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The Many Faces of Being Borderline

Interpret this!
Interpret this!


Misreading neutral facial expressions as hostile is reported to be what distinguishes BPD from other mental illness disorders according to this article from US News Health

Rolling the eyes, the extended blink, the nose wrinkle, the eyebrow rise, the lip twitch; all these can be erroneously interpreted as provocative, insulting and combative and cause huge ruptures in relationships. However, sometimes these interpretations are spot on. We can display our deepest prejudices in our facial expressions and not even know it.

The eyebrow rise can display surprise, the nose wrinkle can portray disgust and the extended blink, an indication that the person is either bored to death or that you have tapped into some shameful secret or synchronous event or both. I’ve been eerily accurate on several occasions with my therapist through the extended blink and the nose wrinkle; all confirmed by subsequent personal interrogation, just short of thumb screws, to extract a confession. But the hotter my mood, the less accurate I am. Depending on my internal state, misinterpretation is also possible.

People with BPD are highly tuned into their environment. Hypervigilance is another hallmark of BPD. This is a learned survival skill, where accurately interpreting the finer nuances of another’s intentions can save one’s life. Getting it right albeit half the time means you can go on to live another day. It means you will survive long enough to pass your genes onto the next generation. This makes perfectly logical evolutionary sense.

Checking faces and reacting to expressions is highly advantageous when your main care-giver or your so-called friends at school convey mixed messages, verbally annihilating on one hand and smiling sweetly while doing it. Or punching you in the face all the while grinning and telling you this is for your own good. It is hardly surprising when you become unconsciously and bodily tuned into your environment as a self-protection measure and have a meltdown when someone looks sideways at you.

Context is important. Press the pause button and check out what else is happening in the room.
What is the general mood of the conversation?
Are these people “safe?”
What else do I sense is happening between us?
Did they just look up, but because I was feeling enraged did I interpret it with hostile intent?

Relationship history is also very important.
What is your past relationship with this person?
Is their expression about you or them?
Have you triggered a personal memory for them?
I had an aggressive boss who gave me the lip curl once. Later on she told me she had been trying to get rid of me for six months.

Upskilling old behaviour patterns and mindfulness can settle nerves and give comfort that not everyone who blinks or grimaces is the enemy to be beaten and annihilated at all costs.

Photo:  Benson by Sonia Neale

The Many Faces of Being Borderline

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field. Please email her on davson at iinet.net.au

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2014). The Many Faces of Being Borderline. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 19, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/being-borderline/2014/07/the-many-faces-of-being-borderline/


Last updated: 16 Jul 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Jul 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.