**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 past events. When this happens, it may trigger a “re-experiencing” of old thought sequences and painful emotional states (all irrelevant to the present moment but again making it harder to break free from or adjust). Trauma 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 way of perceiving the world, experiencing thoughts, and experiencing feelings – healthy or unhealthy.
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, in the ways feelings are experienced. Before emotional awareness is learned, it is common for more extreme and irrational forms of thought to be present, and for feelings to be left unmanaged. Learning about emotions in childhood sufficient to manage them well in adulthood can be a rare privilege in many families.
In my struggle with thoughts, emotions, and behaviour (with BPD), I would say I have experienced all of the common cognitive distortions listed in this presentation. It is common to bounce between several of the cognitive distortions in one instance of thinking, speaking, and acting. Learning to notice these different thought distortions has been one of the most significant challenges in my recovery from BPD, and I would suspect that anyone reading who suffers from BPD will likewise have to work hard at remaining mindful and keeping thoughts balanced and informed by facts.
Perhaps you have noticed yourself how hard it can be to remain rational – or in other words “get unstuck” from irrational thoughts – when emotions are so intense. I would compare this challenge to trying to ride a bike, and something is always throwing you off balance… like the wind, or someone pushing you from the side. It would be tough to remain balanced and continue riding, right?! Having this “balance issue” is also one very good reason to take it easy on yourself if you suffer from BPD and are in the midst of this unique, challenging, and specialized type of re-learning how to live in your body and with your emotions.
You will find that as you become more familiar and mindful of your thought experience (and all 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 thought tangents, be less stressed, and live your life more in the present moment.
Living “on autopilot,” or mindlessly, without awareness of self and thoughts does not help to settle the mind, but instead sets the conditions for emotions to pile up and then eventually (if not immediately) result in an ineffective behavioural responding and unhealthy coping (e.g., using substances, etc.).
In other sections of the 9-steps, I will introduce strategies for practicing mindfulness on a daily basis, as well as procedures 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 the 9-steps, and then to ponder which ones may be involved in your everyday thinking patterns.
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, for instance thinking such things as “I am so screwed up” (labelling), “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 judgmental statements?
Now imagine the hard feelings that would commonly go hand-in-hand with these types of thoughts, such as feeling worthless, feeling doubt and fear, or feeling shame. As “the weight” of these types of emotions piles up, it becomes understandable that a person might want to give up on the learning process, or even on everything!
I know it can seem like “a lot” to take on all this emotional 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. Having just one severe instance of relational difficulty can leave you wondering if all of your learning and efforts to make changes have made any difference whatsoever.
It can be very common to start labelling 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, but this is ok too because it means having more emotions to practice managing.
Everything you experience in life can be used for (and considered as) a practice opportunity for furthering your self-awareness and skill development. The mental health learning challenge could be compared to any other type of learning challenge – it takes time, practice, patience, repetition, and exposure to excellent teaching and coaching to develop mastery. This attitude can 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 this kind of attitude.
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 a note of feeling states and irrational thoughts to remain calm and balanced, but rather “to attack” the problem… to find and assign blame.
I find it interesting that assigned blaming is given such a high priority when all that is needed is to work through emotions effectively, and then work together to find solutions. When you start getting good at taking active responsibility for your feelings, you will probably see (as I have) that the “blame part” of problem-solving isn’t even necessary – it just ends up wasting valuable time and energy.