Friday, March 8, 2013

Ask Haven: Intentional Emotional Abuse from Nons – Real or Imagined?

Dear Haven,

                      Is intentional emotional abuse from Nons real or imagined?

            You Know Who 

Hello there. Emotional abuse, especially from the emotionally hypersensitive perspective of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is a tricky subject.

  1. Most people get angry, are capable of losing their temper, and say things they don’t really mean (or mean but would never typically say) in the heat of the moment. Especially if we’re currently going through a Pushing phase or Baiting & Picking fights. Let’s face it; even the most patient of our loved ones can only take so much, because like the rest of us, they’re only human…. Also we have a tendency to push buttons and attack the sensitive points when we’re going through these times which can inspire some less than sensitive words on their part. This isn’t necessarily emotional abuse though, often it’s a poor choice of words used in self-defense of an attack we’re provoking on their character. Often when tempers calm down though, if it’s followed by an apology, then no it probably wasn’t meant to damage you intentionally.
    EDIT: As one commenter noted, when tempers get out of hand, even if the person isn't normally cruel, the words exchanged can be emotionally abusive. From both Nons and Borderlines alike. When I'm angry and threatened I can have a very sharp, sometimes cruel, tongue. Not so much anymore, but I certainly used to. See the picture above. If you hear any of those phrases, that's emotional abuse. 

  2. There are Nons, loved ones, or people that we’ve allowed close to us, that are actually just horrible human beings. Emotional, verbal, mental, physical, or sexual abuse for whatever reason is their choice of communication. Some people have deeper issues of their own. Some people are just assholes. This kind of abuse is often intentional.

Neither of these is really what you’re asking about, I just figured I should cover those bases.

3.  ………

Here’s the thing. People aren’t perfect. People say and do things that they don’t consider to be emotionally abusive. They may not realize that what they are saying is in fact emotionally abusive. It’s also not unreasonable to believe that what they say, for most people without BPD, what they say isn’t emotionally abusive, but because we are hypersensitive or they may be tripping an emotional trigger, their words are unintentionally wounding. There’s also the very real probability that we are misunderstanding the intent of their words. Often the Nons in my life will make a statement of general intent, or one that means a certain thing to them, but because of our own experiences, or the tendency to have a bit of narcissistic self-involvement in the heat of emotional turmoil, we subconsciously skew what is being said to be something that is intentionally directed to wound us. We take what they say very personally, internalize it negatively, and that creates an even more emotionally fueled state where we react (instead of responding) more volatilely, with less composure, and lash out in a desperate need to avoid shame, embarrassment, fear, abandonment, etc…. Many of these things are a problem with our perception of that moment though.  

This is why it’s so important to develop an open and trusting relationship with the people we allow close to us. Also it illustrates the necessity of communication. If we are not capable of expressing our issues, our problems, and our emotional states, the Nons in our lives have no way of knowing that what they say or do could be emotionally damaging to us. We need to place some trust in them with our well-being, so that they can understand, and we in turn can take better care of them, by being able to avoid reacting negatively to things that could be avoided and, in turn, not hurt them unintentionally ourselves.

If you develop trust from the beginning, it’s also easier to remember that this is a person that loves you, cares for you, and probably does not actually want to hurt you.

Now, if you do communicate your triggers, your concerns, and let the person in your life know what causes you a great deal of distress… and they continue to bring those things up and push them at you… this is a different story. This may very well be intentional emotional abuse, meant to keep you in a state of distress. If you notice this happening, please seek help and counseling in order to figure out if this is a relationship that you should continue to engage in.

More often than not though, I’ve found that if we have not communicated those personal triggers or wounding experiences, the Nons in my life do things that can be very wounding for me, but they do so completelyunintentionally. They don’t know, because we haven’t told them, so they don’t realize what they’ve done.

Relationships take two. If we don’t convey what our problems are, they can’t avoid touching upon those problems, and we can end up hurting them, and ourselves, more in the process when we react impulsively to what we perceive as emotionally wounding.

Something that I have found is helpful, especially during arguments or heated discussions… when someone says something that makes my blood boil and I want to lash out impulsively, it’s usually time to:

1.      Take a deep breath
2.      Ask for clarification

It’s okay to say: “[This thing you said], it makes me feel [this way]. I interpret it [this way]. Is this how you meant it? What do you really mean when you say that?”

This is a better way to Respond, and not just React. It opens up what could be an emotionally  wounding conversation into a more productive dialogue.  

Hope this helps =)

EDIT #2: I also wanted to add, that even a few years ago I might not have been able to make this distinction. In the moment of an argument or even just when I'm having an insecure day, it's like my brain automatically assumes all the words coming from someone's mouth are meant to attack me or make me feel bad... or even if they don't specifically aim at me, they bring up ruminations in my mind that make me sad, hurt, angry, and panicky... and then I recognize the other person as the source for creating those ruminations... so somehow it feel s like they're doing something to me (even though clearly they are not!). Everything can feel like a jab, an attack, or a subtle undermining of my character. Hell, I still have these days quite a lot... Especially when someone attempts to explain something to me that clearly indicates they don't think I'm smart enough to have already known. Really they have no idea what I know or not, but anything that feels like a criticism of my intelligence makes me instantly angry. They don't really intend it in any way, but it feels like they do. Fortunately I've learned to recognize this in myself and work on maintaining my composure instead of acting on the impulsively destructive feelings and behaviors.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Asking for Comfort with BPD

I don’t know about you but one of the things I’m very bad at is asking to be comforted.  I don’t know if it’s just a product of my BPD or being raised in a society that says it’s not okay to show “weakness”, but I suspect it’s both. I’m very bad at asking for help. Asking for help is tantamount to admitting failure. Letting someone know that I’m feeling a little vulnerable or that I just need someone to lean on a little bit… it makes me feel like somehow I’m being too needy. Like I’ll instantly be perceived as being too high maintenance. Needing too much. Asking too much.

Showing vulnerability is scary. Even if it’s something perfectly justified and natural to want comfort for.

Instead what I find myself doing is pulling away from everyone. I lock myself in my room and don’t let anyone see that I’m struggling. Compounding the problem. Making it worse. What I need, is exactly the opposite of what I allow myself to have. 

And it is all me. Because at this point with the friends I have now, especially with my family, everyone in my life is more than willing to give me a shoulder to lean on if I let myself ask for it.

Often I’ve noticed we tend to fall into the mindset of, “Well if they love me they should know that I need to be comforted.” And when they don’t, our minds spin out and run away with themselves convincing us that our loved ones don’t really love us the way that they might actually love us.

This is something that I’ve noticed a lot from Zoe and my ex-friend Riot (both BPD). They fall into the ‘shoulds’ A LOT. Instead of actually expressing what it is they need, they have an automatic assumption that the people in their lives should just know. And the longer that those people don’t notice, the angrier and more hurt they become. Until it ends in a puddle of tears and/or trauma.

There there are the times when we know it's utterly unreasonable, but we still feel hurt and the inner shame just piles on. 

Mind reading is a skillset I think many of us subconsciously desire in our partners. It’s a skillset that is UTTERLY unreasonable. I think where this comes from is a desire to have someone that is as hyper vigilant to the concerns of everyone else, as we often are when we’re in our caregiver mode.  

Part of the problem with this though, at least for me, is that I very rarely show on the outside, what I’m feeling on the inside… which is counterintuitive to that desire to have those around us notice that we have a need that may need attention. We need a certain thing, want people to pick up on it, but what we allow ourselves to show people makes it utterly impossible for them discern what it is we need. We are the ultimate in inconsistent messages.

I don’t want people to feel obligated to help. I want them to /want/ to help. Ironically, the people close to me usually do, but they don’t actually know. What I need to work on, what many of us need to work on, is conveying accurately what it is we’re feeling, and what we need. This is so much easier to say than do though.

There’s one other “should” that gets in my way. It’s the self-should, or should not… “I shouldn’t feel this way.” This is usually a product of a lifetime of being invalidated and told that how we feel is wrong or inappropriate. Being shamed for feeling the way that we feel. Feeling shame because of how we feel. There’s so much to overcome from our own negative self-outlook, a lifetime of negative input, and a lifetime of deeply ingrained defense mechanisms designed to protect us from being vulnerable… that learning how to express even the smallest, most seemingly inane desire for human comfort, is anathema at times.

One of the things that I think is so misunderstood about us… is that it’s assumed that small things are just small things. It’s assumed that because something doesn’t seem like a big deal, naturally it is easy to get over. Except it’s not. Many of us have grown up being told the exact opposite in fact. Small things, can trigger a multitude of deeply held beliefs or traumas that set off an avalanche of anxiety and emotional fallout. Seemingly small things are often the needle that broke that camels back when it comes to triggering our bigger responses.

In that respect, we tend to worry about everything. At least I do. I worry that if I show that vulnerability for a moment (and inevitably I do), that it will negate all of the strength I’ve shown previously. This is that black and white thinking I find myself falling into at the time. It’s very difficult to hold onto the other side when the feelings of the moment take hold. And once I do, the comfort I feel when I receive the attention I do need, I simultaneously feel a deep sense of embarrassment or shame.

It’s difficult. I’m 32 years old and I’ve just begun this idea that it’s okay for me to feel how I feel and that it’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to let other people be there for you. While it’s okay to feel embarrassment and shame because those are valid feelings, it’s also good for me to recognize that this is a product of my personal dysfunction. No one that cares about me sees my need for human comfort as anything to be embarrassed about. This is a product of my overcompensation and counter dependence…. A product of my desire to be close, but fear of allowing anyone to actually be close.

All I know is that in the moment I feel awkward and kind of ashamed. Figuring out how to acknowledge these feelings as valid, but also work past them and express how I feel in order to achieve a more functional relationship with myself and with my friends and family… it’s a lot. This is also where I think a lot of that limited reparenting that Therapist does comes in very helpful. At this point I feel safe enough expressing when I need things (not from her, but in general) and she’s capable of helping me see what is perfectly acceptable and when I’m being too hard on myself.

Cuz really, sometimes all I really need is a hug or to not sit in the living room alone. I had “Be Independent” ingrained into my psyche really hard.  Learning that asking for comfort or companionship does not equal no longer being independent, is not such a straightforward path for me. I’ve noticed that people tend to assume that things can and are straightforward in therapy. People/Love Ones get frustrated that things don’t go quickly enough or that issues aren’t being addressed directly… there’s a reason for that. That reason is because things are not the straightforward thing that people assume they are. Everyone has different experiences and different methods of healing. Figuring out what works for us, developing a relationship with ourselves and with the people that are willing to help us (loved ones, therapists, psychiatrists, etc.) is a path in and of itself.

Asking for help, asking for comfort, it’s a big thing for me. It helps that I have people that are aware of my struggles. It helps to ask for the small things and see how people respond. Still to this day though, I’m not really sure how to ask people to just come over and hang out without simultaneously making all kinds of crazy food or special treats to feel like I’m giving back, literally, for the comfort I find in the presence of my friends. I always feel like I have to provide something, give something, make it worth their time and energy, to spend time with me. Cognitively I can guarantee that my friends think this is nuts. I have a quick, witty, sometimes raunchy sense of humor; I’m extremely knowledgeable in conversation, I’m happy to just sit and listen when they need to talk and vent…. I know how to be a friend, but I’m not so certain when it comes to allowing other people to be my friend, just my friend. I still have that voice in the back of my mind that says that me, for myself, isn’t good enough and I need to provide something to compensate for my shortcomings as a fully functional human being.

These are my cats both trying to squeeze onto my lap.
They love me more than I can stand some days, haha. 
So to ask for company AND someone to listen, or to ask for company AND someone to curl up against… it feels like I’m taking AND taking without giving back… even though I’ve had friends and family tell me that that it’s not actually taking, because I’m providing them company and comfort at the same time as I’m receiving it. It’s such a foreign concept to me though. It doesn’t seem like something that should be such a struggle, but it is. Something so seemingly small. Something I see come so naturally for all these other people… I struggle with. Comfort.

Giving comfort is easy. I like being able to provide that for people. I feel bad for receiving it. Though to receive is a part of the process of giving. I know how good I feel sometimes when I’m able to give something to the people I care about. It’s not unreasonable to believe that maybe, just maybe, other people find a sense of joy in doing the same for others, even me.

To give is a gift. To allow yourself to receive, is also a gift. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Borderline Personality Disorder: Facts Versus Myths

Hello Dear Readers,

In case you were wondering. My x-rays came back and I do not have a fracture! Yay! I do have torn ligaments and whatnot though which is ridiculous but it is what it is. The really ridiculous part though is that it’s tender but it doesn’t actually hurt. I recognize this has something to do with my tolerance to pain being skewed and all, but it just means I have to be vigilant about not continuing to injure it because my body/brain connection is not sending me proper signals. It’s so strange. Moving on….

I found a quick article today concerning Facts vs. Myths of Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s a very recent article and I like it for one very specific reason. It demonstrates the changing attitudes and changing viewpoints that typically accompany the perception of BPD. Specifically in the sense that it does not make villains of those of us with BPD and it correctly states that healing is possible. So take a look.

Feb 11, 2013

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a serious condition that affects three times the numbers of women verses men. Women diagnosed with BPD have stormy and unstable relationships, problems regulating strong feelings, an unclear sense of self, chronic feelings of emptiness, and some may engage in impulsive and self-damaging behaviors such as suicidal thoughts and behaviors and self-injurious behaviors like cutting. Women suffering with BPD also struggle with trusting other people, and tend to be suspicious of other’s motives and behaviors. This type of thinking usually stems from their processing reality in a black-and-white manner, and acknowledging the nuances in their relationships with other people and themselves is difficult for them to appreciate. Black-and-white thinking results in people with BPD idealizing themselves, other people, and/or situations which can then quickly change into devaluing themselves, other people, and/or situations all of which causes stormy unstable relationships and an inconsistent self-image. 

All too often I have seen women receive a diagnosis of BPD in error or based on a clinician’s impressions after a brief meeting. Although this disorder may appear easy to self-diagnosis, a valid diagnosis of BPD involves an extensive evaluation. BPD is a complex condition and a full discussion is beyond the scope of this post. Here are a few of the important facts and myths regarding the symptoms and treatment of BPD that I hope will be helpful to you for understanding this disorder:


BPD is a common disorder with estimates of 10 percent to 15 percent of the general population. Many women diagnosed with BPD also suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse and eating disorders. It is not uncommon for women diagnosed with BPD to have been sexually, physically and /or emotionally abused during childhood.

To have a diagnosis of BPD, a person has to meet five out of nine total criteria, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These criteria include the following:

• Problems with relationships (fears of abandonment; unstable relationships)
• Unstable emotions (frequent emotional ups and down; high emotional sensitivity)
• Unstable identity (clear sense of self; chronic feelings of emptiness)
• Impulsive and self-damaging behaviors
• Unstable thinking/cognition (suspiciousness; tendency to dissociate when under stress)


BPD usually develops during adolescence or early adulthood. In addition to sexual trauma being a factor in the development of the disorder, parental neglect and unstable family relationships has been shown to contribute to an individual’s risk for developing this disorder. Other studies suggest BPD may also have a genetic component; it is thought that individuals may inherit his or her temperament along with specific personality traits, particularly impulsiveness and aggression.


Women diagnosed with BPD are always difficult to deal with, likely to be physically aggressive, untreatable, depressed, and/or unable to live fulfilling and productive lives. These symptoms usually vary in their intensity. The majority of women and others diagnosed with BPD are genuinely very passionate, courageous, loyal, sensitive, thoughtful and intelligent individuals. 


BPD is not treatable. This is one of the most harmful misconceptions about BPD. In fact, the opposite is true. Current studies indicate that rates of recovery from BPD are much higher than previously thought. Psychodynamic-psychotherapy once or twice per week aimed at helping women regulate their intense emotions, reduce self-destructive behaviors, create stable relationships, and develop a cohesive sense of identity has been shown to be an effective treatment. Group therapy that teaches mindfulness (paying attention to the present), interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation has also been shown to be helpful in treating BPD.

Developing a strong therapeutic relationship with a therapist that one trusts and feels safe and secure with in addition to being available by phone, e-mails or other means of communication in between sessions is a crucial component for effective treatment. Other treatment options include cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and schema-focused therapy. Additionally, family members of individuals diagnosed with BPD may also benefit from some kind of therapy.  Family therapy can educate family members and loved ones about BPD and it can educate them about ways in which they can reduce their loved one’s symptoms.

Below are a few tips for coping with BPD:

• Seek professional help and try to stick with treatment even when you feel discouraged.
• Exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to improve one’s mood, decrease anxiety, and reduce stress.
• Get at minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Getting proper rest helps with mood regulation and decreases mood swings.
• Educate yourself about the disorder. Consider joining a support group.
• Set realistic goals for yourself. Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you work on achieving your goals.
• Identify and seek out comforting situations, places, and people.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Problems Posting

Hello dear Readers,

Just a quick note. No post today because I may have fractured my ankle this weekend. I'm currently habitating my doctor's office and radiology to get x-rays. It looks terrible but it doesn't hurt /that/ bad if I don't put all my weight on it. We'll see. Ugh.


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