**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
Even though many don’t realize what is happening as it happens, humans in the western world tend to perpetuate a culture of emotional avoidance/emotional neglect. It is as though emotions have been put to the absolute bottom priority of things to learn about or care about.
Living “like this” seems to have evolved somehow without any conscious awareness of doing so and the ramifications of doing so. It is a type of neglect that can’t usually be noticed and appreciated until more is learned about mental health and mental illness, including the hard to notice patterns in human interaction that can strongly influence the odds of becoming mentally sick versus remaining healthy over time.
For a person who develops Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – an emotionally sensitive type of person requiring proper guidance, but who hasn’t received it – it is very important for him to develop an understanding of patterns in human interaction and how they can keep BPD active. In other words, a person with BPD must learn “how to see” what happens to him in human interactions, in particular, what happens to his emotions. Without developing this specialized type of understanding (or “vision”), it can be impossible to learn effective management of emotions, thoughts, and behaviours (three parts of human functioning that contribute to ongoing and unnecessary life difficulties and misery when left unmanaged).
In addition to developing an understanding of the emotional aspects of human interaction, it is also vital that a person with BPD receives many opportunities to practice skills for managing emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. Without receiving many opportunities to practice skills, breaking the BPD pattern may seem impossible. From a learning perspective, this is very sensible… if a person doesn’t have enough experiences that work well to help him grow and learn, then how is he ever supposed to ever operate in a different way?
The problem is that we live in a largely inpatient, emotionally phobic, and emotionally unskilled culture, and therefore, tend to automatically look for ways to undermine our emotional learning experiences… we do it to ourselves and we do it to each other.
How do we do it to ourselves?
After having a difficult “first time” experience, such as doing poorly on an exam, or getting turned down for a date, or getting turned down for a job, there can be an urge to avoid making another attempt at doing the same thing. The person perhaps thinks to himself… “That hurt so much… I definitely don’t want to experience that again!” He doesn’t know that he can work through his emotional experience, for instance, through developing emotional awareness, becoming mindfully aware of what happens in his body, and learning to challenge HIS thoughts that produced HIS emotional experience. He will most likely look for ways to avoid exams, avoid dates, and avoid job seeking, all in the name of avoiding emotions he doesn’t know how to deal with.
How do we do it to each other?
Since people (both those living with the emotional intensity of BPD and those living without that immense challenge) will usually attempt to avoid emotional experiences they can’t yet tolerate and that can happen when trying to achieve something new, they will also seek out ways to eliminate undesirable emotions in their relationship experiences. So for instance, when it becomes apparent that a partner has some emotional distress because of a choice that was made (e.g., deciding to go for a walk instead of watch TV together), the decision from that point forward may be to avoid going on walks. The reason for making that decision would be to “protect” the partner from experiencing unwanted emotions; however, it also robs the partner of an emotional growth experience.
When emotional skills remain undeveloped, it can truly be extraordinary how many different “avoidance tactics” people will invent for the sole purpose of avoiding emotions/reactions to emotions. Indeed, it can take multiple therapy sessions to find them all. And even when life gets more and more difficult because emotional avoidance IS NOT good problem-solving strategy, people will continue to use it because they have no other way of dealing with the emotional aspects of human life. From my experience working through my own issues and with others, I have now come to believe that the more emotional avoidance tactics become part of a person’s life and relationships, the more potential there is for experiencing relationship problems and mental illness (BPD and other disorders).
To realize that it is better to face and process emotions (of all kinds) is a simple concept once understood and embraced, although in a culture that continually encourages and enables emotional avoidance tactics, it can be an uphill battle. But for a person who suffers with BPD, failing to take matters of emotional management seriously can mean the difference between high quality and low quality life experience, even loss of life experience. When mastering emotions and breaking free from the BPD pattern have been set as personal goals, I believe it is much better to become a cultural rebel.
And so the next time an opportunity for emotional growth arises – which can be a lot when you have BPD – I challenge you to bravely seize the opportunity and approach rather than avoid emotions. Use whatever skills you have acquired to try and work through the emotions. If you are a person who knows somebody who is working on emotional mastery, please do help him approach (and work through) his emotions rather than providing an easy way out or otherwise trying to shut him down.
Two articles on the topic of validation are available from BreakAway MHE if more guidance is needed for developing this helpful skill and being an effective support to someone with BPD (article 1, article 2). A person with BPD needs to get good at living with his emotions… processing them, regulating them, and learning how to use them for good purposes. He doesn’t need an easy way out or to be informed his emotions have no place or aren’t welcome.