Thought Patterns That Need Adjustment in BPD – Step 3 (slide set 1)

**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

In addition to experiencing ongoing difficulties with emotions and behavior in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), there are also certain patterns of thought that tend to get formed and influence the extent to which emotions and behavior remain a problem. These patterns of thought tend to be biased, meaning that the thoughts do not account for many details of the lived experience and tend to be an oversimplification (overlooking things). Said another way, these types of thoughts neglect to incorporate objective facts that are relevant to the here and now (to reality).

These types of thoughts have been given various names and ways to notice, discuss, and make adjustments, by psychological theorists and practitioners such as Aaron Beck and David Burns. I prefer to use Aaron Beck’s term “cognitive distortion” when teaching others about the possible thought-related challenges associated with BPD.

Cognitive distortions can be grouped into different categories, and by noticing which categories of cognitive distortion apply to you, it can really help in the process of becoming increasingly mindful and self-reflective. I would say it is in fact critical that a person struggling with BPD learns “a way” to notice what is happening with the thoughts in order to start making adjustments to the larger BPD pattern (perceptions, thoughts, emotions, behaviors).

As we move forward with the 9-steps, I will share slides that depict at least ten of the most common “cognitive distortions” that get experienced by those who suffer with BPD. At this point, it is important to know that “cognitive distortions” in fact happen and that they can induce a “vicious circle of thought, feeling, and behavior”… meaning that one distorted thought can trigger many difficult emotions, and thereafter a whole range of other unhealthy thoughts and feelings can come into being and affect how a person functions (problems with reactions, communication, problem-solving, for instance).

As long as we are living and thinking, there is always the potential for experiencing these kinds of distorted thoughts, and likewise, to experience all of the emotional side-effects that come from the thoughts. It could happen in both awake-time and sleep-time. All that needs to occur is an event, or a thought or memory of an event, such that a person starts to “make meaning” of the event… to start thinking about it.

Many of the thoughts that we experience may have some association with parts of our past, such that we may be inclined to interpret new events according to the ways we first experienced people and the world (healthy or unhealthy as they may have been). So for instance, if we were constantly blamed for things that weren’t our fault when we were young (say by an authority figure, like a parent), then we may have an ongoing tendency to take blame for situations that in fact are not so simple to settle. It therefore may be considered “self-destructive” to impulsively assume blame when further analysis of life situations and fact gathering might paint an entirely different picture, or suggest many possible avenues of accountability.

The strange thing about self-destructive beliefs (such as chronic self-blame or believing that problems are bound to be your fault) is that people actually start to get accustomed to the beliefs and even want to hold on to them. To act in ways that do not support the beliefs after they get formed may induce lots of anxiety!

Assumption of blame may have been used as a way to survive a particular time and place. For instance, it might have provided a way “to stay safe” from authority figures who were extremely abusive… perhaps rejecting or demeaning (or even physically harmful) if the blame wasn’t assumed.  To assume blame in ALL times and places of life after such an experience in development would not be uncommon for a person with BPD, even long after childhood has passed.

Being assertive in adulthood is a very important skill so as to solve problems and get needs met, although it may be extremely difficult for someone who has developed a self-blame belief pattern. Being assertive means standing up for yourself, but according to the self-blame belief pattern that would be a very dangerous/risky thing to do because it might result in experiencing emotional (or physical) pain similar to what happened in the past.

Chronic judgments made towards the self in this type of scenario therefore make a lot of sense. And if there is one thing that humans tend to prefer, that would be maintaining a sense of safety rather than making moves they believe may result in harm to self (or harm to others close to them). Considering the “authority figure” example portrayed above, perhaps you are starting to see how beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and anxiety are all intertwined and share connections in mental health issues like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).