The Function and Futility of Self-Judgment in Borderline Personality Disorder


**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

It is a sad thing, but the people I speak with in therapy often discover that they are their own worst enemies. After much discussion and the curtains of self-defence finally pulled back, it becomes apparent that a great deal of their emotional (and other) suffering has originated from within rather than without. Said another way, a person eventually comes to realize that he is the author of much of his unnecessary emotional suffering! He discovers that his perceptual biases and unhealthy thought patterns (not noticed before attending therapy) have been more disabling than he could have ever imagined.

In most cases, the types of thoughts that induce unnecessary emotional suffering are self-judgmental in nature, meaning that a person tends to put himself down, label himself negatively, or otherwise take away or minimize any credit that might be forthcoming given his efforts. He perceives himself as functioning inadequately in nearly every area of life and situation. The reasons this kind of maladaptive functioning takes root can be varied and complicated depending on a person’s relationships and history. Nevertheless, much of my experience working with others has left me believing that people would prefer to judge themselves, rather than risk waiting being judged by others, just because it hurts less.

For instance, a person may conclude “If I am hard enough on myself to make sure things are done ‘properly,’ then there won’t be any need for people to judge me, be upset with me, or reject me.” “Plus, if someone tries to put me down or criticize me, it won’t hurt as much because I am already down.” The self-judging person may, therefore, believe he has created an emotional safety, or immunity, from the judgments of others because he has made these preparations and inoculated himself to any pain in advance. What the self-judging person does not realize, however, is that his judgments create emotional suffering anyway (shame feelings in particular). The non-stop judgments may also set the stage for long-term adverse mental health effects, such as anxiety and depressive disorders.

A person who develops Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) may be extremely vulnerable to relying on self-judgments as a way of feeling safe from external judgments and related emotions. Living in the moment and taking life one moment at a time may be perceived as too risky or painful for someone with BPD, as it isn’t possible to predict when you may experience these external judgments.

Learning to become mindful of self-judgment is a helpful way to begin reducing the frequency at which self-judgment occurs (am I judging myself right now?). Likewise, being willing to accept the emotional experience can be useful to alleviate emotional suffering associated with self-judgment. For instance, it is better to practice feeling “out of control” or “fearful” rather than using self-judgments as a form of perceived protection.

Eventually, and if necessary with the assistance of a therapist, it helps to articulate the irrational thoughts that form the self-judgments more specifically, and then reconstruct those thoughts into something more factual and realistic. Reconstructing self-judgments, for instance, often means recalling and embracing the facts about our good qualities that so often get ignored or discounted as self-judgment dominates.

After all, every person is a combination of qualities (areas well developed and areas that need some work/healing). No matter what we try to do, we will all experience some disappointments and embarrassments as we work on ourselves and walk through life. But isn’t it interesting to note that even though we may try to protect ourselves (perhaps using self-judgment) the problematic emotions of life will get experienced from time to time anyway?

Choosing to self-reflect (to notice, to be mindful) and make ongoing adjustments to self-judgments and the accompanying emotions can help so that the life experience is not overshadowed or weighed down by unnecessary misery.







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