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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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