Friday, December 14, 2012

Lucid Analysis: Trials in Therapy – Don’t panic

Therapy last night was nice. I actually didn’t think I’d have much to talk about because I was feeling pretty good. Therapist told me she can always tell when things have been going well for me in my personal life because my energy is so much calmer and I look so centered. 

I had a minor freak out the Saturday after my last therapy session. So, as you know, I’m a big geek. In honor of The Hobbit coming out I’m throwing a Lord of the Rings marathon party. We’re going to watch all 3 extended edition LOTR movies and I’m making food and serving Hobbit style, a.k.a, 1st Breakfast, 2nd Breakfast, Luncheon, Afternoon Tea, Dinner, and Supper. I love to host things like this.

Therapist noted that when I’m immersed in prepping and throwing things like this I’m at my happiest.  Having people in my life is really important to me. And not even in a significant other, boyfriend/girlfriend, way. I actually seem to be fine not in a relationship. More than anything I just need good people. It’s when I’m on my own, without anyone around at all (or in less than healthy company), that’s when things can get really sketchy, real quick. But when the relationships I have in my life are mutually respectful and caring, it’s a whole different awesome ballgame. This is also the first time in my life I’ve had no real discernible bad people around. It makes a HUGE impact on my mental health.

So anyways. Part of my glow and calm has been that I’ve been really reconnecting with K and Twiggy.  My Halloween Party was the first time we’ve hung out since we reconciled. I’m still nervous and a little unsure around them because I am afraid of messing up again. I’ve gone through so many internal changes and improvements since that time, and cognitively I know for a fact that nothing like that could ever possibly happen again. I’m much more aware of my impact on others and their boundaries < ----- series plug < ----- that I can honestly say I’m confident of…. But it takes me a long time to find my comfort, especially when I’m so aware of how I’ve failed in the past. So I still have some nerves around them even though I’m very, very happy that they are back in my life.

Back to the freak out. xRoommate, her BF, another friend of ours, and I geeked out about this party idea a few months back. Hence why I organized it. xRoommate texted me and told me that they would have to be a few hours late… for a totally legitimate reason … which I did recognized at the time. However it didn’t stop the instantaneous panic. xRoommate is my emotional rock. Even in uncertain scenarios I feel like I’m much more capable of handling it when she’s around. I’m not  codependent or enmeshed with her, but I trust her and there’s a healthy comfort in that trust.

Therapist described it like this. With small children when they’re just 2 or 3 years old, it’s like being excited about the world, but needing that physical protection that their mother should provide. Obviously I don’t think of xRoommate as a mother but the trust in our relationship does provide that kind of emotional protection. So the thought of venturing forward without that buffer, when I’m still feeling a little shaky in my newly forming relationships, is a little like being pushed out into the world without a map and having your mom tell you she’ll meet you there.  I was panicky for a bit. I told her I was thrown by this. But I didn’t say anything else after that. She was genuinely sorry that she couldn’t make it on time, but she was still going to be there. I recognize that. It wasn’t about me, just about her having an obligation that she needed to take care of. So what did I do?

I slept on it. I checked myself. I stopped from expressing my reactive thoughts and behavior. I still felt them (though not nearly as bad as the panic attacks of my past would have been), but they were controllable. And once I woke up in the morning it was okay. Do I still wish she would be there the whole time? Sure, she’s my friend and her company is awesome. But it’s still going to be a lot of fun regardless and I can’t actually think of a way that the world will melt down before The Fellowship ends. So when I talked to her later I was able to honestly say that it was fine. Shit happens, things come up. It won’t be a big deal.
Therapist was very happy with the way I handled it. And with the progressively more proportionate responses I experience.  

She had a professor that once told them, when you have Borderline Personality Disorder, the thing you really need to learn to do… is learn to sit on yourself. Learn to take stock of how we’re feeling BEFORE reacting and wait…. Allow the time for emotions to settle down and see that the world isn’t going to end.
Sounds easy right? Please, we know better than that.

I’ve definitely learned the benefit of being able to do that though. It took A LONG time but I’m not melting down or having full blown panic attacks because stupid things throw me for a loop now.  I don’t think I need to tell you how nice that is.

We talked about Boundaries as well. Therapist is really glad I’m researching this to share. Amusingly she told me that boundaries are a really difficult concept even for people without BPD. Most people have a pretty self-centered concept of boundaries and can’t recognize the boundaries of others. It can take family, friends, marriages years and years of living closely before appropriate boundaries are discovered, if they’re discovered at all. So it’s not just us. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still work hard to make them better.

My own boundaries have been getting stronger. They’re not great yet, but definitely developing. I let people like Friend and Boring-Ex smoosh all over my boundaries. I let myself get entangled in their needs and boundaries without having a solid sense of my own. Evil-Ex and The One just trampled all over my needs all together.  I was so afraid of losing them. I was in love with them (at least Evil-Ex and The One). I mean, I thought I was in love with them.

The thing is, with any of them, I don’t think I was really honestly in love with them. I was in love with the idea… the idea of the person I thought they were, the idea of the person I thought they could be, the idea of the person I wanted them to be. But that wasn’t actually who they were.  I had such a hard time reconciling the person I thought they could be, that person I KNEW THEY COULD BE (but weren’t), and the person they actually were. My logical, rational mind, and my emotional mind are two very separate entities that don’t know how to interact very well.

With BPD it’s difficult to see the in betweens. We see the good, or we see the bad, but we rarely see them both at the same time. There’s no continuum. So I would be horrifically devastated by the bad, but then when things took a turn for the good I would latch onto it and not want to let go. Things would get so bad though because I wasn’t self-aware enough to respect my own boundaries enough to step back. I wasn’t aware of it, and that’s what was so dangerous. I didn’t realize I was lacking these things. These things that had been a problem for me almost my entire life.

It’s never too late though. I’m learning now, and I gotta say, my world has been really pretty great lately. Small things are a problem now and again, and I have a high stress job so there’s some stuff there… but that’s all normal levels of life stuff. For the first time I can honestly remember it sort of feels nice to be me. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Boundaries and BPD: Discovering your Boundaries

Yesterday I talked about recognizing unhealthy boundaries. I started with those because it’s often easier to put your finger on things that are already occurring and recognize they need to change. Once you’ve established which things aren’t healthy in your life, it’s time to begin replacing those with things that actually are healthy and adaptive.  So how do we go about discovering what boundaries are healthy and reasonable?

According to the book Boundaries and Relationships by Charles Whittfield, M.D, 

Healthy value boundaries ARE:

1. For the Present
2. Appropriate {for the situation}
3. Clear and easily understood
4. Firm 
5. Protective 
6. Flexible
7. Receptive
8. Determined by Us

Healthy value boundaries are NOT:

1. Set for us by others
2. Hurtful or harmful
3. Controlling or manipulative
4. Invasive or dominating
5. Rigid and immovable 

Boundaries are things we set for ourselves, not things that others set for us, or that we set for other people.  I keep reiterating this, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so hurt, angry, or filled with resentment when I believed it was other people doing things that were “against me or against what I needed”  when 1. They didn’t realize they were doing things to make me uncomfortable because I hadn’t established those boundaries, and 2. I was so hell bent on controlling my world that it escaped me that I couldn’t expect to control or expect others to conform to my overly rigid “needs”.

So how do we figure out what Boundaries we should establish? Two ways:

Discover what you value autonomously (not dependent on others).
Discovered what is not acceptable in your life.

Which values are independent, core values to be upheld by us and defended (in a constructive way, of course), and which values are more open for compromise or replacement based on our blending with and building a relationship with another person (partner, friend, relative)?

Independent core values identify and form the foundation of your personal values. Independent core values determine our decisions and guide our lives. They’re the things that define the kind of person we want to be. They designate the personal line we do not want to cross. These are the things we need to protect and maintain in how we live and they should be clearly reflected in the life choices we make. For example: Those who value their individuality take responsibility for themselves, are self-reliant and act with self-respect. Those who value truthfulness cannot bring themselves to tell a lie. Those who value goodness cannot bring themselves to do something they know is hurtful.  

These values should be expressed in our day to day living and in our relations with other people. No one has the right to make you compromise your core values (which goes for us too! We don’t get to compromise anyone else’s). So take a long look at the things you value strongly and keep those in mind.

Boundaries = Your value system in action [1] 

Figuring out what is not acceptable in your life is a little easier. I’ve said it before, when you’re in a situation take stock of what’s going on and ask yourself: How does this make me feel? Does this make me uncomfortable? Am I okay with this?

The goal though, is to establish boundaries for good, not just in the moment. Here are some other things to contemplate:

- What subjects do I try to avoid?
- What is best for my life, long and short term?
- What is best for those in my care?
- What do I want in this relationship?
- What do I need in this relationship?

- What makes me feel safe?
- What makes me feel angry?

Here’s your homework for the day. Answer those questions. I’m not kidding. Pull out a pen and paper and begin the process of figuring out what you value and what you need to maintain some space from. Write down everything to give yourself ideas, and eventually lead you to the things that are truly important.

When all is said and done, we also need to be realistic. I know this is something that we struggle with, but being realistic is important. “If we have an unusually large number of uncompromisable independent values / core values, we may be too dogmatic to have a relationship with very many people. At the same time, if we have so few independent values, or such a weak commitment to them, we will then be "undefined" to ourselves and to others. When that happens, the only values that matter are those of others. The latter is common in codependent or enmeshed relationships.” We want to work towards being appropriately flexible*, and not overly rigid.

Remember: Boundaries are for everyone, Borderline and Non-Borderline alike. In understanding what healthy boundaries are for ourselves, we should also be able to recognize what are healthy boundaries in those around us. This can be very helpful in enabling us to control the runaway feelings of rejection and abandonment we can feel when people can’t always do everything we need all the time. It’s really just not reasonable, and recognizing appropriate boundaries can help us realize that it’s not actually an attack or rejection on us, it’s not something we should be taking personally, it’s just an act of self-care and normal human functioning.  That’s it.

It will take time, maybe a lot of time, to really internalize new boundaries, but you can’t internalize what you don’t begin to develop.

Next I’ll talk about Developing those boundaries and putting them into practice.

*Flexible does not mean we allow our values to change, but that we are capable of adapting constructively within our environment and within our relationships. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Boundaries and BPD: Where they’re needed. And. Unhealthy Boundaries.

Now that we’ve gotten the “obvious” out of the way, lets delve into other things that people expect us to know intuitively but don’t realize that we don’t always have the same kind of emotional intuition for ::deep breath::.

What areas of our lives should we have boundaries in? or Where? Whichever.

If you have a human relationship be it family, friends, lovers, co-workers, passing stranger on a train, you should have boundaries. Random hobo on a train does not get to come up to me and sit on my lap on the subway after a night out (hey, I live in New York) while my best friend is totally allowed to get away with this.

Distinct Areas where we should have Specific Boundaries:
1.      Work
2.      Family
3.      Intimate Relationships
4.      Friends
5.      General Daily Living

Some Boundaries apply across the board no matter where you are or who you’re with. For example, it doesn’t matter if I’m at work, at home, or taking the train out of the city, you don’t get to stab anything in my immediate vicinity without me exercising my right to move somewhere else. Period. I’m just not okay with stabbings in my general area. It makes me uncomfortable. We’ll call this a boundary for General Daily Living.

Other boundaries are situational and/or more flexible. I’m very open about my sexuality and mental health struggles with my friends and family, but discussing this at work is inappropriate for me, in the type of professional environment I work in.  I refrain from bringing up or participating in discussions of these subjects if they’re brought up at work.  Work Boundary: If others want to discuss this, that’s their right, but I don’t have to participate because it makes me uncomfortable.

I think the boundaries we’re most concerned with are our personal relationships though. Health boundaries are important for a healthy relationship. Which let’s face it, we don’t typically have. So working on creating healthier boundaries is one way we can work to being healthier healthier in our relationships. This takes a good deal of self-awareness and knowing.

First let’s talk about Recognizing Unhealthy Boundaries. It’s often easier to see when others are crossing boundaries, but it’s especially for us to increase our own self-awareness and learn when we may be engaging in unhealthy boundaries as well.

In 2010 Steve Safigan wrote his Five Warning Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries. “If you've been living with unhealthy or nonexistent values boundaries for most of your life, you may struggle to recognize whether your boundaries are healthy. Here are 5 warning signs for which to watch”:

1. You feel like you are covering something up or keeping a secret. Not only is this a sign that your boundaries are unhealthy, but it's also likely that you are enabling another person to engage in unhealthy or unproductive behavior. A classic, dramatic example is a woman who hides the physical abuse she suffers at her spouse's hands by making up stories about how she bruised herself by falling down or running into a doorway. Yet secrets can be much more mundane. For example, you might tell your neighbor that you're cleaning your teenage son's room because he's been so busy with school and athletics, when in fact, he refuses to clean and you've decided it's less stressful to do the work yourself.

2. You have to do something a certain way or modify your behavior so that someone else can continue an unproductive or unsafe behavior. For example, you must regularly work late and miss family obligations because a co-worker keeps missing her deadlines. Or you can't turn on the television to watch your favorite morning news program because your husband is hung over after yet another late night carousing with friends at the local bar.

By modifying your behavior, you become an enabler -- you make it possible for someone else to continue a negative behavior. Instead, you should establish and maintain your boundary. Doing so will cause the other person discomfort, perhaps enough that he or she would be motivated to examine and change the unproductive behavior.

3. You ignore your own discomfort, anger, anxiety or fear so that someone else can be happy and comfortable. For example, when your partner yells at you, do you request her to not yell at you and offer to talk when emotions aren't as heated, or do you bite your tongue, figuring that it's easier to swallow your anger at being treated disrespectfully vs. possibly angering her even more? Anger, anxiety, fear and other uncomfortable emotions are hard-wired into human beings to help us recognize when our boundaries are being violated. Ignoring your own uncomfortable emotions sends a signal -- to yourself and to others -- that you don't respect yourself. It may work as a short-term strategy for avoiding conflict. But ultimately, it will lead to bigger problems.

This will also lead to a buildup of anger and resentment in us, and lead to the Nons in our lives being extra confused when we “suddenly snap after things have “been so perfect””.

4. You sacrifice your own goals, projects and self-care to help others. The root cause of boundary issues is fear. When you have a hard time saying "no," it's typically because you fear losing something, such as approval, status, friendship, future opportunities and the like. If you've reached the point of being resentful when people ask you to do things for them -- even if they are things that should bring you joy -- your boundaries are unhealthy and need to be toughened up.

5. You manipulate to get what you want. This warning sign will resonate with you if you regularly push or violate other people's boundaries -- that is, if you can be honest enough to admit it to yourself.

A few extras to keep in mind:

6. Settling for less than you know you really need or desire.
7. Staying in a relationship that you know is passed its deadline.
8. Smothering the person you're dating with excessive needs or control.
9. Going back to a relationship that you know is over.
10. Entering a relationship to avoid being alone.

Here’s an exercise that I’ll bring up variations of again later. It’s a good exercise in Self-Awareness.

For each Situational Arena try to think of ideas where you have experienced (either by doing these things yourselves or by causing others to do them) any of these types of Unhealthy Boundaries. They don’t have to be huge. They can be small things that just make you uncomfortable.

The bottom line is: If it makes you uncomfortable take note of it. Everything that makes you uncomfortable won’t necessarily end up being a capital letter Enforced Boundary because there is a level of discomfort that comes with being human (we do have to be realistic in our boundaries), but it’s a way to discover which things are worth being enforced and what things are situational or more flexible.

So give it a try. It’s important to start figuring out our boundaries.

a.       Work

b.      Family

c.       Intimate Relationships

d.      Friends

e.      General Daily Living

Know that we’ve recognized Unhealthy Boundaries, tomorrow we’ll start trying to figure out our Healthy Boundaries. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Boundaries and BPD: Recognizing the Types of Boundaries

Once at University I had a history professor that gave an assignment to write on the Fall of the Roman Empire…. in 3 pages or less. Have you ever researched the fall of the Roman Empire and tried to condense it into less than 3 pages? I failed miserably because in order to accurately detail all the contributing factors I couldn’t get my page count below 6. I still got an A, but that’s sort of the dilemma I’m facing currently. I have a lot of insight and ideas to convey, so bear with me. I like to be thorough. 

For now, I want to talk about Recognizing and Understanding appropriate Boundaries…. And why this can be difficult.  

We have a hard time establishing appropriate boundaries as adults for many reasons, many coming back to our fear of rejection, loss, abandonment, and self-worth. (I’m going to be talking from a BPD perspective, because that’s what I have, but it’s important to remember that this is no less true for anyone else).

It’s important to remember that establishing boundaries starts with honoring ourselves and self-respect. It’s about knowing yourself. It’s about recognizing what you stand for and what you don’t in your relationships. A healthy relationship is sometimes described as an “inter-dependent” relationship of two “independent” people. Regardless of the type of relationship, we all come to it with values that we intend to honor and defend regardless of the nature of the relationship - these are known as core values or independent values - this is what defines us.  

Which can be difficult for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder when our identities are so flexible and change depending on who we’re with or where we’re at?

Difficult but not impossible.

Boundaries are about how we define those values inherent to us, to others. They’re about protecting our interior selves. We can’t make people act differently, but we can establish where our own limits are.

There are many different arenas in life and many different types of boundaries. Not to mention boundaries are slightly flexible… for example: What is not acceptable from a co-worker can be acceptable from a lover.  It depends on the area of life that you’re currently in. Though some will cross over, for example: It’s never, ever okay for someone to hit me (unless I’m in a martial arts class that I’ve volunteered for). I swear I’m not trying to be confusing. But you see how boundaries go.

So what we need to do is:

1. Recognize the different kinds of boundaries.

2. Identify the important aspects of life where boundaries should apply.  

3. Identify Boundaries by:
a.       Recognizing Unhealthy Boundaries
b.      Recognizing what Boundaries are important for us

4. Understand how to Develop Boundaries

5. Understand how to Communicate Boundaries

6. Understand How to Defend (and Respect) Boundaries constructively

One of the problems we face by NOT having and enforcing our boundaries, by letting people do things that we’re not comfortable with, is this tends to breed resentment and anger within ourselves. Which in turn perpetuates our more aggressive mood cycles. And that rarely helps anyone. Upholding personal boundaries is actually a better way to KEEP a relationship healthy.

So what Type of Boundaries are there? 3 Kinds actually of Personal Boundaries and 4 Types of Psychological Boudnaries.

3 Types of Personal Boundaries:  

1. Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances.

2. Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions.

3. Emotional boundaries help us deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others.

4 Types of Psychological Boundaries:

According to Nina Brown there are four main types of psychological boundary (thanks Wiki!):

1. Soft - A person with soft boundaries merges with other people's boundaries. Someone with a soft boundary is easily manipulated.

2. Spongy - A person with spongy boundaries is like a combination of having soft and rigid boundaries. They permit less emotional contagion than soft boundaries but more than rigid. People with spongy boundaries are unsure of what to let in and what to keep out.

3. Rigid - A person with rigid boundaries is closed or walled off so nobody can get close to him/her either physically or emotionally. This is often the case if someone has been physically, emotionally, psychologically or sexually abused. Rigid boundaries can be selective which depend on time, place or circumstances and are usually based on a bad previous experience in a similar situation.

4. Flexible - This is the ideal. Similar to selective rigid boundaries but the person has more control. The person decides what to let in and what to keep out, is resistant to emotional contagion, manipulation and is difficult to exploit.

As Borderlines we tend to fall into the Spongy and Rigid boundaries. Spongy boundaries tend to go hand in hand with an unstable sense of identity. When we don’t have a firm grasp of who we are, it’s difficult to have a firm grasp of what we should or shouldn’t let in or keep out. Then there are Rigid boundaries. This was me hard-core before I broke down my defenses via Evil-Ex’s abuse. Everything I felt was a “defect” I kept walled away. Any small deviation from what I thought was “right” threw me into a tailspin of anxiety and panic. My perception of what was acceptable for me was so fixed that I couldn’t function if things deviated even slightly, in the most innocuous of ways. Which meant that when people acted normally as they needed or wanted to, and it threw off “my way” of doing things, I would freak the hell out and try to fix (or want them to fix) their behavior to adjust for what my mind needed. This was not appropriate.

Fortunately it is possible to fix this. My boundaries are still a little rigid, but I’m able to adapt much quicker and I’m learning to be more Flexible. I’m not going to lie, there was a fair amount of inner turmoil in the process, and pushing myself to confront where boundaries needed to be, or breathe through the moments when my boundaries were being unreasonable wasn’t always easy… but the more I watched for these situations, the more I learned to recognize what was healthy and what wasn’t, the easier it’s become. Not easy, but easier. Still a work in progress. But much, much more functional and pleasant. Last minute change of plans, schedule alterations, an unexpected [insert something unexpected] doesn’t paralyze me the way it once did. And you can get there too.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the main aspects of our lives where we need to establish appropriate boundaries and how to identify what we need those boundaries to be. Spoiler: It’ll be different for everyone, but there are tools we can use to establish what is necessary for each of our personal situations. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thoughts from the Borderline

I don’t know how to let other people take care of me. As much as I may want someone to sometimes, I just don't know how. I don’t always even know how to relax when people try. I know how to do things for people. I know how to recognize the things that people like and love and I can do that for them. Doing things for people is how I show I care. I pay attention and try to give people what they need. I’m happy taking care of people.

I feel awkward when they express their appreciation.

Even the most normal things like remembering my birthday or getting me a holiday card, it feels strange to me. Don’t get me wrong, it makes me smile and I’m very grateful, but I’m always a little surprised to be remembered, a little in shock, and unsure what the proper emotional reaction is. I’m almost embarrassed when people do things for me. Not because what people do isn’t good enough, but because I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not the one doing things for people.

At a loss. 

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