As far as I understand it, almost every path towards BPD starts with an initial “trauma” that is, from the perspective of the victim, ignored, unnoticed or otherwise disregarded. I say “trauma” because as I’ve learned, the trauma can be anything – it doesn’t have to be something that anyone else would call traumatic. It can be coming home from school every day to an empty home, sick with loneliness. It can be a misinterpreted remark or gesture. It can even be something on television.
I grew up with the conviction that I had no right to my (seemingly inexplicable) feelings. I had no right to be angry, upset, depressed or emotional. I can still hear my teenage inner voice, berating myself for daring to feel these ways when elsewhere in the world people were facing what I considered real problems – disability, starvation, rape, torture, incarceration. I was severely fucked up and simultaneously certain that I had absolutely no right to be, making my various methods of self-injury doubly deserved in my opinion.
Unfortunately, my critical inner voice was only one among thousands (millions?) who believe that pain and suffering must be justified before they can be felt at all. The chronic cultural attitude we have towards emotional pain is just about the ideal breeding ground for serious mental illness – as is clearly being demonstrated at an alarming rate.
Because it’s not just trauma that destroys people – we all undergo traumas, of various definitions. Some seem beyond human endurance. But as Viktor Frankl notes in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
When pain becomes an opportunity for healing, strength and connection with other human beings, it gains inherent meaning. It becomes bearable. When it goes ignored, dismissed, belittled or hidden, it exists in an echoing emptiness. The brain struggles to contextualize the experience and comes up blank – withdrawn, vacant, void of feeling. We know what we’re feeling but we also know we aren’t supposed to feel it – a combination that leaves the mind and body torn in warring pieces.
Even though part of me still resists it, even though I hate delving into it in therapy, even though I still have yet to really cry about it, I know that even just feeling the pain of traumas that I blocked for so long is going to be a major step towards treating my BPD. In that respect, having this new relationship in my life has been extremely helpful. I can’t get over how lucky I am to have found someone who knows it’s okay to feel, someone that takes the time to say, amidst my jabbering, “You’re allowed to be upset.” Developing the ability to express pain has been a steep learning curve for me (what with two decades of ingrained BPD behaviours), but so rewarding – I genuinely hadn’t figured out that people can’t dry your tears if you refuse to cry.
And on that note, another favourite quote from Man’s Search for Meaning:
“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
Do you have the courage to suffer?