**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 behaviour in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), there are also specific patterns of thought that tend to get formed and influence the extent to which feelings and behaviour 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 types of cognitive distortion apply to you, it can 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 “away” to notice what is happening with the thoughts to start making adjustments to the larger BPD pattern (perceptions, thoughts, emotions, behaviours).
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 from 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 behaviour”… meaning that one distorted thought can trigger many difficult emotions, and after that, 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 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 encountered people and the world (healthy or unhealthy as they may have been). So for instance, if we were regularly 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 the blame for situations that are not so simple to settle. It, therefore, may be considered “self-destructive” to impulsively assume responsibility 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!
The 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 responsibility 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 an essential skill 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).