**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Any uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
Author: Peter Miller
Imagine trying to solve a math problem while at the same time believing your life is threatened by an apparently real danger (e.g., a nearby tornado or oncoming car). You can probably imagine how this sort of “sensed danger” could interrupt your thinking and problem-solving ability… you wouldn’t be able to solve the problem, or maybe you would rush to some incorrect conclusion, because after all “your life is in danger”.
This type of temporary impairment is very common to those who struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It can also be one of the reasons a person may want to give up on his or her life. In other words, when you can’t effectively deal with your emotions, and likewise, can’t effectively solve the ongoing problems of life (or your attempts to solve problems only seems to make things worse), it is very hard to keep going!
An awful sense of shame very often accompanies these types of BPD impairments, typically due to misunderstanding what is happening in the brain and body, having no awareness or understanding of mental health disorder, and so blaming oneself entirely for problems experienced (believing “I am a bad person” or “I should know better not make these mistakes in reasoning and behaviour”). This type of “shame emotion” and all the related thoughts can be chronic and debilitating.
A very sad reality is that family, friends, and others with whom the person with BPD has relationships and attachments will quite often respond to BPD symptoms (e.g., exaggerated emotion, irrational speech and behavior) with anger, rejection, shaming, abandonment, or ongoing threats to punish if things don’t improve fast. But what if you have never had the proper guidance in working through difficult feelings, and therefore have no way to deal with the problems of life effectively?
So where does all this emotion come from anyway? Well it comes from the emotional areas of the brain of course! That being said, it always starts with a person’s interpretation of life events and the many brain/body reactions that occur as this happens. In other words, the emotions start with the MEANING a person attaches to events experienced. The behaviour that occurs is very much related to the interpretations that are made of events and the emotions that are experienced.
So when something happens, the brain instantly wonders if there is any danger or threat… is the event safe? …is the event meaningless? …does the event mean that other “bad events” are coming soon? This brain processing of “event, interpretation, and emotion” in fact happens so fast that most people don’t even realize there is a process happening at all. It all just seems to come out of nowhere, but it doesn’t! And this is where things can go horribly wrong, both for the person who struggles with BPD and those interacting with him or her.
Since most people have very little understanding of mental health and emotional problems, they tend to rely on “the common sense of society” to guide their thinking and acting when these issues arise… meaning that people will tend to use whatever they have picked up in the media, whatever institutionalized learning has suggested they think, say, and do, or whatever they have observed family and friends thinking, saying, and doing in difficult life situations.
The end result of trying to be in families and relationships under these kinds of misguided (or non-guided) circumstances quite often includes ongoing stress/tension, confusion, divorce, estrangement, and sometimes more extreme forms of harm to self or others. To put things more bluntly, life can turn into one very big hot mess when emotions go unmanaged and no time is taken to learn some of what we’re covering in these slides.
The good news is that we don’t have to live in the chaos that our emotions can unleash. The key to making things better is learning how to slow things down and to witness the internal process that happens as we are experiencing life. Believe it or not, you can actually learn to step outside of yourself and notice both the internal dynamics of self and the interpersonal dynamics of relationships. That being said, there needs to be a strong willingness and desire to adopt this type of learning because it can be both daunting and difficult to learn how to work through emotions rather than finding every way under the sun to avoid feeling.
People often choose to ignore the reality that this learning is in fact needed, perhaps due to doubting their own capability or capacity to learn about mental health, or perhaps believing they “shouldn’t have to learn about these things because they have learned all they need to know about thought, feeling, and behaviour”. However, when you are living with intense emotions that continuously impact your ability to solve life problems, relate with others, and otherwise enjoy life experiences, what other choice do you have?