Guest Post: What is Borderline Personality Disorder Really Like?

Today I have the very great pleasure of having Aidan O’Connell as my guest here at Always Unstable.

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The more I spread awareness on this condition (let’s not call it an illness), I see this question and today I wish to address it, and I hope that I can piece together something that shows what it is, gives some facts and dispels some myths! Wish me luck!

I believe Borderline Personality Disorder is one of the most misunderstood disorders there is. Borderline patients can be appear very well and then, moments later, something will have happened (perhaps unconsciously) and there’s a marked intensity to what seems like no provocation at all. There is an emotional outburst, possibly due to fear of rejection, for example. To a person in the vicinity and unaware of the BPD, it can be very confusing!

Borderline Patients are often seen as immature, time-demanding or not listening or acting in a particularly extreme way or they persist in seeing things very black and white. In the cold light of  day, you cannot actually argue with these facts. When very young, many (but not all) Borderline patients will have often grown up in environments where emotions were dismissed, denied and invalidated. I know anything I wanted in a materialistic sense was there in childhood but if I fell and hurt my knee, was upset at a funeral or as I increasingly became bullied in school and when I subsequently was abused, I moved from being dismissed to bottling up feelings to simply refusing to accept what was happened. As a result, emotions terrified me until I engaged in meaningful Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT, more on this later!) This would not be uncommon for Borderline patients.

There can be identity issues too. Identity disturbance issues are not uncommon either; I know there is a paradox. I know that in the past I have literally felt “a need” for my partner but also a fear of them. If you can imagine this, it’s like a rollercoaster that is going up at breakneck speed and then down again at lightning speed. This can lead to a range of emotions and reactions; from irrational jealousy, to pushing your partner away. This is very confusing for both parties in the relationship. After pushing partners away in the past, I very quickly changed my mind and was immediately afraid I had pushed away the person and so began frantic efforts to regain the lost relationship!

The word Borderline can be seen as half way between Neurosis and Psychosis or on the borderline of both Neurosis and Psychosis. I did a bit research to see how it’s perceived and those around the Borderliner can feel “like they are walking on eggshells” (a book of the same name exists on BPD). Borderliners will use words like “frustrated”, “angry”, “confused” and “unsure”. It’s difficult to face this range of emotions on a daily basis.

Splitting and projection are important terms. Splitting is seeing things in a black and white manner, good or bad, all or nothing, full versus empty, perfect to imperfect. It’s common in BPD. Projection is something that I have experienced and had to work on. It’s essentially a defense mechanism. Here the Borderliner projects their own feelings onto another person or group of people and experiences these feelings as coming from outside themselves, where in-fact, the feelings belong to them. This is why I (have in the past) felt people to be critical of me, seeing me in a very negative light, when they were not. It can reach a stage where you are at home or at work and you don’t believe what the other party is saying. Borderliners can have feelings of emptiness. If battling emptiness and loneliness and in a dark place, it’s not uncommon to go as far to project and assign BPD to our partner or loved one when they don’t have the condition. It is done in an attempt to feel better about ourselves. It is neither proper nor effective, nor does it last.

Fear is a key word used to describe Borderline Personality Disorder. Fear stems from a perceived rejection. A Borderliner can see fear everywhere and anticipates it from everyone they meet. I have experienced situations in the past where I have felt light-headed, like my head is spinning. I have made significant progress this year with the most wonderful consultant. I have realised fear has made me act irrationally or socially inappropriately. A feeling of desperation has caused the fear. When I see or talk to Borderliners, I can see the fear, hear the fear in their voice, or note it in their actions. It is a tough cookie to crack the fear.

Anger is something I must address if I am going to make my piece as open, honest, accurate, and raw as possible. People suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder often explode with rage quickly. The anger on display may seem entirely out of proportion to the situation. The recipient of the anger can be anyone from a complete stranger, to a work colleague, to a loved one. The recipient of the anger may be left scratching their head at the intensity of the emotional outburst. Pre-recovery, I can hold my hands up to displaying anger, but not actually having a rational explanation of it. I will hold my hands up to pre recovery instances of anger where I have been inconsistent in reasons or, to be precise, had no reason at all.
Anger can develop again because, for Borderliners, emotions can be underdeveloped. If I was to be very blunt, a Borderliner and their anger is not too dissimilar to that of a very young child; an adult version of a temper tantrum. There’s a very valid reason and for fear of repetition. It is because those with BPD were never able to learn how to control their emotions, or more precisely how to regulate them.

Those with Borderline Personality Disorder have been compared to someone walking around with third degree burns all over their body; every touch hurts. I think this is a good description. They hurt all the time and they do not know what to do about it. They look to their partners and loved ones to make it stop. When their loved ones cannot do this, the borderline patient becomes enraged. They don’t realize that they are reading abandonment and rejection into words or actions where it does not exist. Most of all, they don’t realize they are pushing their loved ones away with their behaviour, effectively creating exactly what they fear.

It really is important to say that people with BPD are not for one moment to be considered “bad people”. There are criteria and diagnosis that really must be given by a consultant psychiatrist and then there are various therapies that can work and will work, with hard work from the Borderliner. Examples here I have sampled are like CFT (Compassion Focused Therapy), ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and my preferred treatment and my gold standard – DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). I like DBT as it gives you self-soothing skills and is particularly effective on re-thinking a perceived situation or rejection. Borderline can be associated with anxiety, depression, or somatic pains. These should be treated. Where the Borderline is the predominant or sole matter, anti-depressants typically are not prescribed. Mood stabilizers instead can be effective but I am not qualified to speak here.

Borderline Personality Disorder is best treated by understanding your emotions and working on emotional regulation with a psychologist. It is possible. Those third degree burns will not always look or feel like they do today. I hope you have an insight into BPD now. There is lots of genuine real pain for the person with the condition. It is hard for others to understand, but it’s a painful genuine condition officially recognised in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual and, if someone tells you they have been diagnosed, encourage them to engage in some Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and try and be understanding, as the person with the condition is typically confused and frequently lost. They won’t have the insight I hope I have expressed in this article, but I was at the start line once and I was badly affected, so I know that they can come a great distance and with recovery comes insight and with insight comes education and empowerment.

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About Aidan: Aidan owns and writes on endthestigma.ie Aidan is an Irishman in his 30’s who has successfully battled alcohol, gambling, opioids, Benzodiazepines and attempts on his life. He is a CSA survivor. Aidan is a Capricorn and is described as sarcastic and fiery, but kind. Aidan lives remote in the Dublin mountains with some urban foxes and solitude. Aidan is currently facing the hardest fight of his life with recently diagnosed EUPD and OCD. The website is endthestigma.ie There are over 200 blogs on Aidan’s passion – Fighting Stigma. Stigma and all matters associated with Anxiety, Depression, and current trending topics.! Aidan’s twitter is Endthestigma.ie Aidan’s Instagram is endthestigma.ie

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