Monthly Archives: November 2013

#3 – The Tragic Borderline Experience

This post is a reflection on the experience of being borderline, and all the losses it entails. In addition, it discusses one of the core causes of borderline psychopathology – traumatic early experience usually focused around inadequate parenting.

Although I am grateful to feel well today, I still feel sadness at the thought of the childhood I did not have, and at the emotional suffering forced upon me at a young age in my chaotic family environment. I simply did not have the emotional capacity to handle severe abuse and neglect as a young child. Because of this, my teenage self unavoidably responded by developing the symptoms and defenses of Borderline Personality Disorder.

What is Missing in the Family Environment of the To-Be-Borderline Child

To begin with, I’d like to consider what is missing in the psychological development of someone who becomes borderline as a young adult. Psychodynamic theorists universally emphasize the importance of a secure, attuned, loving relationship between parent and child.  A healthy adult personality is based upon a long-term positive relationship between the child and his caretaker including, 1) Warm encouragement from the parent for increasingly independent activities (mirroring), 2) Protection from the parent during periods of vulnerability (idealizing dependence), and 3) The child’s eventually coming to feel fully separate psychologically, and to be accepted as such by his parents (individuation). Some of my favorite psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theorists that write about this process are Donald Winnicott, Margaret Mahler, Ronald Fairbairn, and Heinz Kohut. Their books are cited below.

The borderline experience in childhood is that the parent is unable to consistently provide security and love. Instead, the child’s legitimate need for acceptance and support is consistently rejected or ignored. Because the healthy psychological development of human children requires parental support for a long period after birth, the lack of it creates a desperate struggle for the borderline child-to-be. When his protests fail to extract the support he needs, the child will eventually come to feel overwhelming fear, rage, and grief.

How the Future Borderline Adult Defends Against His Conflicts

These powerful emotions will shape the child’s future life, and defending against them will become his priority. The child will be forced to use denial, avoidance, splitting, acting out, projection, and projective identification in order to control the terrible feelings. For me, these defenses are all variations of denial. In essence, the child must deny what is really happening, because at a young age it is too threatening to face the fact that he is helpless, has inadequate parents, and does not know who to turn to for help.

Instead, the child and young adult will avoid facing his core problem – that he has never had a safe, dependent, loving relationship that would allow him to develop into a mature adult – via many self-defeating strategies. He may avoid facing the problem by misusing sex, drugs, food and alcohol. As a child, he may act out his anger in school and at home via oppositional, defiant behavior. As a young adult, he may become involved in abusive, neglectful “romantic” relationships with present-day people who repeat the traumas of his past, unaware that they resemble his own parents. He may cling to his original parents in adulthood, since having a bad attachment feels better than having nobody. Alternately, he may run away from responsibility and the demands of mature adulthood by not working or going to school, breaking the law, or working under an authority figure who resembles his abusive parent.

There are countless ways in which the traumatized person can live out the past in the present, maintaining his attachment to “bad objects” from the past by recreating them in the way he lives and relates to others in present day life. It is important to recognize that these “self-defeating” strategies, while extremely damaging in adulthood, are also “self-preserving” because they allow the individual to function and survive when faced with overwhelming emotional conflict.

Missing Out on Life – Friendships

The great tragedy in this is at some level, deep down, the borderline individual knows that he is missing out on what could make life worth living. He is not able to create friendships with people that are truly rewarding and meaningful – friendships where you truly know and appreciate another person for themselves. Usually, the severely borderline individual is so insecure, and lacks identity to so great a degree (having never had a good model from the relationship with his parents), that he cannot relate in meaningful depth to other people and thus does not make real friends.

Throughout my teen years and early 20s, I avoided making real friends, although I hardly knew what I was missing at the time. I tried to pretend that I had friends, but looking back, most of them were superficial, meaningless relationships. Good people who might have been my friend did not want to spend time with me, because I did not have a positive, alive sense of myself as a person that I could share with them. Instead, they sensed my uncertainty, fear, and low self-esteem and were pushed away. The result was overwhelming loneliness on my part.

Missing Out On Life – Love Relationships

Further, the borderline individual will face great challenges in romantic relationships. A successful romantic relationship demands the greatest degree of self-expression, self-revelation, and ability to be intimate with another person. These are all capabilities that the severely traumatized person does not have, and so they will usually be forced into one of several undesirable paths: 1) Avoid dating and love relationships altogether, 2) Enter repeated short-term relationships, often for only a few weeks or months at a time, before “bailing” out of them when the closeness becomes too threatening, 3) Enter long-term detached and/or abusive relationships which contain no intimacy or love; instead, these relationships recapitulate the abusive and/or neglectful treatment by their parents. This last type of abusive relationship can perversely feel safer and more familiar to the borderline than having a new, healthy, loving adult relationship.

Until about four years ago, I was stuck in this cycle of brief, short-term relationships lasting only a few weeks and months. I had no idea how to relate to a young woman in a way that she would like, and was extremely afraid of intimacy. I expected women to dislike my personality and appearance, even though several had told me I did look attractive. Usually, after several dates, I would not know how to go on with the relationship and would invent a reason to get out of it. I had no concept of why my relationships weren’t working, of what I was missing. Important aspects of romantic relationships that I can handle today seemed impossible – things like being genuinely interested in a woman’s interests and activities, caring for her wellbeing outside of what she could do for me, developing trust and dependability over time, discussing plans for the future, and having a satisfying physical relationship. These things were as alien to me as airplanes, cars, and internet would be for a Stone Age caveman brought to the present day.

Missing Out on Life – Work

Due to the constant conflicts over dependence, i.e. the lack of ever having a dependent relationship to a loving parent-figure for an appreciable period, the borderline adult is unable to develop consistently meaningful work and hobbies. Successfully developing a career and a professional identity usually requires encouragement by others of the child’s exploring their environment and independently trying new things. This process is severely interrupted in the childhood of a borderline individual. That is one reason why many adults who are severely borderline work at jobs below their capacity, are on welfare,  or do not know what they want to do in life.

The borderline is fixated on conflicts surrounding the original mistreatment they suffered, and there is not enough positive energy left for other meaningful pursuits. Many such individuals’ “hobbies” are actually shallow ways of distracting themselves from bad feelings and avoiding responsibility, rather than genuine interests. Overuse of videogames, computers, and other electronic media is one example. That is not to say that such pursuits cannot be healthy – they can, if they are part of a life which also contains healthy interpersonal relationships and meaningful work or other activities.

As mature adults reading this article will recognize, the borderline individual is forced to miss the best of what life has to offer, through no fault of his own. Having true friends, meaningful love relationships, and rewarding work and hobbies are priceless experiences that make living life worthwhile.

The Importance of Having Sympathy for the Borderline Individual

The reason for writing this article is to inspire sympathy and understanding in the reader toward the plight of traumatized borderline individuals. It is impossible to convey in words the depth of frustration inherent in severe trauma. Due to grossly inadequate and/or abusive parenting, much of what one’s life could have been is stolen away. The chance to enjoy life and love other people is replaced with a nightmarish daily struggle filled with rage, terror, grief, and the constant feeling of being thwarted. There are many millions of people right now in America and throughout the world who are trapped in this living hell. Most of them have no clear idea of why they have the problems they do, or the way out. Their sometimes manipulative, aggravating, and even abusive behavior is the inevitable result of a desperate emotional struggle in which they are willing to do almost anything to survive. They need our support and understanding if they are to have a better chance of recovering.

If there are people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder reading this, this article might sound pessimistic and gloomy. As a younger man, I would often project pessimism into such authors and become afraid that they thought BPD was hopeless. That perception does not apply here. I am strongly optimistic about Borderline Personality Disorder being treatable and able to be recovered from. This is both because I have recovered from it myself, and because I know of many other people who have done so. There is no reason why any borderline individual cannot recover and find fulfillment in relationships and work.  In that light, this article simply describes realistically  the tragic losses involved when one is deeply traumatized in childhood.

Further reading – Earlier some books by developmental psychodynamic theorists were mentioned. Those books are:

Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment – by Donald Winnicott. Winnicott is one of the most respected psychodynamic writers of the 20th century. He was a pioneer in studying infants and young children to discover what formed the elements of a healthy parent-child relationships. He created the concepts of “true self” and “false self” which can be useful in thinking about Borderline Personality Disorder. In this book he beautifully describes the ways in which the good-enough environment meets the child’s needs for emotional support.

The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: Symbiosis and Individuation – by Margaret Mahler. Mahler was another pioneering writer on early human development. By directing studying infants with their mothers, she identified phases of psychological development including differentiation, practicing, rapprochement, and object constancy. Many psychotherapists in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s viewed BPD as involving a developmental arrest in the rapprochement or sometimes practicing subphase.

Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality – by W.R.D. Fairbairn. In this volume, Scottish psychiatrist Fairbairn outlined his new psychological model focusing on the innate human need for relationships. His pioneering views on splitting and internal object relations (with his concepts of the good object, exciting object, and rejecting object) anticipated later models used to explain Borderline Personality Disorder.

The Analysis of the Self – by Heinz Kohut. This book is actually much more about Narcissistic Personality Disorder than BPD.  Interestingly, Kohut was initially quite pessimistic about treating borderlines, mainly because of his lack of understanding about how to work with bad internal objects and trauma. In this well-known book, he discusses the processes of mirroring and idealization, which are critical ways that the young child receives support from the parent in healthy development. They are also critical ways that the adult borderline patient receives support from therapists and/or friends and family as they recover.

I am fully aware that psychoanalytic views are not the only way of conceptualizing Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve read about cognitive-behavioral, Dialectical Behavioral, genetic/biologically-focused, and other models of BPD. However, everyone has a bias and preference for how they view things, and the psychodynamic-psychoanalytic model is mine. It is the model that has helped me the most to understand BPD. Its concepts about healthy psychological development in young children and how those processes can be restarted in adult borderlines were extremely useful in my recovery journey.

 ——————

I welcome any correspondance at bpdtransformation@gmail.com

If you are struggling with BPD yourself or are trying to help a borderline individual, I would be happy to listen to your story and provide feedback if possible. Feel free to provide constructive criticism of this site also.

This article is the opinion of a non-professional layperson, and should not be taken as medical advice or as the view of a therapist who is professionally qualified to treat Borderline Personality Disorder or any other mental health condition. Readers should consult with a qualified mental health professional before undertaking any treatment.

– Edward Dantes

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#2 – How Did I Recover from Borderline Personality Disorder?

People reading this page are probably searching for hope and encouragement, either because they have problems related to Borderline Personality Disorder or they care about someone who does. Or, perhaps they are simply curious and wonder whether BPD can be recovered from.

On this page, I will describe what allowed me to move from being an emotionally immature young person, suffering from many painful borderline symptoms, to being the relatively mature, functional, and symptom-free adult that I am today.

When I Was “Severely Borderline” – Teenage and Young Adult Years

From approximately ages 13-23, I was severely emotionally ill. I had the following symptoms, most of which are in the DSM-IV definition of BPD:

– Severe anxiety and depression most of the time, with little ability to comfort myself.
– Constant feelings of emptiness and low self-esteem.
– Acting out in various ways, especially overeating.
– Viewing other people and myself as all good or all bad, accompanied by childlike clinging toward the “good” people and extreme rage against the “bad” people.

– Very poor personal relationships in terms of their emotional depth – I had no real friends and tended to use people for my needs and then quickly lose interest in them.
– No clear identity or long-term goals – I usually only planned a few days or weeks ahead.
– A tendency to be paranoid and fear that other people were “out to get me”.
– Intense fear of losing important family members (fear of abandonment).
– Suicidal thinking when I became very depressed.

These symptoms persisted relatively constantly for 10 years starting in middle school. It is difficult to describe in words how painful or frustrating they were. Externally, I tried to appear normal and to function in school and work, but internally it was a constant emotional nightmare. I felt myself to be cursed, a walking example of Murphy’s Law, existing in a personal hell on earth. When first working on recovery, I had no idea where to go. Emotionally, I felt like a cork caught in the waves of a stormy sea.

My Progress Toward Being a Mature Adult Today

However, here is how I would describe myself today, at age 28:

– Able to regulate my feelings– I can comfort myself and rarely become anxious or depressed.
– Able to think in an ambivalent way, and to see others and myself as good and bad at once.
– Have confidence in myself, possessing a clear sense of what I want to do in work and relationships. I think long-term, able to plan months and years ahead.
– Able to feel genuine concern and interest in others, rather than only using them to satisfy my needs.

– Have had a good romantic relationship and several meaningful long-term friendships.
– No paranoid thinking, suicidal ideation, or fear of abandonment.
– Able to function independently in a job I enjoy; no need to cling to other people to function well.
– Have a strong core identity which persists through difficult times.
– Much reduced acting out – I still do occasionally overeat when under unusual stress at work, but it’s much less of a problem than before.

I am pretty happy with how my life is going today, and proud of myself for the work I did. How did I make these changes to develop a good life, and to lose almost all of my borderline symptoms?

What Helped Me Become Healthy and Non-Borderline

1) Long-term psychotherapy

Starting in my late teens, I was fortunate to be able to attend psychodynamic, psychoanalytically-informed psychotherapy. At first, I went once a week, and then for several years I went an average of twice a week, sometimes going three times a week during difficult periods. It was extremely expensive, and I was fortunate to have parental financial support to go to therapy (I later financed myself, sacrificing in other areas of my life so that I could go to therapy). Essentially, I used psychotherapy as a reparenting process in which I worked to be able to deeply trust someone else for the first time. My various therapists – I had four significant ones – provided me with crucial emotional support that allowed me to become independent in my job and to develop better interpersonal relationships. They were the substitute mothers for my emerging true self.

In other articles, I will discuss more extensively how and why therapy helped me, my views on therapy vs. medication, as well as options one has if one does not have the money to go to therapy initially (therapy is certainly not the only path to getting better, although it can be very valuable).

2) True friends

Starting in my late teens, I was fortunate to develop a close friendship with a man, Gareth, who knew about my history of physical abuse (my father beat me throughout my childhood). He was an older, middle-aged family man who I met via the shared interest we had in tennis. I took the risk of opening up to Gareth about my problems, and we developed a friendship that has endured to this day. We spent hundreds of hours talking through my past and present problems. There were many times I cried with him, as well as some periods when I became angry or paranoid and misunderstood his kind intentions. However, most of the time his support was extremely helpful, coming during a period of my life when I desperately needed love and understanding. I will be eternally grateful to Gareth for his decision to help me.

From about age 15 until the present day, I developed three other close friendships, with two men and one woman, all of whom helped me tremendously and gave me hope that life could get better. My relationships with Julian, Andrew, and Helena were similar in quality to the first one described above, in that I took the risk of opening up to these people, telling them my life story, and asking for help. However, they were not as deep or intense as the first one.

Today, I also have a number of other important friendships, but they are more “normal friends” that I enjoy for themselves and can share my present-day sense of self with. These friends do not know my history of being borderline in nearly as much depth as the four people I opened up to in my teens.

I will write more in another article about how genuinely opening up to another person for help is one of the most important risks a borderline person can take.

3) Family – My mother

Despite her faults, my mother supported me financially to go to psychotherapy, and she did genuinely care about me although it was difficult for me to feel that fact early on. She had a very difficult relationship with my father, and her decision when I was 18 to divorce him and live alone provided me with a stable, safe place to live for several years. As I became a young adult, I came to trust my mother more and risked talking to her openly about some of my problems. This occurred in parallel with my trusting and opening up to the friends noted above. To my mother’s credit, she matured along with me, becoming a supportive listener and a cheerleader for my developing independence. I owe much of what I am today to her heartfelt efforts to help me.

4) My passion – tennis

The one thing I always liked as a young child was the sport of tennis. I took group classes at the local club and viewed the coaches as substitute father-figures. The process of hitting the ball and running around with other children became addictive, and I developed an obsession with the pro game and players like Roger Federer. Perhaps surprisingly, this interest endured during my teens and early twenties even when I was struggling with all the horrible emotional symptoms associated with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Tennis had great value as something that distracted me from my emotional suffering during the most difficult periods, and had meaning for me in its own right. It also led me to work with children as an assistant coach in college, which eventually led to my present day job, in which I work with kids.

5) My own study of Borderline Personality Disorder

When I first learned about BPD, and later was diagnosed with it, I was terrified because of all the pessimistic descriptions about how difficult it was to help people with the diagnosis and how many therapists did not want to treat them. Online web forums were filled with horror stories about manipulative, evil, hopeless borderlines.

Over time, I researched BPD extensively and came to a more nuanced understanding of it. I understood it from a developmental perspective, meaning how traumatic childhood experience shapes later adult problems, as well as from an object-relations perspective, referring to how the traumatized individual uses psychological defenses and modes of relating that distort the external environment based on pathological internal views of themselves and others. More on that in later posts.

I studied the writing of many therapists who had successfully treated individuals with BPD, including Harold Searles, Vamik Volkan, Otto Kernberg, Heinz Kohut, Gerald Adler, James Masterson, Peter Giovacchini, Jeffrey Seinfeld, and others. I met Gerald Adler and James Masterson in person and interviewed them about their views on the treatability of BPD. From this research I developed an overall picture of what was necessary in the “big picture” for borderline individuals to become non-borderline. In essence, the traumatized person needed to learn to trust and accept support from another person, and to be helped via a therapeutic alliance to develop healthy adult ego functions that they never developed as a child. By around age 20-21, I understood BPD in more depth than many therapists do. Understanding it taught me what was necessary for a successful recovery process.

I will write much more about these issues in later articles, but for now, the point is that having a map of where to go when struggling with BPD helped immeasurably.

6) Eventually abandoning the concept of BPD

Paradoxically, I now no longer believe that Borderline Personality Disorder is a valid diagnosis. This is despite the fact that I was diagnosed with it, and have recovered from having almost all of its symptoms.

As I improved, I continued to be periodically worried or depressed by the idea that I was still a borderline. I would often fear that maybe the writers who said borderlines were untreatable and hopeless were right, that I would always be a borderline, and that if I did improve I would inevitably relapse.

Today, I view BPD as an archaic, outdated term, one fabricated by psychiatrists to (mis)label a wide range of severely abused and neglected people. To me, a more realistic view is that “borderline” symptoms exist on a continuum of severity, i.e. that there is no firm line that divides borderline from non-borderline. Looking back, it is obvious that as I recovered there was no past time at which I suddenly no longer “had” BPD, if I ever had it at all. Of course, I did have (and gradually stopped having) all of its symptoms, which were real and extremely painful.

Once I realized this, I experienced a paradigm shift in which I was no longer worried by the diagnosis of BPD, since I regarded it as invalid.

7) My curiosity, resilience, and aggression

By my nature, I have always been curious. This helped me when dealing with BPD, since it spurred me to extensively investigate the disorder and how it could be treated, as well as to eventually question its validity as a useful diagnosis.

Even more important, I am one tough cookie (I was going to use another word, but want to keep this blog’s language clean!). Starting in my early teens, I promised myself that I would get better or die trying. After reading about how borderlines often failed to improve, I defiantly predicted that I would recover. I weathered the long, slow storm of many years of depression, anxiety, rage, and uncertainty, never giving up despite times when things seemed hopeless.

Lastly, I can be a pretty direct and blunt person. Aggression is often regarded as a “bad” thing in our society, but aggressively seeking out the truth or defending oneself when under attack can be good things. My aggressive rejection of those who are pessimistic about BPD was important in my recovery. I’m not afraid to say what I really think, as you will see on this site!

These qualities are partly genetic. They certainly helped me with my challenges. Each person has their own strengths, and there are other ways in which I’m not as gifted as others. For other people working to recover from past trauma, it may be these or other strengths that are most useful on their journey.

 ——————

I welcome any correspondance at bpdtransformation@gmail.com

If you are struggling with BPD yourself or are trying to help a borderline individual, I would be happy to listen to your story and provide feedback if possible. Feel free to provide constructive criticism of this site also.

This article is the opinion of a non-professional layperson, and should not be taken as medical advice or as the view of a therapist who is professionally qualified to treat Borderline Personality Disorder or any other mental health condition. Readers should consult with a qualified mental health professional before undertaking any treatment.

– Edward Dantes

#1 – The Goal of My Website About Borderline Personality Disorder

The main goal of this website is to show that meaningful recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder is possible, and to illustrate one way of getting there.

My Life Today

My name is Edward Dantes, and I’m 28 years old. I am a teacher working in an academic institution in the Eastern United States. At age 18, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by a psychiatrist. I have spent the past 11 years working to recover from severe childhood abuse and neglect, and have now reached a place where I can definitively say that I am better.

By “better”, I mean that for the most part I’m emotionally healthy – I like my work, enjoy several hobbies, have good intimate relationships with family and friends, can regulate my self-esteem, and can handle difficult emotions without acting out. Most days, I feel real, alive, and excited about what I’m doing.

I still have periodic struggles and doubts. But my core self is so much stronger than before. Or rather, I have a core identity where there was none previously. As one of many people who have recovered from severe childhood problems, I hope my story will encourage other survivors who want to do the same.

My Past Struggle

In my late teens and early 20s, I was severely borderline. My life was a living hell dominated by severe depression, constant anxiety, terrible self-esteem, suicidal thinking, acting out of various kinds, a lack of any intimate relationships, being unable to sustain full-time school or work, and the horrible feeling that things would never get better. As a young adult, I often despaired of ever succeeding at a job, having real friends, or having a successful romantic relationship.

However, slowly but surely, I did get better. I educated myself in great depth about BPD, and discovered what had helped others with the condition. I sought therapy and found friends to support my recovery. I rejected the prevailing societal view of the disorder as a biologically-caused, life-long condition that can only be managed rather than fully recovered from. This shift in my thinking became critical. I found out the truth – that meaningful recovery is possible, and that many people diagnosed with BPD have recovered enough to live good, rewarding lives.

Today, I have 0 of the 9 symptoms of BPD, whereas 10 years ago I had at least all 9 symptoms listed in the DSM-IV definition of BPD. I trust my progress and have every reason to believe that it will continue.

Confronting the Pessimists

Apart from promoting this positive vision of recovery, another purpose of this site is to confront those who say that Borderline Personality Disorder cannot be effectively treated. Many people on internet forums and the therapeutic community believe that BPD is a life-long condition. They believe that it can only be managed and “lived with”, but not deeply recovered from.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Getting better from BPD is possible, although it requires hard work over a period of years. Recovering to the point where one is essentially healthy and “normal” in the sense of enjoying work and relationships has been achieved by many former borderlines. Unfortunately, many borderlines and their families are not aware of the resources that are needed to recover, nor do they understand the disorder in depth.

On this site, I will present a powerful counterexample to pessimism about BPD. I will explicate the disorder from a variety of viewpoints, and present strategies which were useful in my recovery.

Additionally, this site will confront the American medical view that seeks to cast BPD as a genetic or biologically-based disorder, one that needs to be treated primarily with psychotropic medications. It will expose the lack of strong scientific basis for such claims, and will analyze the emotional and financial factors that might motivate supporters to hold this viewpoint.

The Validity of the Borderline Disorder

Lastly, I wish to radically challenge the notion that BPD is a valid scientific diagnosis as it is defined in the DSM. From my own research and life experience, and despite being diagnosed with it myself, I now believe that the DSM version of borderline personality disorder has little validity. That is not to say that the symptoms BPD represents are not profoundly real and that people do not suffer from them greatly – they are, and people do.

However, my viewpoint is that BPD is more useful as a metaphorical or symbolic term that encapsulates a range of severe problems in functioning and relating. In other words, BPD represents a large, nondistinct area of severe psychological distress, rather than a discrete syndrome. Psychodynamic theorists would call this region “preoedipal” and “preneurotic”, but not “psychotic”. Re-conceptualizing BPD has been a useful step toward recovery, since it allowed me to view myself as existing on a subjective continuum between sickness and health, rather than as having a discrete “disorder”. For me, this was freeing.

Disclaimer

Lastly, this website should not be taken as the advice of a medical professional, but rather as the opinion of a layperson. However, coming from the “inside out”, I can give a viewpoint of BPD and how to recover from it that is fundamentally different from any professional opinion.

It is my hope that this website will prove useful both to those who have been diagnosed with BPD and to family members of such people. If it does nothing else, it will hopefully challenge people to think differently about BPD, both in terms of what the disorder actually is, and in considering how much people diagnosed with it can change for the better.