Have you heard of this?

Without telling me why (initially), my therapist presented me with a very simple, very compelling exercise that I will share with you now.

*TRIGGER WARNING: this exercise is designed to probe for some very disturbing thoughts – practice basic safety and do not attempt if you feel vulnerable.*

Imagine – really imagine, with your whole mind and body – that you are fighting for your life. Put your hands in front of you. Push out hard and say “NO” (out loud).

Now notice what that felt like in your body.

If you’re sitting there going, “What the hell was the point of that?” then you’re among the majority of people.

If you’re sitting there thinking that felt extremely weird, upsetting, uncomfortable, or maybe even impossible, you may have learned to freeze in the face of danger.

I didn’t pass the test. Could barely make the motion of pushing out and couldn’t say anything out loud.

What does this all mean?

I don’t know, but I feel pretty freaked out. And the more Karen told me about this little exercise, the worse I felt.

Freezing in the face of danger is a learned behaviour. The natural, instinctive response to a threat is to kick, scream, scratch, punch and basically do whatever it takes to protect yourself. Suppressing that instinct takes work. It takes practice. Somehow, at some point, I have learned that it feels safer to just give in.

Of course there are a million explanations as to why this exercise felt difficult. But the fact is that I was filled with a vague kind of dread as I realized that I knew exactly what Karen was getting at. I think back to those joking situations you find yourself in – getting picked up by a boy and thrown in a pool, for example – and how I have literally frozen in the past. As in I felt like I’d passed out but knew I was awake. I wanted to kick and scream and I wanted to be put down but I went completely numb and absent. When I finally was put down, limp on the ground, everyone wondered what the hell had happened – I wondered what the hell had happened. Conclusion at the time: picking me up and spinning had made blood rush to my head and I’d passed out. But I knew the truth. I hadn’t passed out. I’d pretended to. And I had (and have) no idea why.

The more Karen said about the learned response to freeze in the face of personal danger, the more I felt like we were edging into something I wasn’t ready to handle – again, with no real idea of what was happening or what that something was.

What the hell is going on?

I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not I believe in repressed memories and false memory syndrome. Can something traumatic truly be forgotten? Or rather, forgotten by the conscious mind? Because the truth is that even as I type this I can feel that my whole body seems to remember something that my mind does not.

Karen said not to freak out, and to “pack this stuff away” until our next session (yeah fucking right) and that the obvious conclusion isn’t necessarily the right one, etc. etc. but I feel incredibly anxious at the idea that something undiscovered is most definitely there.

In a way I feel like the pieces are coming together but I don’t know if I want to see the complete picture once they do.

xxxxx

Hell Hath No Fury (Like a Borderline Scorned)

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A recent post on anger by the extremely insightful Life in a Bind really got me thinking about the topic this week.

Have you ever caught yourself feeling, as Life in a Bind put it (quoting another blogger), angry enough to die? Has it been over things that you know are crazy yet you can’t help but feel, well, crazy?

Anger is a huge motivator. It’s the ‘get up and go’ of our primal emotions. Its healthy role is to take something wrong and make it right. Unlike fear, anger should never make us freeze or shut down.

But until relatively recently in my life, that was exactly what anger made me do. Freezing cold fury is how I would describe it. Beneath my stony mask I felt angry enough to break shit, scream, hurt people, hurt myself – I’d find my mind flying through violent revenge scenarios, scenarios that involved me hurting the person who had ‘wronged’ me in any way that I could – often by killing myself, in these fantasies.

Let’s just pause for a minute and consider that statement.

Angry enough (at someone else) to kill myself.

Huh?

Somewhere along the line, many (most) borderlines participate in a bizarre kind of alchemy: they take anger – often extremely legitimate anger – and turn it into self-violence. They take the pain of being hurt and they hurt themselves. Does it make any sense at all? Well yes and no. No, it doesn’t make sense to the healthy brain, the one that puts the anger where it belongs – outside of self. But yes, it makes perfect sense to the borderline brain (particularly the introverted borderline brain, which avoids acting out at all costs).

I’m not going to go into the why’s and wherefore’s of self-harm here (as the topic deserves a much more extensive and expert treatment than I could offer) but undoubtedly, to hurt anything – including yourself – takes a tremendous amount of anger. However, for years I wouldn’t have even known enough to call what I was feeling ‘anger.’ I was so cut off from my anger, so suffocated by my fear of getting angry or communicating that anger, that I convinced myself I was simply insane rather than hurt or angry.

This week in therapy, Karen told me to focus on processing the anger of key past wrongs. I must admit I find it really hard to even know exactly what that means. There’s a big part of me that still believes “I deserve this” about many of those wrongs, when I know the answer Karen’s looking for is “I don’t fucking deserve this!” And I find anger a difficult emotion to re-capture outside of the moment. What am I supposed to do, just sit and be angry? I’m not really sure. But I do know that learning to externalize rather than internalize anger is one of the keys to my mental health and recovery.

Example: last week as I ate a piece of pie (yum), my otherwise intuitive, sensitive, wonderful boyfriend jokingly made a remark along the lines of “whoa, slow down, I don’t date fat chicks.” (Yes, even wonderful people can say incredibly idiotic, horrible things, it’s part of my new, non-black-and-white, non-borderline thinking to realize this).

I felt the familiar sensation of turning to stone and immediately visualized all the various hurtful things I would say to him for saying such a fucking stupid thing. What did I do/say? Nothing. My face registered nothing. My mouth said nothing (it said pie, in fact). I sat in silence until it became so obvious something was wrong that he asked what was wrong. “Nothing.” Argh. And so it continued until I really really rallied myself enough to say even a fraction of what I was actually feeling: “Why the FUCK would you say something like that?” etc. The wall was broken, and even though it sucked to have that conversation at all, we had it. I didn’t beat myself up for being too fat, too sensitive, too whatever. Instead I put the anger exactly where it belonged: not on me for enjoying pie, but on him for being an insensitive ass. Did he apologize for being tactless (understatement of the year) in his attempt at a joke? Yes. Was I able to forgive him – actually forgive him – without unresolved anger eating my insides? Yes, because I’d gotten it out.

This is obviously not a manual for how to deal with anger, and I’m not saying that everyone is going to handle hearing their faults/mistakes as well as my (occasionally clueless) boyfriend handled it. But I have a hard time believing anything can be worse than corrosive, self-directed and unexpressed rage.

xxxx