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

**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

Below you will find another series of distorted thought patterns… “cognitive distortions” that are common to experience, both by people who struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and those who don’t. Again, the “extra struggle” experienced by those with BPD is in large part due to their more extreme emotional experience, making unhealthy thoughts harder to break free from and adjust. Those with BPD are also quite often challenged by the influence of past trauma on current perceptions, thoughts, and emotions, meaning that new events may be viewed as having details similar to old events and therefore trigger a “re-experiencing” of old thought sequences and painful emotional states (irrelevant to the present moment) but again making it harder to break free from or adjust. Trauma therefore adds yet another layer of struggle to the already challenging task of regulating oversized emotions.

You will again notice that each of the unhealthy forms of thought involves “a certain style” of speaking to self and others as life events happen. In other words, everyone has their own way of perceiving the world, experiencing thoughts, and experiencing feelings. It is very common for caregivers of children to pass on their thinking, feeling, and communication styles to children because of their powerful influence. Genetics may also play a role in the ways that thoughts start forming in childhood, and likewise the way feelings are experienced. Before emotional awareness is taught, it is common for more extreme and irrational forms of thought to be present, and for feelings to be mismanaged. Unfortunately, learning about emotions sufficient to manage them well in adulthood can be a rare privilege in many families.

In my own struggle with thoughts, emotions, and behavior (with BPD) I would say I have struggled with all of the common cognitive distortions listed in this presentation. It is very easy to bounce between several of the cognitive distortions in one instance of thinking, speaking, and acting. Learning to notice these various thought tendencies has been one of the biggest challenges in my recovery from BPD, and I would suspect that anyone reading this who also suffers with BPD will have to work hard at remaining mindful to keep thoughts balanced and informed by facts.

Perhaps you have noticed how hard it can be to remain rational in thinking and behavior when the emotions (directly connected to the thoughts) can be so intense? I would compare this challenge to trying to ride a bike and something is constantly throwing off your balance… like the wind or someone pushing you from the side. It would be very hard to keep riding, right?! This is also one very good reason to take it easy on yourself if you suffer with BPD and are in the midst of this very unique, difficult, and specialized type of learning… that is, learning to live in your body and becoming familiar/tolerant with your emotions.

You will find that as you become more familiar and mindful of your thought experience (and the associated emotions) that your thought experience will begin to shift. What I am saying here is that you will probably experience less unnecessary thought tangents, be less bothered by all of the emotions that go hand-in-hand with the unnecessary thoughts, be less stressed, and live your life more in the present moment. Living “on autopilot”, or mindlessly, or without awareness of self and thoughts does not help to settle the mind, but rather sets the conditions for emotions to pile up and then eventually (if not immediately) result in an ineffective behavioral response and unhealthy coping strategy (e.g., using substances).

In other sections of the 9-steps I will introduce strategies for practicing mindfulness on a daily basis, as well as strategies for adjusting these unhealthy types of thinking. At this point, it is good enough to look through each of the ten cognitive distortions listed in this section of 9-steps, and then ponder which ones may be included in your everyday thinking patterns. Again, it is very common to experience several of the unhealthy thoughts in one life situation, or throughout the various life situations of a regular day.

Take care to notice your judgments towards yourself as you go through this process! Self-judgment can be one of the reasons people give up on a healing process… thinking such things as: “I am so screwed up” (labeling), “there is no way I can learn to manage all this” (magnification), or “it shouldn’t be hard for me to do this” (should statements). Do you see the unhealthy thoughts in these statements? Perhaps you can also imagine the hard feelings that could go hand-in-hand with these types of thoughts…. feeling worthless, feeling doubt and fear, feeling shame. Start feeling the weight of these types of emotions and the urge to give up becomes understandable, but you don’t have to! I know it can seem like “a lot” to take on all this learning and strengthening of your self-awareness, but please trust me that it is worth the effort in the long run!

I have had many moments of wanting to give up on myself and learning how to live in my body along the learning path. Even having one severe instance of relational difficulty can leave you wondering if all of your learning and efforts to heal have made any difference to your ability to function whatsoever. It can be very easy to slip into labeling yourself in harmful ways (e.g., “pathetic”, “good for nothing”, “worthless”) especially if you have ever experienced being put down by significant others during your development, or in other instances of relational vulnerability. However when learning a new set of skills like this, mistakes and backsliding are going to happen, and so the emotions that go with this kind of experience need to be faced and resolved as well.

Everything you experience can be used for (and considered as) a practice opportunity for furthering your self-awareness and skill development. In terms of process, the mental health learning challenge could actually be compared to any other type of learning challenge… it takes time, practice, patience, repetition, and exposure to good teaching and coaching to develop mastery. This attitude can actually be the “make or break” type of attitude for learning and change that either gets adopted by a suffering person, or not. The strong urge to avoid unwanted feelings can make it difficult to sustain an attitude that is conducive to learning and change.

Another issue that may be common to western society, and that could make it hard to sustain a helpful attitude for learning and change, is the tendency to look outwards instead of inwards when problems are being faced. In other words, it isn’t common to make note of feeling states and types of irrational thoughts so as to remain calm and balanced, but rather “to attack” the problem… to find and assign blame, and then find solutions. I find it interesting that blaming people is given such a high priority when all that is needed is to effectively work through emotions, work together, and find solutions. When you start getting good at taking care to notice thoughts and feelings, you will probably find (as I did) that the “blame part” of problem-solving isn’t really necessary, and even just ends up wasting time and energy.