Understanding me….


I wrote the following in November 2009…..

Several months ago I was told by my therapist that I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). All I knew about this condition was something that I had read in a book entitled ‘The Angry Heart’ by Joseph Santoro and Ronald Cohen. When I read this book, I was reading about myself. So when I was given my diagnosis it was not a surprise to me. In fact, at the time I felt relief. It was not until I started doing group work that this diagnosis started to trouble me.

I am acutely aware that I have problems identifying my emotions and regulating them. Text books refer to this as ‘emotion dysregulation’, which is the outcome of a combination of a biological disposition and environmental influences. In my case this is correct.

As I have trouble with my emotions this places me in situations that I can find almost impossible to tolerate. I am a very sensitive person and I understand that to others my reactions to things may seem ‘over reactions’. I also find it hard to organise myself. Something I have struggled with all my life but something I have managed, to a certain degree. I have had to otherwise I would not have graduated with a masters degree or functioned as a senior manager within the regions busiest retail outlet. All of those attempts to organise myself were always coupled with extreme stress that I was able to hide in front of others for some time.

So the oversensitivity to events and emotions are part of my biological disposition. My environmental factors are the ‘invalidating environment’ that I grew up within. As described by Santoro “Our family environment is our gift or our curse”.

I did not grow up in a very supporting environment. I was constantly worried about how my parents viewed me. Everything I did I worried about their reactions and of course how other people would view me. My parents did not hide their disappointment in me, if only I was more like my brother who was slim, bright, had nice friends and did what he was told. I tried everything I could to be accepted by my parents. I know they loved me but they did not love who I was. They could not accept that I was a large girl, even though they confused my eating from an early age. They could not accept that I had learning difficulties and just thought that I was lazy. The health problems that I had as a child were put down to me exaggerating and looking for attention so visits to the doctor were out of the question. Even when I had tonsillitis I was not allowed to see the GP for antibiotics.

As I got older I found things that I was good at, maths and music. I concentrated on those and my grades in other subjects started to improve too. But music could not make a good career, so I gave up something that I loved. I still regret that to this day. I was invited to join an orchestra and I turned it down for fear of my parents. It was not just verbal communication my parents used to discipline me; they also communicated using shoes, belts, dog chains etc.

As stated by Santoro when someone has a dysfunctional family environment this ‘creates a person whose heart is wounded by fear and anger and whose mind is often confused and impulsive. This is someone, who, because of his or her family environment, develops a personality disturbance and is at risk for addiction, failure, and even self-destruction’. The impulsivity of the borderline person is also described by Maccoby, who states that impulsive behaviours are used as emotion regulation strategies. Indeed I have impulsive behaviours which include: Self harming, Suicidal or parasuicide behaviours, Unsafe sex – (this was part of my past and not something I engage in now),Reckless driving (also a thing of the past),Excessive spending and alcohol abuse.

So to summarise as someone who suffers from BPD I have difficulties with my emotions and impulsive behaviours. But the official diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association’ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV 1994) requires that five or more of the following be present before a diagnosis of BPD can be made.

1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships.
3. Unstable sense of self and identity.
4. Impulse behaviours.
5. Recurrent suicidal actions, threats, thoughts or self injury.
6. Unstable, intense moods or emotions.
7. Chronic feelings of emptiness, boredom or loneliness.
8. Inappropriate or intense anger.
9. Temporary, stress-triggered paranoid ideas or sever dissociative symptoms.

I have certainly scored 9 out of 9 at certain points in my life but I am working hard at reducing all of these. I believe it can be done and with the right help and support I know I can change things for the better for myself.

Written November 2009