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

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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.

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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.

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I still have so much to learn…

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I just spent a few minutes ordering (used) books about Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Disorders from Amazon. There’s still so much I don’t know, especially about my own BPD, which trips me up constantly, in spite of my attempts to be mindful and think before I act (or react).

For example, a few months ago I unintentionally alienated someone I valued as a friend. Actually two people were involved. What happened was I went on a rant because a second woman hurt my feelings, and rather than discuss this privately with her, or simply move on and chalk the whole thing up as a learning experience, I decided to write a rant and publish it. No, I did not identify the person in my rant and yes, what this person had said to me (in private) was extremely mean and hurtful (and definitely not true either). But could I just move on or let it go–or just tell the person how hurt I was? No, instead I had to turn this person’s private message to into an angry blog post. After I realized what I had done, I removed that post, but its repercussions still haunt me. This individual is absolutely convinced I am a malignant narcissist with evil intentions and has said so in public. I’m not, but based on my behavior at the time, I can understand why someone would think this is the case.

The woman who I wrote that scathing post about wasn’t someone I knew very well, and her low opinion of me (which it turned out had been low from the beginning–she just didn’t like me, which is okay, it happens to everyone) really didn’t matter too much, since we hadn’t been “friends” for very long. But in the fallout from that bad decision I made to call her out publicly, I alienated someone else whose friendship I really DID value–because it turned out that person was friends with the person I ranted about. I didn’t know.

I also did something else to anger the woman who’s friendship I valued (basically, a blatant invasion of her boundaries), but again, at the time I didn’t realize what I did would be hurtful to them. I was just so…CLUELESS. All of this impulsive borderline shit I was pulling came off to others as MALIGNANT NARCISSISM and since then I’ve had that label slapped on me by someone who mattered to me and a few who never really did. Being thought of that way by someone I value really hurts. It hurts a lot. That’s about the worst insult I could ever get (strangely enough, when I was younger, the easiest way to insult me was to call me TOO SENSITIVE, ha!)

But I deserved it too. Putting myself in my alienated friend’s shoes after the damage was done, and thinking about how I would have felt if someone did the same thing to me, I couldn’t deny that I would have been extremely angry, to say the least. Also, the timing of my actions was just too weird. I didn’t know I was hurting anyone, at least not consciously. I really didn’t. But how would my friend know I didn’t know? Why wouldn’t she think it was malicious and intentional?

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The problem with having BPD is the obtuseness that comes with it. In that sense, it can resemble Aspergers because you just don’t KNOW what is appropriate. You simply are not aware of when you’re acting out, manipulating or attacking someone. I think this is one of the little-talked about things that separates BPD from full-blown narcissism. Borderlines can just be so fucking clueless. We are so out of touch with ourselves and who we really are that we don’t even have a false self to pretend to know what it’s doing. We really don’t know what the hell we’re doing and even when we think we have our behaviors under control, they still sneak out, without our even knowing. It makes you really feel crazy and out of control when later on it’s pointed out to you (as to a two year old) WHY what you said or did was wrong and WHY someone was hurt by it, when you thought it as just a normal reaction at the time and you had no earthly idea it would be so hurtful or damaging. But when you do become aware, it’s so OBVIOUS that you say to yourself, how the hell could I not SEE that?

BPD is a sort of blindness. You get so tangled up in your own emotional state you literally cannot see how you may be hurting others. You may not be throwing screaming temper tantrums or throwing things across the room, but the harmful actions come out in other, sneaky, passive-aggressive ways. You don’t WANT to hurt others, but you do anyway because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING. It sucks because as a person who does have a conscience and struggles constantly with guilt and shame, I feel remorse when I realize what I have done. The problem is, by the time I become aware, it’s often too late to repair the lost friendship. They have already given up and moved on. BPD destroys relationships.

I feel like even with the DBT skills I’ve been using and the reparenting techniques I’ve tried recently, that there is so much about this awful disorder I don’t know. I don’t know myself as well as I should. Dammit, I DON’T TRUST MYSELF! My Aspergers/Avoidant PD mitigates my Borderline symptoms to some extent, but they still come out. I avoid others partly because I’m afraid I might hurt them. I don’t want to be this way anymore.

I feel like I need to educate myself much more about BPD, and just knowing WHY we do the things we do and act out in passive aggressive ways without knowing what we’re doing, will help. So that’s why I just ordered some new books. I need to spend some more time reading and less time unintentionally creating drama, stupidly thinking that it’s “right.”

This journey of self-discovery is amazing most of the time, but sometimes facing the truth about yourself is unbelievably painful.

One last thing–if you are reading this (and you will know who you are if you read this post), I want to say I’m so sorry. I was wrong.