Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Borderline Personality Disorder and Jobs/Careers: Part 3

Back to work and the challenges those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder can face in the work place.

Criticism and Rejection

No one likes to receive criticism in the work place. No one really likes to receive criticism ever (constructive criticism can be helpful*), but it especially sucks when it triggers that super fun paranoia which in turn inspires the debilitating anxiety because now you feel like you might be fired.

“Those with BPD may be more sensitive than others to criticism or workplace stress. He may interpret an interaction with a cross coworker as a criticism or rejection. This perceived rejection might trigger an angry outburst from the person with BPD and possibly change his overall view of his job. He may fear that, as a result of his angry feelings, that he will be fired or, at the very least, that others do not like him. This can create a vicious cycle for someone with BPD, which can create additional anger.”

I kind of like being angry, especially when I can channel it constructively. But being angry at work is a big no-no. There’s no constructive when you’re angry at work. Just a lot of pissing people off, getting more pissed off yourself, and then potentially being escorted off the property for destruction of public restrooms or something. (I made that up. That’s never happened to me. I swear!). It’s a big chain reaction. Fear leads to Anger, Anger leads to Hate, Hate leads to…. Getting fired and a bad resume. (Star Wars paraphrase for the win*) It’s just not good.

For me, I feel like I’ve utterly failed. I’ll now never be able to redeem myself. I’ve solidified a poor image in the eyes of someone that has control over my livelihood. Because what they say is true. There will be days I’m moving too slow, or days I can’t seem to focus as well, or days I’ll feel so overwhelmed that I’m just utterly, stuck. There’s a lot of reasons for these things, which I’ll get to, but having someone in a position of power over you, in a position to take something necessary away from you, someone in a position to have that much sway over your already tenuous self-esteem, it’s stressful. Extremely stressful. Stressful to the point of anxiety attacks, knees buckling, dissolving into a puddle of despair and self-loathing determined to resign yourself to the lines of unemployment, kind of stressful. Yes, that feeling has happened to me. More times than I care to admit to. It’s a debilitating hit to an already tenuous sense of self-worth and esteem. There are long stretches of time when I’ll feel that kind of pressure on a daily basis. It’s too much to handle sometimes.

Fortunately this is not where my impulsive behavior comes into play because in my mind I’m screaming, “Well if it’s not good enough I’ll just quit!” quickly followed by, “Holy crap I have to become the superwoman of my job right now! Right the hell now!” Yay, ambivalence.

Impulsive behavior is a totally different tale.

Impulsive Behavior

One of the problems with having impulsivity as a part of the way your brain reacts is that by definition, there’s no time given to consider consequences. When you’re faced with a scenario that makes you feel threatened (paranoia, stress) that fight or flight response kicks in. Adrenaline pumps, fear chokes you, and all there is to do is react. When you have a disorder that is marked by emotional dysregulation (a.k.a. impulsive emotional responses) controlling those emotional responses is extremely difficult, if not impossible, if we haven’t learned how.

For example, receiving criticism in the work place can trigger a fear or anger response leading to vocal attacks or quitting on the spot. Hearing something, being in a situation, where you feel like your job is threatened, you become paranoid that you’re going to get fired, so instead of letting someone do something to you, take that control away from  you, humiliate you, it’s better to take action, make the decision yourself, quit on the spot… except less thought out and more emotionally charged.

Impulsive decisions outside of work can also impact employment. Frequent absences can make it very difficult for someone with BPD to hold down a job. Sometimes if we’re in a very emotionally volatile place it results in frequent hospitalizations or in-patient programs which force us to take off of work. We make impulsive decisions that have severe consequences and subsequently need time away from work.

Impulsive behavior can also manifest in how we try to mold our workplace identity and cope with stress. As one person struggling with BPD has explained:

“I'm a 'high functioning' [person with] BPD. I run my own business in the most cut throat industry you could imagine. None of those people would ever think I have a problem. I'm tough and I achieve. Little do they know how much day to day life hurts. Or how much drinking with work colleagues messes me up. I wish I could walk away from situations I know cause me harm. But tonight, like many others I've drunk way too much [in order to] not stand out. I see this behavior as impulsive because my need in those times is to be liked or rather not to be disliked which makes me drink my own body weight in alcohol even though I'm on anti-depressants and I know I shouldn't. I’ll deal with the consequences the next day [moving slow, mood swings due to medication interactions with alcohol, absent due to hangovers, etc]. And wish I hadn't....But at the time, in the moment, it’s the best thing in the world, I feel normal.” —Guest Nick

It’s also important to note that impulsivity doesn’t always manifest in the workplace. My personal brand of impulsivity doesn’t bleed into my working environment very much at all. If anything I’m exactly the opposite, and overcompensate by being hyper-structured and compulsive about my control. My identity issues are more of a problem for me than impulse control. And that’s something else that’s important to remember… all these things (oh, yes, and there are more) manifest differently for different people. Just because we all have BPD, doesn’t mean it expresses itself the same way for all of us. Where some people would lash out and react emotionally to a work pressure, others internalize failure and overcompensate by taking on too much responsibility and overachieving, or any variation in between. Some people function quite normally because they’ve chosen a job that suits their skills and doesn’t challenge their emotional responses.

In some ways I feel a little fortunate in regards to how some of my brain crazy has manifested. I mean, if I had to have issues (clearly I would rather not), but as I have no choice the way that some of mine display could certainly have been worse. I’m compulsively on time otherwise I have panic attacks so I’m never late. I feel guilty for taking any time to myself, even if I’m legitimately sick or haven’t had a vacation all year, so I almost never take time off. I have a failure complex so I overcompensate and try to do everything to perfection TIMES A MILLION.  I work hard because I’m afraid not to. I’ve never been fired. My particular brand of crazy has come in handy. That doesn’t mean it’s pleasant though.

Unfortunately for many of us, if not most, finding a job that doesn’t create additional stressors in our life isn’t easy. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t have some level of work stress in their life, and being hypersensitive to stress can make it all the more difficult for someone with BPD.

Hypersensitivity and a poor response to stress are yet more problems. Ones we’ll talk about tomorrow!


  1. Stress can be good. It can help you grow... but it does suck.

  2. Anger in the work place is a delicate balance. I had to teach my wife that it was perfectly acceptable to get angry at her job if it was justified and if her response was acceptable - no yelling, cursing, throwing staplers at heads, etc. And recently, it WAS justified.

    She was put into an unfair situation because of a very lazy coworker that was literally doing nothing, and all of the work was being piled on her, and I told her to BE angry. Tell your manager. Show him how upset you are. And when she did, her manager finally understood and fired the lazy person. Anger isn't always a bad thing, but it's how you handle that anger.

  3. Taking stress at a work place is good practice as it enforces you to complete the work more precisely and on time. But the overstress harms our body in many ways. When working at some place, there must be a positive psychology in an employee, it helps the work place to grow. I personally believe in positive psychology and I would love to share the content I have recently read about it,
    It helps to grow you and your organization.

  4. I have BPD and bipolar disorder, and workplace stress really throws me off-balance. My problem is often that I get bullied. Sometimes it's other co-workers, and sometimes it's a boss. Basically, when someone talks down to me or is overly harsh at work, I am too terrified to stand up for myself. But it hurts to bad I can't let it go and end up bringing it home, etc. I have difficulty compartmentalizing different areas of my life. It's almost like I don't understand the concept of being a different version of myself in different places. Of course I don't cuss like a sailor at work or talk as much about personal things, but the notion that I have to be a different person at work offends me. I think it's because I was expected to be a different person in both of the homes I grew up in. (Parents were divorced and very different from each other.)

    I also do very poorly in jobs where there is a lack of solid training. Re-inventing the wheel is very stressful, because I'm so afraid to make a huge mistake (or even a minor one) and receive criticism. I become very anxious and OCD in those moments, which automatically puts a giant target on my forehead.

    It's a shame to have such fears, because I have both a B.A. and a J.D., and yet over the years the workplace has developed such a negative connotation, that I find myself paralyzed by fear. Right now I'm only volunteering while I try and recover from BPD and stabilize from bipolar, and even that sometimes triggers me, depending on who I'm working with. I wish I weren't so sensitive to what I perceive others think of me.

  5. I feel for you Anonymous. Has DBT helped you? Recovering from BPD is a process, not an event-- love who you are- begin to see you are a very intelligent person- you will find your way-- never give in.


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

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