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/

Reply

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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