Monday, December 31, 2012

Myth and Stigma – Emotion vs. Intelligence: BPD & Rational Thought

EDIT: I feel I have caused a bit of a stir citing forums (there are many I check out) outside of my own. My goal was not to take away the space or to say that you don't deserve a place to work through everything you've been through. You certainly do. My goal was also not to attack or diminish the hurtful things you have experienced in your relationships with the Borderline(s) in your life. I know all to well the impact we can have on our loved ones (and believe me I've done my fair share of venting). Expressing and working through your pain and experiences deserves just as much support as anything else. My personal grievance is with the generalization of "everyone with BPD" or "if you have BPD than..." that undermine the individual as a unique person. Of course it's no fun to hear yourself be spoken about, but everyone is entitled to their opinion and if I wasn't willing to deal with criticism or didn't feel I could handle it, running a public blog is probably a bad lifestyle decision ::smiles::. I take my life experiences and I write about them. It's what I do. Some people are very understanding, some people aren't. All I'm trying to do here is start the conversation and provide one new perspective (my own, which clearly can be quite different from any other singular person). While things happen to me as an individual, I try to address things that many others have also experienced. END EDIT.

Hello Dear Readers. Now that all my holiday travel and movement is over, I’m back and ready to get rollin’ again. In the past couple weeks I’ve been doing something I shouldn’t have. I do this because I have this cognitively rational, though emotionally irrational, need to know. Occasionally I visit forums for the loved ones of Borderlines that are there to support each other, and rationalize the actions of their Borderline loved ones from their own perspectives, but not really understand their Borderline loved one in a way that is functionally consistent with the experience of the Borderline themselves. I get it, it’s difficult to perceive a different experience than one you understand. I also do this because it's important to remember how we affect our loved ones and they do give me new things to consider that are applicable for learning to function in a way that is healthier and more productive in our relationships. 

The thing that gets me, is how limited and single minded these perspectives can be (not all of course). It’s human nature I suppose. You can’t internalize the lifetime of experiences another has had, which makes the understanding essentially alien. And when you’ve been wounded (as I know many of our loved ones have been by us and our actions) it’s difficult to see past their own experience and pain. I get it. It doesn’t really make it any less hurtful to see yourself talked about though. When it's specific to me I can take this personally, because my blog, and therefore myself, are often referenced in these forums. Being as public about my experience as I am I am in a unique position to reach out and connect with people that so often feel alone, confused, and conflicted and hopefully provide some clarity. However it also opens me up to a lot of criticism and ridicule. Not only that, but my heart also aches for us as a whole, not just for myself. I’m pretty good about it because I know better than anyone my own experience and I try to keep in mind that when you don’t have BPD it’s extremely difficult to put yourself in our shoes (not too mention I'm no saint and I know how I've hurt the loved ones in my life but that's why I am actively working to change). 

One thing that really bothers me though, is when I receive a certain criticism, or I hear this criticism applied to anyone else… And they go something like this:

“He/She has great insight,” or, “He/She is really smart…. BUT, you know [they] have Borderline Personality Disorder, right?”

…As if having a problem with emotional dysregulation means our cognitive functioning is somehow inhibited.

Myth and Stigma: Because we are emotional, clearly we can’t also be rational in an intellectual capacity. Because we have a personality disorder, because we have a mental illness, etc., clearly we can't also be rational in an intellectual capacity. 

Categorically False.

Amusingly when I first started to research BPD I kept coming up against the same information over and over (hence why I started my own in depth research). One of the things I consistently saw in the introduction to BPD was:

- A person with this disorder is often be bright and intelligent, and appear warm, friendly and competent…

- Borderline Personality Disorder often takes the form of a whip-smart, dead-sexy woman with ferocious impulses…

- Someone with BPD is typically very smart, very articulate, very personable…

- ….And the truth is, most people with this disorder are smart, and they can really be very funny.

Yet it’s almost immediately negated and forgotten once people move on to take a look at that good old DSM checklist.

Dr. Leland M Heller states that intelligence is not affected by this disorder, though the ability to organize and structure time may be severely impaired at times of extreme emotional distress. Our cognitive functioning is perfectly intact. In fact, if you have a set of afflictions like I do, it’s even enhanced, because my fear of failure, compulsive nature, and anxiety makes me push myself even harder to know and understand.

From the Personality Disorder Institute: 

Two experiences in growing up are very common in borderline disorders. One is the experience of being seen as apparently competent. Because these people often are in fact very competent, very smart, sensitive, clever, insightful, it is extremely difficult for others to take them seriously when they collapse in despair at a minor frustration, burst into rage over nothing, make terrible errors of judgment. When a psychotic person acts that way, people are inclined to be sympathetic—"He can't help it"—but a borderline person is told, "It's not that bad." "Shape up—grow up—don't be such a wimp—you know better." Their behavior is often regarded as willful, manipulative, "just looking for attention."

The second experience is linked to that of being an apparently competent person—and that is the experience of being invalidated: "It can't be that bad." "Your headache—your PMS—your anxiety isn't any worse than anybody else's—why make such a fuss?" Being invalidated compounds the borderline person's self-hatred. The majority of cases of borderline personality that come to the attention of psychiatrists are women. We don't know why this is, but researchers speculate that it reflects the combined effect of more girls than boys being subjected to sexual abuse in childhood, and of the tendency of males to express emotional instability via outward aggression toward others rather than via self-destructiveness. Borderline men, therefore, are more likely to show up in jails than in psychiatric hospitals or psychiatrists' offices.

That’s the thing, in A LOT of my research one of the things I see very often is that people with Borderline are often very intelligent, clever, smart, etc. And yet, because we are also emotional, that cognitive intelligence is automatically discredited. 

I find this noteworthy because this is a phenomena that I ONLY experience with my blog and the people that try to downplay my relevance and insight specifically because of my personality disorder. In my personal life, with my friends and family that know of my BPD, they may question my relationship or emotional choices, but when it comes to issues of survival, academics, books, reading, hobbies, math, science, engineering, astrophysics (this was my University minor btw)… no questions. In my professional career where my emotional dysregulation and BPD are not known at all and therefore not a factor, I am held in high regard for my research, work, and intelligence.  But when someone that doesn’t know me personally starts off knowing that I’m Borderline… well, clearly I must not have the capacity for standard intelligence or rational thought. False.  And yes, I do find it offensive when you judge me based on an incomplete perception and an irrelevant stigma. I imagine anyone would.

This is why so many people don’t seek help. Because once people know that you have a problem or struggle with something that affects one aspect of your life, ALL OTHER ASPECTS of your life are called into question. It’s frustrating.

I do understand that as a human being, especially one that is writing about my own experience, I can’t be 100% objective because it’s very rare that any human being is objective to their own existence. Our experience is subjective to our own perspective. I can get pretty close though, especially as I use my therapist as a sounding board. I’m harder on myself than she believes I should be, but it’s true to my experience, which is what I attempt to convey, coupled with supporting research to strike as accurate a representation and balance as I can portray.  Personal experience includes all things that occur coupled with perception and emotion. Once the event is over, it’s possible to take perception and emotion out of the equation and view the occurrence itself. From there I can extrapolate what is rationally relevant and what is emotionally [ir]relevant. I’m getting to the point where I’m able to do this more and more in the moment as well, not just in retrospect. Go, go therapeutic progress.

Part of what contributes to my ability to do this blog the way that I do, is my scientific approach to pretty much everything.  I am simultaneously subjective to my own self-centered experience and merely a singular specimen in a greater puzzle (I find ego to be more of a distraction than a necessity, except in matters of survival).  The effect is compounded when I dissociate since I don’t always experience the self-centered aspect of my world and I’m not always the center of my own perception. This makes taking the subjective experience out of my research even easier…. Except when it’s specifically relevant: Studying the personality disorder without the “person” makes no sense.  Not to mention people, in general, are not simplistic. We’re dynamic, complicated creatures with a variety of variables, interests, motivations, beyond the disordered aspect of our functioning.   Often I see others talking about people with BPD as if the BPD aspect of us is the only relevant aspect of us, which is extremely unfair as well as unkind.

My personal perception is different than that of other people. Not surprising. No one else is me. I am no one else. However, as a human whole we share many common experiences. Especially when we have a contributing variable like BPD.

Anyways, my point is… just because we have an issue that affects our lives as a whole, it does not mean that the problem occludes all our singular abilities as people. I don’t care how angry, or upset, or wounded I am, my ability to do calculus remains. I may not want to analyze the structural integrity of an irradiated structure at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it just as well as anyone else that’s having a better day.

Mental health stigma helps no one. Problems in one area doesn’t mean the whole breaks down completely.

While my Cognitive Intelligence may be greater than my Emotional Intelligence; emotion and intelligence can and do coexist. Intelligence isn’t just one or the other either. A system incorporating more than one frame of reference often has a greater resource pool to pull from. Emotion as inferior to intellect is a Western ideology that is neither factually supported nor experientially relevant.

In the human experience everything is contextual. Existence is subjective. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Seasons Greetings and all that. Love Haven!

Technically it's my pagan Yule Tree
Happy Holidays to everyone that celebrates whatever it is you celebrate. Happy Tuesday to everyone else! 

So far this has been a pretty mellow trip home. My anger has only tried to get away with me a few times. Unfortunately it has been a very bulimic Xmas for me so far. I was doing so well too =(  ::sigh:: Oh well. All isn't lost. It was just two days. I've relapsed before and come back stronger, so I can do it again. 

My family and I have been having a really great visit. It's really kind of wonderful. It still feels a little odd, but it really does feel wonderful. When I was younger holidays were a mess. Everything was a mess to be true. But holidays had ALL of the family waiting for me in guarded tension, unsure of what my mood would be. Depressed and mood swingy = apocalyptic gloom and the Grinch who stole Xmas and ground it into a gooey blob of broken waste under my stylish yet affordable combat boots.

I'm still a little unsettled with my extended family. I don't see them often so I still feel out of place and of course they don't know "the me that I am now" as well as my parents and siblings... so I feel like there's still some of that residual tension there. In the past I would have resented it and I'd be really offended. I get it now. I mean, I was always a little more controlled around my extended family, but they need time to actually see that I have made a lot of progress and am doing much better. 

It's stressful for me.  I haven't quite figured out how to relax and just be me. I still feel compelled to overcompensate in the way that people do for the holidays; put on a bigger smile, be more polite (okay maybe not so much with this, sarcasm is a part of my charm. I promise), show a greater interest in the things that I don't care anything about, be helpful to keep myself busy....

All while trying to be mindful of my triggers: Too much alcohol is bad... to much food is worse. When it comes to food there's a fine line between "Okay" and "Fuck It", I might as well binge to make the purge worth it. Maneuvering tricky subjects that make me sad or overwhelmed. Feeling like an outsider in your own family, while trying to act like you belong. Feeling really uncomfortable when people ask all the completely normal questions people ask when they haven't seen you in a while, and feeling like you're center stage with a spotlight in your eyes. Juggling those conversations with the appropriate amount of truth without spiraling out to complete honesty and making them feel bad for having asked (Ex. Appropriate explanations for why you broke up with your last significant other w/o getting into too much detail.... except it's all details for my brain). Finding the balance between being true to my own thoughts and feelings, while remaining mindful of the thoughts and feelings of others. This list goes on...

The point is... there's a lot going through my mind during big gatherings. It's not so simple as "just relax and be yourself". The fight to keep the holidays from becoming overwhelming can easily overwhelm me itself. 

It's a lot. It gets easier with practice though.

However you're spending your day, good luck. And if you need a helping hand there's always the Forum for a little added support. 

And for everyone with BPD and the loved ones with a Borderline in their lives... it can get better. It takes work and understanding on both parts, but things can get worlds better. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Thoughts from the Borderline: Promiscuity

I've noticed that when I'm becoming particularly lonely my desire to be promiscuous kicks into overdrive. That feeling, that need to be with someone, to be seen, to be felt, to be with... is almost overwhelming. It begins to cloud all my other thoughts, especially when I'm with someone that I find in any way attractive. 

.... even if I know they're not the kind of person I would be "good" with, or someone I should be with, but for the moment they're beyond good enough. It's like all my other judgment goes right out the window in favor of taking care of the more important need for not being alone. 

::sigh:: Fortunately circumstances aren't always aligned to allow for acting on it. The moments aren't all doom and gloom dire, but the desire to be seen and connected with is still overpowering in its own way. It's a way that's extremely tempting. And when the circumstances are aligned for acting... well, that impulsive streak doesn't allow for the cautionary voice in the back of my mind to kick in. 

If I'm with someone that I'm love/obsessed with, this goes away to a  large extent if not completely... as long as things are good. If things get devalued and go bad for a spot, caution often gets thrown to the wind, or I want to throw it to the wind (I've never actually cheated on a significant other, but that doesn't mean I don't feel the need for comfort anymore). I have an uber guilty conscience though so even if I want to I can't act on the impulse. It's more a matter of pride that I don't give in than a real desire not to, or the thing that everyone wants... which is for that desire to not be there at all. Let's be honest though, do those desires and impulses really go away 100% for anyone? Isn't there always some little part left that always wants to run away with itself? Maybe? 

Still, that's mostly when I'm single or not in a committed relationship. If I'm solidly with someone, different story. 

I don't know. All I know is that right now I'm lonely. I'm missing Tech Boy b/c I've been seeing him more at work. I was out with friends last night and I found myself flirting with an old friend of mine. A friend mind you, who is happily engaged and about to buy a house with his fiance. I didn't even realize I was flirting with him until I realized he was flirting back. There was no thought process of, "This thing, yep, I'm gonna do that..." It was just friendly conversation and witty banter and all of a sudden there was googly eyes and internal impulses. 

I mean, I'm a friendly person in general. Don't get me wrong I can be a major bitch if you cross me, but I like being nice. I talk to everyone. People are fun when they're interesting. I've been told that I'm flirty, but I'm like that with everyone. And I'm not sure it's really flirty if I'm just being nice, friendly, and conversational. I don't know. Last night I definitely found myself being flirty and I didn't mean to (well, at first). It feels good, and if you're not going to act on it, I suppose it's harmless enough. 

Not gonna lie, given the opportunity to take it further.... I probably would have taken it. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Article and Commentary: A Depressive's Guide to Christmas

As many of you may know it’s Holiday time in my area of the world. I’m in no way a religious person, though I do have my own eclectic sense of spirituality. My family on the other hand is an entirely different story. It’s often the only time of year they get to see us all (especially me) so they like to take advantage of it. They go all out. If you’re anything like me, family + stress = an excessive amount of triggering. This article I found was a nice validation of those less than holiday-tastic feelings. It’s important that we find ways to cope with this. It’s also important that we not feel bad about not being in the same high spirits as everyone else around us if that doesn’t happen to be our particular mentality. Remember, regardless of how you spend the whatever holidays or even just gatherings in general, how we feel is how we feel. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are. It’s how we cope with those feelings that are important.

A Depressive's Guide to Christmas
By Kat Kinsman, CNN
updated 4:33 PM EST, Wed December 19, 2012

(CNN) -- I'm in a Las Vegas hotel room, hiding from Christmas. The odds are not in my favor.
This is not a war on, jihad against or campaign to counter anyone else's annual allotment of holly jolly joy. If it were up to me, I'd quietly exile myself from the merrymaking so as not to dim others' bliss like a burned-out bulb on an otherwise twinkly light strand.

I'm not a Grinch or a Scrooge or any of the other soot-stained slurs hurled by people fed up with a loved one's reluctance to join the reindeer games. What I am is depressed.

In the cold, dark, ash-end of the dying year, it is hard for me to pry my head from my pillow and draw breath into my lungs -- let alone don gay apparel and fa-la-la along with the rest of the festive public. But I do it -- alongside countless other people suffering from seasonal affective disorder, active grief, debilitating panic, PTSD and a whole host of other emotional issues that are thrown into sharp relief amid the mandatory revelry.

I don't want to drag anyone else into my darkness and take the shimmer off their star. I try to slough off my dull gray sweater and don a gaudy holiday number that I hope will distract from the listlessness in my eyes and my affect, and I will myself to snap out of it. That may successfully deflect attention from friends and family caught up in holiday chaos, but I am thoroughly unable to force myself into a state of good cheer. The attempt makes it worse.

"I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. ... I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed."

As a child, it was surprising and oddly comforting to see my strange feelings articulated by a beloved cartoon character amid the Technicolor cheer of holiday TV specials. But then again, I have always identified with poor ol' Charlie Brown -- and the response his confession of yuletide unease received from his peers.

"Charlie Brown, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem."

Nope -- not just you, Charlie Brown. The rest of us just don't talk about it for fear that the Linuses of the world will pass judgment; if you can't join in the joy of the most wonderful time of the year, you are clearly defective. You are a misfit toy, minus the solidarity of an island full of kindred spirits.

Even for those who don't struggle with chronic or seasonal depression, there are myriad reasons why some approach December with dread. For many who have who always celebrated holidays with warmth and abandon, there's a raw and tender spot where a departed family member used to be. Even if the grief is not fresh, the rites and rituals that once brought such delight now awaken the ache of loss. For others, economic strain, family estrangement, the pressure of others' expectations, overtaxed schedules and plain old exhaustion can mount and crush the happiness out a season that was previously a source of comfort.

But rarely, if ever, are we given a strings-free opportunity to opt out.

"It's only once a year!" a friend said to me just yesterday, kvetching about her sister-in-law's reluctance to suck it up and make merry. I've never met the woman, but I had to argue on her behalf.

I come from a family in which Christmas Day e-mails have become an acceptable level of holiday hoopla, but have married into a family heavily invested in the celebration. As much as I love and cherish every member of my husband's massive multigenerational clan, their celebrations operate at an unfamiliar frequency.

Being launched into the holiday machine with a family that celebrates bigheartedly, boisterously and lavishly became a source of yearly panic and dread for me. I was terribly ashamed of myself for feeling that way. Yes, it's only once a year, but my mother-in-law is nearing 90. The desire to deliver the brand of holiday she's come to expect added so much weight to the event, I'd find myself almost unable to breathe at the very thought of it.

Then I'd fret that someone would notice my distress (they did) and take it personally if I slipped away to compose myself. (Where's Kat? She's taking a nap again? Doesn't she want to spend time with us?) After several years of that stress, I realized something was going to have to give -- and it was going to have to be me.

I can't say I'm ever going to actively enjoy Christmas, but I love my family (and myself) enough to make the most out of it and have found ways to manage my seasonally fragile mood in a way that might minimize upset from either side.

I save up my vacation days, hotel points and and frequent-flier miles to visit somewhere sunny -- usually Las Vegas. While trees, cheeky holiday decor, and jazzed-up carols have begun to encroach upon this den of depravity and excess, it's still a relatively safe haven for Christmas cranks like me, and the darkness sets in a shade later than it does back home.

On the ground at Christmas central with the in-laws, my husband and I have taken to getting a hotel room, rather than staying with family. Though that may not be the most economically sensible option, we don't have to worry about overtaxing anyone's generosity, and the autonomy offers a little breathing room that helps me more calmly and thoroughly appreciate the time we spend together in celebration.

Once in the familial fray, I try to make myself as useful as humanly possible. Need that platter washed? Gimme! We're out of cinnamon? Where are the car keys? The children need someone to chase around the yard to wear them out? Whooooooooosh!

And I've added my own ritual to the mix -- crafting multiple pitchers of rye sours made with freshly-squeezed lemons and clementine juice. It busies my hands for at least an hour, lightly buzzes the crowd for a couple more and I get to spend one-on-one time with each person as I serve them.

It has by all accounts been a most welcome addition to the holidays, and for a while our moods align happily and brightly. This may not be ideal for every family, but we make the most of what we've been given.

I'll take my Christmas spirit any way I can get it.


How do you get through the holiday doldrums? Share your secrets in the comments section below.

Like the author of this piece I do everything in my power to keep busy. Yesterday alone I spent 10 hours in the kitchen making a variety of cookies and treats. And that’s only day 1. This may seem a bit compulsive but it’s a more constructive focus for my energy than the dire and doom ruminations that would be there in their stead. Not to mention when all is said and done I have great homemade gifts to give to friends and family.

If I have to participate, at least part of it is going to be on my terms. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Article: Mental Illness: How the Media Contributes To Its Stigma

I was flipping through some article today and I saw this one. How many times have you felt you needed to reach out but were afraid to because of how others would perceive you? Ever stop to consider just why it is exactly that people would view your need for aid so negatively? Surprise! The unsympathetic media plays a big part in the problem. It’s sad when you already have to deal with so many common misperceptions and now you have the media perpetrating the most narrow minded view they can cling to. Adding to the stigma is the last thing we need, especially when you’re already living with something as stigmatized as BPD already.

Mental Illness: How the Media Contributes To Its Stigma
December 9, 2012 | by Jarune Uwujaren

Credit: Mary Evans / UNIVERSAL PICTURES / Ronald Grant / Everett Collection
The scene opens with an unsuspecting woman taking a shower. Through the shower curtain, we see a figure approach her. As violins screech in the background, he throws the shower curtain aside and repeatedly stabs her in the back, leaving her for dead.

We later learn that the killer, Norman Bates, has multiple personalities and deep seated mommy issues. He is the main antagonist of the film Psycho, and the shower scene is one of the most iconic in recent horror movie history.

Psycho killers, crazy girlfriends, unhinged stalkers, languishing mental patients, and schizo criminals—these are the mentally ill according to Hollywood. They are written to seem out of control, confusing, or scary.

All too often, media portrayals of the mentally ill reflect our culture’s fear and ignorance about mental illness.

The fact is, you’re more likely to see scantily clad women getting lobotomized in an old school mental asylum than you are a sensitive media portrayal of mental illness or the mental health industry.

And, according to some research, seeing so many stereotyped fictional characters with mental illness impacts how we see real people with mental illnesses.

Television shows depict being the victim of violence as more desirable than being mentally ill. Because the media is meant to entertain, depictions of the mentally ill are sensationalized.

To help separate fact from fiction, below are some media-perpetuated myths about mental illness so you don’t project these stereotypes onto people with mental illness:

Myth 1 – Mentally Ill People Are Violent

As many as 61% of Americans believe that people with schizophrenia have violent tendencies. The media perpetuates this view of mental illness by linking violent events and characters with madness, even though the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators in real life.

This is sad for me. My grandmother was classically schizophrenic with all the physical, auditory, and visual hallucinations that went along with it. She loved science, was quite a genius, loved to play the piano, cook and bake, and spend time with her family. Watching her struggle with her mental illness was devastating but never violent.

Take a movie like The Dark Knight as an example. The Joker’s motives for wreaking havoc on Gotham city are never fully explained. He seems to be bombing hospitals in nurse outfits not because he’s spreading some coherent message of villainy—he’s just a lunatic.

            Well, he’s supposed to represent chaos.

We might be inclined to give The Dark Knight a pass because it’s pure fiction, but news outlets try to link mental illness with violence when reporting true stories. This Huffington Post article about the James Holmes mass shooting describes “cracks in the mental health system” at his school.

Whether more could have been done to prevent the shooting or not, the portrayal of symptoms like psychosis as markers of violence is problematic since most people with psychosis are not violent.

Myth 2 – Mentally Ill People Are Beyond Help

In the media, when a criminal or violent person is mentally ill, the illness is overdramatized. When a successful person is mentally ill, the illness is downplayed. As a result, successful people with mental illness are not very visible on the news, in television, in movies, or in video games. Even in real life, people avoid seeking help for mental health problems to protect their careers and credibility.

I know so, so many highly intelligent people that are afraid to even seek help for depression or anxiety for fear that it could impact their job due to the stigma being so sensationalized.

Shutter Island is one movie that invokes this myth in a few ways. Spoiler alert: a bipolar character in the movie drowns her children and gets shot by her husband, who goes mad himself. Since the film is set in the 1950’s, the mental health system is depicted as so broken that it aggravates the mental conditions it sets out to cure.

Myth 3 – Mentally Illness Makes People Geniuses and Savants

This is the inverse of the last myth, where successful people with mental illness are depicted, but only if they are extraordinarily gifted savants. This romanticizes mental illness, turning it into an acceptable spectacle. Since mental illness has been linked to creative professions, it may also be seen as the romantically tragic affliction of “tortured” artists like van Gogh.

A Beautiful Mind, for example, isn’t an unsympathetic portrayal of mental illness but it is a romanticized one. Based on the biography of mathematician John Nash, it includes an inaccurate portrayal of schizophrenia symptoms and rearranging of biographical details for dramatic effect.

Myth 4 – Mental Illness is Sexy, Cool and Mysterious

Some people think the mental health industry or mental illness can be used to make characters more interesting, mysterious, or sexy because they are a sort of exotic other who does not think like “normal” society. The most common portrayals of this myth are heavily traumatized women.

The 2011 movie Suckerpunch exploits this trope in a big way. The film takes place in an asylum/brothel where the scantily clad mental patients have high-octane fantasies about killing the abusive staff. It also includes a lot of imagery connecting mental illness with helplessness, escapism, and sexual exploitation.

Inaccurate portrayals of mental illness in the media are going to happen. After all, the goal is to entertain people, not teach them.

However, the media affects public perception. It is important for us to distinguish between media sensationalism and mundane reality.

The mundane reality is that mentally ill people are not unusually violent, broken, gifted, or entertaining. Getting sick is something that happens to everyone, and since our bodies and minds are linked and not separate, mental illness is no more sensational than physical sickness.

So if you or a friend is experiencing mental illness, avoid looking to media representations to educate yourself. There are plenty of resources on mental health, including those listed below, which can help you learn more about living with mental illness.

In many cases people with mental illness need people they can feel comfortable reaching out to in crisis situations, like suicide attempts, self-harm injuries, or nervous breakdowns.

Or they may simply need a non-judgmental friend who acknowledges that they can’t just “snap” out of it.
To be that friend, we need to understand that mental illness is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy.
In fact, living with or overcoming mental illness takes a lot of strength and when needed, support.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
Mental Health America (MHA):
Psych Central:
Healthy Place:

Jarune Uwujaren is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. A Nigerian-American recent graduate who’s stumbling towards a career in writing, Jarune can currently be found drifting around the DC metro area with a phone or a laptop nearby. When not writing for fun or profit, Jarune enjoys food, fresh air, good books, drawing, poetry, and sci-fi.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Quick Article - Tending the Fences: Setting Healthy Boundaries

As promised here is my last post on boundaries. I like lists. I find they’re easy to see a variety of possible aspects and pin-point where we do and don’t need to put a little effort. Reading down this list it’s pretty easy for me to spot which things I do and where I need to put in a little more work than with other things.

So take a look at this article I found and see if you can relate to any of these:

Tending the Fences: Setting Healthy Boundaries

“Good fences make good neighbors.” So goes the old proverb from the well-loved Robert Frost poem.

Likewise, good personal boundaries make for good relationships. Boundaries are those invisible lines of protection you draw around yourself.

They let people know your limits on what is acceptable for you. Healthy boundaries give you freedom in relating to others. Make them too solid and you build walls, too weak and you allow other’s actions to harm you.

It’s not always clear where our boundaries are or need to be. Recognizing and studying the signs of ignored or ineffective boundaries is a good place to start, as these “symptoms” give clues to the needed boundary. See if any of the following ring true for you.

Aloofness and distance

When you are unwilling or fearful of opening your space to others, or when you build walls to insure that others don’t invade your emotional or physical space, this may be a defense against cruel behavior, abuse or neglect that you allowed to happen. A person with healthy boundaries draws a line over which they will not allow anyone to cross because of the negative impact of its being crossed. They recognize their right to say, “No!”

I can’t tell you how long I let this method rule my life. I’m talking years, and years, and years. I didn’t have walls so much as castles, with a moat, and at least one dragon.

Chip on the shoulder

This kind of attitude declares, “I dare you to come too close!” and is often the result of anger over a past violation of or ignoring of your physical or emotional space by others. Healthy boundaries mean you are able to speak up when your space has been violated, leaving you free to trust that you can assertively protect yourself to ensure you are not hurt.


In this game, the rule is that everyone must do everything together, and everyone must think, feel and act in the same way, without deviation from group norms. Healthy boundaries acknowledge that you have the right to explore your own interests, hobbies and outlets. Invisibility. The goal here is not to be seen or heard so that your boundaries are not violated. Healthy boundaries are in effect when you stand up for yourself—be visible, be heard—so that others can learn to respect your rights, needs and personal space.

I’ve certainly had some problems with this, especially in my more abusive relationships and the ones I was most afraid of losing.


If you “blank out” or “go away” during stressful emotional events, it results in you being out of touch with your feelings and unable to assert your limits. Healthy boundaries allow you to assertively protect your- self from further violation or hurt and to choose to end relationships with those who will not respect them. With healthy boundaries, you can begin to feel your feelings again.

Yeah, I do this a lot, often, and for extensive periods of time. Learning to reconnect, and stay in touch with my feelings, in the moment, while I’m feeling them, has actually been a difficult process. I still do have some problems with connecting to my feelings, but I’m getting much better.

Smothering and lack of privacy

When another is overly concerned about your needs and interests, or when nothing you think, feel or do is your own business, it can be intrusive into your emotional and physical space, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or like you are being strangled. Healthy boundaries ask that others respect your uniqueness, your choices, your autonomy.

I actively try not to do this, but I know Zoe and ex-friend with BPD Riot used to do this A LOT (And I won’t lie, if I’m in an especially hard fit of paranoia or fear from abuse I’ll fall into this as well). Riot especially would have complete melt downs when she felt she was being shut out of people’s emotion space and didn’t recognize that other people have a right to not share absolutely every single thing.

Applying Boundaries

Once we see where our limits need to be clarified or put in place, we can begin to install fence posts or patch holes, to keep unwanted critters out. Here are some strategies for applying limits when your boundaries are intruded upon:

-          Calm yourself and take deep breaths.
-          Remind yourself of your right to set limits.
-          In a firm and composed manner, tell the other person how you feel.
-     Communicate clearly what your limits are, especially when you are extending a new boundary.
-          Ask the other person to respect your boundaries.
-          Make decisions about the relationship according to how the other person responds to your request.

So that’s it! Don't forget to check out my post from earlier today as well.  I hope this series has been helpful for you and provided some insight. If you want to discuss it more there’s always the Comments and I believe there’s a thread in the Forum started.

I’ll be posting a little sporadically this upcoming week due to the holiday and travel, but I have some great topics lined up and I’ll try not to lose too much momentum! Cheers! 

Boundaries and BPD: Origins of Poor Boundary Development

I think today will be my day focusing on Boundaries. This first post will be on the origins of ineffective boundary development in childhood and just how much of an impact that has on us as adults. The second will be just a quick breakdown of signs that we may relate to that indicate poor boundaries.  

The Extremes Created by a Poor Sense of Vulnerability and Undeveloped Boundaries

As we will note in all of the characteristics of children that parents must honor, in dysfunctional homes, children tend to develop the same kinds of boundaries both modeled and taught directly to children by parents. Problems tend to develop when children fall to one extreme reaction or the other, or an ineffective mix between the two, wherein the child learns only partially effective boundaries. As one only protects what is worthwhile protecting, boundaries can be closely tied to self-worth.

The child who learns ineffective boundaries becomes too vulnerable because the parent fails to teach the child self-protection. The parent may overprotect this child, objectifying them by viewing them as incapable of any discernment of their own, or they just fail to protect them altogether. The child never learns where they begin and end, and they walk into dangerous situations with no awareness of the threat of harm. Some children are taught to place implicit trust in any adult and authority figures, and in religious groups that follow patriarchy, girls are taught to obey all men without qualification. Likewise, some Christian groups teach that adults and children alike have no personal rights, viewing any suffering that comes because of lack of boundaries to be an opportunity to develop character through disappointment. These children learn passivity, or they follow passivity to avoid punishment by the parent who will tolerate no assertiveness.

The exaggerated alternative results in a child who does not set boundaries but establishes walls and thus avoids vulnerability by feigning invulnerability. They're too fearful to be vulnerable, and the cost of their safety comes at the forfeiting of emotional intimacy. They may start to develop friendships but will retreat in withdrawal. 

Internal Versus External Boundaries

An internal boundary involves behavior and thought originating with the self, that which refers to what that person does.  Of people who have poor internal boundaries and set no limits on their own behavior, it may be said of them that such a person "knows no bounds." The primary problem originates with them as a lack of their own internal boundaries.  

A child with a collapsed sense of self may have been conditioned to set very narrow limits on their own behavior in a way that is inappropriate, allowing others too far in to their inner world, if they have any internal boundaries at all.  When any child has not been trained to respect others or basic rules of appropriate social behavior, they may violate the boundaries of others without realizing it, merely out of ignorance.   Their self-centered perspective may be the only indicator of appropriate behavior because they have not been taught to anticipate or be sensitive to the needs of others.

In the child who demonstrates too much invulnerability, they will either withdrawal from interaction all together (their created internal boundary) through antisocial personality traits, or they may exaggerate their behavior, willfully ignoring the boundaries of others by in order to feel powerful.  They claim everything (including other people) as within their own boundaries by setting no boundaries on their own behavior.

An external boundary is a barrier that a person creates around themselves to limit outside forces.  An external boundary involves what the a allows into their world and involves saying “No.” 

In the collapsed response, the child lets anyone and everyone take advantage of them. In the invulnerable, the child does not allow anyone to get close enough to take advantage of them, and they may be well-known for always saying “No.” Another way an external boundary can be violated presents when adults do not permit the child to own their own perceptions and experiences. If a parent does not like a particular emotion, they may punish a child for it, teaching the child that they cannot know themselves or their experience. The child is required to allow that parent in through their external boundary, exchanging their reality for that of the parent.

Vunerability Issues in Adults

In a healthy adult relationships, boundaries establish what we will and will not tolerate. For adults who grew up in very dysfunctional homes and didn't learn appropriate boundaries, this dynamic element of hard work within a relationship fails.

Those who are too vulnerable fail to establish any kind of boundary, and they let anyone have access to any area of their lives. Or they may have a difficult time establishing boundaries through assertive expression of their wants and needs, the type of person who struggles with saying “No.” Sometimes, these individuals can declare boundaries to others, but cannot motivate themselves to defend their established new boundaries. These are not boundaries at all but are merely “nice ideas” when they are not defended.

The person with very weak or non-existent boundaries may also seek to have levels of intimacy that are too close for the nature of the relationship, and this may create behavioral problems and may violate appropriate social rules. It also sets the adult up for disappointment through unmet expectations and confusion.

Some individuals may also have only partially ineffective boundaries, and in one area of life, they may be able to clearly establish what they will and will not tolerate in a relationship. But when dealing with a certain situation or a particular type of person (such as a woman raised in an extremely patriarchal system of gender hierarchy, she may find herself completely unable to establish a boundary or may have been taught that a woman must submit to the demands of men. Authority figures also pose great difficulty for the person who tends toward collapsed responses because it is human nature to tend to comply with authority.

As noted earlier, the invulnerable type of person tends to withdrawal from social interaction and may cope through an anti-social personalty. They may have erratic relationships, vacillating between the development of friendship, only to abruptly retreat in response to perceived threat. They have the opposite type of presentation concerning their problems with intimacy, but both types of manifestations prevent healthy intimacy. 

The invulnerable person can also develop ineffective coping mechanisms leading to the abuse and exploitation of others by violating their boundaries through an exaggerated response, motivated by manipulative behaviors and poorly controlled negative emotion, the extroverted expression of lack of respect. These are the classic abused people who go on to repeat the same type of abuse as their abuser modeled for them.

One might think that the person with excessively collapsed boundaries is more vulnerable to manipulation, but because the invulnerable type of person who hides behind walls craves intimacy and attachment, this basic human need can also be exploited, making this person just as vulnerable to the right influences.

Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation

Many adults who grew up in dysfunctional families of origin struggle with knowing themselves because they were never permitted to own their own experiences and feelings, constrained to feel only that which was set for them by someone else.

Because their boundaries were never respected or because the parent fails to realize that the child is not an adult with the capability of setting limits, the adult who uses their child as a companion or requires the child to be someone that they're not overrides that child's sense of self. The interaction is too intimate and interferes with the child's development of a sense of self.  

The child has no choice and does not even realize that the relationship is emotionally inappropriate or damaging to them.  (An adult can set limits and protect their sense of self when overwhelmed by another, but the child is obligated to absorb the parent's reality because of their dependence on the adult to protect and provide for them.)

Instead of awareness of self, the child's inner world must be negated (their heart denied) in favor of the adult's experience, wants, and needs. 

These adults struggle with finding satisfying vocations, pastimes and relationships because they are unaware of their feelings and emotions and do not have much awareness of their true strengths and weaknesses. They were not encouraged to make their own decisions regarding their life choices and were required to sign the right to direct their lives over to someone else or some religious system. When they work on recovery, learning self-awareness and experiencing  the liberty of choice can be a very difficult, anxiety-producing challenge.

Erratic patterns in relationships are common in people who suffer from complex PTSD, both craving attachment and fearing it and feeling unable to modulate their own behavior. So in the person with patterns built around long-standing trauma, they may have a very complex mix of incomplete boundaries, varying from the extremes of walls to the enmeshed type of unhealthy attachment found in the person with little to no boundaries at all.
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