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

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/

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
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
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
Rachel

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

Reply

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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