This guest post was written by Clair Happer, all views expressed are a personal view of BPD and Recovery and in no way should be considered professional advice. If you disagree with anything in this post, or have your own thoughts do let her know in the comments below. For all other questions and issues relating to BPD do use the Contact Us page. Take it away Clair…
One of the hardest parts of learning to live with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is to consistently adjust oneself to function more rationally. Another way I explain this to others is the need for becoming more “dialectical” as a person.
Becoming more dialectical involves learning to recognize what’s happening with perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, and how to best make use of these parts of ourselves rather than allow them to work against us. When you have BPD, it is a huge challenge to function “dialectically” because it has either never been developed, or only very poorly developed over time. Perception, thinking, feeling, and behaving are not functioning in ways that life can remain stable, interactions less dramatic, and problems getting solved relatively smoothly. Goals are very often undermined and connections and relationships get broken or lost because of difficulties being dialectical.
So what exactly does it mean to be “dialectical” anyway? Well… A good place to start with understanding what “dialectical” means is to explain what it isn’t. As those suffering with BPD have probably already started to notice, there are extremes in both thought and emotion that tend to occur in everyday life. Having extremes in these ways means perceiving things as “all or nothing” “black or white”… The situation is either all good or all bad; the person is either all good or all bad; there is no hope at all or things are guaranteed to work; you are completely right or you are a complete idiot. This kind of thinking seems valid to the person with BPD because of the way it “feels” in the moments things happen and perceptions are made.
Perceptions are made instantly and all day long by humans as they ask themselves… “What is happening right now?” “What does this mean?”. But for a person with BPD, perceptions often lead to feeling either all good or all bad… like love or hate with nothing in between; like perfection or completely worthless. Perception and feeling then very quickly turns into a vicious circle, with perception inducing the feeling and the feeling reinforcing the perception, making it next to impossible to see things any way other than the first way. Thinking and feeling like this is not being dialectical.
Perceptions happen extremely fast in those that struggle with BPD and there is little consideration for relevant facts. The perceptions happen so fast, in fact, that the person with BPD very often doesn’t even realize that perceptions are being made in the first place and that they determine what the emotions will be. But for a person with BPD, it doesn’t really seem to matter that things are happening so fast and without sufficient awareness of self and use of logic. Things perceived “feel” so real that they become undeniably “real” to the person. It feels so real, in fact, that the person with BPD will fight against any argument that attempts to prove his first perception (his assumption) is faulty. Decisions to react are then made based on the assumption, rarely if ever resulting in favourable outcomes. Again, this is not being dialectical.
So, if being rigid, inflexible, impatient and impulsive when making perceptions is not being dialectical, then the opposite stance of being open, flexible, curious and patient when making perceptions IS dialectical. In being dialectical, the new agreement a person makes with himself is that the first perception (the assumption) is always missing something and almost guaranteed to be flawed. The new agreement becomes especially important when intense emotions become part of the experience. A wise person might even decide that intense emotions will act as the alert system (or the guidepost) that a flawed perception is probably dominating any given moment.
Without a doubt, the hardest part about overcoming borderline personality disorder is learning to notice, label, and regulate the emotion that accompanies the first perception (the assumption). Not getting this part of BPD typically means remaining stuck on assumptions and persisting with unproductive/destructive behaviours that end up pushing people away.
Before I became more dialectical as a person, I was frequently stuck on my first assumptions and fought to prove my assumptions were the only right way of looking at things. I would fight to defend my assumptions, even to the point of compromising relationships. I was often convinced that people were rejecting me and that I had zero importance in comparison to other people, things, and activities. My perceptions seemed so “real” to me at the time they were formed; they were based on body language, facial expressions, behaviours, and maybe a few verbal responses, but not much more. Sometimes my perceptions were based on much less. My emotions …feeling rejected and worthless… would kick in fast and then I was stuck believing in the assumptions. I would feel even stronger about my assumptions when people would tell me not to feel that way or that I was overreacting. I couldn’t function dialectically myself, and the people around me couldn’t help me function that way either.
But long since then I have learned to observe my assumptions and emotions mindfully, and therein become more patient and open to other information that could inform my once rigid perceptions. Slowly but surely, I started to consider alternative ways of looking at things in moments of difficulty… For instance, I started to consider that another person’s expression and body language may have nothing to do with me. I started to consider that life is complicated, stressful and demanding, and not just on me. People have reactions to life as they live it, and sometimes these reactions trigger my sensitivities. Sometimes people have a bad day and sometimes they get carried away in their own assumptions. I started to consider previous experiences with these people that contradicted my negative assumptions about them. I started to consider that I didn’t have enough information to jump to any lasting conclusions. I remembered some of my psychology training… That a feeling isn’t a fact, and likewise that a thought isn’t a fact. I started spending more time attending to my own sensitivities, impulsiveness and impatience, scanning for more information in the environment, and asking more questions.
Things started going more smoothly in life because I had more options to choose from in how I was looking at things. This is what being dialectical is all about. It is a major challenge when it is new to a person, but it really helps with settling Borderline Personality Disorder.