Understanding Emotional Avoidance Behavior – Step 5 (slide set 4)

**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

To put things bluntly, the main struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is experiencing intolerable emotions that happen because of normal exposure to everyday life events and making interpretations about those events. When a person with BPD does not understand how he is caught in a process of experiencing events and making faulty interpretations about those events, he may simply continue reacting to events, ignore the fact that he makes interpretations about those events, experience the ongoing consequences that come from his reactions to events, and then continue to experience additional emotional struggle/turmoil until he gets completely overwhelmed.

For example, if my partner decided to express her frustration “that I always procrastinate taking out the garbage and therefore miss the garbage pick-up”, I may instantly react by telling her “I can’t remember to take out the trash when there are so many other demands on me!”. The interpretation of her words this time could be that “she thinks I’m a bad partner and is not satisfied with me”. The emotions that come from this new interpretation could include guilt, shame, rejection, or worthlessness. The instant reaction would be purely defensive and not considerate of the interpretation or real emotion when it happens. The instant reaction will therefore most likely result in increasing the emotional struggle.

For instance, having a purely defensive reaction like this could easily prompt another reaction from partner such as “why do you always have to be so defensive!?” If continuing in the most unproductive and unhealthy of ways, I would again instantly react to her words and ignore the fact that I made interpretations and experienced difficult emotions prior to my reacting. This time my reaction may be more rude or aggressive since I haven’ yet been able to settle the emotions from the first set of words received. The instant reaction this time around might sound more like “I’m so sick of hearing you complain!”. You can probably imagine how a scenario like this could shortly increase in toxicity and result in saying or doing things that are regrettable.

When we have interactions with the world and with others in the world, it is automatic that we try to make sense of what we are experiencing. In other words, it is automatic that we start making interpretations. Since emotions are directly connected to making these interpretations, it is easy to realize that many emotions will be experienced every single day. The simple act of living, breathing, and thinking results in emotional experiences whether we like it or not, and whether we realize it or not. If you experience your emotions with greater intensity, which some of us do, then this means that your knowledge and ability to work through those emotions must at least be equal to (or greater than) the demand.

In cases of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a person has not yet developed the knowledge and ability to keep up with his interpretations of life events and the connected emotions. When you can’t keep up to your emotional experience, it can easily become overwhelming and even anxiety-provoking to consider living through another day of regular life. If you have a tendency to interpret life events in particular ways (i.e., in ways that induce some of the most difficult human emotions), then this adds yet another level of difficulty for working through life. For instance, hearing words of disagreement or gentle criticism from others could automatically be interpreted as meaning “rejection” or “worthlessness” or “shame”.

When life moments include ongoing irrational thoughts (interpretations) and painful emotions, it is understandable that a life experience could become intolerable. If a person cannot yet be a witness to what is happening in the mind and how he is self-inducing so much emotional distress because of the way he makes interpretations about his life, then what is he supposed to do? Of course he is probably going to act irrationally as well. If a person was being tortured by any other obvious means (say having their skin burned over and over, or being pinpricked over and over), then it would make sense that he might become irritable, angry, impulsive to escape, or aggressive, wouldn’t it??

As if being challenged by day-to-day life events wasn’t enough, it is also common for people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) to be hassled by past trauma… remembering past abuse or being reminded of past abuse while experiencing new/unrelated life events. For instance, if a child was disciplined in a way that included ongoing “guilting” or “shaming” by parents, then it could very well happen that events in adulthood remind the individual of childhood interactions. Being reminded of childhood interactions in conjunction with current life interactions that are unrelated (have no connection to the old events) can, unfortunately, result in experiencing unnecessary emotion. And if there is little to no tolerance developed for this kind of emotion, then oversized reacting could also take place and again start the cycle of event, interpretation, emotion.

So you can see there ends up being A LOT of emotional work required of a person with BPD, even though he may not have the capacity to process the emotion; therefore to live a rational/sane life can becomes a very difficult thing to maintain. In the slide immediately below, the notion of a “double emotional whammy” is depicted, although in reality it could be more like a “triple whammy” or “quadruple whammy”, and so on. Emotional pressure literally becomes a way of life for a person with BPD, and likewise trying to figure out how to get through each day and remain functional.

The need to become well acquainted with emotions, mindful/well aware of emotions, is extremely important in order to reduce the extent to which emotions can build up and wreak havoc on the mind, body, and everyday life. Imagine being able to notice and reprocess each emotion and related thought, and then you will be starting to see what is necessary to reduce the “emotional weight” of BPD and modify each and every interaction with self, others, and the world. This type of change is in fact possible, but requires willingness, courage, and determination to see it through.

When the struggle with emotions remains ongoing with no intervention for learning how to make adjustments and “work it out”, then the unfortunate reality is that a vicious circle of “event and reaction” forms, and so continues producing unwanted/undesirable outcomes. The point here is that nothing has yet been put in place for the person to properly attend to emotions and make adjustments to thinking as needed – so life with BPD just ends up being “event and reaction”. All kinds of unhealthy thoughts based in self-defeating beliefs still happen and influence behavior in the midst of living the paradigm of “event and reaction”, but they simply go unnoticed.

The consequences for not knowing how to take care of thoughts and emotions can be tremendous as they accumulate over time. The truly sad part is that the person with BPD isn’t consciously aware of all the handicapping elements of his mental health, and so he often ends up blaming himself “as a person” instead of recognizing he just can’t see the big picture for what it is. When a person honestly doesn’t know how to take good care of his mental health and makes poor decisions as a result, why blame him as though he has been taught very well?

So if you are accessing this learning and have been continually caught up in judging and shaming yourself for things not working well in life, please do take these ideas into account to adjust that. That being said, do also realize that no one has more power to make improvements to your health than you do. In fact, no one can get inside your head to ensure that you are making good use of these types of ideas when they are needed most. A person who wants to heal from BPD has to consistently choose to take better care of himself than he learned while in his development.

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