the female, has had a BPD diagnosis. But they may have been so brainwashed by their abusers they were coerced into colluding with them against others (a form of Stockholm Syndrome).

Finally, a number of high profile criminals and serial killers have labels of NPD or BPD. But they almost always also have a comorbid ASPD diagnosis. Media icons like Joan Crawford who were known to scapegoat their children also had a BPD diagnosis. In Crawford’s case, she was also diagnosed with HPD (Histrionic Personality Disorder). It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she had NPD (malignant) or ASPD as well, as her behavior was very sociopathic behind closed doors.

Why am I “defending” people with BPD if I don’t have it?  Several reasons:

  1.  I was diagnosed with it and carried that diagnosis for two decades.   I have personally experienced being rejected by therapists once they saw my “red letter” on paper.
  2. Just because my current therapist thinks I don’t have it doesn’t mean I don’t.  Or maybe I did have it and no longer do.  If I no longer have it, that means BPDs are not “hopeless.”
  3. Maybe BPD isn’t a valid diagnosis.
  4. Many people I have cared about who were slapped with “BPD” have been hurt by it.

These are just my rambling thoughts about this matter; I’d be interested in hearing your opinions.

* Timeline of BPD

Ditziness and complex PTSD, BPD.

ditzy_comic

“She has no common sense.”
“She’s just a dumb blonde.”
“She’s kind of ditzy.”
“She never seems to know what’s going on.”

These are phrases I’ve heard said about me my entire life, and not just by my abusers. To most people, I do come across as a little ditzy or scatterbrained. It doesn’t help that I happen to be blonde, because blonde haired people have to work twice as hard as everyone else to be taken seriously, since the (false) stereotype that all blondes are intellectual lightweights doesn’t seem to be going away.

I prefer to think of myself as an Annie Hall type. You may remember the 1977 movie starring Diane Keaton as Woody Allen’s (brunette!) scatterbrained but quirky love interest. I think I talk and act a lot like Annie Hall. At least I like to think I do, because Annie had a lot of charm and was loveable too. She was also a lot smarter than she appeared.

annie-hall

It gets tiresome being thought of by others as less intelligent than I actually am (my IQ is actually very high) and I get self-conscious about appearing “dumb.” My self-consciousness only seems to make the problem worse though, because it causes me to make silly mistakes and do or say socially awkward, dumb things out of nervousness.

For over a decade I thought I had Aspergers, because not only am I socially awkward, I often seem to be “out in space” and not really aware of what’s going on around me. It’s hard to hide this from others, and sometimes people talk down to me in a patronizing or condescending way, believing I can’t understand simple directions or information.  I resent it when people do that.

dumb_blonde

I’m not an Aspie, and I definitely don’t lack intelligence.  But dissociation is a symptom of both complex PTSD and BPD, and this is what I think is happening when I seem to be off in some other universe. When you dissociate, you’re not really in your own skin, and are not present in the moment. You’re outside yourself, stuck in the future or the past, and not paying much attention to the material reality of the moment. As a child, my report cards alsways had comments like, “Lauren does not pay attention,” or “Lauren spends too much time daydreaming in class.” I wonder now if I was dissociated whenever I was daydreaming.

Dissociative episodes can be very scary, but if you spend most of your time only slightly dissociated, you might not even notice that anything is wrong. You’ll just come across as being a bit “spacey.”

Further reading:
Derealization and Depersonalization in BPD and NPD

BPD: The fulcrum of mental illness.

It’s like a spinning black vortex sucking in the symptoms of every other mental illness and disorder. We’ve got all the bases covered!  We’re batsh*t crazy!  We need help and understanding, not judgment and fear.

bpdschematic

Borderlines: incurable demons or trauma victims?

complex_ptsd
The symptoms of Complex PTSD are almost identical to those of BPD.

Something has come to my attention during the time I’ve been blogging, which I think is important enough to merit another post about it.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD, DSM code 301.83) is classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a Cluster B (emotional/dramatic/erratic) personality disorder having many similarities to character disorders like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Both NPD and ASPD are characterized by a lack of empathy, entitled behavior, and disregard for the rights or feelings of others. It’s also true that some Borderlines act out in ways harmful to themselves and others. Hence, “Cluster B” has become a pejorative category and some ACONs (adult children of narcissists) and others have demonized people with BPD as being amoral, immoral, and almost inhuman, nearly or as bad as as people with NPD or ASPD. Some even go so far as to lump all borderlines in with the “narcs” and barely make a distinction between them. In their minds, if you’re a Borderline, you’re no better than a “narc” and that’s all there is to it. You’re a bad person and to be avoided.

To make matters even worse, many mental health professionals refuse to treat people with BPD, believing them to be troublemakers, incurable, or both. I remember one therapist I saw years ago for an intake session and seemed to connect well with, called me a few days later after he received my psychiatric records, and told me he couldn’t take me on as a patient. “I don’t work with borderlines,” he said.

It’s true that there are some similarities between the Cluster B disorders, and both BPD and NPD/ASPD have roots in childhood abuse or neglect. But the similarities don’t run very deep. What I mean by that is while both a borderline and a narcissist cn be manipulative or abusive to others, the reasons are very different. There’s also the matter of intention. Borderlines, if they act out against others, aren’t usually aware they’re being abusive and/or manipulative. If their bad behavior is brought to their attention, they normally become very upset and feel terrible about it (unless they have a comorbid NPD or ASPD diagnosis). They act out because of overpowering emotions that they haven’t learned how to control. In contrast, a narcissist or person with ASPD acts out because they can. If their behavior is brought to their attention, they’re likely to become angry and rage against the accusation, make excuses, blame-shift it onto someone else, or deny it.  Unlike most borderlines, they don’t feel remorse, guilt or shame for hurting others.

In addition, many borderlines are much more harmful to themselves than to other people. If they do act out against others, most are as frightened by their own outbursts as others are and sometimes more so. In a nutshell, people with BPD know they have a problem and wish they could be different. Untreated BPD makes a Borderline’s life miserable, while people with NPD or ASPD are usually not bothered by their disorder. That’s why, even though Borderlines can act “crazier” than narcissists, they can get better and are much more responsive to therapy or behavioral treatments such as DBT or CBT.

But we’re still caught in a gray zone, neither here or there.   The stigma against borderlines (in my observation) has grown worse, and most narcissistic abuse sites pretty much regard people with BPD  as the “female or over-emotional version of NPD.”  (actually, Covert/Fragile NPD or Histrionic Personality Disorder would come closer).   If we’re narcissistic abuse victims suffering from complex PTSD, it takes a great deal of courage to admit you also have a BPD diagnosis.  It took me a few months to come out about it on this blog. Fortunately,  I haven’t received too much (or really, any) flack about it.

complex-ptsd-and-bordeline-personality-disorder-36-728
Click to enlarge graph.

The good news is, a number of BPD bloggers are helping to reduce the negative stigma that we’re “bad seeds” with an untreatable disorder just because we’re OMG “Cluster B.” Think about this: have you ever noticed that there aren’t too many people with NPD (or ASPD) blogging about their challenges and insecurities, or fighting to reduce the stigma against their disorder? If they blog about their narcissism or psychopathy, it’s usually to brag about how NPD/psychopathy makes them superior or allows them to have control over others and be successful in the world. That’s because they don’t think they have a problem (They just cause others to have problems). Most Borderlines know they have a problem and struggle with it constantly, since it makes them feel so crazy and lowers their quality of life. I can only think of ONE blogger with NPD who was unhappy with his disorder and successfully treated for it (or so he says). That man probably had low-spectrum and probably covert NPD; a person with malignant or high spectrum grandiose-type NPD will never have enough insight or willingness to admit that THEY are the ones with a problem. In contrast, I can think of about 20 bloggers with BPD who are in treatment or therapy or have even been healed! I’m sure there’s many more that I don’t even know about.

BPD also seems to co-occur a lot with complex PTSD or PTSD. Most BPD bloggers I can think of also have complex PTSD or are in treatment for it. The symptoms of BPD and Complex PTSD are almost the same. The DSM does not recognize Complex PTSD as a diagnosis; it only recognizes PTSD, which is not caused by chronic trauma over a long period of time (such as having been abused as a child), but by one traumatic incident (such as fighting in a war or being raped). Therapeutic treatments for complex PTSD and BPD are also almost the same (for that matter, NPD and other personality disorders are treated almost the same way). Both BPD and Complex PTSD have a higher cure rate than NPD. Since Complex PTSD isn’t recognized as a valid diagnosis, I think a lot of people (especially women) who might have been diagnosed with complex PTSD if it was recognized get slapped with the “Borderline” label instead. Although I accept my BPD diagnosis (and have even become a little attached to it), I wonder if I might never have been diagnosed with it at all had Complex PTSD been recognized by the psychiatric profession. I think in some cases, BPD may not really be accurate, or could even be the same thing as C-PTSD due to their many similarities. At least one blogger (BPD Transformation, who used to comment here but stopped for some reason), doesn’t even think BPD is a valid diagnosis and shouldn’t exist at all.

Further reading:

Are BPD and Complex PTSD the Same Disorder?

Is BPD a Real Disorder or Should it Be Eliminated as a Diagnosis?

The Male Borderline Waif

This is a good article about an overlooked subject–the male borderline. BPD is usually associated (and diagnosed) in women; men are more often diagnosed with NPD. But they aren’t the same disorder, and this article explains what a man with the introverted/fragile sort of BPD can be like. (The more aggressive types of male Borderlines are often mistaken as having Antisocial Personality Disorder due to their impulsivity and acting-out behavior, which sometimes gets them in trouble with the law). There’s a lot of gender bias in the diagnosis of mental illness and BPD is one of the most stigmatized and misunderstood of all the disorders.

Out of the Mire

I’ve written a lot on borderline personality disorder (BPD) on this blog largely because my mother has the disorder.  It is not something I wish to vilify, and I don’t want to verbally mistreat people who have been diagnosed with it either.  Of all the personality disorders, BPD is the most stigmatized.  Many therapists refuse to treat it or see clients who carry the diagnosis altogether.  That is a hard road to walk when one has the disorder, and it’s also a very difficult situation if you love someone with it.  Where do you turn? What resources are available to you when there are so little available to your loved one with BPD?

Another inherent problem is that of diagnosis.  Many people struggling with BPD are never diagnosed and, therefore, never treated due to 1) treatment resistance 2) refusal to seek help.  The other factor? Gender bias within the clinical…

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Do borderlines have a “false self”?

false_self_pic

One of the takeaways I got from my therapy session tonight, was that as someone with BPD, I do have a false self, but it’s not the same kind of false self a person with NPD has.

Actually, almost everyone has a false self. Whenever you’re polite to someone you don’t like, tell a “white lie,” put on your “best face” in a job interview, or act happy at the dreadful office Christmas party, that’s your false self in action. In the non-disordered, it’s called a social self, and is necessary to be able to function in the world. People who have no social self self at all are people who have no idea how to act in social situations, and just say whatever is on their mind. They care nothing about making a good impression or sparing someone’s feelings. There are people like this, but they’re usually living on the edges of society. Most people aren’t very comfortable having to wear this social self, but know they must in order to function in the world.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder are both Cluster B (emotional, dramatic, erratic) disorders and both involve serious disruptions in a person’s sense of self. In both disorders, the true self was compromised at an early age because the parents or caregivers failed to mirror the child’s growing sense of self. The false self is a defense mechanism and stands in for the compromised true self, which in the case of someone with NPD, can no longer be accessed.

falseself_graphic

But there are differences. In a person with NPD, the false self is an intractable, permanent structure and is stable. What this means is that a person with NPD has become someone else. The mask they wear becomes who they are, and any threat of exposure by another for the lie it really is will be viciously attacked or the perpetrator devalued. That’s why you can never criticize a narcissist.

The NPD false self is also stable, meaning it doesn’t change much.  For example, a somatic, grandiose narcissist has built an entire identity around their physical appearance and uses every opportunity to make sure everyone knows how physically perfect they are. Because so much effort has gone into building this identity, the narcissist is unlikely to have developed any other abilities or strengths. A person with NPD pretty much lives full-time as their false self, and rarely, if ever, show others any glimpses of their true self, which in the worst cases, is so inaccessible to them it may as well not exist. If the false self is ripped away (this can be done by denying a narcissist any supply), and there is no more supply to be had (this sometimes happens to elderly narcissists, who can no longer rely on looks, youth, career or financial success to boost their egos), what is revealed is a person so empty, depressed, or dissociated they may require hospitalization or may even attempt suicide. Some may voluntarily enter treatment, but if their fortunes change, they start to feel better and are likely to quit therapy. Schizophrenic symptoms in a degraded narcissist isn’t unusual.

NPD is difficult to treat because the false self is so intractable and all-emcompassing, the person has little to no insight into themselves or even realize it’s they who have the problem. Because they tend to project their unacceptable emotions onto others, they’re far more likely to blame others for things they have really brought on themselves.

In Borderlines, the false self manifests more as a series of temporary masks, adapted to suit certain situations or people. People with BPD are emotional chameleons. Their dramatic mood swings and changeability are due to constant mask-switching and the stress this causes them. The BPD false self is not well developed and it often fails them, causing them emotional distress. The BPD false self (really false selves) is unstable, permeable, and easily shattered, frequently revealing the empty, dissociated, depressed true self. Because it’s not a permanent structure, BPDs don’t require narcissistic supply to keep it “alive” (they’re more likely to become codependent to a narcissist). They can seem “crazier” than people with NPD, but they are more easily treated because they spend at least some of the time without their masks on.

Further reading:

Derealization and Depersonalization in NPD and BPD

Comparing Covert Narcissism and BPD

Borderlines are Human Chameleons

Why Narcissists and Borderlines are Drawn to Each Other

Why DBT and mindfulness is helping me get more out of therapy.

mindfulness_poster_UK

For anyone suffering from BPD who wants to undergo psychodynamic or trauma therapy, I definitely recommend taking some DBT (or CBT) classes first. This also applies to people with complex PTSD, as the symptoms of C-PTSD and BPD can be almost the same (and for Borderlines, usually co-exist together).

I’ve been in therapy many times throughout my life, but I never stuck with it before. I usually would quit, because I either gave up in frustration or things got too intense. My first instinct whenever things in life would get too uncomfortable was to run. I had zero insight into myself or why I reacted (or overreacted) to things the way I did. I always thought everything was someone else’s fault. Yet I was constantly apologizing for things that weren’t my fault. I know that’s confusing, but I was confused. I was ignorant about boundaries and then wondered why others got offended when I unwittingly invaded theirs. Either that or I put up too many boundaries, not letting anyone in or rejecting people who tried to get too close.  I had a martyr complex, always felt picked on and ganged up on, was constantly paranoid and hypervigilant, always feeling like everyone hated me and was out to get me. I was ready to go off on someone or act out at the slightest provocation, believing I was being attacked unfairly. I was much more likely to attack things than people (I was constantly breaking things; self harm was never really my thing) but my violence toward objects and verbal tirades still upset those around me and upset me too after the fact. People always told me I overreacted to everything, but I always felt like it was somehow justified. I couldn’t see the part I might have been playing in all that.

To be fair, I was horrifically abused both as a child and as an adult, so my paranoia and distrust of others wasn’t completely unfounded. I was trained to be a victim and tended to act in ways that ensured I would remain a victim, without knowing I was doing so. I still struggle with this. I still tend toward codependency.  I still find it hard to connect with people in any meaningful way.   I’m a long way from being the person I want to be or that I could have become, and I may never get there completely. But there’s a big difference between the way I am now and the way I used to be. Mindfulness.

mindfulness

What is mindfulness? It’s the ability to think before you act, be aware of your own actions and reactions, and have insight into your own motives and why you do the things you do. It’s staying in the present, instead of fretting about the past or worrying about the future. It’s being able to step back mentally and see yourself the way others see you. Being mindful keeps you from acting out in ways you might regret later on. You’re not constantly apologizing because you acted out without knowing, because you can stop yourself before you do. Being mindful is like receiving a pair of magic glasses that allows you a view of yourself you never had before. You might think that having this “inner critic” would make you self-conscious, fearful and awkward, but ironically, it does the opposite. Because you have the ability to know how to act before you act, you have more control over yourself, and therefore more control over how others react to you. Slowly, you begin to find that people are reacting more positively to you, and you have fewer reasons to lash out at others or overreact to things. You begin to trust others more, because you trust yourself more.

Mindfulness is a wonderful tool in therapy, and is helping me get so much more out of it than I ever did before. I took DBT classes in 1996, when I was first diagnosed with BPD, and at the time I sort of blew them off. Because I was still in my abusive marriage, I was still very sick and not really ready to do the work. As long as I stayed with my narcissist, I was not going to get any better, but I didn’t know that. My ex had me convinced that I was the problem, not him. Because of his triangulation and gaslighting, he had everyone else convinced I was the crazy one too and he was just the put-upon victim. He’d systematically goad me into a BPD rage, knowing he could, and then with a smirk of satisfaction, tell everyone how insane I was. His personality and manner came off as more cool and collected than mine did, so I probably really did look crazier and more out of control than he did. But he was pulling all the strings.

Anyway, back to mindfulness. It wasn’t until early in 2014, when I finally went VLC (very low contact) with him (and kicked him out of the house), that I started to change. First I started to write and that’s why I started this blog. Writing every day helped me gain insight into myself and my narcissists. After a few more months, I began to realize I needed to make a few changes to myself. I pulled out my DBT workbook (Marsha Linehan’s Skills Training Manual for Borderline Personality Disorder) and began to do some of the exercises. I had already been doing a few of the things, but this time I took it more seriously and tried some of the things I hadn’t before. One of those things was paying attention to my internal, bodily state whenever I felt an unpleasant emotion. By doing this, I was able to begin to name what I was feeling. Emotions are very physical things. By naming an emotion, you can allow yourself to feel it, realize it’s just an emotion and not “you,” and learn to have more control over it.

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In therapy, I find I’m constantly focusing in on my bodily state, whether there’s any tightness, pain or strange sensations. There always seems to be pressure or tightness in my stomach, chest and throat that goes away when I can name the feeling and begin to express it. Being mindful this way of my internal state and naming my feelings, I’m much less likely to act out against other people or break things. I’m working now on breaking down the protective emotional wall I’ve developed that overlies softer feelings of sadness, grief, empathy, and connection with others. For many years it seemed the only emotions I ever could access were fear (sometimes straight up terror), shame, guilt, anger, and rage–and mind-numbing, zombielike depressions where all I wanted to do was sleep.

There are many ways to be mindful. Some of them are very simple, like counting to ten before acting. Others require more concentration. We need to learn how to self-soothe, something we never learned how to do as babies or young children. Being mindful allows you room to learn self soothing techniques. The insight you gain into yourself by being mindful also allows you the ability and courage to dig deep when you decide to undergo psychodynamic therapy. You’re going to experience powerful emotions when you’re searching for the root causes of your illness, and being mindful allows you to experience them without overreacting, acting out…or quitting therapy.