Monday, February 24, 2014

Resolution, Not Conflict: Part 2

Sorry a little late posting this but here we got…. So!

The guide to problem-solving. by Susan Heitler, Ph.D.
From Cute Little Girl To Boderline Personality

Difficult daughters may show early signs of potential borderline patterns.
Published on December 12, 2011 by Susan Heitler, Ph.D. in Resolution, Not Conflict


Specifically, how do some young people, most often but not limited to female, develop personality patterns that create chaos and fighting wherever they go? 
Four theories come to mind for me when I work with clients with borderline patterns.  One possibility is that the problem begins with their parenting.  A second hypothesis is that the tendency to create chaos comes from biological sources.  A third explanation might be that adult individuals with borderline personality disorder begin as children who are particularly sensitive and experience traumas in their youthful years. A fourth explanation may lie in a paucity of mature habits for handling emotions and for collaborative resolution of conflicts.

1.)    Let's look first at parenting glitches. 

I do think that Ginny Mae's mom may have been part of the problem.  On the brink of a second divorce, she probably was feeling highly stressed at the time.  I have a hunch too that the mom modeled anger as a means of forcing her husband and children to do what she wanted. 

In addition, Mom may have been too overwhelmed with her own problems to be able to take charge of Ginny Mae.  I had a hunch that Ginny Mae used her anger to control everyone in the household, including her parents, in a classic case of collapsed hierarchy. No adults stopped Ginny Mae's quarrelsome habits, so she continued to use them.
I have a hunch that Ginny Mae's dad played a role as well.  The more he treated his daughter as his special can-do-no-wrong little girl, the more he undermined his wife's ability to tame her tantrums.

Girls with a tendency to excessive anger need a strong parental unit.  Divide and conquer can be the daughter's highly effective strategy for taking charge, and that's to everyone's detriment, hers included.

2.)    The second theory, positing biological predispositions, is particularly ably set forth by Barbara Oakley in her book Evil Genes. 

Written to come to terms with the life of her deceased borderline sister, the book seeks to understand the biological factors that can underlie this syndrome. Could biological factors explain a personality characterized by quickness to take personal affront in situations that others would not, quickness to anger escalations by which she controls others, and a tendency to unscrupulously manipulate situations for personal benefit?

While the book does tend to lump borderlines, sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists in a relatively undifferentiated diagnostic heap, there's justification for this muddying of the diagnostic picture given how much overlap these syndromes seem to have with each other.

I absolutely disagree with this. At this point most professionals disagree with this as well. There is a great deal of difference between all of these diagnoses. Most notably in the ability to express and feel emotions, experience self-awareness, and recover, which are all possible for Borderlines.

I myself am sympathetic to Oakley's biological theory, having had in my practice two families in which one daughter in a set of girl twins appeared from infancy to be "borderline."  The aggressive twin would pick on the sister, repeatedly causing her to cry and suffer pain.  This pattern continued or worsened as the twins grew older.  The parents gradually gave up, creating collapsed hierarchy with the difficult twin ruling everyone in the family.  

I have treated similar patterns in other families, with siblings rather than twins, in which the parents could never come to terms with a difficult child who was eventually labeled borderline.

Typically, one aspect of the inefficacy of the parents was that the difficult daughter showered affection on the dad, and hid her aggressiveness toward others in the family from him.  As a result, the dad never accepted the mom's assessment that the problematic child was disturbed and excessively disturbing to others.  With a divided parental unit, the difficult child continued to conquer and rule the roost.

3.)    The third theory, positing prior trauma, also merits credibility. 

While my work as a psychologist focuses mainly on adults and couples, I often work jointly with an energy therapist, my colleague Dale Petterson.  In one session Dale treated an attractive third-grade girl named Bonnie.  Bonnie looked to me quite borderline.  She immediately brought to mind for me young Ginny Mae. (please continue on next page)

Like Ginny Mae, Bonnie could be charmingly cute.  At other times, according to her mom, Bonnie would become sullen, provocative, play the victim role, and then strike out, mostly verbally, at her siblings and her friends.   Bonnie's Mom, who accompanied her to treatment sessions, seemed to be warmly empathic and appropriately authoritative as a parent.  She did report that from infancy Bonny was a needier-than normal child, needing to be held far more of the time than her siblings had needed when they were babies, and engaging more parental attention than the other kids in the family.  Still, the young girl's frequent anger outbursts were wearing down the patience of her parents and sibs, and she seemed to get into considerably more frequent spats than most kids of that age.

Using techniques from the treatment method invented by Bradley Nelson termed The Body Code, Dale helped Bonnie and her mother to identify an incident that had occurred in Bonnie's nursery school when she was three years old.  Another child in her class had entered the classroom when Bonnie was in the room alone.  That child, known as a bully, had terrified Bonnie.  The minute they identified this incident, Bonnie's face clouded over.  Suddenly a cloudburst of tears erupted.  As Bonnie later described it, "I began to vomit out tears."  When the sobbing episode had passed and the tears had dried, Bonnie described feeling a huge sense of relief.  From that point forward, the frequency of her fighting with other children radically diminished.  Even more importantly, her self-confidence began to flourish, and she became a vastly happier and emotionally robust child.  

Energy therapy techniques, I believe, are especially essential in treatment with borderline personality patterns for neutralizing psychological reversal (the tendency to be self-sabotaging) and the deeply held subconscious belief, if it is present, that "I am not lovable." Without reversing these two phenomena, treatment is unlikely to make massive or long-lasting progress.

Of all the hypothesis presented this one resonated most with me. Talking to my mother I didn’t begin to get extremely disruptive until I was about 12, but I was much needier than both my siblings and I displayed abandonment issues beginning from the time I was 2.5 years old. My mother told me I was actually very charming, calm, and seemingly happy for most of my childhood, but I was also very anxious and didn’t like to be left alone, sleep alone, or to leave my family.

4.)    The fourth hypothesis is that people who function in the manner of a person with borderline personality disorder need to upgrade their emotional self-regulation and conflict resolution skills. 

Borderlines explode instead of engaging in problem-solving.  Living with them is like living in a field of land mines. Whatever their childhood experiences, to be successful in adulthood they need to learn skills for handling anger by exiting instead of by exploding in a manner that risks harming others and themselves as well. 

Borderline functioning involves a pattern of experiencing difficulties through the lens of victimhood.  Once they feel hurt, up pops the mantra "I'm a victim so I have a right to victimize you."  Lacking effective relationship repair tools, people with borderline habits make matters worse after upsets by aiming to get even instead of healing the wounds. Angrily getting even is just a wrong idea of how to enjoy gratifying relationships. 

I find this disgusting. This is actually how my Evil-Ex used to operate. He felt the world was out to get him, so he would get it first. He was malicious and vengeful. I’m sorry, but no. I know how it feels to be treated how horribly I’ve been treated. I would never in my life want anyone else to ever feel that way.

Similarly, when they want something and fear they may not get it, people with borderline personality patterns typically lack how-to's for creating win-win solutions, a skill that's essentially for sustaining harmonious relationships.

This may be were being an engineer has helped me personally. Creative solutions are something I’m pretty good at. I also tend to be someone that likes to take care of other people, especially people that I’m close to. Therapist will tell you that my problem is actually putting enough effort into thinking about myself and not just into the other person, because I will do too much for other people to the detriment of what is good for me.

The moral of the story? 

First and foremost, borderline behaviors do cause people to want to get away from them. 

But this is not the most well rounded of articles and clearly doesn’t illustrate everyone with BPD.

Second, with regard to the cause of the tendency to create emotional turbulences, I believe that all four theories of how and why borderline personality disorders develop merit consideration in assessing the sources of borderline personality disorders.  In any given case, one, two or most likely all three factors may turn out to be relevant.

I think they’re certainly relevant, but I’m not sure that there is enough here to quite cover everything. I like a little more neuroscience in some of my psychology.

Finally, the most important question is how to use these understandings to enable people with borderline personality syndromes to enjoy more gratifying lives and smoother relationships...if they want to.  Too much success at getting their way via anger can make it hard to accept that what seems to work for them in gaining domination is what makes them losers in able to sustain positive relationships.


Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver Clinical psychologist, is author of multiple publications including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two.  A graduate of Harvard and NYU, Dr. Heitler's most recent project is a marriage skills website, 


  1. I think your blog is far more enlightening and well written than this author. I prefer reading your own work to articles such as this. BTW, your blog is most intriguing and well put together. Particularly the titles and accompanying graphics. Where do you get your clip art? I'm still struggling with getting mine off the ground...

  2. I agree with Kiki.

    I am new here, and I want to thank you, Haven, for having the courage and intelligence to create this blog. Almost everything I have read here resonates with me and my experience. I'm not an engineer but I think I could be if I wanted. I have a degree in IT but ended up in communications, working with people who have journalism and marketing degrees! It's more fun than engineering IMO. :)

    I have come to resent a little, the descriptions frequently found in articles that paint a picture of BPDs going around throwing tantrums. Like you, I am overly sensitive to other's feelings, completely disregarding my own. I'm trying to teach myself how to start asking for what I want and need and creating that "win - win" scenario.

    You said something about your engineering skills helping you create a solution - I'd like to know more about that. Do you plan on sharing more in future articles?


  3. Yeah your blog is way better than this rather vague, judgemental article!

  4. I've read a couple other articles by this psychologist. She seems rather biased in her views of people with BPD--negatively biased. I'm also not a fan of her "win-win/all conflicts can be resolved" theory/process, mostly because I have selfish, manipulative people in my life who don't acknowledge the problems *their* behaviours generate....

    She seems to think that everyone who is unwilling/unable to accept & acknowledge their part in relationship issues has BPD, and that is short-sighted and dangerous. Not all people incapable of giving emotional support are borderline, even if such people are capable of driving a person over the edge....

    I get much better (healthier, less self-flagellation inducing) insights to my own issues by reading *this* blog than I have from reading hers. Thanks, Haven--you are a life saver!!

  5. Haven, FYI. I just reached your March 7, 2012 article on Push-Pull. Started weeks ago at the start. Anyway, just letting you know that spammers are painting the town red on that article's comments section.

  6. Haven, I've got a question that I was pondering today. Do you think that there might be a correlation between IQ and whether a BPD is low or high-functioning? I mean essentially, if we assume that having a high IQ means you have higher levels of cognition, then those higher levels of cognition could possibly override the detrimental emotional behaviours. After all, higher cognitive functions evolved specifically for that purpose. Drawing current away from the amygdala etc. It hasn't gone unnoticed by myself that people comment that you're the best resource on the net explaining what goes on in their heads and that you are basically a rocket scientist at the same time. What do you think?

  7. Where have you disappeared to? Miss you and your blogging. What are your thoughts on life from a BPD perspective? I hope you're okay. Goodbye.

  8. It's May. I really hope your okay and that you just wanted a long break. Hope your break is going well

  9. Haven mate, get in touch whenever you can - at least let people know you're alive, even if you are suffering. People here care about you lots lots.

  10. Heaven where are you?? You need to appear!!! Miss you here

  11. Finished! 3 months, 755 posts and countless comments later...

    Thank you, dear Haven. You have helped me understand my beautiful borderline in ways I never could. If I think back to every interaction I had with her, every moment, cuddle, misunderstanding, argument, outing and use your eyes as hers, the fog lifts and I can understand the turbulence. I was a bull tiptoeing around on eggshells lying on the china shop floor. I didn't know what triggering was to begin with, let alone that I was inadvertently doing it. It's just sort of depressing figuring it out all out after you've been split black.

    Haven, you are like the smartest chick I know! (The rocket scientist brain is a serious turn on btw :)) Your level of self-awareness is AMAZING and puts even the majority of nons to shame (including me!). I am so impressed with what you accomplish despite the challenges you face, keeping everything together despite the underlying turmoil. You are an inspiration even to nons. I have learnt so much, not only about BPD, but also human psychology in general, and more importantly about blind spots I never knew I had myself.

    Thank you for everything. I do worry about the fact that you haven't made an appearance since I started reading. I hope you are ok. All the best.

    To my darling borderline (if you're reading this, you know who you are). I love you. Just as you are. I miss what we had and I'm sorry for not seeing you. I just couldn't from where I was standing. You are still my favourite. I love how giving you are and how smart and funny you are. I miss making you laugh. Thank you for being you. x

    1. Aww this was so sweet and romantic. I hope you two get back together and can make it work. Your love for this girl sounds beautiful

    2. I love her very much. She's wonderful. At the moment, the walls I accidentally smashed through have been rebuilt thicker and higher than before, and it's a lot of work but I am nothing if not persistent. At least now I have a model to from. Time will tell. She appears to be tolerating me at the moment, which I suppose is a good sign (i.e. if I was completely black she wouldn't want anything to do with me). But that could be just professional courtesy due to the fact that we work together. I don't know. I'll find out eventually one way or the other.

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