I’ve written on the topic of BPD and identity before. Mostly because I think it’s kind of everything – at least it is for me and my BPD.
When it comes to disorders and conditions, there is a definite comfort in identifying with what you suffer from. For one thing, the sense of community among sufferers can be incredibly positive, as I have found here. 🙂 This is a good thing.
But it’s important to note that at the end of the day, it is still something you suffer from. It’s not who you are. Neither are you your emotions, your pain, your memories, your relationships, your achievements or your possessions.
The first time I heard those things, I was deeply offended. I interpreted their meaning as “your emotions are not real” or “your pain is something you should just toss away.” What I failed to understand was that while all of those things certainly define and fill my existence, they’re still not really me. They’re hugely important, they’re real and they’re powerful. But they’re not me. Yet I had been making them “me” for a long, long time. I still (usually) am, for that matter.
A simply exercise by Tara Brach: sit down to a brief meditation or moment of mindfulness. Just be aware of everything. Aware of judgments that arise. Aware of thoughts as they enter and leave. Aware of your breath. Aware of external noises. Aware of the space behind your face. Now ask yourself: who is aware right now?
That would be you.
There is a core presence in all of us that feels, knows, sees, understands everything about us. Everything. From the inside out. With BPD, I believe we struggle far, far more than most to connect with that presence and trust it. At some point, we abandoned ourselves to escape pain. We broke the bond between our true selves and our mind, emotions, conscious thoughts. We lost that safe inner place that defines emotionally healthy people. Cut off from an identity, our thoughts and emotions now run wild, hungry for a presence that will hold them, understand them, validate them.
When we over-identify with our thoughts and emotions (because we can’t feel anything else there to identify with), we’re trying to cling to the leaves that change with every season or blow away in a storm; we forget that we are the core of the tree, the trunk, the life that sustains the whole system via roots that go hundreds of feet into the earth. Similarly, when we over-identify with our pain and our pasts, all we’re looking at as “self” are the scars and blemishes on our bark. They might always be there; they might have affected how you grew. But the real you is bigger, stronger, deeper than all of that.
For this reason, DBT (along with any BPD therapist worth their salt) is geared towards unearthing that sense of identity. Mindfully observing what we are thinking and feeling, what we value and why, who we want to be, and what we need from ourselves in moments of distress is at the centre of DBT because without a hub of self, all of life’s spokes just fall apart. Nothing matters, nothing means anything, nothing helps. Slowly, slowly, slowly I’m acclimatising to the idea that becoming reacquainted with my real self is the first step on the only path out of this mess.