Make Peace with Your Unlived Life

A somewhat airy-fairy title for an article from the Harvard Business Review, which is why it caught my eye as I was plodding through my usual work (i.e., providing source information for boring-ass business article after boring-ass business article).

Of course, it was mostly in relation to career stuff (it is HBR, after all), but I soon found myself engrossed in this piece, identifying more and more with the author’s thoughts on the many identities we try out (mentally or physically/actually) throughout our lives.

As I’ve written about many times, BPD and identity issues are inseparable. And the further I move away from the throes of living in the midst of this disorder, the more interested I am in finding out how it happened, and how it relates to “the real me.” When did my BPD start? Why? How can I prevent it taking over my identity (my “inner theatre” as this article calls it) ever again? How can I avoid contributing to BPD in myself or in anyone else?

That’s why my skin began to prickle and my stomach tensed as I realized that I was essentially reading a how-to manual for creating BPD—one that I had experienced first hand:

Donald Winnicott elaborated on the idea of the “true self” and “false self.” He explained that beginning in infancy, all of us, in response to perceived threats to our well-being, develop a defensive structure that may evolve into a “false self.” He suggests that if our basic needs are not acknowledged—not mirrored back to us by our parents—we may presume they are unimportant. Complying with our parents’ desires, we may repress our own desires, not actualizing what we really like to do. We may believe that non-compliance endangers our role in the family. In addition, we may internalize our parents’ dreams of self-glorification through our achievements. But this acquiescence to the wishes of others is an emotional lie. It comes at the price of suppressing our own needs. In our efforts to please others, we hide and deny our “true self,” which in turn leads to self-estrangement. If that’s the case, the “false self” will get the upper hand. It becomes a defensive armor to keep the “true self” at bay and hidden.

Of course I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a more succinct and accurate account of how my own BPD developed. To this day,  I struggle tremendously with the notion of my parents’ expectations, and the idea of how horrified and ashamed they would be to see “the real me” (that is, to know everything about me and how fallible I really am).

Part of me (a logical part) knows that’s probably not true: my parents will always love me, and they’d be the first to say that all they want is for me to be happy. But it’s hard to shake those defensive structures that we developed as kids, no matter how unnecessary or unjustified they might’ve been (and I’m not saying mine WERE unjustified… I do think that my parents’ actions and behaviours spoke louder than their words ever could in terms of creating a need for defenses; saying “I love you no matter what” once or twice doesn’t negative hundreds of instances that implied strong disapproval).

But I don’t want to blame my parents, because lord knows we all do enough of that already in the mental health realm! And anyway, my parents raised three other kids without BPD, so it’s obviously not fair to say they’re the “cause” of my BPD. Rather, I want to know why some people can take disapproval, punishment, even trauma, and turn it into something totally unlike BPD, while others can’t take much of anything without developing this (or a similar disorder). Is it chemical? Circumstantial? Will we ever know?

Part two of my attraction to this article has to do with the “making peace” part—not only with one’s “shadow self” or the parts we don’t show the world, but also with all the chances that we never realize, the choices to the left when we always took the right. This sense of loss, and the desire to accept that loss, is huge in my life right now. I’m not sure it necessarily has to do with BPD (I feel like it does), but every time I’ve made a big decision in my life, I go through a period of intense grieving (usually totally internal/mental) for whatever I didn’t choose. Given that I’ve probably just made the biggest decision of my life this past year (getting married), I probably should have expected this deluge of feels and (in a way) regrets, but, whaddyaknow, I didn’t. :/

I realize that this post is kind of scattered and nonsensical, so please excuse my sharing it; I kind of see it as a true reflection of the sense of identity that I have right now: muddled, messy, and not very convincing—really more questions than answers—but also, the best that I can offer at the moment. ❤

Cat xxxx

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