I am perfect. I cannot understand why anyone would want to criticise me! My worldview is the only correct one, yours is wrong. You are wrong. If it doesn’t fit into my world view it doesn’t exist. Your viewpoint is not valid. You are not valid and you need to bow to my superior way of thinking. How dare you disagree with me! If I feel it, then it must be so. If I think it, then it is right. If I want it, then I shall have it. I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG.
In my most active BPD state these were my black and white thoughts. Compromise was a dirty word. Empathy, theory of mind and mentalisation were equally grubby and not concepts my concrete brain could grasp. Not because I didn’t want to but because I couldn’t. The same way a two year old doesn’t understand how to share something. I had as much ability to grasp someone else’s opinion as I did bending over backwards and grasping my ankles. I could have flown to Mars and back on the power of my own scared and frozen ego. When you are this rigid in your thinking, and you have no idea how you come across to other people, nothing can penetrate your lack of dialectical thinking. It’s like trying to push a banana through a brick wall.
Receiving criticism is a life-threatening experience.
Criticism feels like someone has thrown acid in your face. Years ago I was told by a co-worker I was dogmatic. Immediately a caustic cauldron of neurotransmitters exploded from my brain, burning down my body and bathing me in a shameful corrosive substance. The bastard now had to die. He had destroyed who I thought I was, he had stomped on my ego, ground it into dust and now I was worthless. Curled up in my bed in the foetal position, I wanted to rip my hair out. Everything I had achieved was pointless, stupid and embarrassing. I had to die because of the humiliation.
I am not exaggerating. This is why people with BPD end up in emergency departments. When you spontaneously combust from chemicals your own betraying body has produced, someone may as well have thrown a lit match at you. That is what cortisol and adrenaline does to someone with active, unrelenting BPD. This feeling is not under your control. It is an emergency situation, a life-threatening disorder. The physical pain is excruciating. Other people’s logical explanations cannot put out the flames. I now had to go out in a blaze of glory. What part of that intensity is not horrendous?
I’d rather die than apologise.
Death is preferable to apologising, because the fear of being wrong is disintegrating and fragmenting. Being always right keeps us intact, whole and together. The way to dissipate that venomous, acidic, corrosive feeling of being wrong is to apologise to the other person, even if you don’t know why you are apologising. Most people do not have BPD and their brain thinks differently. Again this is counter-intuitive. This is “opposite action” that DBT talks about. The first time is the hardest. An apology can take the wind out of the sails of the other person and take the hot air out of your own personality at the same time. An apology gives your brain oxygen to pause, reflect and unpack. The power of an apology cannot be over-estimated.
When I apologise, my body starts to repair itself. When I breathe I create brain space, my body stops producing these traumatic and terrifying acidic compounds and starts to produce feel-good chemicals that make me want to cry (in a good way) and nurture myself because it is ok to be wrong, it is ok to not be perfect. This is where recovery from BPD lies. The truth hurts. Recovery hurts. Recovery hurts so good. It is ok to want to connect. Connection with another, even if I don’t like what they said, drains that toxic chemical swampland. I wish I’d learned this in primary school.
Sometimes we just don’t want to apologise, we want to give oxygen to the burning issues to keep them alive and kicking, justifying our original position. This feels good and it feels right. If we don’t have a blistering, searing issue how can we possibly feel alive? Flaming issues replace the chronic emptiness and boredom we feel inside. We need to find something else to fill that hollow, barren space. We need to replace toxic relationships with an internal sense of self. This is not something you can buy from a shop. You have to want to want this before you can start to address this. Tackling that desolate core is terrifying because you don’t know what is missing, so how can you possibly know what to replace it with?
I don’t have the answer to that, only you do, but I do know it starts off with sitting still even with (especially with) all those burning chemicals flooding while thinking, reflecting and gaining insight. Insight and awareness alone does not cause recovery. Practice being humble. Turn humiliation into humility. Difficult, isn’t it? The greatest, most epic battle you will ever face is the one you fight against yourself. There is no other enemy. Only then will you recover from BPD.
You don’t actually want to change.
When you have worn a path in your brain with the same reaction to the same situation, climbing out of that deep rut is difficult and you need help getting out. That hole is your comfort zone. Everyone else is walking along the cliff of life and you have fallen over the edge into jagged rocks. You don’t know how badly you hurt because the pain of familiarity feels good. There is a fine line between pleasure and pain. Pain produces endorphins which (like morphine and heroin) are addictive. Pain slides down a dark path and change is a hard climb upwards. Self-justified moral pain can feel like home. But it is a lonely place.
Change can also hook you in. But change involves trust and trusting other people is not only frightening, it feels very dangerous. Again, you are not the cause of your BPD, but you are the only person who can change your life.
In Part Three, I will talk about the fear of learning to trust.