Emotional suppression is an attempt to regulate emotions in order to make uncomfortable thoughts and feelings easier to deal with. For someone with Borderline Personality Disorder this is not always easy to do, if it’s possible at all. I’m one of the lucky few (please insert dripping sarcasm) that was brought up to suppress my emotions. Even I have a difficult time of it though, unsurprisingly.
This probably sounds counter-intuitive to what most people know of BPD. After all we’re a part of that Cluster B Dramatic personality type known for our fantastic outbursts of emotion. That’s just the stigma. It’s the most noticeable attribute which is why it is highlighted, but that is not how we spend the majority of our time. Most of my days are spent trapped inside my own mind. It’s not until the noise and sensory perception becomes too great that it finally comes busting out.
As I discussed yesterday and as I talked about before with emotional Subjugation and Inhibition; I don’t believe that I have a right to feel the emotions that I feel. I don’t believe they are ok or will be acknowledged and accepted as valid experiences because my entire life I was told I should not feel this way. Talk about a complete cognitive dissonance for a child. How a person feels is a very real experience, but when you are told this is wrong it forces you to question your own ability to interpret your reality. I’ve mentioned before that I do not trust myself. I can quite logically work through any situation and foresee all rational paths and consequences, but then I also have an emotional response that can be in opposition to what I cognitively see as an outcome. I know one is right, but the other feels right. So which do I choose? I have no idea. My internal conflict quickly escalates. This is why emotional validation is so important. Validation should be coupled with constructive solutions if possible. Recognizing what you are going through as a valid experience followed by learning ways to deal and work through that experience is essential. For me this is what therapy is for.
Where was I?
Ah yes, so since I don’t believe my emotions are real, I can’t trust myself, instead I suppress what goes on inside me. At least I try. Unfortunately I believe this makes it worse. In fact, research has shown that the more you try to suppress a thought or feeling, the more likely you are to focus on it, because you know you’re not supposed to!
“Wegner called this the “rebound effect of thought suppression.” Essentially, if you try to push away a thought of some topic, you will end up having more thoughts about that topic.”
For someone with BPD that often feels so emotionally overwhelmed with distressing and negative thoughts, this means that attempting to suppress these emotions will actually magnify them for us. Instead of lessening or avoiding the painful feelings, they will be amplified instead, making that pain even greater! So you try harder to push it down, and the thought pushes back twice as much. Talk about a vicious, vicious cycle. It becomes much less surprising that we can’t get our mind of this kind of pain and that one incident can rapidly become overwhelming.
And then comes the shame. I don’t believe I have a right to feel this way, I try to do what is “right” by suppressing these emotions, they amplify within me, so I have to work harder, increasing the emotional pressure I feel to perform and perfectly, all the while I feel that control slowly slipping away from me. Frustration. Frustration with myself for not being how I “should” be. But if these thoughts weren’t natural, why would I have them? Shift. Resentment. I know it’s natural to feel emotions, who is anyone to tell me otherwise. I have a right to feel the way I do. The resentment begins to seethe. Anger. It simmers at a boil until one more thing, often something seemingly small, adds its emotional weight to everything we’re already trying to suppress and finally we pop.
It’s not that we’re blowing up over some insignificant problem, though it may seem like it and I can understand why our anger seems baffling and irrational. But more often than not it’s actually a buildup of suppressed feeling over a lot of time for many, many different issues.
Because I do not feel it is ok to feel or talk about or express my needs, it is often impossible for others to understand what has happened to create this build up. They don’t realize that often they may even be contributing to that buildup unknowingly. No, I’m not trying to blame everyone else and justify this behavior. However, I do think it is necessary to note that as human beings we often push each other’s buttons in ways we don’t realize and this does contribute to a buildup of frustration. Especially if you’re someone like me that does not believe I have the right to speak up and tell you that what you’re doing is causing me distress. Non-Borderlines often get very frustrated with us, and blame us for everything without recognizing that they may actually have contributed to the problem as well. There is a lot of blame that goes around here. And none of it, from either side, is helpful at all.
Did that sound invalidating? Blaming is, in fact, not productive. What we need to do as people that care about each other, Borderline and Non alike, is learn to communicate more effectively. And for us Borderlines we need to learn better strategies helping us deal with emotional regulation. Not suppression. Suppression only makes it worse! Even if for the time it seems like it helps in individual situations. It’s a very short term plug, not a long term solution.
We must learn emotional acceptance. This is where validation is especially important. We also need to express those emotions in a healthy and constructive manner. Easier said than done. TRUST ME, I know. I’m am far, far from good at this. But I’m trying. It takes time, but it’s possible.
I don’t know about anyone else, but once I do finally express what I’m thinking or feeling, it seems like a huge burden has been lifted from me. The simple act of being able to talk to another person, especially the person that directly effects me, is incredibly important. This is why I always try to write, or blog, or get out my emotions in some form. Even if it’s not possible to talk to another person. So why don’t I just talk to people about what bothers me more often? Well, one, I don’t feel I have a right to. But two, I am also afraid that I’ll lose that person because I might be perceived as making some kind of demand or request of them. Abandonment is always a big problem for us Borderlines. Again, this is where talk therapy can be especially useful.
One final note: Suppression can be especially dangerous if we turn to other means of suppression instead of simply trying to avoid or mentally push down how we feel. Drugs and alcohol are a serious problem. I’ve never done hard drugs, but I’m no stranger to alcohol. It numbs the pain and soothes the conflict. Effects of alcohol (and drugs) can be very unpredictable though. And in the long run can cause severe health problems.