Why “Pushing The River” Makes Borderline Personality Disorder Harder to Manage


**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer

I haven’t had an easy time trusting my life experience to move me into places of joy and contentment. I have instead used much of my life energy in attempts to control what appears to be happening to me and what I believe is going to happen next. I realize at this point that efforts to control life in these ways have had lots to do with my desire to avoid emotions I have difficulty tolerating. Living my life in fear of feeling also played a significant role in entering a pattern of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and experiencing much unnecessary pain, conflict, and drama.

Attempting to control life to avoid feeling could be compared to the notion of “pushing the river.” Most would probably agree that attempts at “pushing the river” would be both futile and impossible. Just as the river flows, so does life, and there is nothing we can do to change the pace at which the river flows. Furthermore, many things are happening in the flow of water (and of life) that will take place regardless of what we might prefer. We have to learn how to deal with it, and in human life, this often involves learning to feel our way through. When suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, a person is regularly over-reacting to the flow of life as it is, while also seeking to control the flow – both of which tend to make life harder to live.

One of the core difficulties while living with BPD is that it is challenging to tell the difference between real versus perceived danger, and real versus perceived threat. The subsequent tendency is to assume the perceived danger or threat is real, and then to act accordingly – meaning that the fight, flight, freeze response stays switched to “on position” much of the time. And when a person (any person) genuinely feels threatened, then the automatic urge is to seek more control to avoid being harmed. However, the problem in cases of BPD is that trying to gain control (often when it isn’t needed) can easily result in conflict and drama with others – just because the attempts to take control make little-to-no sense to others.

The experience of “life” for a person who suffers from BPD isn’t made harder because of “the flow of life”, “the things that happen”, or “the flow of the river”, but rather because of there are so many attempts to take control to avoid perceived danger and all the emotions associated with that perceived danger – to “push the river”. Improved functioning in cases of BPD starts to happen when a person develops more and more capacity to work through real emotions, instead of living life to avoid unwanted emotion. The interesting thing that happens when emotions are faced rather than avoided is that there is a much-improved ability to “go with the flow of life,” to accept things that happen and to respond realistically instead of reacting frantically.

Before learning more about mental health, a person with BPD might be tempted to say… “I don’t ever want to feel out of control,” or “I don’t ever want to feel sadness,” or “I don’t ever want to feel shame or worthlessness.” However, this refusal (or lack of know-how) to practice feeling through life has very likely been a big part of the problem in functioning. Broken down further, when there is a refusal or inability to process feeling, then perceptions of reality are going to be skewed, thoughts of what is perceived irrational, and actions ineffective – hence all the drama. To perceive reality in greater depth, and therefore, to “go with the flow of life” requires an emotionally regulated brain due to emotions being faced and processed, not a brain that has the fight, flight, freeze response switched to the “on position” when it isn’t needed.

The central question that a person suffering from BPD needs to ask himself, again and again, is this: AM I WILLING TO PRACTICE FEELING SO THAT I CAN PERCEIVE LIFE AND RESPOND TO LIFE WISELY? Asked another way it could sound like this: AM I WILLING TO LEARN TO GO WITH THE FLOW OF LIFE INSTEAD OF “PUSHING THE RIVER?” Simply answering “yes” to this question is much more comfortable than the act of facing feelings when they are being experienced in real life. When emotions are being experienced, the time must be taken to express and validate the emotional experience honestly, and to slow down enough to receive the benefit of this approach. The time to process feeling, however, is very often hard to come by in modern culture because of the way priorities have been set (usually money and material over health and well-being).

The good news is that despite the ways we might have been conditioned to live out our lives in modern culture, we can take note of our pattern and adjust our priorities to more often include activities that nourish our emotional/mental health. If we experience our emotions with intensity and have developed BPD symptoms or full-fledged BPD, then the need to take time to learn about mental health and practice working through emotion becomes that much more essential. Depending on how much we understand ourselves and our mental health, we can better support each other in learning to go with the flow of life, or otherwise make it harder to go with the flow. But no matter what, the flow of life will be what it is, and our attempts to make it otherwise will only add to our suffering.







photo credit: GraceOda #HELP via photopin (license)