Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Emotional Suppression in Borderline Personality Disorder

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.


  1. Your posts yesterday & today sum things up exactly for me. Yet my therapist insists it's *just* the type II bipolar. Really, you think at 43 y.o. I can't tell the difference? I can't distinguish between an overarching, year-long hypomania, and an instantaneous & complete mood switch & devaluation of my spouse caused by hypersensitivity & hyperreactivity from BPD, that goes away in a matter of hours or at most overnight? Guess it don't make no nevermind, though, since the treatment path isn't going to change. Sigh.

    1. Hm. This sort of thing really makes me question the ability of some therapists. They're supposed to listen to you! Maybe you should show these posts to your therapist haha.

      Regardless of whether the treatment path changes though, if you recognize something as being a personal truth for you that's really important. Anytime your self-awareness increases it's one more step towards healing... even if it's not on the "official" path.

  2. I am trying to be better about asking questions when someone says or does something that bothers me. Trying to understand where they are coming from because I finally admit to myself that I cannot trust my interpretation of what I hear and I should gather more data before making a judgement.

    I think back on a conversation with a friend. He asked if I was ever afraid that people would think I was crazy if they knew my emotions. I immediately lept into some lame diatribe about how my feminist ideals are at odds with innate biological desires. Deflection. I held onto that question and twisted it around in my head. I wish I had just asked him what he meant by it.

    I could never get my mother to understand why I felt I couldnt trust my perception of reality. She always was so resoute in hers. Even though its terribly skewed. Sometimes I feel like I am picking up on important things, but I am never sure if I am making a mountain out of a molehill. I made a godawful judgement call against my friend a few months ago and ended up ruining his fledgling relationship (Im a manipulation mama, he came right back to me when she dumped him) and putting his job in jeopardy. All because I listened to my delusions and let loose with all my bs that I had been suppressing, some of it for years. I still dont know what happened. It wasnt a full psychotic break, more of a delusional manic episode. It was bad enough to shake the ground under his feet and scare the shit out of him. I still cant believe he came back to me. I sometimes wonder if its out of revenge.

    I asked him about it last night. Asked if he took out aggression on me when we fuck. Aggression from ruining this relationship with the woman of his dreams. He said yes, sometimes. It was an uncomfortable and honest talk. Im glad we had it. I think it might take a week or more for us to both process it. I am glad I asked questions instead of just leaping to conclusions. I am making progress. Patience. Its hard to be patient.

    1. That you could never get your mother to understand you probably contributes to why you feel you can't trust your perception. She's supposed to be an authority figure, a guide, and instead she made you feel invalidated. I hope you see now that this is a problem of her pathology even though it clearly contributed to how you perceive things =( Parents really do a number on their kids don't they!?!

      It's funny, I have an almost complete split with my interaction in the world. If I'm very emotional, or it's an emotional situation, I absolutely do not trust myself or my thoughts. I can totally relate to that self-doubt in figuring out if you're seeing something important or blowing it out of proportion. But If it's a rational, cognitive, or intellectually driven situation it's like my personality slips into complete emotional detachment and my observations are rock solid.

      "I sometimes wonder if its out of revenge." Sounds like one of the paranoid thoughts I have all too frequently. But as I like to say, and as you clearly know, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean you're wrong! Being able to have honest conversations, even if they're hard to hear and process are really important. As you know, that's what I'm doing with Friend at the moment. He finally wrote me back last night. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with it.

    2. I knew you would hear back. It can be difficult to remember that others have their own emotional issues they are dealing with. My friend was a bit cruel on Sunday when we saw each other that morning because he was depressed about various things, one of them being the relationship of his I ruined. She told him she didnt even want to be friends. I am conflicted because I feel badly for what I did and that he is hurting, yet that evil part of me is goating because things went my way. Kinda. I got my way again that night when I talked him into coming over despite his desire to go straight home from work. I dont realize how selfish I am being at the time, but at least now I am noticing in retrospect. I guess I have trouble giving others space to process their stuff because I have trouble with it myself. I am getting better on both counts. Ive left him be and will continue to do so. When hes ready to come to me, he will.

      I am like you in that I am actually really good under pressure or strain (as long as its not emotional or personal). I work in a high stress field and I thrive under those conditions. I just end up a fucking mess if it involves my love life, specifically.

  3. you have every right to feel how you feel, it must be very frustrating not being able to think that you don't have the right to express how ever you are feeling. I recognize what you are going through as a valid experience.
    I see how the one is right, but the other feels right.

    love this post it validates the fact that invalidation is never the answer. Even if the question is what is never the answer. Cheers!

    1. Thank you =) I always tell people that they have every right to feel how they do because I know what it's like to not. Which I guess can be sort of hypocritical of me since I can't feel this way myself all the time. Oh inner conflict, how you vex me.

      I'm glad you liked the post.

  4. I understand how you feel, Haven. It's hard to restrain your own emotions, and deny your true feelings, because you’re told you have no right to feel that way. Borderlines are victims themselves too. Unlike what other people think, I believe that having a long-term or a married life relationship with a borderline can work. In my own opinion, it will be hard for the BOTH of them, especially in the earlier months of the relationship. But with patience & a deep understanding, everything will go smoothly. It’s also best to have counseling therapy, so the couple can have something to rely on whenever they encounter bumps and humps along the road.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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