Monday, December 31, 2012

Myth and Stigma – Emotion vs. Intelligence: BPD & Rational Thought

EDIT: I feel I have caused a bit of a stir citing forums (there are many I check out) outside of my own. My goal was not to take away the space or to say that you don't deserve a place to work through everything you've been through. You certainly do. My goal was also not to attack or diminish the hurtful things you have experienced in your relationships with the Borderline(s) in your life. I know all to well the impact we can have on our loved ones (and believe me I've done my fair share of venting). Expressing and working through your pain and experiences deserves just as much support as anything else. My personal grievance is with the generalization of "everyone with BPD" or "if you have BPD than..." that undermine the individual as a unique person. Of course it's no fun to hear yourself be spoken about, but everyone is entitled to their opinion and if I wasn't willing to deal with criticism or didn't feel I could handle it, running a public blog is probably a bad lifestyle decision ::smiles::. I take my life experiences and I write about them. It's what I do. Some people are very understanding, some people aren't. All I'm trying to do here is start the conversation and provide one new perspective (my own, which clearly can be quite different from any other singular person). While things happen to me as an individual, I try to address things that many others have also experienced. END EDIT.

Hello Dear Readers. Now that all my holiday travel and movement is over, I’m back and ready to get rollin’ again. In the past couple weeks I’ve been doing something I shouldn’t have. I do this because I have this cognitively rational, though emotionally irrational, need to know. Occasionally I visit forums for the loved ones of Borderlines that are there to support each other, and rationalize the actions of their Borderline loved ones from their own perspectives, but not really understand their Borderline loved one in a way that is functionally consistent with the experience of the Borderline themselves. I get it, it’s difficult to perceive a different experience than one you understand. I also do this because it's important to remember how we affect our loved ones and they do give me new things to consider that are applicable for learning to function in a way that is healthier and more productive in our relationships. 

The thing that gets me, is how limited and single minded these perspectives can be (not all of course). It’s human nature I suppose. You can’t internalize the lifetime of experiences another has had, which makes the understanding essentially alien. And when you’ve been wounded (as I know many of our loved ones have been by us and our actions) it’s difficult to see past their own experience and pain. I get it. It doesn’t really make it any less hurtful to see yourself talked about though. When it's specific to me I can take this personally, because my blog, and therefore myself, are often referenced in these forums. Being as public about my experience as I am I am in a unique position to reach out and connect with people that so often feel alone, confused, and conflicted and hopefully provide some clarity. However it also opens me up to a lot of criticism and ridicule. Not only that, but my heart also aches for us as a whole, not just for myself. I’m pretty good about it because I know better than anyone my own experience and I try to keep in mind that when you don’t have BPD it’s extremely difficult to put yourself in our shoes (not too mention I'm no saint and I know how I've hurt the loved ones in my life but that's why I am actively working to change). 

One thing that really bothers me though, is when I receive a certain criticism, or I hear this criticism applied to anyone else… And they go something like this:

“He/She has great insight,” or, “He/She is really smart…. BUT, you know [they] have Borderline Personality Disorder, right?”

…As if having a problem with emotional dysregulation means our cognitive functioning is somehow inhibited.

Myth and Stigma: Because we are emotional, clearly we can’t also be rational in an intellectual capacity. Because we have a personality disorder, because we have a mental illness, etc., clearly we can't also be rational in an intellectual capacity. 

Categorically False.

Amusingly when I first started to research BPD I kept coming up against the same information over and over (hence why I started my own in depth research). One of the things I consistently saw in the introduction to BPD was:

- A person with this disorder is often be bright and intelligent, and appear warm, friendly and competent…

- Borderline Personality Disorder often takes the form of a whip-smart, dead-sexy woman with ferocious impulses…

- Someone with BPD is typically very smart, very articulate, very personable…

- ….And the truth is, most people with this disorder are smart, and they can really be very funny.

Yet it’s almost immediately negated and forgotten once people move on to take a look at that good old DSM checklist.

Dr. Leland M Heller states that intelligence is not affected by this disorder, though the ability to organize and structure time may be severely impaired at times of extreme emotional distress. Our cognitive functioning is perfectly intact. In fact, if you have a set of afflictions like I do, it’s even enhanced, because my fear of failure, compulsive nature, and anxiety makes me push myself even harder to know and understand.

From the Personality Disorder Institute: 

Two experiences in growing up are very common in borderline disorders. One is the experience of being seen as apparently competent. Because these people often are in fact very competent, very smart, sensitive, clever, insightful, it is extremely difficult for others to take them seriously when they collapse in despair at a minor frustration, burst into rage over nothing, make terrible errors of judgment. When a psychotic person acts that way, people are inclined to be sympathetic—"He can't help it"—but a borderline person is told, "It's not that bad." "Shape up—grow up—don't be such a wimp—you know better." Their behavior is often regarded as willful, manipulative, "just looking for attention."

The second experience is linked to that of being an apparently competent person—and that is the experience of being invalidated: "It can't be that bad." "Your headache—your PMS—your anxiety isn't any worse than anybody else's—why make such a fuss?" Being invalidated compounds the borderline person's self-hatred. The majority of cases of borderline personality that come to the attention of psychiatrists are women. We don't know why this is, but researchers speculate that it reflects the combined effect of more girls than boys being subjected to sexual abuse in childhood, and of the tendency of males to express emotional instability via outward aggression toward others rather than via self-destructiveness. Borderline men, therefore, are more likely to show up in jails than in psychiatric hospitals or psychiatrists' offices.

That’s the thing, in A LOT of my research one of the things I see very often is that people with Borderline are often very intelligent, clever, smart, etc. And yet, because we are also emotional, that cognitive intelligence is automatically discredited. 

I find this noteworthy because this is a phenomena that I ONLY experience with my blog and the people that try to downplay my relevance and insight specifically because of my personality disorder. In my personal life, with my friends and family that know of my BPD, they may question my relationship or emotional choices, but when it comes to issues of survival, academics, books, reading, hobbies, math, science, engineering, astrophysics (this was my University minor btw)… no questions. In my professional career where my emotional dysregulation and BPD are not known at all and therefore not a factor, I am held in high regard for my research, work, and intelligence.  But when someone that doesn’t know me personally starts off knowing that I’m Borderline… well, clearly I must not have the capacity for standard intelligence or rational thought. False.  And yes, I do find it offensive when you judge me based on an incomplete perception and an irrelevant stigma. I imagine anyone would.

This is why so many people don’t seek help. Because once people know that you have a problem or struggle with something that affects one aspect of your life, ALL OTHER ASPECTS of your life are called into question. It’s frustrating.

I do understand that as a human being, especially one that is writing about my own experience, I can’t be 100% objective because it’s very rare that any human being is objective to their own existence. Our experience is subjective to our own perspective. I can get pretty close though, especially as I use my therapist as a sounding board. I’m harder on myself than she believes I should be, but it’s true to my experience, which is what I attempt to convey, coupled with supporting research to strike as accurate a representation and balance as I can portray.  Personal experience includes all things that occur coupled with perception and emotion. Once the event is over, it’s possible to take perception and emotion out of the equation and view the occurrence itself. From there I can extrapolate what is rationally relevant and what is emotionally [ir]relevant. I’m getting to the point where I’m able to do this more and more in the moment as well, not just in retrospect. Go, go therapeutic progress.

Part of what contributes to my ability to do this blog the way that I do, is my scientific approach to pretty much everything.  I am simultaneously subjective to my own self-centered experience and merely a singular specimen in a greater puzzle (I find ego to be more of a distraction than a necessity, except in matters of survival).  The effect is compounded when I dissociate since I don’t always experience the self-centered aspect of my world and I’m not always the center of my own perception. This makes taking the subjective experience out of my research even easier…. Except when it’s specifically relevant: Studying the personality disorder without the “person” makes no sense.  Not to mention people, in general, are not simplistic. We’re dynamic, complicated creatures with a variety of variables, interests, motivations, beyond the disordered aspect of our functioning.   Often I see others talking about people with BPD as if the BPD aspect of us is the only relevant aspect of us, which is extremely unfair as well as unkind.

My personal perception is different than that of other people. Not surprising. No one else is me. I am no one else. However, as a human whole we share many common experiences. Especially when we have a contributing variable like BPD.

Anyways, my point is… just because we have an issue that affects our lives as a whole, it does not mean that the problem occludes all our singular abilities as people. I don’t care how angry, or upset, or wounded I am, my ability to do calculus remains. I may not want to analyze the structural integrity of an irradiated structure at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do it just as well as anyone else that’s having a better day.

Mental health stigma helps no one. Problems in one area doesn’t mean the whole breaks down completely.

While my Cognitive Intelligence may be greater than my Emotional Intelligence; emotion and intelligence can and do coexist. Intelligence isn’t just one or the other either. A system incorporating more than one frame of reference often has a greater resource pool to pull from. Emotion as inferior to intellect is a Western ideology that is neither factually supported nor experientially relevant.

In the human experience everything is contextual. Existence is subjective. 


  1. Interesting to read your experience. Re the presumption that emotional dysregulation negates intelligence - this may be a perception in the general public but I find that in relation to MH professionals it works the other way. I have many academic qualifications at quite a high level and a questioning, analytical mind. I have found the invalidation I experienced in childhood now follows me through adulthood (although in a different form). I use my intelligence to compensate for my problems, to get around them, to achieve the things I need to in daily life without having to rely on others / reveal my difficulties to them. This does not mean I don't really struggle with the more difficult symptoms of BPD, just that I mostly don't let people see it.Apparently this bars me from needing / accessing treatment. In the partial DBT I did manage to access with great difficulty, I was publicly told in group that I shouldn't need the treatment / help with the therapy / or have my questions answered as I was intelligent and could therefore work it out for myself (a common refrain).So although as you say BPD doesn't negate intelligence it is important for people (especially professionals) to remember that intelligence does not negate the possibility of MH disorders or mean that a person is somehow at fault for needing or seeking help with this. BPD is not a condition that people can just think their way out of on their own no matter what their IQ.

  2. This might possibly be the most personally relevant, most meaningful, most wonderful-for-me blog post I have ever read. And I read a LOT of them. THANK YOU.

  3. My boyfriend is an undiagnosed BPD. He is highly intelligent, and very capable of excelling in what ever he chooses to do. I do my best to validate him, but his emotional dysregulation works against him. I would never underestimate his intelligence, or put him down for being BPD. He beats himself up enough as it is! But his behavior can be irrational - especially to a non like me. This is not a fault of his intelligence, he is reacting from his fears of abandonment....this I understand, but it took me years to get this far. I know I never will be able to understand what it is like for him in his emotional life, but I try and be as sympathetic and understanding as I can...

  4. Regarding: “He/She has great insight,” or, “He/She is really smart…. BUT, you know [they] have Borderline Personality Disorder, right?”… "As if having a problem with emotional dysregulation means our cognitive functioning is somehow inhibited."

    Or it could mean something else altogether. Are you sure you aren't misinterpreting the comment by taking offense where none was stated, implied nor even intended, while making it all about yourself?

    1. I've seen this multiple times in regards to myself and even moreso in regards to others with BPD and a lot of other mental health problems.

      When the statements are followed up with comments like, "so you really need to consider what you're reading and find more credible sources..." there's not much room for misinterpretation.

      I have considered that I might be me misinterpreting, but it's unlikely. Even if, in the latest incident where I noticed this in regards to myself, it's a problem I've seen posed to others and is worth the discussion.

      How would you interpret it if not a statement of questionable intellect?

    2. I'd interpret it as a statement concerning perspective and leave it at that.

  5. Interesting post. I think in some ways this is a flaw we have as people--assuming that ability in one domain is equal to mulitple domains. In some ways, it makes sense to make this mistaken assumption, since there are relationships between some abilities (holding down a high stakes job means being able to communicate, handle pressure, connection to coworkers, etc.); in other ways, its like we have a societal halo effect on folks. But certainly, cog and emotional intelligence are separate. As a non, I find it hard to go back and forth between the nons support blogs and bpd-authored sites; there are so many (expected) subjective differences. For me, my exwBPD is brilliant and works with kids to teach them emotional intelliengence skill building. It was hard to realize that she didn't have those skills herself. The nons boards can be good for contextualizing thigns like this, but they can also push nons to not bother and just run for the hills. These are hurt, confused people after all, each speaking from their truth.
    Your noting of the differences in perception from nons/pwBPD is why I most like your posts showing another view on topics commonly connected w/BPD discussions--push-pull, devaluation, etc. I wonder what else you see as incongruent there.

  6. It occurs to me that if everyone "ran for the hills" instead of tolerating the abuse the motivation to change might be more compelling...

  7. You brilliant BPDs can justify your every inconsistency.


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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...