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Borderline Personality Disorder: Self-esteem vs Self Destruction

BPD and self esteemThere is a saying in a self-help group I used to be in back in the eighties. When a “normal” person gets a flat tire, they call the Automobile Association. When someone with (what’s now known as BPD) gets a flat tire, they call the suicide hotline. There’s an awful lot of truth in that.

My goal recently has been to respond rather than react to what I perceive are excruciatingly provocative circumstances and situations. I want to think and act with grace and dignity, to deep breathe, turn around, walk away, move on, learn the lesson and get a life. This attitude has, in the past, kept me in relationships, out of the law courts, out of jail, out of psychiatric hospitals, in employment and in therapy (or life coaching as we are now doing).

No longer is my therapist my nurturing supporter, smothering me endlessly with loving/kindness, reassurances of never abandoning me and justifying my bad behaviour and lack of social skills as a result of my environment. We have a more pragmatic egalitarian relationship where I feel mentored, rather than mental.

Responding quickly and with social correctness to sudden galling and goading instances and happenings when newly symptom-free, means being switched on to mindfulness at all times; even – especially – when you are unprepared. Life is full of incidental learning curves and today was no exception.

I went to the loo (bathroom) before going into her office and on the wash basin was an expensive text book so I took it to her office and said perhaps we should call office management and pass it on. She told me in a very stern voice, which broached no disagreement whatsoever indeed, that it was all sorted, to take it back to the toilets and leave it there.

But…I started to argue. So she told me that people knew about this and the best course of action was to take them back down – now. But...I started to argue again. However, her icy glare penetrated my fierce resistance and indignation and with my armpits itching I said with a forced smile: oh well I’ll have to take another trip down the stairs then.

So I resentfully stamped down the stairs and left the book on the bench and by the time I got back, I had decided to let it go, move on and get down to life coaching.

We then processed what had happened. I asked her how did it feel when I started to argue and she said that she felt I took it well, acted with grace and dignity and even had a sense of humour about it. I said that I felt she was quite directive (because she said we were about to start therapy and she did not want to waste time), however, seeing as I had no emotional investment in the book, I chose to cooperative with the current prevailing winds.

I compliantly conformed with the situation rather than resisting and rowing. I had passed (with a high distinction) my own unexpected accidental learning curve without realising it until it was over. I responded rather than reacted. My external appearance was one of going with the flow. This is what has kept me in the same employment for the past eighteen months.

I do know that eighteen months ago I would have argued with her till I got my own way. We would then have had a magnificent row and I would have shouted at her, devalued her, called her all sorts of names and cast aspersions upon her therapeutic ability, secure in the knowledge she once said she would never abandon me. The added bonus would be that I would have had an audience. Her colleague was in another room with an open door, and I could have seriously embarrassed us both.

I would have then driven home (perhaps through a tree or a freeway pylon) or gone home and drank, smoked, drugged and overate and blamed her for everything (of course) taking no responsibility for my actions.

Then, as the evening progressed, I would have sent her the obligatory apology email crucifying myself. She in return would send a very nurturing, and supportive email expressing loving/kindness (and we’d be back to therapy and not life coaching) and she would reiterate that she would not abandon me – ever.

Her colleague would have understood and silently labelled me as a borderline personality disorder and sympathized and debriefed with her. I would send her more idealizing emails and probably a huge bunch of very expensive flowers. And then we would start the cycle over again. Not dissimilar to the dynamics of a very dysfunctional relationship where abuse and possibly domestic violence are involved.

To a casual observer, this was a simple non-report worthy event, yet it was a monumental life-changing phenomenon to me. This all gets recorded in my body and in my unconscious and builds up and compounds on my social skills, resilience and a theory of mind, so the next time when it happens, I will do the same thing because it will feel right and keep doing it until it becomes automatic and I don’t even have to think about it.

This is what other people have taken for granted all their life; the ability to mentalize, empathize and see life from another’s point of view, even – especially when they don’t agree with them.

It’s easily to flow down the river than to fight against the rising tide because you get to your destination a lot quicker, feel a lot less exhausted and you get to enjoy the view on the way down.

Flat tire photo available from Shutterstock

Borderline Personality Disorder: Self-esteem vs Self Destruction

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: Self-esteem vs Self Destruction. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Jul 2012
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