Friday, January 13, 2012

Lucid Analysis – Trials in Therapy: Emotional Choices

Happy Friday the 13th everyone!

Therapy was exhausting yesterday. Therapist was late beginning our session and I almost fell asleep in the lobby. I thought she forgot about me so I was about to leave. But then she opened her door and ushered me in. I didn’t want to talk. Talking seemed like it would take too much effort. But I tried. Fortunately Therapist talks A LOT. I’m not sure if she noticed me floating away while sitting there. It took all of my effort to remain present.

I was supposed to revise my letter to Friend and send it to him this past weekend. The letter telling him how he hurt me so that I can move on and potentially heal our friendship. Every time I looked at it though, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ve been avoiding it.

I’m not even sure it matters anymore.

I’m completely detached from him. I feel nothing lately. I have a snapshot photograph of him in my mind and all these memories of things that have occurred, but it’s as if they belong to someone else and I’m just hitting the play button on someone else’s home movie. I have no emotional memory of him.

If I have no emotional memory, does trying to work through the emotional hurt even matter?

I also am not sure I want to open myself up like that to him, expose myself… make myself emotionally vulnerable to him, by admitting how I felt and how he hurt me. I don’t trust him. ::sigh:: Actually that’s not quite right. I think he’ll be gentle with my feelings. I just don’t think any of it will change anything. He won’t change his life. I no longer want him in that way anyways. At best he will concede that his actions have been continuing to hurt me and cease to do that in front of me. Maybe that’s enough. It would show he cares.

He’s been contacting me more and more lately via e-mail. I found out I had a medical disorder last week and made a vague post about bad news from the doctor. He e-mailed me over and over making sure I was ok. Today he was e-mailing me to see if I wanted him to comp my ticket to an event we do every year (that isn’t for another 3-4 months).

If I don’t talk about it with him, it may continue to fester, whether I feel it now or not. The resentment will continue to build even though now I feel nothing. If I don’t broach the subject at all, my feelings may remain dead, dissociated and detached. If that happens I will let our friendship go completely. I won’t even miss him.  It’s time for me to make a decision.

I’ll probably just do it. I can list the pros and cons either way. Why I should vs. why I shouldn’t. But I know myself. Despite all the most logical advice, I have something in my mind, and the only way to get it out is to act on it and see what comes of it. I may have impulse control problems, but at least I have well thought out impulse control problems. How’s that for rationalization?

Next up is my ongoing saga with Tech Boy. He wanted to go out after work on Wednesday so we went to a decent restaurant and had a few drinks. We talked a lot. He’s confusing. We had this snippet of conversation, which wasn’t really a red flag, because I’ve now decided that he is not a long term investment. I don’t feel an emotional connection to him anymore. Not really. It’s more, I want him to feel one for me for some reason. Anyways, not a red flag, but one more nail in the coffin of whether I should invest in him or not. Therapist thinks I shouldn’t write him off so soon. He’s young-ish. People don’t come with an understanding of how to be in relationships. Especially when they’re the product of divorce like he is. He clearly wants to be with me, but it doesn’t seem like he knows HOW to do that.    Does this sound like a justificatoin or is there some validity to it?

 Immediately after that conversation he brought up plans for his birthday in a month. He wants me to come out of state with him to one of his favorite places, and I’d be meeting all his friends. He’s planning a bit into the future, which indicates he likes my company. And it’d be 5 months for us at that point, which is probably the longest ‘relationship thing’ he’s ever had.

Therapist thinks I need to communicate more the kinds of things that I need. Like when he shut down the conversation on Regrets. I should have replied to that with, look, I don’t need you to fix it, or solve my problems or give me advice, I just need you to listen and allow me to share this part of me with you which will make me feel closer to you. That’s her advice.

I’m not sure I want to open myself to him like that. I need more indication that he’s the kind of guy I can trust with that and so far he hasn’t done that. I’m not going to ignore my instincts here.

I don’t understand why I do this. I know what kind of person I should be with. For some reason though I feel like I always make these emotionally retarded choices. I am drawn to men that are unavailable on some level, usually emotionally. I had one or two boyfriends at University who were emotionally available but I had no emotions for them. All the men I felt very strongly towards however, were not capable of reciprocating or providing me with a kind of emotional comfort that would be best for me. I do not understand why I do this. Is it protective? Do I choose people that won’t try to invade my emotional boundaries? Is it a challenge? If I can choose a man that does not function like this, but for me he changes, this would provide some validation of self-worth? It’s all convoluted.

Roommate thinks I should stop bothering with men period. They always give me problems. Not that women are free from problems but they don’t throw me into the psychological distress that the men I attract do. Meh. I’m going to do what I’m going to do regardless.

Hopeless. Emotionally self-destructive. Sort of.  Everything I’m doing now is one more thing to help me figure out what it is that I will ultimately need.

I’ve been burying myself in work. It’s very stressful. I’m the lead engineer on 5 major projects. There’s so much to keep track of and have done. I feel overwhelmed pretty often, but I’m managing. My boss pulled me into his office to make sure that the project load he was giving me wasn’t too much. Even he recognizes how aggressive it is. We shall see, we shall see.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Empathy and Me – Part 5: Yes, Borderlines do feel Empathy

For the record. Yes. Those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder do feel empathy.

At least, I believe we do. In the face of scientific brain scan analysis that supports this but says we do so in a diminished capacity; we do feel for you. We may not always be capable of it if we’re in an extreme mood swing, or it may be a little limited depending on where our head is at, but yes, we absolutely can feel empathy.
There is a lot of stigma, a lot of damning testimonial, a lot of anger out there towards us because at times we can be very hurtful to those closest to us. This isn’t maliciously done, it’s usually just an impulsive reaction to a feeling we can’t control. Maybe sometimes it’s on purpose, but you don’t need a personality disorder to be occasionally cruel. Perspective. With us it’s just a little more extreme. A little more frequent. Requires a lot more effort to control if we can at all. If we even recognize what the problem is in the first place. Which many don’t. (Again, not trying to justify anything here, just an observation. I believe personal responsibility for our actions and behavior is very important).
I guess I can’t really know 100% for fact if how I feel empathy is the same as how a Non-Borderline would. I can’t literally put myself inside someone else’s psyche and experience the world through their mind to compare it with how I travel that same path. But I do know I have the capacity to care in a deep and meaningful way. The closer you are to me, the more I feel for you. The further removed, the less I probably do. But that’s just me. I have heard from plenty of Borderlines that they sometimes feel even more for strangers (I assume because there is less chance of being emotionally wounded by these people and is therefore easier to open up and give of themselves in a brief encounter). I do know that if someone I care about is frightened or in pain, it kills me, and I worry about them constantly.
A Reader had asked me about BPD and empathy a while back. I was in a dissociated state at the time so I told him it was complicated but I didn’t think I was in a place where I felt empathy.
“I do think that people with BPD experience empathy differently than regular people. We WANT to empathize with  people, we WANT to take care of people, we WANT to do all these things for people… but ultimately I think it does come back to motivation, and that motivation is along the lines of, doing things so people won’t leave us. Personally, I don’t think I am at all, at least not with strangers or acquaintances… unless it’s with someone that I’ve very attached to. If I’ve become engulfed with someone than I am very aware of how they feel and my own emotions are directly tied to how they are feeling… so if they are happy, I’m happy, if they’re upset, I’m upset and probably trying to figure out how to change this. My heart will break for them and I’ll do anything I can to help alleviate their pain… but I do wonder if this is because I want them to appreciate that I’m there for them, if I’m doing it so they’ll realize that they need me.  On another note, I’m also hypersensitive to people. I can easily see and feel a person’s emotional state, but depending on my own emotional state it can be too much for me, too overwhelming. I may want to be there with them, but their emotions on top of my own emotions is kind of like an emotional tidal wave. In order to keep myself from drowning in all that emotion I sort of shut down and pull away.”
When I said “Personally, I don’t think I am {empathic} at all, at least not with strangers or acquaintances” He responded with: Maybe. But the discussions we’ve had help me a lot. You've given a good chunk of your personal time to help a complete stranger. If that's not borne of empathy, then at a minimum it's very altruistic. Thank you.”
It made me stop and think. People write to me often (which I love – and no I will not blog your personal stories unless you explicitly tell me you want to share them), and because I can relate to the experiences they are going through I can feel for them. I do want to help them. I’m not “gaining” anything from it, except perhaps a little more self-awareness. But that’s secondary. I think my Reader was right, this is empathy, for a virtual stranger. My dissociation is a relatively calm state, but detached. Even when I’m in a dissociated state and don’t feel empathy, I can cognitively recognize the person I want to be and act accordingly. Even in this state of empathic detachment, my brain still works well and I can make decisions that are productive.
It is when I am most calm, but not dissociated, and not in a state of emotional frenzy that it is most possible for me to feel genuine empathy. I know it probably seems like Borderlines are never calm, or are always in an emotional uproar, but I assure you we are not. With work, therapy, medication, whatever the combination, it becomes easier.
That's not what this little girl is made of.
I’m not in the business of sugar coating things, or telling pretty little lies. On the very first introductory page of this blog I say “You will not be safe here. I will not tell you things you want to hear”. I know a lot of Non-Borderlines are probably unhappy that I seem to spin a sympathetic perspective. I know a lot of Borderlines may be unhappy that I am not pushing a purely pleasant perspective. This is my journey. This is my healing. My life hasn’t been beautiful. It hasn’t been pristine. It’s coarse, and dirty, with jagged little lines running all throughout the surface of it. But there are points of light as well. I am not JUST my disorder and diagnosis. There is beauty in the person I am beneath all of that. I forget that sometimes. I believe I am a bad person. I’m getting better. I have my darkness. I have my flaws. I have a lot of my flaws. But I have my grace as well. My own virtues.
I may not be the model of empathic perfection. But I don’t think I need to be. I manage to wind my way through life with little to none at times, limited amounts at others, even overwhelming quantities at still other points. And yes, even run of the mill day to day empathy. Regardless of whether I can feel empathy or not at any given time, I know when there are people in my world that I do not want to lose. Sometimes it just takes longer to push past my own emotional bullshit to focus on it.  

…and thus ends my series on Empathy and the Borderline Personality. This was hard for me. If you have any other thoughts or ideas you think I missed or want me to address, please, let me know and I’ll do my best.


Part 1 - Borderline Dissociation

Part 2 - When Empathy is Beyond Me

Part 3 - Self-Destructive Empathy

Part 4 - Grey Area in Empathy

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Empathy and Me – Part 4: A Grey Area in Empathy

Empathy and the Borderline Personality can often run a blurry line. A Reader mentioned her experience with a Borderline friend and how he seems to have two different types of ‘empathic’ responses.

1.      When the situation requiring empathy is not due to something he has done.

2.      When the situation requiring empathy is caused by something he has done.

I actually think this is an insightful distinction. I mentioned the other day that I often have problems empathically connecting to how another person feels if I am not directly involved in the situation. True empathy means understanding a person’s pain because you have experienced something similar, know what it feels like, and their situation has inspired those feelings in you on their behalf. If you haven’t had that experience before, well, you can feel for the person, feel sympathy, but empathy may just not be possible. Plus, if we’re preoccupied with our own emotional turmoil, feeling for someone else may be too much for us to handle. It doesn’t mean we don’t care, it doesn’t mean we don’t want to be there for you, in fact if we’re sitting there, listening, trying to be supportive, I think this means a lot. Feeling empathy, really putting your Self in the emotional shoes of another person, isn’t a choice. I think people forget that this isn’t something we have control over. An inhibition of empathy is usually a defense mechanism created by trauma from another aspect of our life. Things that are ingrained in our character like that do not come with an on/off switch. You may want a certain reaction, but you need to remember who you’re dealing with.

But this isn’t really what I’m interested in.

What interests me is this second point. She writes, “If my reaction is a clear consequence of something he’s done, something he’s done has caused me hurt – the difference is clear. He not only recognizes this, but it feeds his emotions. The difference between him and me however, is his emotions aren’t for or about ME, they are about him. (And to me, this is not empathy). The best I can tell – when he hurts me, it creates a definite and linked emotional response in him of guilt/fear/inadequacy. Again, I don’t ever feel as though he hurts because he hurts ME, it’s that he hurts because he feels bad about himself and that he fears he’s lost a connection because of his actions.”

I find this to be a valid observation in terms of my own experience. I won’t speak for everyone with BPD, but for me this rings true.

I know when I am in an emotionally turbulent place I can say and do some pretty callous things. Worrying about someone else isn’t always at the forefront of my mind (though  9 times out of 10 I do spend much more time taking care of other people than I do myself – hence the buildup of resentment when my needs are not taken into consideration. Anyways.). I know this can be hurtful.  

Now, if it’s something I’ve done to hurt you, the concept of empathy can be tricky. I can have a spontaneous and appropriate emotional reaction to pain I’ve caused. True empathy. Sometimes though, if I’ve been running at emotional capacity for too long, my empathic response is more self-centered. Cognitively I recognize that what I’ve done is hurtful. This recognition creates a fear response in me. It triggers my fear of abandonment. Yes, I can trigger myself with my own actions. If it’s someone I care about, and I’ve managed to hurt them, I’m afraid of losing them. I probably care more about losing them than I do about how they’re actually feeling. I feel fear, and panic, hurt, and remorse… all things that you may be feeling, but instead of sharing an other-directed recognition towards you, it’s filtered through my own emotional system first. This affects me too. My empathy is self-directed before it’s directed at you. I don’t want you to remain in pain because I don’t want to lose you.

Do I really care that you are in pain? Yes, of course. But I may be more worried about how you being in pain affects me. If it’s any consolation, we wouldn’t be concerned about this if you didn’t mean a lot to us.

It's okay to have a sense of humor too.
Is this really empathy? Honestly? I think there is empathy in there, but it’s a secondary response because it is in part selfish** at first.

I’m going to say a couple things here that I think some people will not like.

First. I know I can be a selfish person at times. I am ok with this.

Second. You are a selfish person at times too. BPD or Non alike. This is basic human observation. As humans, we are selfish creatures. Pure altruism does not exist. This is not a character defect. This is simple evolutionary survival. Everything we do, in some way, links back to a need we have. Even basic friendship. No one likes to think of themselves as selfish though, because the connotation associated with that word is negative. I have news for you though. It’s simply human nature. We want what we want when we want it. And when someone that we want something from is unable to provide us with that thing, we get upset. Everyone has times when they feel their needs are more important than those of someone else around them. Maybe this is more prevalent in someone with BPD, but in general, everyone feels this way at some point.

I have a lot of problems with self-sacrificing too much. It burns me out after a while. I do need to take care of my own needs, and eventually I feel like my own needs need to take priority over someone else’s. I don’t have anyone taking care of me. I am completely self-sufficient. If I don’t take care of me, no one else is going to. As one person, I can only do so much, as sometimes I need to put myself ahead of you, regardless of what you think you deserve.

Another statement made was “It goes both ways though. You mention how a Borderline’s empathy is often self-centered – I think us Nons’ obsession in whether Borderline’s have it or not is equally self –centered. We have been hurt by a Borderline and at least want to know the score is even. What they did hurt us; we want them to hurt back because of it.”

I relate to this statement a lot. Any time someone has hurt me, or I’ve perceived someone has hurt me, I feel this desire for them to feel that hurt back. I think this is normal.

I think people forget at times that we’re people too. Some of the most severe trauma I’ve been through was at the hands of someone who was for all intents and purposes just a nuerotypical guy. No personality disorder. No nothing. Just a jerk. And by jerk I mean a cheating, abusive, rapist.  I know how it is to be so injured by someone that you want nothing more than for them to hurt. To feel how badly they’ve hurt you. For them to hurt in the same way you are hurting. That is something I can definitely empathize with. I understand the anger that people have at those of us with BPD whom they’ve been wounded by.   I’m not going to apologize for anyone though. I have no problem apologizing, and meaning it, to people that I’ve hurt. I think it’s important to keep in perspective the realization that we have been hurt as well. You may have done something that you didn’t think was a big deal or even realize you did (or someone in our past did), but to our highly sensitive emotional skin was deeply painful. We may have been so lost in our own selfish emotions that we didn’t pay attention to how badly we affected and ultimately hurt you. Not in the moment.

But we do eventually. And for someone we care about, it’s important to make up for it. Emotional reactivity aside, our brains usually work alright. I may not always feel connected to my emotions, but cognitively I know when someone is important to me. I wouldn’t bother trying to make amends with someone if I didn’t know that. It may not be the motivation you’re hoping for, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

 ** I'm tempted to recommend reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins... he provides a good analytical look on the concept of human selfishness, but he's also an atrociously boring and tedious writer. Your call.

*** Pleases try to keep in mind that this is still under that emotionally turbulent category for me. If I’m in a relatively calm place than my empathic response probably won’t have that self-centered aspect.

Part 1 - Borderline Dissociation

Part 2 - When Empathy is Beyond Me

Part 3 - Self-Destructive Empathy

Part 5 - Yes, Borderlines do feel Empathy

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Empathy and Me: Part 3 - Self-Destructive Empathy

Or… A Borderline in Love.
There is nothing more beautiful (or scary) than a Borderline in love. When I’m in love the rest of the world stops. There is you. I live and breathe to make you happy. To hold onto your love.
Even at the expense of losing myself. But this comes later.
When I’m wrapped up in you, I feel everything for you. Your smile is my smile. Your pain is my pain. Your sadness is my misery. Your happiness is my euphoria. My empathy for you has surpassed any normal level of empathy. It’s heightened beyond reason.  How you feel is more important to me than how I feel.
My own happiness is dependent on yours. Therefore I will do anything I can to ensure you are happy.
If I perceive that I have done any small thing to upset you, or mildly inconvenience you; I panic. This may be something you barely think twice about, but it will create an anxiety that grips my stomach and shoves it up into my throat. I may even feel the need to punish myself emotionally, even physically, until I can rectify it. If I do something that makes you smile, any small thing, the sun becomes a thousand times brighter. Everything seems amplified. I will go out of my way, exhaust my time and resources to provide, do, show, create the key to making you smile. The key to bind you to me. To secure your love for me. I’ll put my needs aside, for yours. I will feel so intensely about those things that you feel for that I begin to confuse how you feel about something, for how I do. Things I never had much of an interest in, or just a normal level of interest, are now points of focus and excitement. It happens so gradually I don’t even notice it happens.
How I feel is entirely dependent on how you feel.  
My empathy for you has become destructive to me. Cognitively I think my perception of how I feel is skewed, I'm being much too hypersensitive, but in the moment I can't help but experience it.
That I can become this way actually fills me with a huge sense of shame. I pride myself on my independence, so to be so thoroughly consumed by someone with so little regard for myself wounds me. There should be a balance. It should not be all or nothing. Black and white.
Slowly I begin to realize I’m at risk of losing my own identity. I can become so wrapped up in another person that I begin to lose hold of who I am. At first it just seems like we’re sharing interests and experiences, then slowly things become more and more about you. Less about me. Until everything is about you and I fear that asking anything for me will be the inconvenience that pushes you away. I won’t even voice my concerns to potentially alleviate the dread I’m beginning to feel. I have become so in tune with what you like, my identity has slowly slipped into who you are.
*** We really need to learn to work on communication skills!***
Not for nothing, but I like who I am. My crazy mood swings aside, I have a lot going for me that I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to forget who I am.  But you’re letting me.  In fact, by continue to take, and take, and take all that I am willing to give, without reciprocating in a way that is nearly even, you’re encouraging this change. Forget the fact that you never asked for all the things I do for you. Forget that no normal person would consume themselves this way. Forget that you may have no clue that this is even going on. It feels like you’ve been taking advantage of what I offer so willingly, at the expense of my own identity, and I will begin to resent you for it.
This is too much. For as much as I crave having someone else so close to me, I’m also afraid of relying on someone so much. The closer you allow someone to get to you, the more you love someone, the greater the risk that they will eventually hurt you. I’ve been hurt enough. It’s like my Fight and Flight response has been triggered at the same time. My desire to protect myself suddenly overwhelms my need to take care of you.
I’ll flip from idealization to devaluation.
I don’t feel emotions simultaneously. I don’t feel worry and love and sadness all at once. I feel suffocation. I feel fear. Then panic. Then isolation. I miss you. I hurt you. I’m sorry. In the midst of each separate emotion, that’s the thing I feel the need to fix. This causes an impulsive reaction to each mood.
The Push-Pull cycle plays out. Until I’m right back head over heels. Rinse and repeat.
Fortunately this can be tempered. It takes time and some definite effort, but just over the past year I’ve noticed a big improvement in my own emotional impulsivity.  Now I know how this all sounds. I don’t actually run around with big moon eyes like a simpering submissive love struck teenager. I look just like anyone else in love. It’s more in the form of excited experimentation for me. Of course we can do that! Yes! Let’s try that. More often then not I take the lead and have the more dominant personality given the energy I exude. I don’t know if that makes sense.  I maintain a fa├žade keeping the wildness in check, keeping my fears and worries inside… until I can’t. So when I do flip to a new mood it probably seems like you’ve been blind-sided.
I can only imagine what this must seem like from the other persons perspective. It must be baffling. And ultimately destructive and hurtful. I never do this on purpose. I don’t want to hurt someone I care about. I’ll end relationships just to avoid hurting someone before they even know what happened. It’s lonely. Very, very lonely.  There has to be a better way.
I’m not trying to justify this behavior, just provide a look at what it feels like.
As for everyone else around me, they usually get a reflection of the mood I’m in as well. The more in love, the more empathic I am towards everyone. Everything moves me just a little bit more. No one else will matter quite so much as my significant other. Everyone else won’t rank quite so high on the empathic totem pole, but everything is still at its empathic height. Opening up that much, however, has its drawbacks. You can become vulnerable to all the destructive and overwhelming emotions of those around you. It’s hard to feel so much on top of everything else you’re already trying to juggle.  When I am open, people are very receptive to this. I am the one that everyone seems to turn to to confide in. For advice. For a shoulder to cry on. And I let them. Until I either let it consume me, or it shuts me down. With my dissociative disorder I almost always shut down now, but this wasn’t always the case. The panic attacks, the feeling of helplessness, the sense that I couldn’t do enough for anyone else, it was all too much. I’m only one person.
Emotional extremes impair my empathy. Unsurprisingly it’s a very split all or nothing. I am extremely emotionally turbulent and have no empathy for you. Or I am completely in love, bordering on obsession, and I feel everything for you, at the expense of my own self.  Then for me I also have periods of dissociation where I simply don’t feel at all.

But wait! That’s not all! Really? Of course not. There are times when the empathic line is a little blurry, and happily, times when empathy is quite normal….


Part 1 - Borderline Dissociation

Part 2 - When Empathy is Beyond Me

Part 4 - Grey Area in Empathy

Part 5 - Yes, Borderlines do feel Empathy

Monday, January 9, 2012

Empathy and Me – Part 2: When Empathy is Beyond Me

When I am emotionally turbulent my ability to empathize with you does not exist. At the very least it is greatly diminished in the face of my own internal turmoil.

This isn’t because I no longer care for you. It’s not that you are no longer important to me. When the weight of an emotional building is crashing down around me, how you’ve stubbed your toe is going to get lost in the chaos. It’s not that your pain or problems aren’t significant, they might be, but in the midst of my mental maelstrom, when my heart is split and spilling apart, there is no more space left to fissure for you.

Contrary to popular belief, Borderlines are not always running in emotional Armageddon. We tend to spend the majority of our time in a sort of Detached Protector mode (at least I do). However, the emotional outbursts are the defining feature so that is what everyone remembers. Those emotions can be completely overwhelming. Our hearts and heads filled to capacity with what we are going through, struggling with, and fighting against. When my glass is filled to overflowing with my own problems, there isn’t room to add yours.

Especially if I’m angry. When my fury boils over, if someone has pushed me beyond my breaking point, all I see is red, and no amount of anything else can penetrate this veil of seething until I’ve had time to cool off.

I shut down to the outside world. I withdraw into myself. I feel too much. Every emotional stimulus is like a little torch lit upon my skin. I hurt so much within myself, hurting for you too creates that added pain that can push me into shock. I shut down.

Eventually this deadens me. I can only run on overload for so long. Like any machine, when your circuits are pushed past capacity, you reach a breaking point and the fuse fizzles out. It takes time to find a flashlight, feel your way down to the basement, open up the breaker box, and replace the fuse. I know this is not convenient for you, trust me, it’s not convenient for me either.

For the time though, I simply don’t care. I feel nothing for you, and eventually I may feel nothing for me as well. It’s a defense mechanism created by the brain to compensate for the lack of emotional regulation we deal with.

That doesn’t mean it’s not painful, or hurtful for you, the Non-Borderline that has to deal with us. Times like these are when we are most turbulent. I no longer Act Out. I work very, very hard to keep my behavior and feelings hidden. I Act In and take things out on myself. But this hasn’t always been the case. When I was younger I would rage, lash out, verbally attack those closest to me, with no regard for the feelings of those around me. It’s not that I wanted to be malicious, but in the face of what I was feeling I didn’t have the ability to recognize that other people were still feeling too. My scope of my world was focused on me. I’ve talked about this before. This is what I call Borderline Narcissism.

For someone with Borderline Personality Disorder narcissism does not manifest as a belief that we are actually better than anyone else. (At least I don’t generally feel superiority over anyone.) It’s more a sense that our emotions can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to see past our own scope and sphere of influence long enough to take into consideration the needs of others.

I strongly suggest reading the article I wrote on this. This isn’t a constant state for me, thankfully.

I also have a problem with relating to the severity of another person’s pain. When you’ve dealt with the abuse, neglect, and trauma that someone with Borderline Personality Disorder may have dealt with, many things simply don’t seem so severe by comparison. That doesn’t make those things are any less important, but it’s hard to relate. I’ve been emotionally battered beyond recognition to the point where small abuses no longer register as points of pain. My tolerance to such things has been built up so much that it’s hard for me to understand why someone else is so affected by something I see as so seemingly small. I also have a problem with Emotional Inhibition and EmotionalSubjugation. Growing up I was constantly told to suck it up, not to express my pain, internalize how I feel, don’t express it, that I don’t always understand why people complain about all the things they complain about. I love my Roommate to pieces. She’s one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever known. Every time she gets a paper cut or small bruise she points it out and analyzes the “injury”. I am completely incapable of caring or empathizing with her in such cases. Rape and attempted murder aside, I’ve had to send myself to the hospital to get stitches for wounds I’ve inflicted upon myself… wounds that didn’t even make me bat an eye. Something so small just seems so silly.

My threshold for pain, emotional and physical, is so high that you need to get past a certain point before I can even feel it.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this translates into emotion empathy as well. I know how severe and all-consuming my emotions can be; if I can survive that, than you can probably survive too. I think this is a projection of my emotional inhibition. And probably why my father always told me to stop reacting to things he considered inconsequential. He grew up in a household with abuse, alcoholism, and neglect. In comparison to everything he went through, and ultimately persevered over, much else seems trivial.

I think I used to feel more. I’ve run my life at emotional capacity for so long, with so little support, that I don’t think I have the ability to give of myself the same way anymore. In order to protect my mind, I’ve shut down to a lot of the outside world. I mentioned this video that I saw the other day that nearly broke my heart. This has become rarer for me, but I remember a time when every injustice would move me like this. Often things like hurricanes, tsunami, earthquake, massive event trauma, no longer phase me. I feel nothing. Cognitively I recognize what these people are going through, but to let myself become emotionally attached would be too much. If it’s not affecting me directly, unfortunately I can’t allow myself to care (this is a subconscious reaction, not an intentional one).

When I’m in emotional pain, everything in my world is about me.  

No matter how much I know I care about you, what you need is beyond my emotional ability in this moment. This is not constant and all enduring, it will eventually subside and we can be there emotionally for you again in the future, but in the moment of our emotional turmoil it is what matters. Even then, I may still try to be there for you. I’ll listen and provide what comfort I can because I do remember what you mean to me, but that’s all I can do. This can come across as hollow or mechanical, like we’re not fully there with you. Yeah, that’s a failing on our part. But you should probably keep in mind that you’re going to someone who is emotionally stunted for emotional comfort. People, Borderline and Non-Borderline alike, have selfish needs (< --- this is OK!). We want what we want when we want it, or need it. So many Nons are hurt by our lack of emotional connectedness. I always try to take responsibility for how I act. But at the same time, those Nons need to remember that they want something too, from someone that they probably know isn’t capable of providing what they need. You wouldn’t ask a one armed man to juggle half a dozen knives now would you? Just because we want something from someone, doesn’t mean they can provide it. As a Borderline I try to recognize my limits, and the limits of those around me, but the Nons need to do this as well. Believe me, I know how psychotically difficult this can be. And it doesn’t stop it from hurting when our needs aren’t met. The reality of our situation is that we may not be as emotionally capable of dealing with things as you, you can’t force us to function at a level we haven’t achieved yet. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take responsibility for ourselves. We should. That’s why I’m doing the therapeutic work I’m doing after all.
When I am in emotional pain, you can’t rely on me for emotional support. I don’t have the ability to empathize. If I didn't cause your pain, I can't attach to it. I can sit next to you, I can listen, I can keep you company, I can bring you tissues and soup and ice cream, but that’s all I can do. I don’t understand why this isn’t enough either. Why would you want me to feel the pain you are going through? When I need emotional support from someone that did not cause my pain, I don’t hope the other person can feel what I’m feeling. It sounds kind of mean actually. I’m hurting, so I want you to feel what I’m feeling? That just sucks. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Just having someone there is enough. Cognitively I imagine it has something to do with not wanting to feel like you have been singled out and are suffering alone. But why do you want me to suffer with you? Why would I want you to suffer with me? Simply being there shows caring. Just because you don’t understand my pain, doesn’t mean you don’t care. If you didn’t, you’d have left. Just because I don’t understand your pain, doesn’t mean I don’t care. If I didn’t, I’d have left.

I don’t expect empathy from anyone. I’m so disconnected from people most of the time I honestly cannot fathom that people do empathize with me. I do desire someone that cares (even though I have no expectations that anyone does). Knowing that you care is important to me. Knowing you’re there for me is enough. I don’t need you to feel what I’m feeling though. In fact, that just sounds cruel.  Or maybe I do need this but I’ve had the hope of it broken from me. I’ve learned to live without it. Hm.

There is an exception to this, but I’ll get to that later…

** Please try to keep in mind that this description is only in times of extreme emotional turmoil. Often it is very possible for us to feel empathy. It is not always about us. I'll get to this in more detail soon.

*** I also have a Dissociative Disorder which makes my ability to connect with people even more complicated. This is not representative of everyone with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Part 3 - Self-Destructive Empathy

Part 4 - Grey Area in Empathy

Part 5 - Yes, Borderlines do feel Empathy

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bringing Sex Into Focus

I saw this article over at Psychology Today and thought I would share. Rape and sexual abuse are a huge problem, not only for those with Borderline Personality Disorder, but for everyone, everywhere.

Bringing Sex Into Focus
The quest for sexual integrity.
by Caroline J. Simon Ph.D.

Rape Redefined for the 21st Century

Justice Department catches up with the complexities of rape.
Published on January 7, 2012 by Caroline J. Simon, Ph.D. in Bringing Sex Into Focus

Rape is wrong. Uncontroversial. But what is rape? The U.S. Department of Justice has finally made a giant step toward catching up with the 21st century complexities of this issue.

On Friday, January 6, 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder announced changes to the Uniform Crime Report's definition of rape. Since 1927 the federal definition of rape has been "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will." The revised definition includes "any gender of victim or perpetrator, and includes instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age" ("Department of Expands Justice Definition of Rape."). Commentating on this move in an NPR interview, victims' advocate Scott Berkowitz praised the new definition because it "comes much closer to reflecting the reality of the crime. It happens to men and women, young and old, but in every case, it's an incredibly violent crime and we owe it to victims to acknowledge and count every one."

As an ethicist, I hope that this legal move will renew widespread public discussion of the important moral issues surrounding sexual consent.Make sure that there is consent is a vital rule. Easily said, but not simple to do. Especially after a casual sexual encounter, someone might say, "What do you mean you didn't want to have sex? Why'd you invite me up to your room then?" If one person but not the other assumes that not saying "no" is the same thing as consenting to an escalated level of sexual intimacy, harmful misunderstanding--even rape--can be a consequence.

Consent is an act rather than a state of mind. If consent is an act, it needs to be given; it should not simply be assumed in the absence of any sign to the contrary. Lack of a "No" is not equivalent to a "Yes." This means that it is a mistake to infer consent to sexual activities from the absence of an explicit "No."

As most state laws, and now the federal government, acknowledge, consent is also complicated by such factors as age-differences and the murky role of alcohol and drugs in sexual encounters. Mere verbal agreement is not valid consent. A child cannot validly consent to sex. Fraud and coercion are other conditions that invalidate consent. So does intoxication.

Ogden Nash became well known in the twentieth century for writing catchy and humorous short poems. Nash said, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker." Nash's poem makes the cynical point that wooing a woman by sending her small presents like candy might eventually lead to sexual intimacy, but if you want to speed things along, get her drunk.

Before the term "date-rape" was invented, this poem counted as funny.
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