Recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder Means Learning To Change The Way You Think

Recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder Means Learning To Change The Way You Think

People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) have a skewed way of thinking. We see criticism where there is none, we see abandonment when someone doesn’t return our phone calls, and we see despair when really it is just a different perspective. Although BPD is not classified as a “thought disorder”, in my opinion it should be. People with BPD internalize their skewed visions of themselves and turn their own thoughts against them. My husband used to always say to me, ‘Every feeling first begins with a thought.’ I think this is true.

So how does one go about learning to change the way he or she thinks? For me it began with the daily practice of gratitude. A friend once commented to me that even though I had lots of money, lots of friends, and four beautiful children I was always so unhappy. She could not understand why. My initial reaction was anger.

In complete and utter indignation I thought, ‘How dare you say something like that to me?’. But I recalled that after my last overdose, and being in the hospital for six months when I gave myself an acquired brain injury, that when I was discharged I had to decide whether or not I would go back to smoking. I had been a smoker for almost thirty years.

Each day when I woke up I had to recommit to my decision not to go back to smoking. I did that every year for three years because that’s how long it took for my cravings to finally go away. I lay in bed after that night following that exchange with her thinking, ‘I can choose to practice happiness. In the same way I chose to be a non-smoker, I can choose to practice happiness.’

After that every day when I got up I would log on to my Facebook page and post a daily gratitude posting. They were simple and were things we all take for granted like access to clean water, electricity, easy access to good food. Gradually I began to see changes in myself. The way I saw the world and the way in which I interacted with the world began to change. I began to feel more centred and more grounded within myself. I began to see the world as a place of immense beauty and bounty as opposed to a battlefield where I was always the loser.

Changing the way you think is not for the faint of heart.

Changing the way you think is not easy, nor is it for the faint of heart. If you want to have a real BPD recovery, it takes practice and diligence and yes, falling down again and again. The trick is that when you fall down, you have to get back up and start over again. Learning how to change the way you think so you can enjoy BPD recovery is a skill like any other. You did not burst from your mother’s womb knowing how to tie your shoes or eat with a knife and fork. Those are skills you were taught.

Most people with BPD experience negative thoughts about themselves all the time. This learned behaviour is often taught to them by their family and can be unlearned. Over time¨ those thoughts become knee-jerk reactions to certain stimuli. In order to change those thinking patterns, you must first become aware of them, then make a conscious choice to challenge them, and then stop them in their tracks. Life is all about perspective and changing the focus of your vision will help you learn to see things in a different light.

My favourite saying is, ‘Introspection brings insight and insight enables change’. It’s that simple and that difficult. In a similar fashion, people with BPD generally have very low self-esteem. This may be because they were not taught to value themselves when they were children. I use an analogy that if your parents did not know how to make pasta, it would have been impossible for them to teach you how to make pasta. Similarly, if your parents did not have good self-esteem, they could not possibly have taught you how to have it. But you can learn how to make pasta on your own. It takes a conscious effort to change the way you think. Acquiring this skill takes time.

It takes a conscious effort especially for the person with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Change is always difficult. This is because when the behaviour is familiar, you know what to expect when you do it. When you embark on change, it’s very frightening because you are embarking on virgin territory. But change is possible. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one. But the lightbulb has to really want to change. You can do it.


About the Author: Dee Chan

Dee Chan was diagnosed with BPD more than 35 years ago back when the diagnosis was still fairly new and not very well understood. She has been living with it and coping with it ever since and finding ways to thrive despite it. She has been able to put it into complete remission and turned her life around completely through the practices of gratitude, forgiveness and accountability. Find out more about Dee’s work on her website bpdnomore.com.

7 Comments

Rachel

What a breath of fresh air to hear from a person with BPD about their personal growth. Thank you Dee.

Reply
susan

actually these cognitive distortions are always at the root of any & ALL personality problems.
self monitoring is arduous & constant.
hardest work I have EVER done & still do. but now that I am more conscientious & stop the blaming, my world has improved.

Reply
Anne

I thought this was a very useful piece. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with BPD a few years ago. She is in the throes of a relapse (so to speak) and the insights you shared related to low self-esteem are extremely relevant. A huge challenge in her situation, I believe, is that she is 76 with a lifetime of untreated mental health issues and all that goes with it. I think it would be very helpful to her to have a provider who also has expertise in gerontology. Not even sure if such a unicorn exists!

Reply
Deb

Fabulous article. I will certainly share this article with several folks that struggle with BPD on a daily basis. Thank you so much for keeping it simple, and with a guide on several examples on how to find relief from BPD.

Reply
Jackie

I learnt about this condition while studying mental health and community services. It is great to hear that there is a way through this for people who are willing and wish to make changes to their lives. many thanks for the well written article. Most impressed/

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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