*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
The transformation a person experiences while being sincerely invested in learning about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is like no other. To be afflicted with BPD is to be living in a pattern of dysfunction that remains unknown to the individual (and usually to all others he associates with) until such time as much needed learning about mental health takes place. The more the BPD pattern becomes known to the individual, and likewise, the more skills that are acquired to adjust the BPD pattern, the more that changes in behaviour and “personality” become possible and apparent. The eventual result of learning and applying skills is to transform into “someone else” – someone more stable and equipped to handle life-stresses with courage and wisdom.
To review what it means to be unknowingly trapped in a BPD pattern is a very useful place to begin. Similarly, to validate the awfulness of being unknowingly trapped in a BPD pattern is important to acknowledge and re-acknowledge. Living without awareness of having BPD and how to help yourself is comparable to “shooting yourself in the foot” over and over again, while also having others (others ignorant about mental health) being upset with you for “shooting yourself.” It is a nightmare life-experience to be repeating a hurtful pattern of dysfunction, and no one knowing any better would remain trapped in this way of being.
To be more specific, living with BPD involves frequently misinterpreting the meaning of events and “getting stuck” on difficult emotional states (e.g., guilt, shame, rejection, worthlessness, fear, and fear of abandonment). The misinterpreting and “getting stuck” on emotion happen so much that it seems to the suffering person like it is all just a normal state of functioning. The persistent emotional pain then compels the suffering person to seek out forms of escape or avoidance, all of which usually make for more life problems and a variety of unmet needs. The emotional pain can easily escalate, especially in the context of significant relationships, and result in relationship destroying behaviours (e.g., giving up on communication, abusive communication, and abusive behaviours).
The questions this article aims to answer are: What is happening and what does it look like when understanding of BPD is deepening, when skills are being applied, and when the pattern as it was starts changing?
One of the first things that starts happening is that there are more moments of pause between event and reaction, meaning that attempts are being made to process emotions mindfully and reconsider interpretations. This looks a lot different than impulsively reacting to situations with things like anger, sarcasm, or defensiveness. This also looks different than habitually turning to escapes and distractions when emotions present a challenge. As this happens, there is an incredible bravery being enacted by the individual since he is willingly facing himself and his real emotions, perhaps taking the first steps in his emotional maturity. He is also being brave enough to consider and re-consider his perceptions, assumptions, and interpretations.
Another thing that happens is that ineffective communication and problem-solving strategies start being replaced with more effective strategies. For example, whereas before learning about BPD the individual’s behavioural pattern may have included forcing opinions or being overly passive, a more effective pattern now includes healthy assertiveness. Similarly, an ineffective BPD pattern prior to understanding the disorder may have included ongoing insecurities and reassurance-seeking behaviours, and afterwards now delivers a drastic reduction (or complete absence) of such behaviour.
A third observable change when a struggling person starts to understand BPD is that patterns of self-harm and self-sabotage begin to dissipate. In the past before learning how to identify and mindfully process emotions, as well discern fact from fiction in the perception of events, the pain of the BPD experience (being stuck on painful thought and emotion) may have resulted in resorting to desperate forms of coping including, but not limited to, substance abuse, preemptive attacks, giving up on commitments and challenges, and chronic self-degradation. Despite being sad and tragic in nature, these destructive behavioural patterns start to become common and expected for a person suffering from BPD. If and when the pattern changes, it may come across to others as being contrived or an unsustainable improvement.
The point in considering these changes to observable patterns in BPD is that sincere persistence from a struggling person can actually result in sustained adjustment. I am living proof of that. The interesting dilemma that occurs is when the others who remain part of your life end up wondering if they are still involved with the same person. The answer to this question is that “they are” and “they are not.” In other words, those parts of the personality that formed the dysfunctional configuration get discarded while the other parts of the personality remain. If there was co-dependence that existed between a person with active BPD and any others in his life (e.g., perceived sense of worth stemming from another’s insecurity), then a reduction in BPD traits will not support that pre-existing co-dependence.
Despite the awkwardness or dissatisfaction others may experience as a result of a suffering person being released from a BPD pattern, it would never be advisable to return. Indeed, once a new and healthier pattern is achieved, would it even be possible to return? I like to believe that the only possible answer to this question is “no.” Furthermore, if the relationships that used to be complicated and harmed by a BPD pattern remain equally unsatisfactory even after the former BPD sufferer makes much needed changes, then perhaps those relationships had insufficient foundation on which to stand in the first place.