Please Note: The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and are communicated without reference to supporting documentation in most cases. Other inspiration and influence for the writing came through consultation with other mental health professionals but the writer “Peter Quintano” is a fully qualified in DBT making them qualified to talk about this chosen subject. So with that in mind…
Have you ever felt like you are scattered in thought, going round and round, getting more and more flustered and overwhelmed as time goes on? This is what it can be like when regular life stresses are happening when emotions get oversized when your anxiety is aroused, when behaviour gets extreme, and before skills in self-reflection and thought/emotion management are learned.
It is quite common for people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) to feel this way because of their natural vulnerabilities towards heightened anxiety, scattered/racing thoughts and extreme emotions, but also because they are very often (at least in the beginning stages of life) unfamiliar with mental health and how to take care of it.
When I pondered an image for this type of experience, the first thing that came to mind was a tornado spinning… round and round, round… going nowhere in particular but having great destructive power. I also thought of that movie “The Perfect Storm” as there are certain contributing factors that create the most difficult BPD moments.
This imagery isn’t intended to denigrate or stigmatize anyone, but just to provide an image, an analogy, and a way to retain the message of the article. Also if anyone reading is wondering, I am the first to admit that I have “been the tornado” on many occasions in my own life. I am quite happy to be honest about my own experiences with mental health disorder if it will help others help themselves faster than I was able to help myself. Experiencing mental health issues like BPD really sucks when you have no idea what is happening to you, or what to do to help yourself!!
Explaining The Analogy
To be more precise about my meaning behind the “tornado” or “perfect storm” analogy and how it relates to BPD: I am referring to the tendency to produce and over-produce thoughts that are purely fictional in nature (and likewise to experience many difficult emotions connected to these thoughts). In other words, “being a tornado” means jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, to incessantly attempt to “figure things out”, to analyze past events, to overthink things… all in a big rush without reference to helpful facts to inform our thinking, and likewise to have no way of settling ourselves down and realizing when difficult emotions are “piling up” in our bodies. Then, of course, when the emotional pressure becomes too much, reacting to life situations impulsively/ineffectively, has the effect of creating more problems and multiplying life stresses.
One of the main reasons it is so hard to master BPD is because the distressing thoughts and emotions co-occur with a strong sense of anxiety (believing there is a real threat to the self). This anxiety adds “fuel to the fire” in the overall production of thoughts and emotions. The frantic energy of anxiety, plus irrational thoughts, plus painful emotions, therefore becomes a vicious circle… thoughts producing feelings producing more thoughts producing more feelings… and so getting really worked up and behaving irrationally/ineffectively becomes completely inevitable and understandable!
Humans of all varieties seem to have the potential to fall into this thinking/feeling/behaving trap, but it seems much more likely when the emotions are experienced with MORE frequency and MORE intensity, such as with those who suffer with BPD.
**Please make a note if you haven’t already, that the AMYGDALA in the brain does not function the same way in persons suffering with Borderline Personality Disorder as it does for others. For people with BPD, it “heats up” a lot faster and is “slow to cool down”, and so is harder to learn to manage – kind of like learning to surf a big ocean wave, rather than average, mediocre, or small waves. The good news is that a person can learn to ride the giant waves they were never guided to ride in the first place! It is hard, but it is possible. A person can in fact learn to settle the internal storms despite the challenge.
Hoping these words can help to inspire your growth and stimulate increased compassion for self and others suffering from BPD! Living the life of being “the perfect storm” is one of the most challenging of all, bar none. The elements of the storm that make it so hard to function are ever-present… including anxiety, irrational thoughts, exaggerated emotions, ineffective reactions/behaviours, misunderstanding of self, impatience towards self, and the impatience and misunderstanding from society in general. Even so, we can learn and overcome!
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