Recently, I posted about a “holy crap” moment I had in therapy. Specifically, part of me – the main part of me, in fact – finally got it. My uncontrollable reactions to (real or perceived) abandonment are the result of abandoning myself. Invalidating, neglecting, suppressing, and disliking myself. It’s kind of a big deal.
Note that this is a perfect example of why therapy is 100%, no exceptions, totally and utterly necessary in the treatment of BPD. It’s not one of these things that you can read enough about, think enough about, write and feel and draw enough about and then deal with it yourself. You’ve done that for years, and this is how it’s gone, i.e., terribly. You need perspective. Why not from friends or family? Well, gee golly, let’s look at the nature of BPD and how things usually go when you get into the nitty-gritty close feelings with friends and/or family. No. Too close, too personal, too much potential for a blow-out. A therapist keeps things distant and professional enough to be tolerable and controlled, but is ideally close enough to be honest and helpful.
What I’m about to post about is kind of more “holy crap” realization stuff. It’s not necessarily specific to BPD either. It applies to every person on this planet and the way our brains work.
Here is what I’m learning and understanding.
We all have “parts” of ourselves. Maybe some parts are mean, scary, angry, and other are popular, funny, witty, confident. Parts come to the forefront and parts recede to the background when not in use. That’s normal. That’s the brain. For most people, those are what we know as “moods.” As our control group, let’s use “Bob” as our standard, relatively well-adjusted person. Bob has happy moods, sad moods, good moods, bad moods. To an extent, they determine his perspective and behaviour; e.g. when he’s in a bad mood, things look blacker and his behaviour is grumpy. But the key thing is: Bob’s moods have a direct and immediate cause. A mood comes into his frontal lobe because something within his awareness and control made it come forward. Someone cuts him off in traffic, and here comes an angry mood. Later his brain carries out the logical thought process that it’s just traffic, it doesn’t matter and it does not affect his long-term wellbeing. So the brain releases that mood and it goes on its merry way, returning him to whatever stable state is his “normal.”
Now let’s consider Cat (I know, I’m so creative haha). Cat is our BPD representative. Cat does not have moods. Cat has disaster pockets. Why? Because Cat’s brain is divided by stone walls into its different parts, whereas Bob’s was a flexible and well-tuned system of connections and receptors that communicate well with each other. Cat’s brain has cut itself up into little parts, so to speak, because that was how it coped, for years, with difficult feelings/states. Embarrassment? That goes into a locked box. Grief? That’s going into a locked box. Traumatized by some event? That’s definitely going straight into a locked box. This is how the brain has “coped” with things it could not handle at the times that they happened. Good job, brain, you did help Cat get through years of difficult circumstances. You helped her not have to deal with things that felt totally overwhelming. HOWEVER… they’re still there, and they’re never ever going away because being locked up is keeping them just as present and just as strong as they were when they first happened. And that’s killing Cat from the inside. A divided self is not an okay self. And brains like this are divided into parts we like, parts we hate, parts we don’t get, parts we’re disgusted by. Is it any wonder that borderlines often feel like they have no identity or that they’re made up of tons of drastically different people?
The rest of the brain doesn’t communicate with the hurt parts. They are cut off. All they know is the pain they contain. They don’t have adult logic. They don’t have DBT skills. And when they get triggered – WHAM: Cat is right in the midst of them, however powerless, however young, however overwhelmed she was when that original feeling occurred. And unlike a mood, not only do these pockets come without a direct cause (at least not one that makes any sense to anyone who does not know Cat’s intricate system of traumatized brain parts), they also don’t leave naturally. They don’t know how. Cat falls in them and can’t get out because they are so sick of being locked away that they don’t want to leave.
Does any of this strike a chord with you guys the way it hit me?
Wow. The more I learn about brain anatomy/chemistry/composition, the more it is helping me understand every aspect of BPD and its treatment.
Your brain needs to heal itself. No amount of outside help is going to reach the little pockets of pain, trauma, etc. locked deep inside. You have to go in there and open them, and let the healing in. This is the direction that my therapy is now taking. The DBT is a crucial part of it, because it’s the toolbox that you go to work with. I need to have my DBT skills down pat, because I’m going to have to use them and teach them to the parts of my brain that hasn’t learned them yet.
This helps me accept a lot more than I could even one week ago. I feel like the knowledge that this will never be fixed from the outside is sinking down, down, down through layers of my brain and myself, and is now reaching the depths that mean I finally get it. Even if someone wanted to, they cannot “force” my mind open. They cannot communicate with inner me. That’s like saying they should learn things for me so that I understand them. It just doesn’t make sense.
My therapist told me that once you start this process of peeking in the boxes and healing what’s inside, you will be amazed how quickly the healing process picks up speed. I don’t want to get too hopeful, but I can see why. Every day it’s like new stuff is falling into place, making the whole picture clearer and clearer. Things that don’t even seem related are starting to be affected by what I’m learning. For example, by focusing on this – my mind, my parts, my inner voices and thoughts and boxes (not that I focus too much on those dark boxes yet, that’s pretty advanced and terrifying stuff) – I have inadvertently been a tiny, tiny bit better in dealing with people I normally hate/resent for not caring or helping enough. I didn’t have to try and work at the relationship between us – I just had to start looking into my own mind.
Does this sound too good to be true? Or too optimistic? I guess it kind of is. I mean as I said, I haven’t gotten into the really rough stuff yet. Confronting the locked boxes and doing the necessary therapy to heal them is going to be a whole different story. But just learning more about what the fuck is actually going on in my mind is kind of cool and oh yeah, incredibly validating, because hello self – I AM NOT CRAZY. That’s kind of been the best realization thus far. I hope it doesn’t totally evaporate when I hit a rough patch (it will, but I hope it comes back). My brain has been doing an astoundingly clever and difficult – albeit misguided – job: keeping me sane in the midst of insane circumstances. I can see why it did this and how it designed this process and that means…. I am not crazy. Holy crap!