Borderline Personality Disorder: A personal perspective:
Empathy and amplified feelings in BPD
Recent delves into the inner workings of my mind in relation to my mental health, including therapeutic type work, have inspired me to explore this particular diagnosis further on this blog, but this time to bring my thoughts and analysis of the illness and its stigma onto a more personal level.
I have been told that borderline personality disorder is easier to understand if it is termed ‘Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder’. I have found this terminology a great help in understanding my diagnosis; it is a clearer and less misleading term than ‘borderline personality disorder.’
Disproportionate reactions in BPDOur reactions tend to be an over-reaction to a given situation, because we feel too much. We take on feelings of shame, guilt, anger, sadness, and frustration that may not be ours. We take those feelings, and those emotions, from the situation; from ourselves; and from others around us.
You may have noticed here that I have only used nouns for “negative” emotions, or emotions which can have a damaging impact on oneself; that is because we, as borderlines, we tend to absorb those darker feelings, or perceived feelings, from those around us – like a sponge, or a particularly self-destructive vampire.
Feelings felt by a borderline tend to be amplified, so our reactions become disproportionate to the reality of the situation.
I am constantly buying ball point pens – they are cheap ones, readily available at a local supermarket - I often break these pens, but it is very easy for me to buy a new pack at the shop (they come in packs of ten).
However; when I step on one of these pens, which I tend to leave carelessly lying around on the floor, so I often do step on them causing them to break, my immediate reaction is to over-react. I want to cry; I want to scream and shout about the injustice of breaking yet another pen, because – although I have done this before, it will inevitably happen again, and the problem has a simple solution – the feeling is crushing, I feel like I must be a failure if I can’t even look after a cheap ball-point pen...
My reaction is inappropriate, it is an over-reaction, and I understand this – in my rational mind!
But the response from my brain is telling me I should be this upset because my world is ending (although, rationally; no, it isn’t).
Amplified feelings and emotionsBorderlines often seem ‘too full on’; we get described as being ‘clingy’ or ‘needy’. But what must be remembered is that we have an ‘attachment disorder’.
When I walk into a room, or when I open up my web browser to my Twitter feed, I want to talk to everyone there; I want to be friends with everyone I see (as long as I have no idea what they might be like as a person, or seem like they might be a nice person). The reality is that I, more often than not, won’t usually talk to anyone out of a great fear of rejection; although I do always, consistently, want to get to know people.
I have always been like this; I was like this at school. But this sort of behaviour tends to scare people away (see the ‘clingy’ and ‘needy’ descriptors above) so I know, from past experience; the likelihood is that I will be rejected by these people.
However; my interest in people is often over-amplified.
When getting to know a person, my feelings are that I want to know all about this person; I envisage us being friends, us hanging out, going to a cafe, us laughing as we watch television together (I assume it must be a comedy we’re watching in my fantasy and not bleak news coverage of the day’s events).
Until that person expresses an idea or opinion I am opposed to (a bigoted view, for example) or explicitly expresses a dislike of me; then the ‘happy BFFs’ fantasy bubble remains un-popped, and when it does burst, I become disinterested in the idea of us being such close mates.
Of course when life introduces me to these people who do become life-long friends, this fantasy dissipates as their flaws become noticeable to me (which is good!) it allows me to take them off a pedestal and get to know the real them, so that true friendship can grow.
When a stranger engages with me in a friendly manner I feel like we could become very close friends – and in some cases this might be true – but in most case, as is the norm for everyone I know, it will never amount to more than a couple of brief exchanges on Twitter or a non-personal discussion in a pub.
I understand this is the norm, and not a personal rejection of me and my friendship, but as a borderline my feelings around this differ; they are distorted, amplified, and unstable. On the whole people are just following customary social functions, and I am –due to my attachment disorder- amplifying that so that I feel as if I want to be their best friend.
This is not to say that my interest or friendliness towards people is never genuine – it mostly is! But the ‘clinginess’, or ‘neediness’, in myself as perceived by others is a misinterpretation of my amplified feelings. As this Amy Winehouse lyric explains, “...I’m not as into you as I appear to be.”
We generally feel very strong feelings of guilt and shame – we tend to feel so angry and hateful of ourselves – we come round to just assuming the rest of the world feels the same way about us as we do about ourselves.
Borderlines experience so much such great empathy for everyone, and the world around us, that it is highly frustrating when empathy toward us with the diagnosis of BPD is severely lacking and (I feel the need to add) extremely hurtful.
Borderlines have been characterised as ‘lacking in empathy,’ which I feel really isn’t the case.
If anything we are over-empathetic.
In general, the understanding of borderline personality disorder is woefully lacking; largely due to there being very little information, and also a great deal of misinformation, about the disorder. There is also a great deal of stigma towards those with the diagnosis, among actual psychiatric and mental health professionals, due those with the diagnosis generally having the most difficulty responding to treatment. We then also have to, on top of all that, deal with the general stigma towards mental illness.
At the risk of sounding like a moody teenager: I feel that we, as borderlines, live in a world which just doesn’t seem to understand us.
With all of the above: I sometimes this is it any wonder we are so angry, why wouldn’t we be? It can feel as if the world resents us for even existing – hell, most of the time we don’t even want to exist ourselves!
I believe I no longer run the risk of sounding like a teenager, I think I may have already crossed that line. But I think that in a similar way to which a teenager struggles to regulate their emotions, the borderline is unable to regulate theirs.
Empathy and BPDWe experience situations, and re-experience, situations from all points-of-view; or certainly what we perceive the reality to be through another’s eyes. With most experiences and situations, I find myself imagining a number of alternatives around how another may have felt at that same point in time, or during that same interaction or lack of (as the case may be). This level of empathy tends to make life for the borderline very difficult and painful.
In a recent episode of Doctor Who – ‘Hide’ (2013) – the Doctor meets Emma Grayling, a psychic empath.
“Empaths,” as the Doctor describes, are, “The most compassionate people you will ever meet, empathics. And the loneliest. I mean, exposing themselves to all those hidden feelings, all that guilt. Pain and sorrow and...” [At this point Clara tells him to stop talking as his words are clearly upsetting Emma whom is sat nearby within earshot.]
I wanted to use this quote as I felt as though this were a description of how it feels for me e as a borderline living with an over-empathetic mind.
I feel that the above Doctor Who quote also gives a small insight into what living with borderline personality disorder can be like in general.
So I will end this post here, having explored the BPD diagnosis a number of times on this blog I don’t wish to repeat myself, but hopefully this post written from a more personal, less clinical, perspective isn’t just covering old ground.