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Borderline Personality Disorder: Is Your Therapist Dogged by a Dark Side?

At my last therapy session my therapist turned into a savage rottweiler; baring her sharp teeth at me, picking me up by the scruff of my neck and shaking the living daylights out of me. The doggone woman deliberately picked a fight about nothing, provoked me into a snarling row, called me a liar and then threatened to sue me for slander.

Interpretation of unfolding events is always a personal perception. I have been seeing her again for some workplace issues that need resolving. I was having problems accepting constructive criticism from the top dog in my organization. I found I was getting deeply triggered when told I was not achieving what I was supposed to achieve in the way she wanted it achieved and I was getting my feathers ruffled in a big way, getting upset, huffy and resolving the issue by fleeing or freezing.

So when within five minutes of arriving, my barking mad therapist activated every button on my panel and almost blew us both up, I almost called her a bitch, walked out the door and planned on brooding, ruminating and plotting impotent revenge against her for the rest of my natural life. Talk about an idealizing transference killer.

I argued back, “why are you doing this to me?  Why am I paying you (insert discounted fee here) for you to have this argument with me?” I went from zero to borderline in 30 seconds flat. I wanted to duck for cover. My therapy (and therapist) had turned rabid and gone to the dogs. I might have been reasonably calm on the surface but I was paddling furiously underneath the water in order to stay afloat, but she was like a dog with a bone and would not let go. I had to reach for my handbag before she explained the method in her madness.

In her version of events, in the dog eat dog world of workplace employment, I wasn’t understanding how crucial it was to be able to accept criticism. I wasn’t getting how important it is to understand that sometimes even people with diagnosed BPD have to “suck it up” when their Princess tiara gets knocked off their head. I wasn’t “getting” that I had made a mistake and I needed to learn that not only is it OK to make a mistake, but that it is expected of me; it is not whether I make the mistake that is important, it is how I handle the subsequent discussion of what went wrong.

This is what my therapist was trying to explain to me. Sometimes in order to treat a disorder with a high emotional arousal component one has to tap into those high arousal emotions in order to correct erroneous thinking and belief systems. She also praised me for staying in the moment and processing it. It was tough love and her bite was worse than her bark this time because she cared. Talk about a dog day afternoon.

So when I grabbed my bag to leave, she told me she had deliberately bailed me up with both front paws against the wall and manufactured the situation in order to evoke the implicit (unconscious) emotional system to see my reaction and told me that this is why I have difficulties at work and why she wants to do body-centred psychotherapy with me. She asked me why in the entire argument, had I not been curious as to her point of view. Talk about ducks and drakes. In other words, she was sick to death of chasing her own tail when it came to my therapy not progressing.

I was so thrilled. She doesn’t do body-centred psychotherapy with just anyone. You have to be at a certain level of high functioning in order to do so, otherwise she could unleash the “Regan” (Linda Blair from the Exorcist) within. My therapist is an Exorcist, but more of a Joanne Woodward than Max von Sydow. In fact she is the sort of person who would hold an umbrella over a duck to protect it from the rain.

I was able to see what she did clearly and precisely and understood perfectly her body-centred experiment. Last time this happened I suffered the “freeze” syndrome where I sat for 15 minutes without moving and barely breathing. This time I was able to get back into my body and viscerally understand how it works under intense implicit evocation. It was so intense that I cried a few minutes later and after that it was water off a duck’s back.

I discovered (in this argument) I was reacting to the past not the present. Her provocation story involved a predator and a prey and I was reacting as a victim to the victim in her story. I was sticking up for the underdog, which of course was me. And this is how I react to people, including my family, children and husband, when even the slightest criticism has occurred.

Since then I’ve spent time being mindfully alert to how my body responds to criticism and changing how I choose to react. My body is still highly activated; the trauma of the past is locked away inside as it is with most people who are diagnosed with complex trauma disorder or borderline personality disorder. It is up to me to stick with what my therapist is trying to say to me in the nicest way possible so I don’t slink out of the door with my tail between my legs.

We have agreed to throw down our gauntlets into the arena and get down, like a pair of dirty dogs for some bare knuckled fighting. Validation and nurturing has been put to one side because as she said, if I don’t learn how to take criticism, my beloved job will be in danger. By this stage both our tails were wagging.

Even when I think I can take criticism I know it takes a huge toll on my physical health. Teaching me to accept criticism, to embrace it and even welcome it and remain centered with my tiara still sitting high on my head, rather than strangling me is where I want to be. My therapist now has me on a very short leash.

Perceptions of events differ from person to person. We all know of car accident witnesses who all have different accounts of what happened. I could have picked up my bag, told her to “get ducked” and walked out. I choose to accept her unorthodox method of therapy. I am paying her a ridiculous sum so she can make me feel like a roast duck, yet the lesson she gave me and the one before are priceless in terms of experientiality, safety, trust and loving kindness. She was in total control of what went on in that room; she is, in most ways, my guide dog.

If a man’s best friend is his dog, then a client’s best friend is her/his therapist.

Borderline Personality Disorder: Is Your Therapist Dogged by a Dark Side?

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.

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2012). Borderline Personality Disorder: Is Your Therapist Dogged by a Dark Side?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jun 2012
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