The journey from Borderline Personality Disorder, (BPD) and Fragmented Denial to Understanding Change and Recovery is the journey from false self to authentic self.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be reduced to a series of inter-connected and, at times, elaborate defenses that serve to promote dissociation (or fragmentation) and denial (living in the false self) and make getting to one’s true essence and self like walking backwards through a maze. Getting real is what is needed in order to change and to recover from BPD.
Denial, dissociation, and defense mechanisms, generally, all serve to keep the person with BPD out of his or her pain. A pain that only increases the more it is denied. A pain that is the abandoned pain of BPD caused by the legacy of abandonment in BPD. Continuing to seek relief from borderline pain through denial or by dissociating robs people of the ability to change and recover.
In his book, The Angry Heart, Joseph Santoro, Ph.D., talking about what he calls "Dead Ends" writes:
"There are other motives that you need to become aware of. Though not as deep as revenge, they can still keep you trapped in the Borderline Zone for a very long time. The motives are pleasing others, seeking out sympathy, and defeating others. They cause dead-end behavior. Dead-end behavior, as the name implies, keeps you trapped in the Borderline Zone. On the surface such behavior may seem quite appropriate, but over time it becomes apparent that it is not.
Dead-end behaviors include blaming yourself, somatic distractions, fabricating stories about your life, pretending to dissociate, merging with your environment, becoming a rebel without a clue and playing mind games with professionals…"
"Typically, people trapped in the Borderline Zone subconsciously use these behaviors to get their needs met or to avoid facing their pain."
In my past experience with BPD it was largely the fragmentation and/or denial I experienced and couldn’t see beyond that kept me stuck. I was not able to move beyond the "dead-end behavior" that Santoro outlines in his book, The Angry Heart. Change and recovery can only come about after understanding. Understanding cannot be achieved until one stops old self-defeating behaviour.
Walking backwards through the maze of Borderline Personality Disorder serves to increase what is often, already, unbearable pain and angst. Why do so many with BPD end up punishing themselves and the non borderlines in their lives this way?
A great deal of the punishment or increased pain and trauma stems from not facing the pain that is there to begin with. This pain and reality is then compounded by all the efforts made to escape it instead of face it and heal it. All efforts by those with BPD to escape the pain of what I call the core wound of abandonment only serve to perpetuate everything borderline.
The journey of change and recovery is one of finding and then re-parenting the authentic self that was lost to the core wound of abandonment. It is, quite literally, about self-discovery. It is the erasing of past-tapes that play over and over again in one’s head. This journey to health requires honesty and a willingness to put aside self-loathing long enough to begin to embrace the self that exists under the shame, blame, rage, pain, desolation, alienation, isolation and elaborate maze of defense mechanisms.
Borderlines cannot change and recover unless they are willing to feel the pain of their unmet needs and lack of healthy, defined, authentic self. A self that must grow to be consistent and able to withstand the triggers and all that pulls one to revert back to old ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
If you want to change and to recover you need to get real. While this has become a ‘Dr. Philism’ in our culture of late, it is an absolute necessity in this process. Change and recovery require the taking of personal responsibility in a consistent and congruent way.
Life doesn’t have to be a maze of dysregulated roller-coaster emotions. You don’t have to continue to walk through it or stumble through it backwards. You must realize that while in the active throes of BPD, or as Santoro refers to it, "the borderline zone" the pain, dissociation, fragmentation and desire to escape it all continues to feed this personality disorder in a way that just keeps increasing your pain and your experience of the Borderline World, which is distinctly parallel to that of the world that others experience.
The relational reality of the borderline world or the borderline zone is one that recapitulates one’s original core wound of abandonment, abandonment trauma and abandonment fears in ways that will continue to rupture relationships.
When you are Borderline, or in the "Borderline Zone", life unfolds in a way that consistently meets with your misconceptions of what is going on around you. Your rigid black and white thinking, your adherence to cognitively-distorted thoughts that drive situationally-inappropriate emotions define your world and your experience of it. A world in paradox from that of the world that those who do not have BPD experience and understand. To bridge that gap, borderlines must do the very difficult work of getting beyond the defense mechanisms of the borderline false self that are actually keeping them from meeting the needs that they so long to have met and need to meet themselves.
Our pasts and our genetics (to some extent or another) play key roles in the reality that becomes the Borderline "script" of schema. If you have BPD, this is what you are so familiar with. Even though you know that adhering to the ‘BPD script’ or ‘bpd schema’ hurts you way more than it helps you, your tremendous fear of anything unknown, untried, new and/or different compels you to re-enact that which is familiar to you. This happens because you are in such dire need of feeling safe and even tormenting familiarity seems to provide that safety. Borderlines develop an unhealthy comfort with the very pain that they so desperately want to escape.
Getting real, stepping out of the maze, finding and living through your authentic self as opposed to your borderline false self means facing your pain. It means letting go of the dysfunctional defense mechanisms that you’ve clung to now for so long. It means learning to take responsibility for yourself and your actions. Letting go can be very fear-producing. That very fear is so dysregulating for those with BPD and triggers the very pain of the abandonment trauma that keeps many with BPD stuck and unwilling to risk that letting go that is required for change. This getting real and letting go is best done in therapy with a trusted therapist and in a safe environment.
If the person with BPD doesn’t let go of the dysfunctional behaviour, cognitively distorted thoughts and dysregulated emotions that support this personality disorder, one cannot free him/herself from the repeating pattern of failure, loss, ever-increasing pain, lostness, disconnectedness, mounting anger and alienation.
Feeling like a failure, or just plain failing, in life, at work, at home, in relationships, along with feeling lost, disconnected, isolated, alienated and so forth, only serves to strengthen your inability to take personal responsibility and increases your pain. This leads you to then feel more fragmented, deny even more and try harder through increased acting out and/or other forms of dysfunctional behaviour to meet all the unmet needs that you have. This is a self-defeating circle of cause and effect. A cause and effect that many with BPD do not have enough awareness about to change until and unless they get into serious therapy.
To break this cycle you need to stop looking at those around you as the problem. Stop believing that others are always hurting you or out to get you and realize that you are responsible for your own lot in life. The common denominator in all your experience, regardless of what happened to you in your past, is you. If you have BPD, you will benefit from thinking about that seriously.
Take an inventory of your behaviour. Think about how you treat yourself and how you treat others. If you are self-harming – self-abusive then you can’t be anything but abusive with others. When borderlines act in ways that others don’t understand and ways that violate the safety of others, distance, which is often experienced and/or perceived as abandonment just sets the whole cycle in motion to play out yet again and again. If you want to change what you experience, you need to change what you experience from yourself and what others experience from you.
Change, recovery, and freedom from this most distressing and painful personality disorder awaits your decision to get real and to take personal responsibility. You have the ability to make new choices. To get new results you must make new choices. To understand you must be willing to look beyond all that you have believed up to this point in your life. You must be willing to reach out and to trust that what others are saying, as foreign as it seems to you, has value and worth and can make sense on the other side of your denial and dissociation. It will all make sense when you rid yourself of the stock piles of anger, hurt, and vulnerability of your past and begin to forge a strong sense of self and identity in the here and now.
Denial, dissociation, fragmentation, avoidance, and excuses, along with feeling, "poor me" will only continue to increase your pain and your need to escape it at all costs. Healing is about finding the real you and then living with integrity. Avoidance of yourself and your pain will keep you trapped in the parallel world of Borderline Personality Disorder. A world that holds you in its grip in such as way as to squeeze the life out of you. What you need to know is that you are truly the master of that world, from the inside out. You are the one whose hands are squeezing.
When you realize the power that exists within you when you aren’t throwing it away in the avoidance of your pain, you will truly begin to understand what you can do for yourself to change and to recover from Borderline Personality Disorder.
© Ms. A.J. Mahari, September 27, 2003 with additions June 22, 2008 – All rights reserved.
Life Coaching for those with BPD and for non borderlines is available with A.J. Mahari.