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If you have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) you may well be ignoring or not taking seriously a wealth of information that is available to you. Sometimes the most valuable thing a borderline can do is delay, if not stop, protecting, reacting, and coming to his or her own defense and just sit with what others are saying to you.

What are they talking about?

What are they talking about!? This was one of my most frequently-asked questions when I was in the active-throes of Borderline Personality Disorder. For much of my life I was unaware as to how much was inappropriate and unhealthy about my relational style, or the way in which I related to others. It was very much me against the world in the sense that what was being said by others, measured against my 'reality' seemed crazy to me. Little did I know that my relating and my behaviour seemed 'crazy' (as in excessive, over the edge, too intense, situationally-inappropriate, undesirable and problematic) to much of the world around me.

Phoenix Rising Publication

When I had BPD and was busy defending and protecting my self – my then borderline false self all the time for fear I'd be vulnerable, seen as weak, or invalidated in ways that dysregulated my emotions and/or triggered me back to the shame of abandonment that I carried inside of me from my childhood until I was 33 years old. The tandem of not knowing who I was – not knowing my authentic self – and being so defensive that I wouldn't really listen to others meant that I had two huge blocks to the kind of change that I found out in the process of recovery was required to get better.

If you have BPD you need to learn to open up in therapy and open up to people in your life who, while you may have difficulty trusting consistently, you at least have a sense that they care about you. The polarized and negative reality of Borderline Personality Disorder can skew your view and understanding of what others are saying in ways that can keep you stuck. Recovery from BPD, in my experience, wasn't ever about being "right". In fact, I was "wrong" more than I thought I could tolerate. Learning to let go of this polarized negativity and learning to Find Hope From The Polarized Reality Of BPD made my recovery possible.

The world of the person with unchecked (untreated-treated or insufficiently treated) borderline personality disorder who is not yet aware of the consequences of their actions or the toll those actions inflict upon others is a parallel world to the world that everyone else lives in. This is why those with BPD often feel like everyone is against them and/or like no one understands. Different opinions, when you have BPD, can feel so invalidating that they threaten what little sense of being that you may have. The rules in the parallel reality of BPD are totally different. A borderline reacts to the distorted tune of the mental music that he/she experiences as real. It may well be music from the past and have little to do with the here and now to those on the outside but for the borderline that mental music is very real and very present. It is this difference in parallel that so magnifies the actions, words, and behaviour of the borderline in the non-borderline world. This is something that many often fails to permeate many borderline's defense mechanisms. Herein lies a big part of the problem.

For countless borderlines the question, What are they talking about, is a very real one. There is little to no comprehension in the active throes of BPD as to what others are experiencing because those with BPD experience other as an extension of self. Therefore, when you attempt to talk to the borderline in your life about how you feel, often they are just too consumed with all they feel or with all they are trying so desperately not to feel that you can easily and often cease to exist beyond being an appendage of the borderline. This is not done intentionally. This is not done to be cruel. This is part of the reality of BPD. It is a cognitive nightmare.

If you are borderline, reading this, right now, you may or may not agree with me. But the question, What are they talking about is one that you will be well-served by seeking an answer to. Why? Because when you can hear what others are saying about how they feel and about how they experience you in an objective way (and yes, this OFTEN hurts initially) you can then begin to understand the effect that you are having on others. At this particular juncture in my healing, difficult as it was, I was aghast to learn how others were experiencing me. I had no idea, for the longest time. It was a very humbling experience. In fact it was an experience that was made difficult by the shame of abandonment that threatened to keep me stuck in the active throes of BPD in my early 30's.

There has been (and continues to be) much debate about the validity and usefulness of group therapy for borderlines. My opinion is that it is of paramount importance. My own experience in group therapy was where I learned the most. It was where I had the opportunity to get the feedback of peers and not just the feedback of therapists. People, that I was in group with (the group was not just for borderlines) gave me some of the most valuable (painful but valuable) feedback I had ever received and it enabled me to be able to look more rationally at my self and the way that I related to my self and to others.

I was then able to see this huge discrepancy between who I was and how others saw me and experienced me and who I thought I was. The long and the short of it is that I crashed into a brick wall that for the first time in my life then crumbled. Instead of bouncing off of it I went crashing through it. Crashing through the wall of my narcissistic borderline defenses – defenses that had ceased being effective or helpful in my life many years prior to being in therapy.

On the other side of that brick wall of denial and an amazing lack of personal insight and awareness I found my previously lost authentic self. The journey from BPD to mental health is the journey From False Self To Authentic Self

If you have BPD you can Prepare for Recovery From BPD the moment you make that active and informed choice to take seriously the feedback of others. Learning to recognized Emotion Dysregulation can make all the positive change-making difference in the world as well as you come to accept personal responsibility for how you feel and how you then behave and the ways that you relate to others.

I found my conscience and my ability to feel for my self and for others and most importantly I found my personal responsibility. I came to realize that who I was to others was not who I knew myself to be down deep inside. There was a pretender walking around always in protect mode and that was my pseudo-self, my borderline false-self. I believe that just as was the case with me, inside each and every person diagnosed with BPD, there is this false self up front covering for a wonderful, vulnerable, human being with the capability to be authentically decent, respectful and non-abusive. To get to this authentic self though is where the work comes in.

If you have borderline personality disorder, please know that you are not a bad person. It is very important for those with BPD and non borderlines to separate the behaviour from the person. No matter what behaviour you are inflicting upon yourself and others you are doing this to survive. It is largely a choice that is based upon your past and upon a distorted way of thinking. You can change this.

However, in order to change this you must first ask the question, from your heart, What are they talking about? You must really want to know the answer to that question and be open to hearing what others have to say to you. You see, what the they in your life (or your therapy) are talking about IS real. A big part of what makes things so difficult when you are borderline is distinguishing between what is and isn't "real". Often what feels most real to a borderline was real in the past but isn't really real in the here and now.

Seek the answers to the question, What are they talking about. Be prepared to really listen to what others are telling you. This is the way to find yourself, your authentic self, the person that you are under all of your borderline angst, agony, pain and defensiveness. It is a long, painful journey. A pivotal and central part of that journey is opening up and being willing to hear the feedback to the question: What are they saying?

© Ms. A.J. Mahari, October 7, 1999 with additions July 17, 2008 – All rights reserved.

Those With Borderline Personality Disorder And Hearing What Others Are Saying