Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Guest Post: BPD, HSP, and Empathy

Today I have a special guest post. Throughout this blog I talk about Borderline Personality Disorder and I relate my experiences with it. It's important for me and everyone to remember that this is my personal experience, and not necessarily representative of everyone with BPD. The issue of empathy and BPD is especially controversial. How I experience empathy (I'll start in on this soon) varies within myself depending on my frame of mind. Being Borderline and how it displays also varies widely from person to person. For this reason I wanted to give you the perspective of another as well....  


I've been asked by Haven to write a bit on my own experience with BPD and empathy. Before my BPD diagnosis I knew I was highly sensitive, the more official name for that being Sensory Processing Sensitivity and it's there in about 15-20% of the human population, and even exists in other animals. As you can guess, people who experience the world with heightened sensitivity are very liable to fall victim to various psychiatric conditions, such as depression, strong mood disturbances and mood fluctuations, PTSD and general dissociative conditions. It's almost part and parcel of being HSP, given all the normal challenges we encounter every day in our lives.
One of the defining features of being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), is having strong empathy; The ability to literally feel someone's else's emotions, to inhabit their world, momentarily and to transpose our own happiness, insecurities and pain from the other person's experience. This often leads to an over-projection, where we forget the other person may be much thicker skinned, much less affected by emotions than ourselves, or it may just be that we recognize the strength and significance of someone else's emotion before they even do. Who knows.
It can mean we feel close to people who we barely know, and other people are drawn to the fact that someone they hardly know, feels so familiar to them.

BPD I'd say is just when sensitivity has detrimental effects on our health and relationships. I'm classified on the lower end of BPD and I wouldn't even begin to say my experience of it is the same as other people's. At the end of the day, regardless what we label ourselves or have been diagnosed with, the behaviours look the same, and it's the behaviours that matter, not the label.

So, do I lack empathy sometimes? Yes, I do. I can go into a right tizzy, lose myself in the moment, become very self-absorbed, self-focused, angry and without sympathy. I can be listening to someone's problems and feel nothing. But, I don't believe I'm a bad person. I just think I'm flawed, easily hurt and sometimes numbed. I have empathy breaks I guess, like most people. I also am prone to paint someone black for eternity (till they give me good enough reason not to) even if I didn't care much about them in the first place and they simply hurt me in some small way. I can also paint someone black if they've hurt me in a big way. Small or big, I get hurt, indignant and prideful. Let's just say I know how to hold a grudge.
In relationships, I've been called everything from perfect to selfish, cold and a psycho bitch among other things. So, from the outside looking in, I guess, I'm not always an angel. If I was a doormat I wouldn't survive, quite literally, so I'm very glad I'm not. There are some exes I'll always be fond of, even those who hurt me in some way, I just can't always shake my empathy/sympathy and affection for them, even though I have to protect myself and accept the reality of a doomed relationship.

So, to cut a long story short, my empathy is more than intact most of the time, I believe. So, it is way more complicated than it seems it should be to others.. So many factors, (PD-related) interfere and make me a more complex person. I'm both a saint and a whatever you wanna call it. I'm just very human flying from the seat of my pants every day. :)
Empathy or a lack thereof is not the issue when it comes to borderline behaviour. Borderline behaviour, in my opinion is instigated partly by fear, insecurity and a desire to feel whole I guess, which, let's face it, is nigh on impossible for us, but we strive for something as close as possible to that in our relationships, and life choices. The dissociation, insecurity and PTSD faced by many borderlines means our behaviour can be very irregular, inconsistent, and that can extend to our empathy levels since we can become so easily disconnected from ourselves, and therefore others, and our emotions are so easily disjointed and thrown out of whack. It's far more complex than to simply say, borderlines do not have empathy, and that is inaccurate anyway. Of course, I am quite good at feeling like I am the victim, and this enables me to justify my erratic, sometimes objectionable actions to myself at least. But is it malicious in its intent? I would say no, at least, not in my case. We can be very flawed, but, what's the world without imperfections? Like i said, if you're looking for 'callousness,' or just mindless behaviour, you're looking at the wrong end of the spectrum with BPD, but we are so varied amongst ourselves, that I can only give a general idea of what I believe BPD is about in terms of empathy.

 Borderlines aren't incapable of the emotions, from intense hate to intense love, empathy to damaging rage or dissociation, we are just more extreme and changeable, and it wears ourselves out as much as it does others.

11 comments:

  1. Oh, very cool.

    I don't think I've got HSP, BUT, I am very sensitive to others. I understood exactly what you were talking about.

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  2. Very cool yes. I can relate to the HSP part too. I think my eating disorder counselor used to talk about this and me in fact, but shit that was so long ago. This is a very interesting persepective, very interesting. Thanks for sharing Haven! Em

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  3. I love this: "Borderlines aren't incapable of the emotions, from intense hate to intense love, empathy to damaging rage or dissociation, we are just more extreme and changeable, and it wears ourselves out as much as it does others". I can absolutely see this.

    Kind of of topic, but not really - but with the Borderline I used to love, it seemed he displayed empathy for strangers more than people he knew. For example: he'd criticize how so-and-so treated someone, identified how wrong it was, and felt sorry for the person being wronged. I really think he did/does too. I could see it in his eyes. Like he wanted to save them, be the knight in shining armour. Yet he could set me on fire and not show any kind of empathy, regret, remorse whatsoever. (Ok, he didn' t actually set me on fire, but pretty f-in close emotionally). His regret/empathy would show up later, a few weeks later. He was very eager to please people he didn't even know. The people he already knew and who had shown they could be reliable - he couldn't show it, untill they were leaving.

    I like how this article articulates that while the diagnostic behaviors are what defines the Borderline, it's the person who defines the person. No one is the same, everyone experiences things differently, copes differently, and has different levels of understanding. I believe this. And I believe that my former borderline love is an asshole - because he is an asshole of a person :-D Thanks again for sharing! em

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  4. Thank you for this! It feels so familiar.

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  5. 'Kind of of topic, but not really - but with the Borderline I used to love, it seemed he displayed empathy for strangers more than people he knew. For example: he'd criticize how so-and-so treated someone, identified how wrong it was, and felt sorry for the person being wronged. I really think he did/does too. I could see it in his eyes. Like he wanted to save them, be the knight in shining armour. Yet he could set me on fire and not show any kind of empathy, regret, remorse whatsoever. (Ok, he didn' t actually set me on fire, but pretty f-in close emotionally). His regret/empathy would show up later, a few weeks later. He was very eager to please people he didn't even know. The people he already knew and who had shown they could be reliable - he couldn't show it, untill they were leaving.'

    Hi, I'm the guest poster and what you say here ^ about that person is something I very much relate to in certain circumstances. That's partly where I'd say my empathy is not quite normal. And lol about the asshole bit! :D

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

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