After last week’s therapy session, I found myself stuck on an idea: That I don’t, in fact, have BPD, but am just a self-indulgent, overgrown child.
The ‘evidence’ that I compiled in support of this hypothesis includes:
- When I’m feeling down I will do things like eating sweets to the point of being ill. I want to be an adult and eat sensible food, and not too much.
- I get angry really easily when I’m frustrated. I want to act like a mature person and not give in to frustration like a child.
- I’m frequently afraid that people hate me and don’t want me around. I’d really like to be secure in my sense of myself, but I’m always hoping for validation of my worth, but even when I get it, it’s never enough.
- I’m easily distracted, flitting from one thing to another, even when there are important things to do.
- There was more, but thankfully I can’t remember those other points right now. I’m often not so nice to myself, which is a recognition I’ve had many times, but which I’m finally using to (I hope) change my inner conversation.
The evidence against my ‘you’re a big baby’ hypothesis includes points like:
- I’ve been steadily employed for decades now. This is not usually a mark of infancy.
- I’ve been married for more than 30 years. Keeping a long-term adult relationship going, again, is not a mark of the eternal child.
My thinking tends to be something like a braid. I’ll have apparently-random thoughts and read apparently-random blog posts and articles, and then realize that I’ve started braiding those various thoughts and make connections that are stronger than the various parts were alone. Something like that happened with inner dialog about how disgusting I was being, acting not like the adult I want to be but like a spoiled child. I had even described to my therapist that when I acted out with uncontrolled temper or other emotional outbursts, such as breaking off contact with someone because I was afraid that they didn’t want me around, I saw myself as if I was a neighbor I once had. When this girl was about 11, she would have screaming tantrums at least a couple of times a day, and it seemed sometimes as if she was trying to break down the wall of the apartment, it was so over the top.
I told my therapist that I’m very much not interested in being my own version of a preteen with control issues.
Then came the second thread in this week’s braid; a friend sent a link to a blog post about having more compassion for yourself when you’re trying to meditate, but your mind is acting like it’s having a temper tantrum. Dr. Maidenberg points out things like “It’s best not to react to the direct emotions of the tantruming child but rather to get to the context of their feelings that are underlying their behavior so you can work through it with them.”
A day later a friend posted a link to an article about the child-rearing practices of traditional Inuit parents. The authors describe how the parents use patience and playful storytelling to defuse the child’s anger and help them learn self control.
That’s when the braid started to make sense. Compassion, self-control, defusing anger (and by extension, other strong emotions), patience, and a playful approach can lead to good results.
This is really encouraging to me (while being pretty challenging at the same time), since my standard approach to dealing with my strong emotions includes non-successful techniques like suppressing the emotion, denying it, berating myself, indulging in it, regretting indulging in it, blaming other people, realizing it has nothing to do with other people, berating myself some more, and so on.
Whether or not I ‘actually’ (whatever that means) have BPD is irrelevant. BPD is a description of a set of symptoms, not (so far as I know) an actual brain malfunction that some doctor could point out on a brain scan. The important part for me in the non-theoretical current moment is that I have some pretty bad moments fairly often, and I’m not interested in living another year at the mercy of those bad moments. Therapy, both in terms of my weekly meetings with my therapist and more broadly in terms of my writing here and in my slow progress with DBT techniques and awareness meditation has the potential to both reduce the number of those bad moments and reduce the severity of any fallout from those moments. (‘Fallout’ refers to the consequences of less-skillful decisions and actions that I take when I’m not in a good balance between my emotional and rational sides.)
While it doesn’t feel very good to admit that I’m sometimes not so skillful at life, it’s absolutely not helpful to deny it any longer.
If, metaphorically speaking, there’s a frightened child in my mind, then it makes sense to help that child grow up in the most compassionate way possible. Ignoring, berating, invalidating, and mocking that child almost certainly helped lead to today’s situation with my mind, and doing more of the same seems… contraindicated.