Why Realizing “There is no Perceptual Truth” Frees you from Borderline Personality Disorder

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*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

What is truth? When it comes to observable and measurable phenomena, it may be possible to indicate that something “real” and “true” has been discovered. For instance, to place an item on a scale and observe its weight falls into this category of “truth.” Sometimes these types of discoveries are labelled as “facts” because they can be repeatedly observed and measured by anyone who examines the same phenomena and uses the same tools of measurement to make their claim.

However, when it comes to “identifying truth” in human interactions (and other similarly impossible to objectively measure happenings) – where humans are limited by internal and subjective measuring tools such as perception, interpretation, and emotion – it then becomes far less simple to conclude that truth has been discovered. In other words, there may be as many “truths” as there are humans when the subject of interest (or event of interest) cannot be observed and measured in the same way by all who attempt to make sense of what they see. Much of the misery humans experience with each other, I believe, is closely tied to this often ignored and unrecognized human limitation.

For a person who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), much of the suffering with emotions and in relationships comes from repeatedly “getting hung up on” or “getting stuck on” perceived truths. For instance, getting stuck on perceiving (and believing) that one is being rejected, abandoned, or degraded can all contribute to much anxiety and turbulence in relationships. A person with BPD commonly gets stuck on these types of perceptions and emotions due to a combination of inherited emotional sensitivity and faulty (or absent) childhood learning. Then, while acting as though these perceptions and emotions are “real,” the suffering person unintentionally initiates much unnecessary drama with the others in her life (others who usually know very little about mental health and how to be helpful) who typically respond with confusion and irritation to the apparent irrationality.

One of the most essential abilities for a BPD sufferer to develop, therefore, is to recognize the infinite variety of “truth” as perceived by humans in everyday life. Indeed, there is so much variability in human perception and interpretation that it could perhaps be suggested that there is NO ABSOLUTE TRUTH to speak of. However to fully appreciate this reality about humans, and likewise to benefit from this type of appreciation, a certain amount of self-discovery, self-awareness, and emotional skill development first needs to be take place.

One good way to appreciate the reality of “no perceptual truth” is to imagine (or better yet try) this exercise I was introduced to while participating in a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) group. The exercise requires a handful of participants to draw an object on a piece of paper, one that is held under the table by another participant and who objectively describes the object (describes the object without naming what it is). The object could be anything that is small enough to keep concealed under the table. The explanation of the object typically includes things like shapes, dimensions, physical features, and sometimes comparisons to other objects – again, pretty much anything except naming the object.

The outcome of the above-noted exercise is the same every time it is facilitated, which is to say that every person attempting to draw the object being described produces something completely unique according to his or her interpretation of the description. The drawings can be staggeringly different from one another, and, when all of the drawings are observed by the group, this becomes the moment of realization (or moment of truth) about human perception. Every drawing is “right” and every drawing is “wrong.” And even if the drawings aren’t drastically different from one another, they are nonetheless absolutely unique to the individual, and this outcome very accurately portrays the variability in human perception in every human interaction, moment to moment, day after day.

Once the reality of “no perceptual truth” is fully embraced, at least as it pertains to human interaction and the seemingly endless urge humans have to defend perceived meaning, it then becomes easier to let go of perceptual clinging, to be more flexible, and to relax. In other words, it becomes easier to be at peace internally and with other humans, simply because there is no need to take anything personally. Short of developing this ability to “go with the information flow,” to practice perceptual flexibility, and to physically and emotionally relax, human relationships are constantly at risk of rupture, toxicity, and termination. Clinging to perceived “truth” doesn’t support human relationships, and ultimately, it doesn’t support human life since among many other things, humans require stable and adaptable relationships to survive and persist.

To experience true release from the BPD pattern of dysfunction, it is essential that there is an ongoing capacity for “letting go” of perceived truth. This “letting go” requires being willing to face and work through all emotions that coincide with all perception and interpretation as life events are experienced. This “letting go” is also required when remembering past events and imagining future events. In fact, any time there is potential for getting stuck on perceived truth (and the “getting stuck” may interfere with relationships and other important life areas) is the time that emotional processing and letting go is required – much of the time when you have BPD.

And to be clear, to practice “letting go” does not mean giving in to the perceptions of everyone else, rather it means recognizing what happens between humans and how patterns of disorder often remain unrecognized and persist unmanaged. It means letting go of one possible interpretation and being open to many other possibilities, for the purpose of finding wise paths and functioning effectively. Letting go also means taking time to deal with emotions and taking extra time to interact with others who are interested in having a healthy relationship with you, or otherwise deciding how to navigate relationships with inflexible others.







photo credit: pni Nikkor via photopin (license)

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