Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ask Haven: Personal Responsibility

A Reader asked: Where does responsibility-taking come in to play when such maladaptive behaviors are done to others. Do most people with BPD just consider such things part of the package, or can they really own them and take responsibility for them?

Here’s the thing. Having maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms and recognizing them are very different things. These maladaptive defense mechanisms develop gradually and usually begin quite young so they feel very natural. Often people with BPD don’t actually recognize them as maladaptive or wrong behavior. All they recognize is that this is how they feel. When other people disagree, invalidate the feeling, or try to defend a different opinion and renegotiate, all it causes is that sense of being misunderstood and alone; like the world is against you.

It’s not that they actively consider these things part of the package; it’s just a part of them/us. It’s not a conscious decision. They act and react without thinking about it or contemplating the consequences.

This is only compounded by the concept of people that are more low-functioning and lack a sense of self-awareness. When someone lacks that sense of self-awareness it can be nearly impossible to see when your own behaviors are hurting, not only the people around you, but you yourself.

This isn’t surprising. It’s been my experience that even people without Borderline Personality Disorder don’t necessarily have the greatest sense of self-awareness. Taking an objective look at your own behavior doesn’t happen often. People are self-centered. It’s the nature of living your life in your body, through your eyes. You are quite literally the center of your own world. Objectivity is not necessarily a part of that package because everything is going to be colored with that filter of self-centeredness. That’s not a judgment, it’s basic human preservation. Learning to see our behavior for what it is, without the subjective filter of our own self-interest, takes time, skill, and real self-awareness. Self-awareness that even your average non-personality disordered person lacks.

That’s really not an excuse though. Self-ignorance is still ignorance. It’s a harsh thing to say, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Developing the ability to understand yourself and your actions and behaviors takes time and work. It is an ability that can be developed though. One that I think most people with BPD would really benefit from, and once the initial defensiveness wears off, one that they will really appreciate.

I don’t know anyone with BPD that loves feeling the way that we do.  The highs are great, but that’s not typically where we live our lives. We live in the low, dark, depressing, anxiety ridden, devastated wreckage of our own minds.  No one wants to feel that way all the time. Or ever. Figuring our way out of that seems like it would be a blessing. Unfortunately we don’t always recognize that not living that way is actually a possibility.

Now, with that being said. It is very important that we learn to recognize what we are dealing with and take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. Without personal responsibility it can be impossible to stop the cycle of dysfunctional relationships and behaviors and impossible to change them to something more healthy.  And we can! Especially with our ability to overanalyze and ruminate, we’re very well equipped with the foundations for self-reflection. It does take overcoming some obstacles to get there though.

As another Reader commented, “As long as I felt "entitled" to my dysfunction, I was doomed to continue it as I expected others around me to approve of my self-destruction and be there for me when I hit bottom again. Suprise to me! Other people have feelings and rights as well. I think it IS hard for me to see past that sometimes because of the shame it causes even just to admit I am hurting people I love and I am capable of continuing to hurt them.”

Admitting that things need to change is that huge first step. That’s where taking responsibility for ourselves start. Unfortunately that does oftentimes mean feeling those painful emotions of shame and embarrassment.  Sometimes it takes hitting bottom before we just don’t want to live that way any longer. Before we can admit that we need help learning to live a different way. Learning to re-evaluate that sense of entitlement and learning to change the behaviors that hurts everyone else around us, including ourselves, is a process. Which is why it’s so important to get all this information out there.

Here’s another thing though. Even having the ability to take responsibility for ourselves and being aware of our actions, doesn’t mean that there won’t still be issues and problems. We still feel the way we feel. Sometimes those thoughts and feelings will still be so overwhelming that the impulse to act on them is difficult to resist. Self-awareness and personal responsibility doesn’t mean that our brain chemistry has changed. It doesn’t mean that we’ll be completely “cured”. But it does mean that we are more likely to live more functionally.  

So like I said, I do believe with many that have BPD that they don't really understand what is going on so it's impossible to really own it. They're just reacting to things that or people that are reacting to them. It's all instinct and reaction and not necessarily reflection and understanding. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed though. Taking personal responsibility for ourselves is critical. Without doing that it’s practically impossible to learn to live a healthy and happy life.

Self-awareness and personal responsibility might not be a “cure”, but they are certainly a necessary part of getting there. And certainly a part of the healing process. 


  1. Thanks, and flattered by the quote, though I wasn't the original questioner. I needed to read this today. Really, really needed to. Thank you.

  2. Amen to that. Perhaps, another tool that we already possess...our ability to admit that we are wrong...many non-disorded people lack that ability! And I think it helps tremendously to begin to understand "why" you feel what you feel and once you dig up your roots, let the past go. That's all we need it for, just to learn from not to continue to re-live past pain. And VERY true that the behaviors and reactions to emotional situations aren't just going to change like the snap of your fingers. I feel like my brain is hard-wired to be "short fused". Lately, though, even though I've blown up occasionally, instead of being completely absorbed in the emotion, I've began to detach from it and observe it and observe myself. There's a little thought inside thinking, ok, this is called anger and now I'm punching myself. I haven't been able to think "before" I take my anger out on myself but at least I can think in the middle of it all and begin to tell myself...wait a minute, stop, this isn't what I need or want for myself. Slow changes...but possible. I have a lot of Hope. (And I had a nervous breakdown ... well, maybe more of a "psychotic break" this past summer...worst anxiety symptoms ever. But it also came with a "breakthrough" and a lot of ah-ha moments. We think we hit rock bottom, but you don't know rock bottom until you KNOW rock bottom, lol).

  3. Thanks, Haven, for answering my question so thoughtfully. I was with someone special, high functioning, who had a really mean side, and didn't seem to take much responsibility for her behaviors. At those times she shrugged them off as part of her BPD. It was confusing and led me to ask the larger question you answered. I sent her your post. :)

  4. Haven you pick the cutest images.


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

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