Please Note: The ideas contained in this FAQ 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 also fully qualified in DBT making him qualified to talk about the things discussed in this article.
To understand how emotions function and sometimes drastically interfere with everyday life and functioning is the quest of any person seeking to get free from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Short of correctly gaining this type of understanding and applying skills according to this understanding, there is no genuinely getting free from the BPD pattern. Indeed, it’s one thing to understand better how emotions work, but it’s another thing entirely to embrace the understanding and turn it into health-promoting action entirely.
To grow up without a good understanding of mental health (as most people do) means the chances are good that beliefs get formed early on those situations and people “make us feel” in ways that we either like or dislike. Then henceforth, since we believe that situations and people “make us feel” what we feel, we become inclined to react according to our belief… perhaps getting angry with others if we didn’t like how we felt during an interaction or delighted if we did like the feeling experience. This belief about the origins of emotion can be very hard to break, but still possible if there is a sincere desire to know the truth and live differently.
The truth of the matter is that we make every single part of our emotional experience. Another way to explain this is that our unique and ultra-complex body and brain system – working in tandem with our unique way of perceiving all things – makes our emotional experience. Therefore, no matter what, our emotional experience is all ours to own (to accept as our own) because it all emanates from within. There has never been another person inside of us manipulating our brains and neurochemicals or forcing us to perceive all things in a particular way.
For anyone suffering from BPD, myself included, it is hard to own and accept that the entire emotional experience is your own making (or the making of your unique body and brain system). The reason it is hard to embrace this truth is that (1) there has been no understanding of this truth developed thus far throughout life, and (2) the emotional experience happens so fast that we “can’t yet see” the truth of the matter. When there is no understanding and no ability “to see,” it only makes sense that a person would continue looking outwards for “the cause” of emotions.
As the old saying goes… “seeing is believing,” and so if you want to learn “how to see” what is happening when it’s happening in your BPD, you can. And despite the difficulty of learning how to “see the truth” of BPD, the benefits of doing so are life-changing because you become more empowered to create your life experience rather than living at the mercy of your reactions to emotions. Without a doubt, it is the impulsive reactions to emotions – much more than the feelings themselves – that can make life a living hell in cases of BPD.
Of course, anyone is free to remain in the dark on this matter to avoid learning “how to see” what’s happening when it’s happening. The unavoidable flip side, however, is that you are choosing to reap the natural consequences of not learning “how to see.” In other words, choosing “not to see” is choosing all the horrible drama and unnecessary emotional suffering that happens over and over again with untreated BPD. Emotional experience in BPD is hard, and so is continually practising managing the emotions, but that doesn’t mean we can let go of taking responsibility.
Another related truth to recognize here is that most people know little-to-nothing about effective emotion management and mental health and so you can’t count on them to help you “see the truth” and help you function. The more likely reality is that others will ignorantly judge your struggle to manage BPD as “bad attitude,” “weak character,” “purposeful defiance,” or “bad genetics,” to name a few possibilities. The mental health ignorance of others combined with your blindness can set the stage for the most toxic and destructive life moments to take place. To choose not to learn “how to see” in unfortunately common circumstances like these is – in a sense – “feeding yourself to the wolves.”
As you can see, I don’t see the point in “sugar-coating” anything about living with BPD. If you want to free yourself from the disorder, you can, but only by taking an honest and wise approach. After you have accepted “the truth” about emotions, you can then focus your energy on learning more and more skills to settle your emotions and make adjustments to your thoughts. Once you get the hang of it, you may even begin to enjoy the many emotional practice opportunities that show up every day. To accurately “see” is to become more and more self-aware/enlightened, and to discover what it means to love yourself by getting to know and understand yourself.
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