**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
Would you believe me if I told you that many of the thoughts an emotionally troubled person experiences in a single day are useless garbage? These are the types of thoughts that are not needed (or at best unhelpful) for solving the immediate problems of everyday living but tend to show up in the mind anyways and require strong self-awareness and skills to sort out.
Many of these unnecessary thoughts involve concerns about the past or future, tend to be skewed in particular ways, and can also lead a person to go on many other unnecessary “thought tangents.” All of this thinking can be for nothing and use up precious energy, and worse yet, result in saying and doing things (and experiencing many consequences) such that life becomes harder to live than it was before. Interesting, isn’t it?
I have posted several examples of these kinds of thoughts in the slides below. They are common both for people who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and those who don’t. It just happens more to people with BPD because their emotions are so persistently strong. Perhaps you have experienced some of them? I know that I have, and still to this day face the challenge of acknowledging and adjusting how I think!
It is important to realize that human thoughts can take on all sorts of forms: they can be extremely simple, they can be extremely complicated, or they can be somewhere in the middle. You will notice that the unhealthy (or “useless”) types of thoughts tend to have biases in the ways that they are worded, and likewise do not make space for information that could help put things into different perspectives. Also notice how these kinds of thoughts will result in a more extreme emotional experience, just because of the way they are worded (including words like “always,” “never,” etc.). One of the BreakAway MHE blog articles explains more about common BPD language issues.
When a person is working through Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), it is critical for that person to become mindfully aware of the types of thoughts that form his thinking patterns. It is also essential for a person with BPD to become mindfully aware of the feelings that are experienced when these thoughts happen so that eventually he can effectively attend to the feelings and take steps to adjust the thoughts that got him to this feeling place. Remaining stuck in a problematic “feeling place” for too long usually results in some ineffective reaction or impulsive behaviour, and this can result in more life problems, bad decisions, and regrets.
One of the primary challenges of having strong feelings (as in cases of BPD) is that it tends to increase the belief a person has about his thoughts. In other words, thoughts can produce such strong associated feelings that whatever interpretation a struggling person makes about a situation can seem like “the ONLY way” of looking at things. Then if anyone challenges that “ONE way” of looking at things that seems like “the ONLY way” of looking at things, it can result in extreme distress. This extreme distress happens (at least in part) because of the sensation of having your way of making sense of the world removed, and thus having no security of mind left.
The immense challenge for persons with BPD, therefore, becomes learning how to take care of body and mind (especially the emotions) such that they can form multiple interpretations for every life situation experienced. Then if anyone has a different way of looking at things (different opinion, perspective, etc.), the person with BPD can work with together to find common ground and compromise, or otherwise find acceptance for things undesirable that can’t be changed.
Remaining “stuck” in the types of thoughts you see in these slides can make it very hard to work with others and solve the problems of everyday life because every person has his unique way of looking things. Remaining “stuck” like this is, therefore, a strong contributing factor in conflict/drama. Remember the words “everyone is against me!”? Even though it can seem and feel that way, the objective reality is that everyone has their way of looking at the world.
Interestingly, when “non-BPD’s” fall into these thought traps while in conversation with persons suffering from BPD, it can be hard for persons with BPD to not follow suit because the tendency “to go there” is already so strong. The sad reality is that the “non-BPD’s” can get quickly unstuck from thought traps, whereas a person with BPD cannot do the same.
Perhaps you are beginning to notice how thoughts like those in the slides may be used to try to make life more predictable and less emotionally shocking. In other words, unhelpful thoughts like these may include the short-term benefit of “feeling more in control” of life, but then, on the other hand, can result in long-term experiencing other difficult emotions (and reactions to emotions) that makes life harder to live.
For instance, if a person makes it his habit to remove credit that is due to him (discounting the positive), he may believe that he experiences the short-term benefit of avoiding being judged as “arrogant” or “haughty” (and hence avoiding guilt or shame feelings). However, in the long run, he may undermine his self-confidence by not allowing any sense of achievement (and thus inducing low-worth feelings and maybe giving up on his ambitions more often).
A similar scenario may be the use of the “mental filter” for the short-term benefit of believing there is safety from experiencing future criticism (and hence avoiding low-worth feeling), but then in the long-run developing a pattern of self-judgment (and thus inducing shame feelings) and maybe becoming an irritable perfectionist.
Again, much of what people are doing when using these unhealthy thoughts is attempting to create a sense of inner “safety” or “security,” albeit a false one. It is false because in reality there is no healthy way to escape human emotions.
When there are poor attachment experiences in childhood, the consequence may be an ongoing yearning to create this sense of security no matter how self-destructive it may be in the long-run. Clinging to the thoughts SEEMS to make the world more predictable or emotionally safe to live in, and that is why it happens.
Instead of working so hard to try and avoid feelings in these various ways, the better path is to become familiar with all your emotions. Becoming bravely aware and tolerant of your emotions, you can then move from a false sense of security to natural strength and confidence in yourself. The urge to avoid certain types of emotions no longer dictates how you think, believe, or behave. This way of being human dramatically increases the odds of experiencing true freedom, wisdom, and creativity as life unfolds.