It is a rather common experience for non borderlines to encounter and be confused by borderline "magical thinking".
What is Magical Thinking In BPD?
Magical thinking is essentially adhering to the (distorted) belief that thoughts can cause events. When someone with BPD is magically thinking and thoughts seem to cause events what is also often a part of this experience for the borderline is that what they feel becomes a fact to him or her in what is a distorted sense of "reality".
What Drives Magical Thinking?
Borderlines often experience their thoughts or beliefs as causing or being related to actual events. This is a misperception of reality. At the heart of magical thinking, often, is borderline ambivalence which at its core arises out of abandonment trauma and is played out in repetition compulsions when triggered (most often relationally) that manifest the borderline’s engulfment versus annihilation fears. The borderline fear of being lost to the non borderline (nons are really the container of the borderline’s identity) while at the same time fearing being abandoned by a non which would leave the borderline feeling as though he/she doesn’t really exist. This is a polarized borderline no-win situation that is then often projected out onto the borderline in various different manifestations of conflict and/or emotional chaos.
Borderline magical thinking is typical for those with BPD in that it is an example of how those with BPD do not have a grasp on the whole picture of "reality". Borderlines (unless and until they get considerable therapy) are very young emotionally. They are, not unlike a 2-3 year old child would, in an out-of-sight out-of-mind polarized place. What happened that the borderline couldn’t tolerate so he/she wanted more space (fearing engulfment) is forgotten as it passes and the place she they move into often in response to their dysregulated and triggered emotions does not include the [i]big picture[/i]. Borderlines do not "remember" or hold in their consciousness the want or need for space. Space taken quickly feels like abandonment often too. As soon as a borderline feels even the slightest bit of abandonment they instantly need the very closeness that will trigger the whole cycle again.
When a borderline talks about the future it is without being connected to recent past. It’s difficult to explain but arises out of dissociative protective defense mechanisms.
Borderlines Live in Fragmented Pieces of Reality Experienced Through Magical Thinking
In the sense of magical thinking what the borderline thinks in pieces (fragmented bits of reality) is what will cause events to happen in her mind. This is what the borderline experiences as parallel to actual reality as that is. So what the borderline is thinking about the near future just (to him/her) makes it so. He/she has thought it, so it is – that’s how it will be (as he/she perceives it "now’). And the borderline thinking it will make it so for him/her until the second he/she is triggered again and then on a dime, in an instant, he/she will revert to the way he/she acts when triggered back around her repetition compulsion cycle of re-experiencing engulfment versus annihilation because as the borderline’s feelings shift – his/her "thinking" shifts. Borderlines sort of mesh thoughts and feelings together in a way that leaves everything experienced as being everything that is something "felt" – in other words they don’t even get (a lot of the time) that they have had a "thought" about something – whether that thought is distorted or not. Thoughts are experienced as feelings. Feelings are fleeting and easily dysregulated.
It’s actually quite normal that non borderlines cannot reconcile this "borderline cycling" in their heads. It doesn’t make sense. The borderline is experiencing the fragmented reality that is the experience of magical thinking. The non borderline is consciously aware of the big picture – the borderline isn’t. He/she is only aware of a few pieces of it at a time. And the pieces of his/her fragmented awareness keep changing also as his/her moods shift and as the borderline moves back and forth between dysregulated emotions and calmer times.
Magical Thinking Is Often Present In Response to The Borderlines Fear of Intimacy
In his book, "Lost in The Mirror", Richard Moskovitz has an excellent chapter on the reality (so to speak) for borderlines when it comes to intimacy.
The reality is that life lived in the borderline land of cognitively distorted and/or magical thinking is driven by the constant need to defend from what are triggered repetition compulsions that leave those with BPD re-experiencing the horror and terror of very young abandonment trauma (or the threat of it) dissociatively so that what they feel and experience that is from their pasts is really felt and re-experienced over and over again as if it is happening in the here and now – which it isn’t.
Borderlines do not know how to tolerate the moving in and moving out between healthy intimacy and closeness and healthy distance. They need to be close enough to the non to feel as if they exist (through the non) but not close enough to the non to feel as if they will be engulfed by the non and therefore also cease to exist.
© A.J. Mahari, May 19, 2008