Over dramatic? Guilt Trip? Over Emotional? Exaggeration? Just an outright lie?
I can see why you’d think so, heck, even I think so sometimes too.
However for those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, it can be very much a tangible reality. Perhaps not a literal reality, but a very palpable and terrifying reality nonetheless.
So what does that mean? How can it be reality if it’s not literal? I think it’s essential to point out here that everyone experiences ‘reality’ in a different way. What may make sense in your own reality, might sound like a fish playing the cello on a Wednesday evening to someone else, i.e not a lot of sense at all.
We all have, to some degree, a grasp on the concept of emotions and thoughts. Combined, they are what enables us to understand and interact with the world.
When your emotions or thoughts are ‘unregulated’ (such as with BPD), this means that your emotional responses do not align with what is conventionally accepted.
The difference here is that you don’t feel like you could die when left alone. It’s that you believe you actually will.
Here’s an example:
You have spent the whole morning with a trusted friend, getting lost in conversation and drinking copious amounts of caffeine. You can feel the happy energy flowing between you, and you feel good.
Your friend suddenly gets a text saying that their son was sick at school and needs to be picked up immediately. They make their apologies and leave quickly.
With properly regulated emotions you wouldn’t worry that your friend might be ditching you. The reality is that they must simply take care of their sick child. Simple, right?
Well, with dysregulated emotions, it can actually present itself as a completely different reality.
Your emotional reactions can become distorted or inappropriate for the situation.
You might worry that your friend actually hates you. You might worry that they didn’t want to spend time with you anymore. You may begin to doubt your friendship. You may begin to doubt if you were actually having fun at all. You begin to doubt if you ever had fun together.
Distorted thinking patterns may occur such as, “What if this whole time they were just pretending to like you? What if they were playing a prank on you all these years by pretending to be your friend? Did your friendship ever mean anything? Was it all lies?”
You may begin to run through every encounter with your friend that you can dreg up from your memory, but all you can see are the times when they had to leave you for whatever reason.
You may begin to start questioning everything, “Does that mean that you’re worthless? Does that mean that no one wants to spend time with you?”
You could begin to think that everyone hates you. You may begin to question who you are, how you act, how you dress. You can begin to see yourself as disgusting, useless, or pathetic and think “Of course no one likes you. Of course she ditched you. How could anyone stand to be with you? How could you believe for one moment that someone actually liked you? You’re an idiot for believing that.”
You may start believing these harmful thoughts; you hate yourself, you hate everything you are. You don’t feel humiliated, you are humiliated.
Your eyes are burning and you can’t keep still. You have to get out of there. You have to get home. You have to make it stop. “They left me. They always leave me. How could I be so stupid as to believe that they wouldn’t? I deserve it. I deserve to be alone forever.”
These intense thoughts and emotions are totally unfounded, but they are reality for you. You believe them 100% percent.
You have convinced yourself that this is the reality. And it hurts deeply. This distorted reality may convince you to be inwardly self-destructive, or outwardly express the overwhelming intensity of your feelings in an explosive outburst.
I have included a pretty ‘mild’ example here, as referenced in the title, these thoughts can escalate completely out of control and the thoughts and emotions may present themselves as a lot more sinister or psychotic. Though this is not to downplay the intensity of this particular example.
The process can become so ingrained that it becomes automatic; sometimes you might not even need to run through it all because you know it word for word, this destructive emotional response is now a part of you. It is instant and reactive.
Your reality has now changed. Your reality is now dysregulated, and whilst it may not make sense to anyone else, it is the only thing that you can see.
What needs to happen now is taking a step to recognising that some emotional responses are unhealthy. Once you learn to identify the distorted reality you can begin to untangle yourself from it.
This is where DBT or skills therapy comes in handy. Learning to understand and manage your emotions is no easy feat, believe me, I’ve started and restarted my journey numerous times as it is a constant battle against something ingrained deeply in your mind.
The trick is repetition over time.
How do you think your distorted thinking came into existence? It was reinforced over many years and that led it to become an automatic thought process. If you do something enough times then it will become ‘learned’, much like learning an instrument or riding a bike or driving a car.
Luckily, we can rewire our brains again and again. We just have to keep stamping over the old neural pathways with new healthy thinking styles and emotional responses, and eventually we will find that we are making progress to regulating our emotions healthily! Simple, right?!