Misinterpretation and Misunderstanding in BPD – Step 2 (slide set 2)

**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

One of the best ways to become more mindfully aware of your functioning is to self-reflect on the ways things have happened in the past. As you can in see the slides below, it is possible to break down life events into smaller parts and therefore become a witness to “how things happen”… that is, to witness how we interpret life events, and likewise how emotions and behaviors inevitably follow our interpretations.

When someone is struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) there is a strong tendency to very quickly and habitually interpret life events in particular ways, very commonly in ways that induce feelings of guilt, shame, rejection, worthlessness, fear and fear of abandonment, etc. For instance, a person with BPD may interpret an opposing opinion to mean that she is “stupid” (or low-worth) and even being attacked by the person voicing the opposing opinion. Without noticing thoughts and emotions, and therefore having no reliable way to reduce the intensity of the emotional experience, a person with BPD may instantly become defensive/reactive.

BPD reactions are commonly aggressive or passive aggressive (rather than assertive) and most of the time this will result in ongoing struggles to be in relationships. In other words, the things that are said and done to solve the problems of the day do not work well to solve anything. Passive aggressiveness may include such things as underhanded/judgmental comments, and aggressive responses may include anything from shouting to hitting. Either way, the ineffective response stems from a sensed need to protect oneself and “run away from”, or “push away”, the emotional experience.

The literal inability to be a witness of the thought, emotion, and body process happening as it is happening is much of the problem in BPD. Learning how to “SEE” what is happening gives a person much more power to adjust how she responds, and therefore greatly improves the odds of getting along with others and dealing with problems wisely.

One of the tragedies of not being “able to see” what’s happening when its happening (internally) is that things are often said and done that don’t help with getting along with others or solving problems. These are the impulsive reactions/behaviours that a person with BPD usually regrets having done after they have happened, very often resulting in guilt and shame feelings. These are also the reactions that others (not suffering with a mental health condition) may use to inappropriately label, judge, and condemn those who truly can’t see what’s happening in moments of difficulty.

A very important reality for everyone to consider is that things internally/mentally/emotionally can AND DO happen so quickly (without awareness) that the ability to choose an effective response in life situations is much reduced, if not completely impaired. Imagine how many misunderstandings between people and broken relationships have happened because of this reality!

It can be very humbling both for individuals suffering with emotional regulation conditions (like BPD) and also for those who are in relationships with them, to realize that things are going poorly because they have not understood how people can be blind to themselves. Quite often, both the individual suffering and those she relates with do not know how to skillfully work through difficult emotions in communication, and therefore don’t have a way to “turn on the lights” and “see what’s happening”.

Not knowing how to work through emotions in communication usually means not knowing how to listen and validate. Validation can be a powerful skill for the suffering individual to practice on herself (to help calm herself) as well as a powerful way for a caring other to help a suffering person calm emotions. Validation is best applied proactively (before things start becoming a problem) or soon as it is apparent that emotions are getting hard to handle. It works much better than criticism, admonishment, or punishment for “turning on the lights” (to begin noticing thoughts and emotions) and then respond more effectively during life events. I invite you to review two blog articles I have written on the topic of validation to help you understand how it works to ease the suffering of BPD… ARTICLE 1, ARTICLE 2.

There is much practice that needs to happen for a BPD condition to heal, and likewise for interactions with others to be improved. Speaking from my own experience with Borderline Personality Disorder, the best outcomes in life are possible when the suffering person is working regularly to help herself develop an ability to self-reflect (such as practicing mindfulness and inserting herself into these diagrams) but also when those around her are developing an understanding of what is happening when it is happening, and how to provide a helpful response.

BPD is very much an interactional disorder, meaning that a healthy interaction pattern with self has not been developed, and likewise a healthy interaction pattern with others is most likely not happening as well. Patterns can change and life experiences can be improved. On the other hand, mental health learning like this can be ignored and the natural consequences of self-destruction and relationship destruction can remain ongoing.