Friday, July 6, 2012

Ask Haven: Changing Plans

A Reader asks: My Borderline girlfriend keeps changing plans to meet up with me. Does this mean she doesn’t like me anymore? Or is that normal?

Well, I’m not your girlfriend, I hope, but if you were dating me it would probably have next to nothing to do with you. I change plans on the people I date, and friends, all the time. I hate that I do this. It’s not that I don’t love or care about my boyfriend. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with my friends. 

Sometimes the thought of going on it public just creates the most insane about of anxiety in my though and I literally cannot drag myself out of the front door. The mere thought of walking out that door can reduce me to a puddle of blubbery shaking tears.

If your Borderline has an eating disorder or body dysmorphic issues she may be feeling too self-conscious to function publically. She’s probably stressing over something that you think is miniscule and not very important, but to her, to me, it’s all we can see for a while. The big glaring flaw, that huge reminder of our imperfection, the proof that we failed and maintaining the standard of beauty we hold for ourselves. It’s not fun. No one hates this more than us. When it comes to being social when I’m feeling self-conscious it can become hard for me to breathe and function at all. All I can feel are everybody’s eyes boring into me, judging me. It becomes too much pressure for me to deal with.

It’s not always that bad, but all the day to day stuff is very dependent on how I/we feel. If I’m really stressed out, it translates physically into how tired and worn down I can feel. My limbs feel heavy and I don’t want to go out. I’m pretty sure anyone that has had any kind of stress in their life has felt like this at some point. Having Borderline Personality Disorder makes you more sensitive to stress and things that cause stress so it may happen more frequently.

Same thing with depression. One minute I can feel okay enough to go out, and an hour later I might be too depressed to pull real pants on. It has nothing to do with you. Well, in a way it can. I hate letting the people I care about, or am trying to show a good impression to, see me when I’m really low. I hate letting people see me upset and depressed. If we have plans to go out and I can’t shake those bad feelings and I don’t think I’ll be able to hide them, I will second guess my ability to be the kind of person I think you want to be around. I’ll ruminate on all the ways the evening can go wrong. I’ll envision the disaster waiting to happen until not leaving the house becomes the best way to actually save the relationship/friendship…. But mostly it’s the best way to keep myself from feeling even shittier about feel crappy and potentially bringing down the joy of the people around me.

For me, this is pretty normal. I am getting much, much better about this! It takes time though and some good therapy in my case.

If you keep making plans to go out and she continues to cancel, maybe you can present other options: stay in and watch movies, play Apples-to-Apples, video games… hang out in a way that has less social pressure and less stress. Let her know that you don’t care what you’re doing as long as you’re doing it with her, because like most people, Borderlines need that validation that the person we care about really appreciates being with us.

Then again, if you’ve been out a few times and she just keeps cancelling and never texts or calls you back, then she may just not be that into you. Take a hint. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happily Ever After and Borderline Personality Disorder

Fairytale endings. A never ending ride into the sunset with the love of your life and a passion that lasts until death do us part… with no bumps, no stress, no real life intervening to interrupt that happily ever after. Instead of all the sad follow up series that Hollywood loves to pump, I think they should create a true to life sequel after that unobtainable happily forever after.

Sometimes with Borderline Personality Disorder and the hypersensitivity and racing, ruminating thoughts that often accompany it, I think we get stuck in this idea of the “perfect” relationship. The way things are “supposed” to be. With BPD we’re more sensitive to how things affect us. Not because we want to be, but because that’s how our brain is programmed to respond. So when there’s an argument, dinner gets burned, our phone call isn’t returned, it’s like that irrational idea of who we think we need to be with has been ruined.  

The thing about films and “Happily Ever After” is: we don't actually see an endless passion in the happily ever after. It’s what we want, what we imagine, what we are told to believe we should have. But in reality it’s not what we’re given and not we life can offer. In that Hollywood “Happily Ever After” all we see is the glorious beginning of the honeymoon. You don't see the diaper changing, the fights over bills, the pms crankiness, or any of the day to day stresses that real couples go through, learn to work through, and get over. You see those first few glorious moments of romantic love, assume it’s all sunsets and pony ride forever... and that's it. That's it. You never see reality setting in.

We're lead to believe a lie. (Not that it's Hollywoods fault, just go with me) We're never shown a complete picture, because a complete picture doesn't exist fairy tales and cartoons. It's sad, but it's true.

Eventually passion fades. I’m not saying love fades. I believe love strengthens in time. But the intensity of new desire, that honeymoon puppy dog cow eyes over lady and the tramp spaghetti (messy), eventually becomes a more mature and lasting love. Sometimes I think we crave that intensity so much that we forget to live in the real world. We don't realize that comfortable day-to-day living, doesn't mean our partners don't care, it just means that they’ve evolved to that next phase of the relationship. Next phases are new changes though and change tends to throw us for a loop.  Our emotions are always so intense that we feel like that passion should always be there because we run on such an emotional high that we don't realize that other people don't have the same chemical experience. It's not that they love us less. In fact, they may often love us more. Love us more maturely in a way that has moved beyond that initial physical lust that always makes us need to rip each other’s clothes off and get inside one another immediately. In a healthy, fully romantic relationship I think the steady comfort of wanting that person by your side for now and forever replaces some of that tear your clothes off right fucking now lust. But it's not as easily readable to the BPD mind. When someone is constantly pawing you to be in their bed it's an obvious validation of their need for us. When they reach a point where their feelings have matured to long lasting appreciation and not just physical desire, the physical intensity often subsides a bit. To our minds this translates as they don't desire us as much. They're not paying attention to us as much. Maybe their needs are being met elsewhere. Maybe we don't mean as much anymore. Maybe they don't need us as much now. Maybe they’re not as attracted to us... because we can't SEE how they feel. We can't live in your brain so we'll never have 100% proof.

That display of constant physical desire at the beginning of relationships is as near to "proof" that we're important, as we can see.  When a normal relationship starts to "cool down" and advance, we're sort of still stuck in that need for intensity phase. It's often said that people with BPD are stuck at the emotional maturity level of a 3 year old. It's kind of like that with romantic desire as well. If a first date is like a newborn… Actually, skip that analogy. Bad idea.  We know what we can see and experience. We can't create a tangible, documentable display for "comfortable security". There's no "proof" that someone "just enjoys being with us." There is however proof that someone lusts and desires for us physically. We can feel the physical passion and desire someone has when they see us and immediately want to rip our clothes off and fuck til our eyes cross. That we can take stock of. How do you take stock of "enjoying someone's presence" when you're not that person? See? It's a matter of being able to understand.

Often we have this idea of exactly who we should be with. However, like Hollywood, that person we’ve built up in our mind is a figment of a grand imagination. Real people, in real life, have flaws, quirks, miss calls and texts, and occasionally need their own time and space to do their own things. That doesn’t mean they don’t continue to care about us, it just means that they’re human beings too and sometimes they have to deal with other stuff.

We can be so hyper-focused on every little detail in a relationship we don’t stop to consider the fact that other people don’t feel the same need to obsess over the health of a relationship. If you stop to take your temperature every hour of every day, you’ll see that there are very normal variations to your own temperature. You can interpret that as just the way a normal, healthy body fluxuates throughout the day. Or. You can see each step up or down in temperature and stress out about what is happening in your body that is making it vary from that textbook 98.6 degrees it’s “supposed” to be, look up every ailment possible on the internet, rush to the doctor, lost money on your co-pay, lose hours sitting in the waiting room, until finally you can see your doctor who will tell you that it’s normal for everyone to vary slightly through time. Relationships, like your own body temperature can go up and down a little. A healthy relationship should stay within a basic range. Those rare occasions when you get a spike of 104 that’s when something is seriously wrong. But if you treat a reading of 98.9 like a reading of 104, you’re going to be freaking out all the time over something that is perfectly normal.

I worry about all these things I think I need, instead of looking at what I have. I’ve never met someone that meets all the things I think I need. I’ve met people that I WANT to be the person to have everything I need. I WANT them to be. The person I imagine they COULD be, is what I want. Not the person they actually are. That’s where I think I trip up so much. There’s no realism in that kind of wish list. I keep seeing the one or two inane things that I don’t have and look where else they might be. When I find those one or two things they become the focus for just long enough to drive me crazy and realize that they’re missing the other things I needed and used to have. Where’s the line? Where’s the point where I open my eyes and say this person treats me well and I love spending time with them and everything else are just nitpicky details that don’t matter nearly so much  as finding someone that I want to be with who also wants to be with me?
You're thinking about sex now aren't you?

Where is the point where I shorten my run on sentences? Here.

I obsess over details with people like I obsess over details at work. At work it’s appropriate because the most minute thing actually is important (trust me, I work on nanoscales). People aren’t machines though. At least not until we develop reliable AI. But until then, people tend to be people, and people are can be the best versions of themselves but they’re never the best version of our imaginations.

Oh and one more thing. If things were perfect all the time, we’d get sick of that too, b/c yanno what? That’s a lot of fucking pressure. Could you imagine having to actually be perfect all the time, instead of just obsessing over how I’m not perfect all the time? Holy hell. No thanks.

Ok. Clearly I’m all over the place today. My boyfriend needs to get back from vacation tonight {insert something about proof and relationships}… {giggle that I said insert}. Ok. I’m done. Good bye. 

Sorry. I'm kind of weird today. It happens. 

Sometimes I'm embarrassed I have thoughts =/

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Holidays and such...

Happy 4th of July for all my U.S.of A. readers!

I have a piece prepared but I figured with today being a huge holiday today most of you wouldn't be cooped up inside reading blogs all day.

I had a bit too much wine last night and was in a pretty lonely state while reading comments and letters Readers had left for me. I haven't seen Tech Boy since Friday (He's on vacation with his family, which he invited me on, but with all the Roommate moving I couldn't go) and I've been missing him something bad. Between the thoughts you guys have inspired and the feelings I have, I managed to organize my feelings on why Borderlines may look elsewhere for attention or accuse their partners of not putting enough effort or dedication into the relationship when the other person may think things are going so well. I'm sure there are many complex reasons that these feelings would be inspired, but what I'm talking about tomorrow is just one particular experience that hits home for me, and maybe you too. So I'll see you then. In the mean time, have safe and happy holiday.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Spanking Batters Kids' Mental Health: Study

An article in U.S. News Health caught my attention this morning. It discusses the potential correlation between mental health issues in adults who received physical punishment in childhood. We know that abuse in childhood is often linked to Borderline Personality Disorder, and while this article doesn’t specifically mention BPD (though it does mention personality disorders) it got me thinking. What qualifies as physical abuse? If you show up to kindergarten with bruises and welts: clearly that’s abuse. Is spanking abuse? I’m honestly not sure. I was spanked as a child. Hard. They never brought out a belt or anything, but it was definitely the most feared of punishments in the house. It wasn’t often; just sometimes if something particularly problematic occurred. It was still terrifying as a child.

I’m copying the article below but this passage struck me in particular:

“Corporal punishment was associated with increased odds of anxiety and mood disorders, including major depression, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia and social phobia. Several personality disorders and alcohol and drug abuse were also linked to physical punishment, the researchers found.”

Anyone that follows along with me knows that I’ve struggled with all of these things (except agoraphobia/drug abuse). I’ve never really considered spanking as physical abuse, or contemplated the implications that it could have had on me, but now I’m starting to wonder. I’ve always been quite adamant about the fact that I was never abused by my parents**. In our culture, and at that time, this was/is a pretty typical punishment for children. It wasn’t an overly frequent event and never happened past the age of 6. Clearly I was very sensitive, more sensitive and prone to anxiety about being alone than is typical, even before I was old enough for this kind of punishment, but now I wonder if things might have turned out a little differently if punishments had been more constructive and less corporal.  

** The only time my father ever raised a hand to me was when I was in an almost psychotic rage during one of our extreme blow out screaming matches during my high school. I had pushed him far beyond the limits you could expect any human being to tolerate. He raised his hand, but he still never hit me. He even apologized for the mere threat. Not that I backed down in any way. If anything it made me more defiant in the moment. He apologized the next morning and hugged me hard. We needed to find a better way to communicate. Eventually we did. I remember looking back on that day and seeing how I could make him so angry, and yet, he still loved me. That memory has always stayed with me.

Here’s the article. What do you think?

Spanking Batters Kids' Mental Health: Study
Physical punishment linked to mental health disorders, substance abuse in adulthood

July 2, 2012
By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) --Spanking or slapping your children may increase the odds that they will develop mental health issues that plague them in adulthood, a new study suggests.

Researchers in Canada found that up to 7 percent of a range of mental health disorders were associated with physical punishment, including spanking, shoving, grabbing or hitting, during childhood.

"We're not talking about just a tap on the bum," said study author Tracie Afifi, an assistant professor in the department of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg."We were looking at people who used physical punishment as a regular means to discipline their children."
Corporal punishment was associated with increased odds of anxiety and mood disorders, including major depression, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia and social phobia. Several personality disorders and alcohol and drug abuse were also linked to physical punishment, the researchers found.

"What's really important is to know that spanking and other forms of physical punishment come at a cost," said Afifi. "Physical punishment should not be used on children at any age under any circumstances."

While the study finds an association between physical punishment and mental illness, it does not prove that one causes the other.

Previous studies have linked physical punishment to aggression in children, delinquency and emotional, developmental and behavioral impairment. But this study examined its effects on mental health in the absence of more severe physical abuse, sexual abuse or other forms of neglect and mistreatment.

For the study, published online July 2 in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers used 2004-2005 data on about 34,000 individuals aged 20 or older gathered from the U.S. National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Participants were questioned face-to-face and asked, on a scale of "never" to "very often," how often they were ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by their parents or another adult living their home. Those who reported "sometimes" or greater were considered as having experienced harsh physical punishment.

About 6 percent of respondents were considered to have suffered harsh physical punishment. Boys, blacks and those from more educated, more affluent families were most likely to report such abuse, the researchers said.

The researchers adjusted the data to take into account socio-demographic factors and any family history of dysfunction.

Thirty-two countries prohibit physical punishment of children by parents or caregivers, but the practice is legal in the United States and Canada, according to background information in the study. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends against the use of physical punishment as a form of child discipline.

Nevertheless, the researchers say a survey of U.S. adults showed that 48 percent of respondents reported a history of harsh physical punishment without more severe abuse. A 2010 University of North Carolina study revealed that nearly 80 percent of preschool children in the United States are spanked.

Some experts support the notion that harsh discipline can negatively affect kids but express concerns about the specific implications of this new study.

"While it's a well-done study, looking at a national data sample, there are limitations in the way the study was done," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "There are limitations to relying on adults recalling childhood experiences, and it's hard to control for familial psychopathology."

Adesman added that while the research reinforces that there are now more good reasons not to use physical punishment, "we can't infer that physical punishment leads to major psychological disorders."
Still, Adesman said the public needs more education about the dangers of physical punishment to children and the alternatives that parents can effectively use.

"There's a general presumption that parenting comes naturally, but there are things people need to learn. We have PSAs [public service announcements] about all kinds of health issues, but I've yet to hear any tips for providing non-physical punishment to children."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Extinction Bursts in Borderline Personality Disorder

The mind of a Borderline is a battle zone.

This is even more apparent when the process of therapeutic healing begins. We may hate how we feel, but hate the thought that there’s something “wrong” with who we are just as much. It’s important to be reminded of the fact that there’s nothing wrong with who the person is themselves, there’s something going on in their brain that’s destructive beyond their control. It’s not their fault. The mind is turning on itself because it doesn’t recognize it’s reflection as a friend. This isn’t something we chose. But there is something we can do about it.

Unfortunately just because we decide we hate how we feel, hate what is going on around us, hate how we effect the people in our lives, that doesn’t mean it is simple to change all these behaviors. Our brains have been programmed, conditioned, to response the way they do and it takes time and practice to re-route these ways of thinking. To make these old habits and intense responses disappear. Go extinct.

Extinction, when implemented consistently over time, results in the eventual decrease of the undesired behavior. However, in the short-term a person might exhibit what is called an extinction burst. An extinction burst will often occur when the extinction procedure has just begun; when we start a path towards healing. Until one day – BAM. It’s like our brains rebel and there’s a magnificent relapse. We may have an extinction burst.

Extinction Bursts are the psyche’s last magnificent attempt to produce a response it needs but has been denied. It consists of a sudden and temporary increase in the maladaptive response's frequency, followed by the eventual decline and extinction of the behavior targeted for elimination.

Let’s back up a bit. How did we acquire these destructive traits in the first place? In most cases they were responses we developed by how we were conditioned growing up.

There are two kinds of conditioning – classical and operant.

In classical conditioning, something which normally doesn’t have any influence becomes a trigger for a response.

If you are taking a shower and someone flushes the toilet which then causes the water to become a scalding torrent, you become conditioned to recoil in terror the next time you hear the toilet flush while lathering up.

That’s classical conditioning. Something neutral – the toilet flushing – becomes charged with meaning and expectation. You have no control over it. You recoil from the water without ever thinking, “I should recoil from this water else I get scalded.”

Classical conditioning keeps you alive. You learn quickly to avoid that which may harm you and seek out that which makes you happy.

Operant conditioning changes your desires. Your inclinations becomes greater through reinforcement, or diminish through punishment.

You go to work, you get paid. You turn on the air conditioning and stop sweating. You don’t run the red light, you don’t get a ticket. You pay the rent, you don’t get evicted.

It’s all operant conditioning, punishment and reward.

Which finally brings us back to the third factor – extinction.

When you expect a reward or a punishment and nothing happens, your conditioned response starts to fade away. If you stop feeding your cat, he will stop hanging around the food bowl and meowing. His behavior will go extinct.

If you were to keep going to work and not get paid, eventually you would stop.

This is when the extinction burst happens, right as the behavior is breathing its final breath.

You wouldn’t just not go to work anymore. You would probably storm into the boss’s office and demand an explanation. If you got nowhere after gesticulating wildly and inventing new curse words out of your boss’s last name, you might scoop your arm across his desk and leave in handcuffs.

Just before you give up on a long-practiced routine, you freak out. It’s a final desperate attempt by the oldest parts of your brain to keep getting rewarded.

Extinction burst Example: you enter an elevator and press the button, but nothing happens. You then press it again and wait, and still nothing happens. You then proceed to push the button a number of times rapidly and firmly, hoping that it will work. You may even get upset and punch the panel. When this meets with no results, only then will you realize that it is not responding to your actions, and that you will have to accept that it is broken and get out to use the stairs.

So what does this look like in Borderline Personality Disorder? 

For someone with BPD who has subconsciously relied on emotional outbursts to get the kind of attention they need it can be frightening to give up something we know will bring the person around whom we need. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a conscious thought. It can come across as manipulative, but it’s not deliberately manipulative. We act on instinct and fear, impulsively reacting to our brains panic when we lash out in a temper or threaten to hurt ourselves. We’re not trying hurt you on purpose, but in most cases we don’t have the language or understanding of ourselves to communicate what is actually going on and express what we need. We may not even know what we need. All we know is that we need something that we don’t have. When we’ve begun the healing process and we’re adopting more positive behaviors to replace our old maladaptive coping mechanisms, it’s easy for others to forget that we’re still struggling. We can still be triggered. Despite learning better ways of coping, we still have very hard days, but since they’re not always so easy to distinguish, the people in our lives may not really know. Somewhere in the depths our minds continues to reside that old standby.

An extinction burst is a temporary increase in an old behavior, a plea from the recesses of your psyche.
The worst thing you could ever do is give in to a temper tantrum. This goes for adults too, because if you spend enough time observing other people you will notice that people who are used to getting their way will start a temper tantrum immediately after you have refused their request. If you patiently restate your position and stay calm you will see the person eventually give up. Depending upon how long he carries on will tell you how other people have responded to the person in the past. If he has been rewarded for having a fit often enough the extinction burst will be spectacular, enjoy! If it’s short lived, it will be over as quick as it started and you can feel good that you haven’t encouraged it. The best way to eliminate a tantrum is to not give in, wait out the extinction burst (walking away works wonders) and reinforce the absence of the tantrum with your attention as soon as the person stops.

Back to healing.

Sometimes healing can feel like you’re eliminating a reward from your life: the attention created by outbursts of emotion. Even when you want to give up the pain and emotional turmoil, the extinction burst threatens to demolish your resolve.

It’s like reverting back to the terrible two’s mentality. And like a toddler in their terrible two’s, if you give into the temper tantrums, they learn that it creates the response they desire and that behavior is strengthened.

Angry outbursts, panicked tears, threats to harm and suicide, they’re an addiction of emotion created under pressure until they’re ready to burst.

The human body craves sugars and high fat foods because we evolved to store fat in times of starvation when food wasn’t always abundant. Many of us now live in environments where we always have easy access to food, but we still have those biological imperatives to eat a lot and ruin our diets. For someone with BPD it’s like trying to fend of emotional starvation even though we may now be in an environment that is rich is a steady source of love.

These emotionally addictive responses were formed through conditioning over a long period of time. As Borderlines or {those near and dear to us}, we must be prepared to take cover from that last onslaught from our subconscious – the extinction burst.  

If these extinction bursts aren’t reinforced, it may be easier for us to get back on track. Extinction bursts may seem like a setback, but they’re perfectly natural. They are in no way fun or pleasant for anyone involved, but with continued healing they can be very temporary, and put back on the endangered coping response list.

They’re something to be aware of. At least be aware of the possibility for them. Healing is not a straight and easy path for Borderline Personality Disorder. Often there’s some relapsing in behavior. There’s some side-stepping and complicated footwork to really internalize better ways of dealing while we understand why the methods we’ve been conditioned towards are no longer necessary in our lives.  Old habits are hard to break, but that doesn’t mean we can’t. It may just take a few tries. 
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