I failed at DBT today.

dunce-boy

Just yesterday, I wrote a post about how DBT has enhanced therapy and made my life easier in general. But I’m far from perfect and today I completely failed at being mindful.

I don’t want to talk about my day because right now I just want to forget about it. It sucked and I handled it badly. I went off on someone I don’t like, who I was stuck working with all day. So today was long, annoying, and painful, and I’m not proud of the way I acted.

There was something good waiting for me at home though. One of my older posts went viral today. The day isn’t even over and I’ve exceeded 3,000 views because of that article. That’s the most views I’ve ever had in a day. So I feel very good about that. It makes up for my horrible day.

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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.

Going insane: how I got diagnosed with BPD

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I thought I should explain how I got diagnosed with BPD. Although my out of control behaviors in 1995-1996 were due to prolonged emotional and mental (and some physical) abuse at the hands of my ex (on top of having been a victim of narcissistic abuse growing up), the focus of this article isn’t on narcissistic abuse or the way my ex behaved, but rather on my reactions and how out of touch with reality I actually became.

My memory of this time is sketchy and fragmented, almost dreamlike, so what I’m about to write may not flow together well. I believe my fuzzy memories of these two years were due to 3 things: (1) intermittent substance abuse, including alcohol; (2) being so out of touch with reality; and (3) I may have blocked out some of these incidents or partially blocked them out so they seem sort of grey when I think about them now, like a dream.

In 1995 my ex’s mother could no longer live alone so she came to live with us. At first things went smoothly, but she had Alzheimers and was deteriorating fast, and soon her care was left entirely to me. At the same time I was the stay at home mom to a 2 and 4 year old. My ex had started drinking a lot during this time, and said it was because he hated his mother (a malignant narcissist herself) and his behavior toward her was very abusive. He justified his abuse by saying she deserved it because of the way she had treated him. My children saw this behavior but in my emotionally weakened state due to his constant gaslighting, projecting and triangulating (he had turned most of our friends against me) as well as isolating me from those who could help me, I began to collude in his abusive behavior toward his mother. I didn’t physically attack her (he did) but in my frustration with things like her wetting the bed I would yell at her whenever he did and sometimes even when he wasn’t there. I also didn’t try to stop him when he used to spank her like a naughty child.

My ex was drinking heavily and smoking a lot of pot, and I joined him. At night, after the kids were asleep, we would often both be drunk and high. Sometimes his friends came over, who were all younger than we were (my ex’s friends were always younger than him). Sometimes things got wild. I was no longer attracted to my ex by this time due to his constant emotional abuse, so when I was drunk I openly flirted with his friends. I was unfaithful too, but so was he (I am definitely not proud of any of this, especially because I had young children at the time).

We fought constantly. One night, drunk, he threatened me with a gun. I ran down the street screaming and went and hid in a grove of trees for hours in the freezing cold. On several occasions I called the police and they would show up to fund us both drunk and didn’t know who to believe so they would leave and tell us to sober up. At this time I had no control over my reactions or my emotions. I acted more immature than my own kids sometimes.

I used to sleep during the day and wasn’t as good a mother as I could have been. I was testy, impatient and neglectful. I loved my kids dearly, but just didn’t have the emotional stamina or energy to deal with them more effectively or lovingly. (I tried to make up for that later).

Soon the dissociative episodes began. Sometimes things looked weird. People looked like they weren’t real and they seemed demonic. I began to have delusions of reference. I had the weird sensation of unrelated events or conversations somehow referencing exactly what I was thinking. I felt like I was outside my body a lot, as if I was watching the events of my life unfold instead of being in them. This began to happen when I started distancing myself from my emotions into a “comfortable numbness.” (This is common in PTSD and BPD). But it wasn’t comfortable–it was horrifying. I think I was unconsciously protecting myself from feeling too much emotional pain. The abnormal had become normal, the insane had become sane, the evil had become good. I walked through my days in a sort of fog, but not all the time. Occasionally, when triggered, I would come back into myself and “go off” on my ex and experience a tidal wave of unbelievably painful and intense emotions. Instead of spending my evenings doing quiet things with my family, I spent that time on the computer in chat rooms, talking to men. I imagined I fell in love with one or two of them. My emotional reactions to these online entities I had never met were as intense as if they were actual relationships, but all of it was fantasy. To me it felt real.

I couldn’t sleep at night, but would sleep most of the day away. I didn’t take care of the house and only did the rudimentary necessities for the kids, in between taking care of my ex’s mother’s almost constant needs. I lost patience with both her and the kids easily. We ate cereal and yogurt most nights for dinner because I didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to cook anything.

I started a job after awhile at a hotel. I had a short affair with the disc jockey/maintenance man there. I wasn’t in love with him but I enjoyed the kindness he showed me, that my husband wasn’t giving me. One night he confronted me about it and I confessed everything. He didn’t seem upset but admitted he was having an affair too. Strangely, we did not fight about this. I really didn’t care whether he loved me anymore; I was convinced he hated my guts.

I quit my job on a whim even though we needed the extra income, because my ex had squandered over $100K we got from the sale of his mother’s house. One day I just decided not to go in anymore. I didn’t even bother to call, which normally is out of character for me. I started doing really crazy things. One night after a really bad fight I went into the closet in the master bedroom and sat on the floor crying for what seemed like hours. My ex didn’t seem concerned and went out instead. I don’t know why I was doing this; I felt like I had lost my mind and there was no reason for doing this. I had no idea what I was doing; I was just reacting to my pain like a wounded animal. The episodes of dissociation and delusions of reference became worse. I imagined everything–even voices on TV or songs on the radio–were coded messages that referenced something in my life. This is impossible to explain if you haven’t experienced it but it was very strange and disorienting.

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One day shortly after the closet incident, I left the kids in the house with him and decided to go driving. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing, but I suddenly thought it would be a good idea to drive at 90 mph (the speed limit was 65 mph). Normally I’m a very cautious driver but during this time I had thrown all caution to the wind. I wasn’t suicidal in the sense of making a conscious effort to kill myself and I didn’t even contemplate suicide, but I was taking huge risks with my life. Miraculously, nothing happened, not even a pullover by police. I returned home feeling exhilarated from my crazy drive, but immediately that feeling disappeared and I was hit with the horror of my reality and started screaming irrationally and throwing things against the wall just to hear them break. I don’t even know what set this tantrum off–probably nothing at all, but I had this overwhelming desire to act out my excruciating emotional pain. I had no control over myself at all. When I thought about my behavior later on, I was horrified. I wasn’t even drinking anymore by now, so I wasn’t drunk. I was just insane.

My ex told me I was crazy. He always did anyway. But I really was crazy. He told me I should commit myself to a mental institution–or he would. To his surprise (and mine) I agreed. In that moment of clarity, I realized how crazy I had become (due to his emotional abuse of me, but that didn’t make me any less crazy). I allowed him to drive me to the mental hospital, which turned out to have an excellent program and engaging activities. I felt relief in entering that hospital and spent the next three months there. My Axis 1 diagnosis was Major Depression and anxiety, and my Axis 2 diagnosis was BPD, as well as substance abuse. I was also diagnosed with PTSD. I received daily therapy–both individual and group, as well as DBT classes–and I was put on Depakote (a mood stabilizer), Prozac (for the depression) and Klonopin (for anxiety). I stabilized during my stay but I wasn’t as committed to using the DBT tools I learned there as I became later on. I remember calling my mother from the hospital and telling her what was wrong with me, and her attitude was like, “so what? You need to be a mother to your children.” She didn’t even know I was in the hospital. So much for maternal support.

I had mixed feelings about returning home. I was overjoyed to see my children, but wasn’t too happy to see my husband at all. I really just wanted to stay in that hospital for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to face reality.

Fortunately, my mental state never got that bad again, but his abuse was to get much worse. He used my descent into the madness of severe BPD and major depression as an excuse to punish me for “having gone batshit insane” when I should have been a better mother and wife to him.

I still have a lot of guilt and shame over the way I neglected my children when they were so young and helpless. I wonder sometimes how much my not being there for them may have damaged them.

When I look back even earlier at my life, I can remember similar incidents of being totally unable to control my emotional reactions to stressors and triggers, with periods of almost robotic numbness and dissociative episodes in between outbursts. It was a pattern I was familiar with, but it reached its pinnacle in 1995-1996. I had a relapse in 1997 and spent a week in the psych ward at the regular hospital, and got the same exact diagnosis as the year before. Over the next several years, while I was still married to my ex, I spent most of my time in a state of emotional numbness, living on “automatic pilot.” It wasn’t until I finally got the POS out of my life that I felt safe enough to begin to let myself feel emotions again–but this time with mindfulness and acceptance instead of allowing my emotions to control me. I still have a long way to go.

“Hand crack” for my birthday.

My birthday isn’t for 3 more days, but I was browsing in a rock shop (I collect geodes and other interesting rocks) and was looking for something that “spoke” to me. I finally found these beautiful unglazed squares of “picture” jasper. Besides the natural patterns of the jasper that look like desert scenes, I liked the way they felt–kind of heavy and smooth at the same time, and I liked the soft clacking sounds they made when they hit each other in my hand.

Immediately I thought what a marvelous DBT tool these could be. I have my turtle, of course, but it’s a little big and the feel of it isn’t all that special. These are little natural works of art that I know could help me calm down with their sound and feel in my hands when I’m stressed, upset or angry. I think the $4.00 spent was well worth it.

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I turned them around to show the patterns on the other side:
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Turtle.

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Last night I read a blog post by a woman who has BPD that described how out of control she felt. As a fellow borderline (who is not symptomatic), I could relate, and shared something I learned with her. I hope it helps.

In 1996 when I was hospitalized for major depression (and diagnosed with bipolar I with underlying BPD) I had no idea how to regulate my emotions. I had barely any more control over my emotional state than a toddler who throws temper tantrums in public. My disorder caused me to fly off the handle at the tiniest things, especially if I felt slighted. I overreacted to things that would have caused barely a ruffled feather in a normal person–but of course being married to a gaslighting narcissist made things so much harder for me. The only reason I wasn’t more out of control than I already was was due to the introversion and reticence that comes along with my Aspergers and Avoidant PD. In a sense those disorders helped keep me sane. Even when I didn’t lose control, I often felt like I was out of my body or the world felt odd and dreamlike. I learned later on these strange feelings were really a dissociative state that is common in borderlines when they feel emotionally overwhelmed. Many borderlines use illegal drugs to self-medicate, and I smoked a lot of pot in those days.

I’ve gotten a lot better since then, and found the DBT therapy I was given during my stay there immensely helpful. I still use it. Back then I still lived with my MN abusive husband and that made things difficult but I still found the DBT exercises helpful once I returned home (things are a LOT better now that we’re not together). I believe they kept me able to just get through life on a day to day basis, even if I still barely managed it.

One thing we learned in the DBT classes was a simple little thing called “turtling.” Whenever you feel like you’re going to lose your composure and “go off,” you imagine yourself as a turtle retreating back under its shell. A turtle does this instinctively when they feel threatened; for BPD patients, “going inside your shell” teaches us to be mindful and THINK before reacting, because impulsivity is something that is a problem for us. In the classes, we made ourselves little turtles out of clay. It was fun and childlike making the turtles, and we even got to paint them and fire them in a small kiln afterwards. I remember carrying my turtle with me everywhere for awhile and pulling him out whenever I felt myself about to lose my composure. My clay turtle helped me remember to be mindful. I still have mine. Recently I found my turtle in the back of a drawer and pulled him out again.

I remember there was a young woman in those classes who used to cut herself whenever she felt her emotions going out of control. The video I posted last night talked about why so many borderlines cut themselves. Cutting is a temporary way to regulate emotions that seem out of control. Instead of “going off” and possibly attacking someone else, she would cut herself. She said she felt relief whenever she did this, like the lid being taken off a pot of boiling water. But after learning how to “turtle,” she told the group she no longer felt the need to do that. Turtling is an equally tactile but a much less self-destructive way to self-regulate.

It isn’t necessary to have a physical object like a clay turtle to be mindful and think before acting, but the tactility of it can be helpful and keep me grounded in reality.
I know this little exercise sounds kind of stupid and childish, but it really does work!

Clearing up some misunderstandings about BPD.

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There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about borderline personality disorder. I’ve noticed many people seem to confuse it with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). While there ARE some overlapping symptoms (and it’s even been speculated by a number of mental health professionals that BPD is actually a less severe form of NPD), they are quite different from each other. I’d like to clear up a few of these misunderstandings and discuss both the similarities and the differences.

New DSM Criteria for BPD.

According the the DSM-V (2013), these are the diagnostic criteria for BPD (the new list of criteria is quite long and ponderous so I will not attempt to talk about each of these points here):

A. Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:

1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):

a. Identity: Markedly impoverished, poorly developed, or unstable self-image, often associated with excessive self-criticism; chronic feelings of emptiness; dissociative states under stress.

b. Self-direction: Instability in goals, aspirations, values, or career plans.

AND

2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):

a. Empathy: Compromised ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others associated with interpersonal hypersensitivity (i.e., prone to feel slighted or insulted); perceptions of others selectively biased toward negative attributes or vulnerabilities.

b. Intimacy: Intense, unstable, and conflicted close relationships, marked by mistrust, neediness, and anxious preoccupation with real or imagined abandonment; close relationships often viewed in extremes of idealization and devaluation and alternating between over involvement and withdrawal.

B. Pathological personality traits in the following domains:

1. Negative Affectivity, characterized by:

a. Emotional lability: Unstable emotional experiences and frequent mood changes; emotions that are easily aroused, intense, and/or out of proportion to events and circumstances.

b. Anxiousness: Intense feelings of nervousness, tenseness, or panic, often in reaction to interpersonal stresses; worry about the negative effects of past unpleasant experiences and future negative possibilities; feeling fearful, apprehensive, or threatened by uncertainty; fears of falling apart or losing control.

c. Separation insecurity: Fears of rejection by – and/or separation from – significant others, associated with fears of excessive dependency and complete loss of autonomy.

d. Depressivity: Frequent feelings of being down, miserable, and/or hopeless; difficulty recovering from such moods; pessimism about the future; pervasive shame; feeling of inferior self-worth; thoughts of suicide and suicidal behavior.

2. Disinhibition, characterized by:

a. Impulsivity: Acting on the spur of the moment in response to immediate stimuli; acting on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of outcomes; difficulty establishing or following plans; a sense of urgency and self-harming behavior under emotional distress.

b. Risk taking: Engagement in dangerous, risky, and potentially self-damaging activities, unnecessarily and without regard to consequences; lack of concern for one’s limitations and denial of the reality of personal danger.

3. Antagonism, characterized by:

a. Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults.

C. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.

D. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.

E. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual’s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).

Is it really true that Borderlines can’t feel empathy?

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BPD patient “Alice” (Kristen Wiig) in “Welcome to Me.”

The very first thing that stood out to me (and was not included in the older DSM criteria) is “lack of empathy.” Yes, it is a fact that many borderlines have difficulty feeling empathy under normal circumstances, but the reasons for this are vastly different than the lack of empathy seen in people with NPD.

Most people with BPD have the capacity to feel empathy, and can feel very guilty when they become aware (or it’s pointed out to them) that they have treated others badly, but because Borderlines have great difficulty regulating their emotional reactions and have an unfortunate tendency to lose themselves in their own drama when they perceive they are being attacked, at those times they can “forget” that others exist, and this can lead to them acting selfishly and disregarding the feelings of others. This can appear very narcissistic. It’s not that they CAN’T feel empathy though, because they certainly can. They can also feel remorseful. But it may take a disaster (such as losing a good friend or a broken relationship) for them to realize the damage their impulsive and selfish behavior has caused. If their bad behavior is pointed out to them by someone else–such as when the character Alice in the movie “Welcome to Me” loses her best friend Gina, who tells her how much she was hurt by Alice’s insults against her–they will feel remorse and try to make amends in whatever way they can.

Borderlines just want to be accepted.

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Unlike narcissists, borderlines hate to be hated. Narcissists like any form of attention–negative or positive (and some even prefer to be hated!) while borderlines only want to be loved and thought of in a positive manner. Most of them WANT to be good people and WANT to be liked, but don’t always act in ways that make them seem very nice, due to their impulsivity and tendency to act out whatever emotions they are feeling at the moment.

Impulsivity is a primary issue with a borderline–a trait not shared by narcissists (but IS shared with people with ASPD)–because they fail to think ahead and consider consequences of their bad behavior.

Borderlines can act narcissistic because of their deep seated need to feel accepted. Most hate themselves (as do narcissists) and some can act grandiose and full of themselves in their attempts to be liked and admired. Deep inside, they feel worthless. It’s not hard to take down their braggadocio, however. Cut a borderline down to size and they may react with rage or tears (as will a narcissist) but are also more likely than a narcissist to admit you are right and they are really just worthless losers. They might even apologize profusely for acting so out of line.

I can’t help but think of the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. An insecure little man who stood behind a curtain projecting the face of a raging tyrant onto a huge screen. When Toto pulled back the curtain to reveal who the “Wizard” really was, and Dorothy upbraided him for being a “very bad man,” the Wizard immediately became humble and apologized profusely to the group, telling them that yes, he was just a humbug. Some people have said the Wizard was a narcissist, but I think his behavior was more typical of a borderline. A narcissist would have continued to insist on his superiority, even with his true nature having been revealed–and his true nature would not have been so benign. The Wizard’s intentions for Dorothy and her friends were also good.

While a narcissist may rage and perhaps even use tears (to manipulate others into feeling sorry for them), they will almost never admit their wrongdoing or admit they are anything other than God’s gift to the world. Doing so is far too dangerous to them.

Why Borderlines act selfishly.

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A borderline who is not under stress or in the midst of an emotional drama, or has learned to control their impulses through behavioral training like DBT–dialectical behavior training which was developed by Marsha Linehan (it does work–I can attest to its efficacy), can certainly feel empathy for others, and can be genuinely good and kind people. Genuine kindness and concern for others is rare in a narcissist and almost unheard of in a malignant narcissist. Borderlines generally have this capacity, but unfortunately, if they haven’t learned to control or regulate their emotions, their ability to feel for others or show a conscience is eclipsed by their own drama, which at the moment becomes all-important. They really just don’t know what they are doing, but if you call them out or make them suffer consequences, in most cases they will try to make it up to you.

Borderlines don’t live a lie.

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Borderlines do not wear masks, as narcissists do. They cannot pretend to be someone they are not (or if try to, they usually fail miserably, like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz). They are not trying to fool you, even though to avoid rejection, they can be manipulative and use some of the same games (gaslighting, blame-shifting, rages, etc) that narcissists do. Borderlines, if anything, show TOO MUCH of themselves–and that includes the bad along with the good. With a borderline, it’s all WYSIWYG. They can’t wear a mask, because they lack the ability to plan things out ahead of time the way someone with NPD does. Wearing masks requires cunning and the ability to lie. While borderlines can and do lie (usually to exaggerate the pain they are facing or to idealize/devalue someone else), they can’t lie about who they are or what they’re feeling. In that sense, they’re even more honest than the average non-disordered person.

Idealization/devaluation in borderlines and narcissists.
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Both narcissists and borderlines do tend to idealize and devalue other people, and both are guilty of black-or-white thinking. But the motives for this behavior are different. A narcissist idealizes someone they see as a good source of narcissistic supply. They do not see the source of supply as a person, but will put them on a pedestal as long as they’re providing enough supply. Should the victim stop providing supply (or the narcissist just becomes bored and needs a new source of supply), the narcissist devalues and discards the victim, without mercy or regret.

Most borderlines idealize and devalue others based on their need for acceptance and love, not the need for supply. If they perceive another person as good and kind, and accepting of them, they will tend to idealize the person and sometimes become clingy and needy (a narcissist can be clingy and needy too, but for different reasons). If the borderline feels the other person losing interest or pulling away from them, they may suddenly, without warning, devalue the other person and reject them. They do this not to be mean, but to avoid being rejected themselves. This explains the “I hate you…don’t leave me” or “come closer…go away” behaviors many borderlines show. It’s confusing and contradictory to others, but it helps them to avoid the inevitable rejection they believe is coming to them. Borderlines live in constant fear of being rejected; narcissists live in constant fear being ignored–losing their “drug” of narcissistic supply. While their behaviors may seem similar on the surface, the motives behind them are quite different.

A borderline is not usually deliberately malicious or sadistic. It’s not their intention to hurt others or cause them misery, even though they unintentionally do it all the time because they have so much trouble controlling their impulses. They usually are not even aware how much their unpredictable and contradictory behavior is confusing or hurting others. If a borderline is made aware of what they are doing, they are far more likely to seek therapy than a narcissist, because someone with BPD wants more than anything to be loved and accepted. A narcissist just doesn’t care what you think of them, as long as you are paying attention to them. Of course, there are some low-mid spectrum narcissists who have enough self awareness and hate the fact they can’t feel the more sublime emotions (love, empathy, joy) of a normal person, and those few may actually seek help too.

BPD is maladaptive to the victim.

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Marsha Linehan’s diagram that shows why BPD doesn’t work well for the sufferer. (click to enlarge)

Borderline personality disorder is ego-dystonic: that is, it isn’t adaptive to the sufferer and their behaviors cause them as much or more misery than it causes others. People with any ego-dystonic disorder or mental illness–depression, anxiety, phobias, certain personality disorders such as Avoidant, Borderline or Dependent–are more likely to seek treatment because they aren’t happy with the way they behave and feel. They don’t necessarily blame others for their own misery, the way a narcissist will do.

Borderlines are also far more likely than narcissists to engage in suicidal ideation or even attempt suicide when they become depressed. They are self-destructive and more dangerous to themslves than others. A narcissist is not as likely to consider or attempt suicide, but if they do, they are more likely to attempt to “take you with them.”

Narcissistic personality disorder is ego-syntonic: that is, it usually is adaptive to the sufferer and in most cases their bad behaviors don’t bother them at all (they don’t care how you feel), they only bother others. This is why narcissists are so unlikely to seek treatment, unless they have lost their sources of supply and are undergoing severe depression (narcissistic crisis). Narcissists are miserable people, but they are far more likely than borderlines to blame others for their own misery.

Both disorders are included under the Cluster B category of personality disorders because both involve a malfunction of emotional regulation. In a narcissist, emotion is strong but is hidden and masked; in a borderline, emotion is strong but cannot be hidden or regulated at all. Both disorders cause others misery, but a narcissist lives a lie; a borderline generally does not.

BPD as a defense mechanism that arises in early childhood.

scared_child

Both NPD and BPD (and all Cluster B disorders) arise out of childhood from early attachment disorders with caregivers. Both are desperate attempts not to be hurt anymore and have their origins in abuse or neglect as young children. Most narcissists and borderlines were abuse victims as children. Both narcissists and borderlines are incredibly sensitive–so much so, they have constructed almost intractible defense mechanisms to avoid further pain and hurt. Unfortunately for the borderline, their defense mechanism of overreaction to everything is maladaptive and hurts them more than they can hurt anyone else. But due to this, they are far more likely to seek treatment.

Upcoming Post:
Later on, I plan to post an article about Marsha Linehan’s DBT and other therapies for people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. (They are similar to the methods used for people with NPD).