Most of my clients are people with the so-called borderline personality type. Sometimes, with a strong severity of borderline traits, psychotherapists and psychiatrists put borderline personality disorder.
This is expressed in different ways. This is sometimes seen in the relationship building style. It can also be expressed in the inability to control their emotional reactions. Sometimes it is intense physical and / or emotional pain. Many people, including psychotherapists, are scared and incomprehensible when faced with this personality type. I can understand that. After all, people with borderline traits often behave unpredictably and incomprehensibly to others. Nevertheless, often "border guards" are mentally healthy people with a very terrible personal history. Their emotional reactions are just a response to what happened to them in the past.
If you are interested in psychology, you know that suppression of emotions cannot work forever. Sooner or later, all conserved emotions come out.
In this article I would like to somewhat normalize, or rather depathologize, the borderline personality. And even borderline personality disorder.
What is this personality type?
I am a practitioner of transactional analysis and integrative psychotherapy with a focus on Richard Erskine's relationship. This is the direction that looks at the process of therapy as a process of integrating different parts of the personality. And accordingly, a decrease in the number of uncontrolled mental reactions. An integrative approach seeks to avoid diagnosis. It is important to look at the person and their manifestations as a story that they tell through a "symptom."
I will often use the phrase "borderline personality disorder" or "borderline personality disorder" here. But this is more likely because so many people understand it more, this is a common term. I prefer Erskine's definition of this process - early childhood emotional entanglement. To me, this very clearly describes what is happening in the soul of a person who has a "borderline personality type" or "borderline personality disorder."
Recently I have been trying to avoid the words "diagnostics", "signs". It sounds like we're talking about a disease. I see BPD as a way of adapting a small child to an incomprehensible, unpredictable world. And let a psychiatrist who accidentally ran into my website throws stones at me for this ... My practice, and most importantly the experience of actually helping people with borderline personality types, shows that even in extreme cases this is a state learned in the family. No matter how inadequate it may look from the outside.
Borderline disorder and traits
And I would like to start talking about this personality type with an interesting observation. My clients, each of them, have a frontier portion. Actually, like me :-). But there are certain differences. From here I have derived two categories of clients, and working with them is very different.
"Borderline as a skill"
The first category is people with any personality type who have a borderline part. She is responsible for certain reactions in a certain area of life. For example, in a relationship. And in the rest of life, a person can manifest, for example, as a schizoid personality type. Or be quite narcissistic. But as soon as such a person gets into a relationship, some completely different part turns on. And in ordinary life, a very calm person begins to appear aggressively. Sometimes even destructive for others and for oneself. Such a person can be unbearable in a relationship. Often, his relationship history includes disregard. And the person could not form a reliable, secure attachment to parental figures in childhood. Then this early childhood confusion manifests itself in the fact that the person sincerely does not understand what it means to be in a relationship. He often behaves like a small child, sometimes moody, sometimes joyful, sometimes angry. This is the exception rather than the rule. And this is what distinguishes traits and borderline personality disorder.
Why do I think that, in this case, borderline traits are more of a survival skill than a personality structure? Because usually people learn this way of interaction as the only effective one. For example, parents were not in tune with the child's needs when he was calm and healthy. They believed that he was doing well and did not pay attention to his emotional needs. And sometimes even physical. The child has learned - in order to get what is needed in a relationship, you need to express yourself expressively, to attract a lot of attention to yourself. This usually occurs between the ages of three and five. And it is recorded as the most effective age that a person carries with him as a skill, how to be in a relationship and get what you need in them.
Borderline as a personality structure. Borderline disorder.
It's a different story when early emotional confusion is reflected in every area of a person's life. This is most of the people who turn to me. Emotional confusion, misunderstanding of what is happening to them, somatic symptoms, difficulties in work and relationships - all this is a consequence of multiple traumatic events in a person's life. This happens if a child grows up in an unpredictable and unsafe family.
For example, when a child was sad and his feelings were called differently.
Or, when the child was in pain, he was left alone. Another story is possible, when one time they reacted calmly to a certain behavior or emotion, and the other they shouted and punished.
Violence is an important, I would say even obligatory, part of the history of the borderline person. It doesn't matter what kind of violence it is. I find it unacceptable to measure the level of pain. It cannot be said that a child who was systematically beaten during his life suffered less than a child who was systematically raped. Or systematically humiliated and ignored. This is the same level of pain, the same level of personality trauma. Such people often suffer. Their suffering is almost palpable. Their history is so deep that often they just feel pain and cannot remember when it arose and under what circumstances. Because the pain has always been. This is what is called "borderline personality disorder."
What do the different "species" of the borderline have in common?
Although the ways of building contact and relationships with these two types of borderline personality are different, they share a common condition and problems.
- First, psychosomatic problems... Regardless of which category a person with this personality type belongs to, they will complain of a number of unexplained physical symptoms. For example, chronic migraines, up to nausea. Persistent insomnia, nightmares, physical pain in the body without any medical indication or remove.
- Difficulties in building relationships... Most of my borderline clients are successful people in their careers. And one could be glad for them. But often this happens because a person seeks to avoid feelings associated with a relationship or lack thereof. A kind of overcompensation. As for relationships, they are often very fragmentary. People with a borderline personality type often have unsafe sexual relationships and often change partners. Or they try their best not to get attached to a regular partner. Keep him at a distance from themselves and from their experiences. It is important for partners of people with borderline personality types to understand that their loved one recalls a very scary story on an emotional level every day. This is fixable and it ends, but you need to be patient and tolerant. Indeed, in fact, "border guards" know how to love and appreciate love. It’s just that it’s very difficult at first because of the level of emotional pain they initially received in their most meaningful relationships.
- Constant background high alarm... An emotionally confused person is almost never at rest. Neither physical nor moral. These are super-efficient workers who don't know how to rest. And when they are inactive, they often feel guilty. And the fear of being dumped for being so ineffective. Learning to rest and accept yourself in this passivity is one of the main tasks of psychotherapy. Indeed, in this silence, there is actually a huge amount of relational needs. This anxiety, it tends to accumulate. And where it accumulates, something happens that the "border guards" themselves often call a "breakdown." A relapse looks like a very intense emotional physical reaction. Outwardly, it looks like the person is in unbearable pain. This may seem inappropriate to the situation. But remember that this is adequate to some other situation in the person's past. It's just a memory, memories that hurt. And this is not always about mental illness.
- Difficulties with trust... In addition to traumatization, in one or all areas of life, the story of an emotionally confused child is a story of frequent betrayal by significant people. For a long time, the child trusted, justified the behavior of parental figures for himself. And time after time they betrayed him. Not understanding what the child needs and what he feels, devaluing his need. And sometimes causing him unbearable physical or mental pain. Therefore, it is not surprising that it did not work out to grow up with a sense of security and trust in a relationship. It will take time and patience to gain the trust of such an emotionally confused person. But when the trust is received, this is a strong and reliable relationship.
- Strong emotional outbursts. All my clients complain that they are sometimes overwhelmed by extremely strong emotions. And they are unable to control their reactions to other people. Often these emotions don't even have a name because there are so many of them and they arise at the same time. It is the lack of understanding of what is happening that intensifies this state and creates a feeling in the person himself that something is wrong with him, that he is unwell.
- Feeling “something is wrong with me". This is another consequence of the insecure relationship that a person with a borderline personality type has. When people do not react to normal things as they do to normal things, sooner or later one may begin to doubt that everything is in order. After all, it is impossible to always live in an internal conflict between your feelings and the reaction of other people. So a person has a feeling that something is wrong with him. And since closer to adulthood, the "border guard" begins to remember traumatic events through emotions and the body - his reactions really look somewhat intense. Very often, the people around them make it clear by their reaction that something is wrong. This reinforces a sense of "abnormality" regardless of what actually happens.
Many colleagues don't believe me, but I really love working with border clients. It is a very difficult job, but always very rewarding. If a person came with the motivation to change, with the desire to build healthy relationships and improve his life - the result is not to keep you waiting. Even if it's borderline personality disorder.
But I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that borderline psychotherapy takes a long time. Sometimes it is several years. Such time is needed in order not to commit another violence against a person. So as not to make him feel, do and think what he is not ready for. It takes time, sometimes a long time, to learn to trust. This requires a lot of patience from me. And respect for how a person has learned to organize his contact with others in the most safe way for himself.
The real work begins when there is trust and it is not easy there. As soon as a person begins to form an attachment to the therapist, the psyche tries to put up as many defenses as possible in order to avoid new pain. Working too fast, not in tune with the client's inner rhythm and his relationship needs, can do even more harm. It is unacceptable.
At the second stage of work, we with the client go into his story together. We carefully examine what the person manages to remember. And we do not force to remember what the client is not ready for yet. Sometimes my job is precisely to slow down and slow down the avalanche stream of memories. To pay enough attention to everyone, to see in this story that child who was scared and confused and tried to survive at any cost.
This child is not always friendly. Sometimes his fear pushes him to aggression, then I have to be patient. But still keep the boundaries. Sometimes the border is painful for the client. Because in his experience there was no person who would stay close in strong feelings and at the same time did not collapse. And he did not allow a person to harm himself or other people around. This is my big role.
Importance of boundaries
The border is a great need and a huge fear of an emotionally confused client. Usually these boundaries were not constant, too rigid or absent altogether. So naturally my clients get angry and scared when they face boundaries. It is important to teach that boundaries can be safe and even pleasant if you know how to handle them. It is one of the main roles of the therapist in borderline or personality disorder work - to teach the client about healthy boundaries.
In the process of work, the client has new new memories one after another. These memories are often painful and traumatic. It is extremely unpleasant to live them again, then the client may get worse for a while. And it always goes away, after that comes relief.
Working with trauma reminds me of being a trauma specialist. Often it is necessary to break incorrectly fused bones and teach a person to walk with both legs. Such moments of exacerbation will become less and less. But they are inevitable if our goal is deep work with trauma. And as a consequence - gaining experience of a safe relationship with another person. A person who responds to needs and respects their boundaries.
In fact, my main task in working with this type of personality is to unravel the confused child. Give him confidence that everything is in order with him, no matter what happens around. Learn to handle your emotions and needs. To teach to speak in words about what needs to be safe for oneself and others, to set boundaries.
When I talk about borderline clients, I always have one metaphor in my head. A very small child, alone in a huge large dark room. Among some ruins. This child is scared and does not let anyone near him, aggressively defending his safety. And there is always a reason for that. I am the person who stands in the doorway and approaches with tiny steps. Before each step, asking the child's permission and sincerely wanting to help him.
There is an end to borderline psychotherapy. At this end, a person gets the opportunity to build relationships, be successful in a career, feel better physically. He will remember his traumatic past, but it will be a scar, not a wound. I truly believe that wounds in relationships can be healed in relationships. And a therapeutic relationship is a wonderful medicine.