Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ask Haven! Episode 2: Unstable Relationships


Question from a Reader:

Can someone with Borderline Personality Disorder only have unstable relationships if they are intimate/romantic relationships and not  platonic relationships?

While intimate and romantic relationships are often the most unstable for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, it is very likely that any relationship will be affected. That doesn’t mean all relationships will be affected, though it is certainly likely, but it is definitely not limited to only romantic or intimate relationships.

Growing up my romantic relationships were always short lived and very turbulent. These were almost tame compared to the instability I had with my own family though. My brother and I fought constantly, my sister was actually afraid of me, and my parents and I probably woke the neighbors every night with the magnitude of the screaming matches we would have. Discipline didn’t work with me. I would always find a way around it. Things got so bad at one point that my father actually gave me an ultimatum; start paying rent or get out. I immediately went to my room, packed a bag and tossed it out my window. When I went back downstairs to leave my father asked where I was going. I told him I need to go to the bank if he wanted rent. He let me go. I didn’t come home for 4 days. I only came back because I thought my parents were at work and I needed more clothes. While I was getting my things my mom came home though. She’d been paging me incessantly for days. When she saw me she hugged me so hard and dissolved into tears. I remember my heart breaking for her while at the same time being pissed off that she caught me. I couldn’t leave again. Not after that. My parents never tried threatening me with things like that again. I was much too unpredictable.

They never gave up on me though. I know how rebellious, how vicious, how destructive I was. And they still loved me, even though I made them beyond angry. They never gave up on me. Something I am incredibly grateful for. I know how hard I was to deal with.

So, no, BPD doesn’t just affect romantic relationships. I would say it affects those relationships that are most intimate in the sense of closeness though. Family, friends, lovers… no one is immune if they are very close to us emotionally.

Roommate is one of my best friends. She sees me more than almost anyone and we are actually very close. She’s seen me melt down, she’s seen blood dripping from my arms, she’s held me as I dissolve in a puddle of despair. She’s seen this. But I’ve never, not ever, have I taken out my anger or aggression or hurt on her. I know I worry her sometimes, but I’ve never acted out against her. I’m not sure it’s possible to always hide the symptoms of BPD from someone close to you, but it is possible for us to have relatively stable, healthy relationships where we do not take out our emotions on other people. Of course, she’s never given me any reason to hurt. She doesn’t place pressure on me, I’ve never felt that she needed me to be something other than I am, she’s always supported me and been very understanding when I did need an ear. She’s an exceptional person and I’d venture to say, more understanding than most.

I also have many ‘friends’ that I am not close to, that would never guess I had a mental disorder at all. This goes for my coworkers as well. They see me every day and I’m able to maintain my professional masks. They’re not emotionally close to me though. They don’t know the real me.

I think what triggers unstable behavior in relationships is the magnitude of intimacy. The closer the relationship, the more invested we are, the more frightening the possibility of it ending becomes. Funny, that this is almost always a self-fulfilling prophecy. We become frightened something will happen, we act in ways to push people away, to distance ourselves from them, before they can hurt us, and this very act is what starts the downward spiral into the destruction of the relationship. It sounds clean cut when you look at it like that, but it never is.
The pushing away is gradual. Often we don’t even recognize the things we do that manifest as pushing people away. Our thoughts and actions seem quite rational to our traumatized mind. No one sees it coming, not even us most of the time. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

No Trials in Therapy Today

As you may know if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, I didn’t have therapy last night. Friday is usually when I do my Lucid Analysis – Trials in Therapy series and talk about what I did in therapy the night before, but well, Therapist is sick so she cancelled all her appointments.
This sucks. First of all, I immediately have thoughts of: Does she just not want to deal with me today? Maybe she’s disappointed because I’m depressed all the time and she doesn’t want to put up with me complaining.  Second, it sucks because I think I’m finally starting to rely on her. One of the problems Borderlines often have is the inability to connect to their therapist. I have a problem connecting to anybody, so that I’m finally starting to look forward to therapy BECAUSE I want Therapists opinion and support (after a year!) is kind of a big deal for me. I often look forward to therapy just because being able to vent to an objective source really does help relieve the tension and pent up frustration I often feel. It allows me to unburden myself, even if it’s just to some small degree. I don’t usually go feeling a specific need for Therapists opinion on things. That’s been changing. She’s so patient with me.
Last night I wanted to talk about Friend. He finally wrote me back. As I suspected he was very gentle with my feelings and does want to work things out. However he misconstrued some things I said, which is partially my own fault for writing while emotionally fueled. So I need to clarify some stuff. I needed Therapists opinion on how to go about doing this. Our bullshit aside, he also wants me to sit down with his wife and “heal” my relationship with her. What he doesn’t understand is that I do not have a real relationship with her. I never have. There was a point where I tried to be friends with her. Even when this was occurring we never had any natural closeness or true interest between us. Despite the warnings of everyone around me I placed some trust in her… and she threw it back in my face and used it against me to victimize me emotionally. All that accomplished was to piss me off and gain her solid black split and complete devaluation. I remember the exact conversation, date, and feeling when it happened. My ability to see her otherwise has not wavered since. And won’t.
Friend on the other hand, I had a very long emotionally intimate and close relationship with. I idealized him to the point where I was absolutely falling in love with him before my first major devaluation of him. This makes things with him vastly, vastly different. There was a connection. Especially for someone like me, who has very definite problems with object constancy, actually feeling a connection is a big deal. I no longer feel a connection. Right now because we’ve barely spoken in over a month he’s barely a snapshot in my mind, but he’s there. His wife is like, an annotation, a side note pinned up next to his picture. I know she’s there, but it really makes no difference to me at all. I can feel nothing for her existence (other than the occasion anger and disgust – which more often than not is really just neutral acceptance of her presence).
Even if I wanted to “heal” things with her, I couldn’t. She’s a place holder in my mind. Not only that, but even when I was still trying to be friends with her, I observed her. I saw how she treated Friend, I saw how she treated the people around her that she considers friends, I saw how she gossips, instigates drama, and then cries victim when people call her on her bullshit. She has no integrity. She treats people very, very poorly. That’s not the kind of person I will ever willingly choose to have closet to me.
I don’t know if I should try to explain to Friend my psychological hang ups which would highlight my BPD and Dissociative conditions (which he is fully aware of, but obviously doesn’t really get). Or just tell him that she’s not the kind of person that I will ever choose to be close to and all I can offer is to keep an open mind going into the future (which unfortunately will be something of a lie because I can’t change how I feel about her) and will continue to maintain a neutral attitude towards her.
With Friend the thought of losing him is very scary to me. I will verge on panic and tears, and then, shut off. It’s very confusing because I feel little to no connection to him now. Yet I have these disembodied emotions that seem unconnected to an actual person. It’s an experience I’m having a very hard time reconciling. Cognitively I know what was once there though so there is still the potential for value. I think. Sometimes. When I can care. Because frankly, sometimes I feel like I could just walk off into the sunset forever and my life wouldn’t be any different. His wife, on the other hand, holds no potential value to me. Period.
I can be neutral towards her, but he needs to understand that my appreciation of him is not dependent on his marriage. I can be friends with someone, and not friends with their significant other. If he can’t accept this, than I think our friendship is over. So that’s that.
That’s what I WOULD HAVE talked about in therapy if I had therapy, but I didn’t. So now I’m just gonna stumble around and hope that I’m not screwing myself over since I have no guidance. My first letter was definitely a lot impulsive as I wrote it pretty drunk. At least I waited til I was sober enough to edit it a bit before sending. This response is a more cogent view of  my current thoughts.
Oh well, at least I’m saying things that need to be said.
Hm. What else?
Tech Boy? Anyone interested? We’re still doing what we’re doing. I'm not sure how things are with us. I'm so, overly fucking cautious, that I can't attach in any way unless he's almost literally right on top of me. It's pretty maddening. I'll see him at work every day, he'll meet my eyes and smile extra wide or swing by my office to say hi and see if I'm coming down for break, but because I can't feel an attachment I second guess every second we're not speaking and wonder if he's actually into me, just pretending to be b/c we work together, or I don't even know what. Little paranoid. But when we do hang out just the two of us it's like fucking fireworks. It's not easy. Especially when all the while I look like nothing bothers me and I'm completely outwardly confident.
Lately I’ve been having small bouts of emotion, that quickly shut down. I don’t like this. It’s exactly opposite of what Therapist wants me to do. She wants me to let myself feel these things. What she says makes a lot of sense. The logic behind it all (which I even blog about) makes a lot of sense. In practice it’s not as easy to do as it seems. Open up. Let yourself feel. It’s not the same as opening a door or a window. There’s some weird combination lock and a bunch of laser sensors I need to maneuver first. While blindfolded. Groping around in the dark. ::sigh::

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The “How’s” Of Mindfulness: Non-Judgmentally

Yesterday I talked about the “What” Skills of Mindfulness, so today let’s talk about the “How” Skills.
The “What’s” are the things you want to do in order to cultivate mindfulness. The “How’s” are the way you want to look at things, the attitudes and route you want to take. They are:
 
Non-Judgmentally
One-Mindfully
Effectively
I was originally going to do all of these in one post, but there’s just too much so we’ll break this down into a nice little series.
Non-Judgmentally – In order to increase your mindfulness you must raise your awareness of what you feel and think. See your thoughts and emotions, but do not evaluate them. Do not place judgments on them. Thoughts and emotions are not “Good” or “Bad”, they are not things you “Should” or “Should not” feel or think. Accept the thought or emotion as it is; just a thought, just a feeling. You want to learn how to see things from a non-polarized perspective. People, especially those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder, have a distorted way of thinking and perceiving things. Often this is natural. As humans we label, magnify, polarize, filter, and discount certain things without giving them a second thought. We make assumptions about things in reality which close our mind to seeing what the facts actually are. Some examples of distorted thinking:
All-or-Nothing ThinkingSplitting. We know what this is like. It polarizes your viewpoint into an extreme. Good and bad, right and wrong, black and white, should or should not, etc. This kind of thinking is what contributes to idealization and devaluation. This creates so many problems, the foundation of which is; the world simply does not work this way. Things are rarely black and white, but filled in with shades of grey, and red, and yellow, and green, and blue! In the heat of emotional conflict we often feel that there is only one way to look at a person or a situation. We need to remember that there is always another perspective, another way we can look at a story, another view point to consider. When we are able to do this, we provide ourselves with the opportunity to find alternative solutions.
Labeling – Good, Bad, Scary, Disgusting, Right, Wrong, etc…. these things are judgments and opinions. Is a spider bad? It might startle you, but it’s probably not plotting against you. It’s just an arachnid trying to go about its little life. Labeling is like a quick fire evaluation. Once you evaluate and define something, the mind holds onto that label. This inhibits the ability to look past a split second judgment and find what else lies beyond the label.
Mental Filtering – This is when your mind automatically screens opinions that don’t fit in with your current belief. Think, selective hearing, where you only hear things you want to hear but ultimately you miss out on part of the story.
Over-generalization – This is common. When something occurs in a single instance, or a handful of instances, and you apply it across the board in all scenerios. Instead of looking at each case as an individual instance, you make a blanket judgment. Statements like “Always” and “Never” often accompany these thought process. “We always do things your way”, “We never do what I want to do”, “You never think about me”, etc.
Jumping to Conclusions or Mind Reading – Often this is a problem with being hypersensitive. Someone with BPD can be very aware of peoples tone of voice and expressions, so it’s natural to assume how they are feeling and try to interpret what they are thinking. The problem is, unless you ask that person, you can’t actually know what they’re thinking.
Magnification – This is exaggeration to the extreme. This creates mountains out of mole hills. This is often the distortion that occurs when we are in a very emotionally intense place, can’t see past the pain of our emotion, and it feels like the world is going to come crashing down around us. But unless we’ve jumped 4 Billion years into the future and the sun is going supernova, than odds are the world isn’t actually coming to an end. Intense thoughts create intense feelings. Being able to focus on just the facts of a situation, and not judging the emotional content of them, will allow you to see what is happening as it actually is.
Discounting the Positive – I’m really bad about this one. This distortion rejects affirmations, positives, and compliments as if they don’t count. You fear people are lying to you in order to manipulate you so you discount anything good that could actually be happening or said. Instead, just say thank you.

When you are ruled by your emotional mind, feelings become distorted and facts are lost. When you no longer have a clear picture of what is happening in the world around you, or even inside of you, of course you’re going to be overwhelmed and frantic. The trick is to regain a factual perspective on what is actually occurring. Don’t allow your mind to run away with you and create monsters under the bed where there are only shadows.      

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Be Mindful with Borderline Personality Disorder

Learning to be mindful of our emotions, feelings, and thoughts is important for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Like any problem in life, it’s difficult to work through a sticky situation if you don’t know what the underlying cause for that situation is. Being mindful of yourself is where you need to begin. When you are mindful of your emotions it becomes possible to accept and tolerate the intense feelings that seem to emerge out of nowhere when we are presented with a stressful situation. Being mindful helps you find that origin, locate where they came from, and get to the heart of the problem.
Many of you may recognize this as one of the core concepts in Marsha M. Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. The goal of Mindfulness is to help you pay attention to what is going on around you and inside you; observe it in a non-judgmental way, and learn to live in the present moment by actually experiencing your senses and emotions fully, but with a reasonable perspective.
This is not a skill that can be developed over night. It takes time and practice, but it can work for you if you allow yourself to internalize the tenants.
Linehan breaks these down into two sets: The “What” skills and the “How” skills. These sets of skills, ultimately, will help you learn emotional acceptance. It’s very difficult to heal from a traumatic experience if you cannot accept how it actually affects you. In order to achieve true healing, you must accept that what is occurring within your body and mind is a real experience. Experience it, understand it, and then you can begin to heal from it.
For me this is difficult. I fight my emotions. I fight my feelings. I suppress, repress, and completely detach from the conflict occurring inside of myself. As I’ve mentioned though, this only works to make things worse in the long run. It may make the moment appear manageable, but eventually it catches up with you.
So how do you work on being Mindful? Today let’s look at the “What” Skills.
Observe. Describe. Participate.
Observe – This is the act of experiencing with awareness your feelings, thoughts, and sensations without trying to describe them with words. In order to observe yourself you need to take a step back in order to re-orient yourself into the present moment. Often people get stuck in their own minds; they become preoccupied with thoughts, ruminations, and distractions. These things inhibit your ability to see what is actually going on around you in the present moment. By simply observing how you feel, without judging it or trying to describe it, it allows you to become a blank canvas.
Describe – This is where you actually attempt to put into words the thoughts and feelings that you have observed in yourself. The words you choose should not be judgmental! Just describe the facts of what is going on, do not try to interpret what is happening yet. This helps cultivate self-control. Describing what you think in words, describing your feelings, your emotions allows you to become focused. This helps gain control over those distractions that take you out of the present moment.
Participate – This is when you decide to become involved in what you are working through and doing. To do this, you must allow yourself to experience.
Allow yourself to actually feel the emotions you are having. This may seem counterintuitive if you’re trying to get rid of painful feelings. But if you don’t experience and acknowledge the pain, all you will do is repress it and avoid it, which will not help you move past it. By observing how you are feeling, letting yourself feel it, you can then take the next step.
When you’ve allowed yourself to observe how you feel, have permitted yourself to actually accept how you feel, it can be very painful. However, it provides the opportunity to work on what is causing your this pain. When you recognize the source, and ultimately are able to begin a path towards healing from the pain, you will form a cognitive attachment to the fact that you have experience painful emotions, however, these emotions and feelings, are temporary. One of the biggest problems for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is that, in the moment of painful experiences, it can feel like the world is ending. All that you know and feel is the pain you are in at the moment and it feels like that pain will never go away. When everything you do works to avoid pain, bury pain, hide pain within so that you do not experience it directly, it builds up and lurks below your surface. In this way it IS ACTUALLY ever present. It’s always there because instead of facing it, dealing with it, and ultimately healing from it, you’re allowing it to take up residence in the basement of your mind. Allowing yourself to experience painful emotions provides the ability to accept these emotions, work through them, and then let them move on, and move out of your life. It’s like mental housekeeping. Ultimately too, this will allow you to connect to happy and pleasurable emotions as well! Sound strange? When you attempt to cut yourself off from feeling, your body doesn’t work along a clear cut line. You can’t tell yourself, “Ok brain, I’m just not going to feel A, B, and C, but D, E, and F are good to go”. No. When you dull one mechanism you work to dull all mechanisms of feeling, which means it’s also harder to feel happiness and internalize positive emotions.
Often it feels like a compromise. In the past, and honestly right now in my present, I’m still fighting with a sort of stunted compromise. I may not be totally happy, but at least I’m not in devastating pain either. Does this sound pleasant to you? It doesn’t feel pleasant to me. In fact, it’s a pretty lame compromise.
Don’t compromise on having a fulfilling life.
When you don’t allow yourself to experience the pain you’re going through, you can not realize the there is, in fact, a finite resolution. When you suppress the pain, it continues to lurk. This is why it feels like the pain will never end… because you don’t give it the opportunity to! It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy of internal pain.  And that pain can last indefinitely. You have to choose not to let it. It does mean opening yourself to some difficult emotions in the present, but once you do, you will also be opening yourself up to a wider range of happiness and unburdened living as well.
I’m still working on this. It’s not easy. It does take time, but it’s happening. Slowly. I think. =P  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Emotional Suppression in Borderline Personality Disorder

Emotional suppression is an attempt to regulate emotions in order to make uncomfortable thoughts and feelings easier to deal with. For someone with Borderline Personality Disorder this is not always easy to do, if it’s possible at all. I’m one of the lucky few (please insert dripping sarcasm) that was brought up to suppress my emotions. Even I have a difficult time of it though, unsurprisingly.

This probably sounds counter-intuitive to what most people know of BPD. After all we’re a part of that Cluster B Dramatic personality type known for our fantastic outbursts of emotion. That’s just the stigma. It’s the most noticeable attribute which is why it is highlighted, but that is not how we spend the majority of our time. Most of my days are spent trapped inside my own mind. It’s not until the noise and sensory perception becomes too great that it finally comes busting out.
As I discussed yesterday and as I talked about before with emotional Subjugation and Inhibition; I don’t believe that I have a right to feel the emotions that I feel. I don’t believe they are ok or will be acknowledged and accepted as valid experiences because my entire life I was told I should not feel this way. Talk about a complete cognitive dissonance for a child. How a person feels is a very real experience, but when you are told this is wrong it forces you to question your own ability to interpret your reality. I’ve mentioned before that I do not trust myself. I can quite logically work through any situation and foresee all rational paths and consequences, but then I also have an emotional response that can be in opposition to what I cognitively see as an outcome. I know one is right, but the other feels right. So which do I choose? I have no idea. My internal conflict quickly escalates. This is why emotional validation is so important. Validation should be coupled with constructive solutions if possible. Recognizing what you are going through as a valid experience followed by learning ways to deal and work through that experience is essential. For me this is what therapy is for.
Where was I?
Ah yes, so since I don’t believe my emotions are real, I can’t trust myself, instead I suppress what goes on inside me. At least I try. Unfortunately I believe this makes it worse. In fact, research has shown that the more you try to suppress a thought or feeling, the more likely you are to focus on it, because you know you’re not supposed to!
“Wegner called this the “rebound effect of thought suppression.” Essentially, if you try to push away a thought of some topic, you will end up having more thoughts about that topic.”
For someone with BPD that often feels so emotionally overwhelmed with distressing and negative thoughts, this means that attempting to suppress these emotions will actually magnify them for us. Instead of lessening or avoiding the painful feelings, they will be amplified instead, making that pain even greater! So you try harder to push it down, and the thought pushes back twice as much. Talk about a vicious, vicious cycle. It becomes much less surprising that we can’t get our mind of this kind of pain and that one incident can rapidly become overwhelming.
And then comes the shame. I don’t believe I have a right to feel this way, I try to do what is “right” by suppressing these emotions, they amplify within me, so I have to work harder, increasing the emotional pressure I feel to perform and perfectly, all the while I feel that control slowly slipping away from me. Frustration. Frustration with myself for not being how I “should” be. But if these thoughts weren’t natural, why would I have them? Shift. Resentment. I know it’s natural to feel emotions, who is anyone to tell me otherwise. I have a right to feel the way I do. The resentment begins to seethe. Anger. It simmers at a boil until one more thing, often something seemingly small, adds its emotional weight to everything we’re already trying to suppress and finally we pop.
It’s not that we’re blowing up over some insignificant problem, though it may seem like it and I can understand why our anger seems baffling and irrational. But more often than not it’s actually a buildup of suppressed feeling over a lot of time for many, many different issues.
Because I do not feel it is ok to feel or talk about or express my needs, it is often impossible for others to understand what has happened to create this build up. They don’t realize that often they may even be contributing to that buildup unknowingly. No, I’m not trying to blame everyone else and justify this behavior. However, I do think it is necessary to note that as human beings we often push each other’s buttons in ways we don’t realize and this does contribute to a buildup of frustration. Especially if you’re someone like me that does not believe I have the right to speak up and tell you that what you’re doing is causing me distress. Non-Borderlines often get very frustrated with us, and blame us for everything without recognizing that they may actually have contributed to the problem as well. There is a lot of blame that goes around here. And none of it, from either side, is helpful at all.
Did that sound invalidating? Blaming is, in fact, not productive. What we need to do as people that care about each other, Borderline and Non alike, is learn to communicate more effectively. And for us Borderlines we need to learn better strategies helping us deal with emotional regulation. Not suppression. Suppression only makes it worse! Even if for the time it seems like it helps in individual situations. It’s a very short term plug, not a long term solution.
We must learn emotional acceptance. This is where validation is especially important. We also need to express those emotions in a healthy and constructive manner. Easier said than done. TRUST ME, I know. I’m am far, far from good at this. But I’m trying. It takes time, but it’s possible.
 I don’t know about anyone else, but once I do finally express what I’m thinking or feeling, it seems like a huge burden has been lifted from me. The simple act of being able to talk to another person, especially the person that directly effects me, is incredibly important. This is why I always try to write, or blog, or get out my emotions in some form. Even if it’s not possible to talk to another person. So why don’t I just talk to people about what bothers me more often? Well, one, I don’t feel I have a right to. But two, I am also afraid that I’ll lose that person because I might be perceived as making some kind of demand or request of them. Abandonment is always a big problem for us Borderlines. Again, this is where talk therapy can be especially useful.
One final note: Suppression can be especially dangerous if we turn to other means of suppression instead of simply trying to avoid or mentally push down how we feel. Drugs and alcohol are a serious problem. I’ve never done hard drugs, but I’m no stranger to alcohol. It numbs the pain and soothes the conflict. Effects of alcohol (and drugs) can be very unpredictable though. And in the long run can cause severe health problems.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Validation vs. Invalidation for Borderline Personality Disorder

What exactly is Validation? Validation is acknowledging and/or accepting that a persons feelings, thoughts, and internal experiences are real; valid. Validation does not mean praise, it does not mean you have to agree with what the person is feeling or thinking or doing. It does mean that you must accept that what another person is going through is a very real experience for them.  

Validation is extremely important for everyone, but especially so for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. One problem we often have is feeling perpetually misunderstood because we are constantly invalidated.  When you are constantly and consistently told that you are: overreacting, acting like a child, blowing something out of proportion, not thinking clearly, that you should ‘act like an adult’, suck it up, crying doesn’t help, being upset accomplishes nothing…. It completely inhibits the potential for constructive communication and progress because you are shutting the person down.
Invalidation means that another person’s emotions and experiences are judged, rejected, ignored or denied. This only contributes to the buildup of emotional frustration and upset. It contributes to the feeling that there must be something wrong with us. That we are bad people. That we’re not who we are “supposed” to be. Invalidation is the rejection that someone is feeling something very human and that it is okay for them to be their own person.
As I mentioned on Friday, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to invalidation. I was taught to suppress my emotions and this has had a detrimental effect on my ability to regulate my emotions in a positive and healthy manner. There are a lot of reasons people invalidate another’s feelings. My father did this because he wanted me to ‘be stronger’, to learn to take care of myself, and to teach me to not rely on other people to meet my needs (encourage independence). These actually are not negative things, but how he went about it was invalidating and harmful to me. There are better, validating, ways that you can achieve these same things.  By teaching me that I needed to suppress my emotions this resulted in an emotional bottleneck within me. I don’t complain, I don’t express myself, I don’t get upset, I hold it all in…. until that internal emotional pressure becomes too damn much and I explode.
Especially when I was a teenager. I never learned how to properly express my emotions growing up. I never believed it was ok to even have emotions growing up. This resulted in me being a very, very angry girl. I refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong, because I was taught that it meant I was weak if I admitted that I was having problems. I refused to seek help, because by extension this would mean admitting to someone else that there was something wrong and allowing another person to see something weak in me was unacceptable. I was severely depressed, overwhelmed, in destructive relationships, hurting myself, and I didn’t believe I had the right to tell anyone because “complaining doesn’t solve anything”. Instead I acted out. I raged. All that suppression of emotion turned to frustration and resentment, which turned to anger (which lead me to the Dark Side, sorry, couldn’t resist).  When I was good, the world walked on pins and needles, but when I was angry, the walls shook and the roof threatened to collapse.  I had no idea how to constructively express myself so I lashed out. I had screaming fights with my parents every single day. I kicked down doors, punched holes in walls, put my fist through plate glass windows, took knives, scissors, and broken mirrors to my skin and tore myself apart until the red I saw was a puddle on the floor beneath me and I was too exhausted to continue. I felt destroyed internally so I destroyed externally. I didn’t know what else to do. Even when I was lost to this torrent of emotion, I felt like I had no right to feel this way, and that I had no right to ask anyone for help.
That is the result of invalidation. No, I’m not blaming my parents (though I did at the time). I remember feeling utterly lost and misunderstood. It was me vs. the world. Yes, I was taught that I shouldn’t express my emotions. I didn’t understand what challenging this idea meant at the time. I didn’t know what invalidation was at the time. I challenged everything, I rebelled against everything, but I didn’t realize that what I should have been rebelling against was the idea that I was taught to hold onto so hard; my independence. And by this I mean emotional independence. I should have challenged the idea that it wasn’t ok to feel emotions. I should have challenged the idea that asking for help equated to weakness. But I didn’t know any better. You can’t fix something you don’t realize is broken to begin with.
Anytime I did try to express myself I was often met with solutions. Ways of fixing my feelings and my problems. If I look at things a different way, if I approached something with a different attitude, then I wouldn’t feel this way in the first place. All helpful things (my parents really did/do love me, they just didn’t understand themselves what they were doing) but I don’t ever remember being told that it’s ok to be upset. It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to ask for help.
In fact, the first time I really remember being told it was okay to ask for help from them was this past Christmas when I didn’t think I would be able to make it home for the holidays. My father said, “Girl, if you don’t tell us what’s wrong, we can’t help you.” Immediately my thoughts were, “It’s none of your business and I don’t need help”. I didn’t tell them what was wrong, and I figured out a solution myself.  It’s so ingrained in me to do things myself that turning to another person is like rubbing my skin the wrong way.
Validation is something that I haven’t ever had much of before I met Therapist. It’s still very difficult for me to accept when she validates my emotions, but I’m also much less hesitant to tell her what is going on with me. Which in turn, means that there’s a real chance of helping me. It still doesn’t feel natural yet, but I expect that will take some time.
In order to regulate emotions, you need to understand that what you’re feeling is real. When you know something is real, then there is something you can do about it. Validating another person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors (even if you don’t agree with them) gets you to a starting point where you’re both on the same page of understanding. By recognizing where another person is coming from you can effectively open the gates of communication.
I feel like I should probably give examples here, because often people invalidate another’s feelings without even realizing they’re doing it and perpetuating a destructive cycle.  
Ex. Say a Borderline girl just ended a relationship with her boyfriend, is suffering severe feelings of abandonment and is on the verge of cutting and hysteria (I know, cliché).  
Invalidation: “It’s not that bad. He was a jerk. There are plenty of better guys out there. It’s not worth hurting yourself over.”
Validation: “You seem very upset. He must have meant a lot to you.  It’s scary when a relationship ends and you don’t know what will happen next.”
The invalidating response seems supportive but in fact slams the door on how she is feeling. The validating response leaves the conversation open for further communication about how the person is actually feeling. This will make it easier to find ways of getting through such hard emotions. Just because you don’t experience a situation in the same way, does not mean that it is not a valid way for someone else to feel it.   Validation doesn’t mean you have to fix the situation for a person, but acknowledging what they are going through will do wonders to make someone feel less alone and more understood. I shouldn’t have to tell you how important this is for someone prone to intense feelings of abandonment and loneliness.
Remember: Just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. You want to encourage communication, not stifle the voice.
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