Self-validation and the Eff-Word

Nope, not that eff-word. I love that eff-word – where would we be without it’s delightfully releasing fricative force?


I’m talking about Facebook. Bane of my life and perverter of otherwise normal days into wasted little husks. 
Reasons why I (tell myself that I) keep Facebook in my life:
1) The photos. I am a huge traveller and I love that most people post photos from their various travels. It’s a great way to get insight or inspiration when trip-planning. Similarly, I love being able to post my photos from trips I’ve taken so that my family and friends don’t have to sit down for a boring slideshow in order for me to let them know how my trip was. 
2) Keeping in touch with people I genuinely care about. This is actually a secondary reason to the photos one, because I could obviously just shoot off emails to them. But of the people I’d like to stay in touch with on facebook, there are very few that I’d actually email (chances are I don’t even have their emails): distant cousins, childhood playmates, friends of your parents, etc. etc. 
*shameful reason* 3) I’m terrified of being “left out” if I left Facebook. I’m not exactly a social butterfly anymore, so if I wasn’t able to see all the “group invites/events,” it’s possible people wouldn’t think to invite me to anything via other methods of communication. At least that’s my paranoid thought process, much as I hate to admit it.
The reasons I should leave Facebook are way too numerous to mention, so I won’t list them out. But anyone can easily think what they are. Aside from the sheer number of wasted hours you can spend with your eyes glued to a little screen taking in oddly addictive information that you don’t actually care about (ummm sadly kind of the story of the Internet, in general, for me), Facebook and all its stupid, stupid little trivial dramas can ruin my mood. Just shatter it. And I really don’t like the person I am when I’m in its thrall.
A very real and recent example: me logging into the eff-word to find that one of my best (albeit now far-off) friends is in touch with someone who hurt me very badly in the past. In fact, she’s evidently more ‘in touch’ with him than she is with me, as they were chumming it up in some recent photos while she hasn’t seen fit to return any of my emails for a few months now. Ouch. 
My reaction? Delete. Cut out the friendship entirely in a very silly and immature way. This is someone who I feel deserves an explanation – but she hasn’t asked for one (so now I’ve added to this equation the stress of not knowing what she even knows!). If it weren’t for Facebook, sure I could have found out that my friend had ‘betrayed’ me from some other source, but there’s a good chance I would have found out from her, accompanied by some kind of explanation.
Aside from the unnecessary downer/drama aspect of Facebook, the comparison aspect kills me as well. Whether or not we’ll all admit it, we all know that Facebook’s primary reason for existence is to compare ourselves to other people – consciously or unconsciously. Examples:
“OMG they’re on their fourth kid and they have a body like Kate Moss!?!? How is this possible?!” (implicit thought process: I’m fat and ugly and I don’t even have any kids to justify it). 
“OMG they finished that PhD they were working on and now they’ve bought their first home” (implicit thought process: I’m stupid and my life sucks compared to everyone else’s.) 
Be honest: how many Facebook photos have you posted with the knowledge that “this will make people jealous of me/my life”?  For me, it’s a lot. A hell of a lot. Admitting that disgusts me and fills me with deep self-loathing. I feel shallow and pathetic. I do not want to want to make other people jealous of me – which obviously smacks of insecurity. And the irony is, by engaging in this process myself, I should be realizing that people ALL do this on Facebook – including all the people I feel so jealous of sometimes. They ALL work to present a version of themselves/their lives that other people will be impressed with.
There are a number of recent articles on the explosion of mental health issues related to Facebook, and one I read made the excellent point that Facebook is a “best of” reel of each user’s life. It’s like a little movie we each work so hard to compile and edit (and edit and edit and edit) in order to feel validated by other’s people’s respect or admiration. 
The problem is that all of this is a presentation. Like the beautiful but miserable celebrity head-case who is glorified as “naturally beautiful” after hundreds of dollars of fake hair dye, make up, plastic surgery and expensive clothes, you know deep down that it’s all just a presentation. And you can never ever feel happy or validated if all you’re exposing for validation is, essentially, a lie. 
The only way to break the cycle is to present the truth – the whole truth. But Facebook is SO not the venue for that either! None of us want to be that sad-ass person who posts their every emotion and juvenile mood-swing on Facebook (or, for that matter, displays them in real life all the time either). That just reeks of an equally pathetic type of insecurity. 
The real solution? Self-validation. 
I am on the “self-validation” unit of my DBT group which is why this topic is particularly important to me at the moment. Self-validation is the answer to so many BPD problems – but it’s incredibly difficult and deeply counterintuitive if you’ve spend years looking to everyone else to make you feel happy/confident/safe/functional etc etc. 
Self-validation means a quiet inner assurance that what you are feeling is real, logical, understandable and important. To say that in my mind – let alone out loud – is SO HARD. I don’t like myself enough to self-validate, and I simultaneously don’t like that feeling of “letting other people off the hook” (if you know what I mean) by keeping the struggle inside and not putting the burden of it on others’ shoulders. Which is clearly why self-validating essential and I have to learn to do it! :-S  
Without self-validation, you’re overcome with the desire to “act out” what you’re feeling, at any cost, in order to make people realize and validate just how terrible things are for you. When BPDers don’t get “enough” of a reaction to how they’re feeling, they may purposely embellish the problems they have in order to manipulate that validation out of people: they may develop obvious self-harm mechanisms, or even make up “traumatic events” from their past in order to get the reaction they want to their pain. But by doing so, we’re caught in an even worse spot: now we only get validated for the lies/performances/tricks/manipulations we use, and not the actual emotions. And so, the more you have to rely on the lies and performances, and the less real/validated your pain feels, and on and on it goes.
Oh foolish, foolish borderlines, when will ye (or rather, ‘we’) learn?
The old me would have said “never.” The me of even a mere six months ago would have said that. But I’m tentatively being able to consider the possibility of change. I hate these patterns. I hate these coping “tools.” I hate the person that they make me and the effect they have had on my life. Now it’s time to transform that hate (negativity) into growth (positivity) by using it to spur me onwards in the daunting quest for change. I’ve written the following little mantra for myself *squirms with self-consciousness* when I start to feel horrendous emotions or my BPD mode kicking in as a result:
Every hateful and counterproductive BPD “technique” I’ve developed has developed for a good reason: to protect me. However, those techniques are not protecting me anymore – they are hurting me. As I open myself to start feeling emotions, I will take a pause with each one to remember that it is real, important and valid. I deserve to feel everything that I feel, and no one has the power to make me feel otherwise.
Have you ever vowed to give up Facebook? Or even succeeded? And do you self-validate? How?
Cat xx

Identity and BPD: so many angles, so little mind…

Image       Lately I’m overwhelmed with ideas to consider/write about/explore in relation to that all-consuming topic of my life: BPD. I know that it’s actually much more important to LIVE a life rather than just spend it looking at life from every possible angle in your mind. Looking at it, analyzing it, considering it from every possible angle is just too exhausting for anyone’s mind, let alone a borderline’s. However, that’s what this post is going to be, in the hopes that venting some of these constant buzzing thoughts regarding the inner life and identity of BPD gets them out for the day (or hour at least).

It hardly needs to be said that, as borderlines, we spend so much damn time thinking this out (well, trying to), questioning everything we do/have done, trying to come up with solutions when ultimately, we don’t even know if we want to be ‘solved’ – after all, most people with BPD grow to see the disorder as their ‘actual’ identity. This is tragic but completely understandable – and, in fact, inevitable – for a variety of reasons:

#1) BPD lasts.

Untreated, it’ll last decades – for some people, a whole lifetime. If you make it to your 40s/50s (given the 1/10 BPD suicide statistic), you may be one of those people lucky enough to have the symptoms simply dissipate on their own: yep, some studies have shown that, inexplicably, many of BPD’s symptoms will lessen or soften with four or five decades of horrific self-abuse practice (hip hip hooray??). However, for the borderline right in the throes of this disorder (20s and 30s), it’s now defined the vast majority of your inner existence. That’s a powerful sense of identity when not much else had lasted in your life; because, of course, your BPD has likely damaged most of your core relationships, robbed you of your hobbies/opinions/passions, and caused you cut ties with anything that gets too ‘close’ to prevent the painful situations you anticipate. Ironic result? The problem destroying your life is all you really have to define yourself by.

#2) BPD (and all the shit it brings with it) just feels “realer” than the rest of your life.

I’m not entirely clear on the mechanisms at work in this one but one thing is very clear to me: pain, loss, sorrow, darkness, agony, anger are all very “real” words in my vocabulary. Happiness, peace, love, calm, joy, laughter – not so much. I mean they’re real, of course, but they are inextricable from a sense of falseness or transience in my mind: that is, I know (or BPD makes me “know”) that they will never last – so why pursue the pain by acting like they will last? “But that’s just stupid,” non-borderlines will point out. “Why dwell on sorrow and pain and anger and all that dark shit when they don’t last either.” True. And yet, in the BPDer’s mind, they are the ones that last – primarily because (largely unconsciously) we make them last.

Research has shown that you make pathways in your brain just as you do in a landscape. Those that are well-trafficked become those that are ‘real’ – your mind understands them, it’s used to travelling them, and – as a creature of habit just like the rest of our human parts – it wants to keep going down them because they’re familiar. The pathways that don’t get much use become exactly how you’d expect an unused path to become over time: overgrown, treacherous, scary, daunting. The mind resists the work of forging those new paths. 

I first came across that information in my initial counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder, and it really excited me in a way. For one thing, it made so much sense. Our brains and bodies are built out of repeated connections and patterns. Make certain connections a million times (i.e. love isn’t real, love never lasts, I don’t trust it and it’s hurt me), and your brain is a friggin effective learner: it will help to reinforce the “knowledge” that love is not a path to go down, so just stick to this lovely little venue of miserable loneliness instead.

Even as I’m bloody writing these words I can actually feel my well-worn brain patterns resisting what I’m writing (seriously)! “No, no, no, NO, Cat, don’t even think things like this, deep down you know you should stick to what you’ve always followed, you know it’s true.” But the fact is – and it’s taken literally a few years just to get to this point in my own head – I do not have a good sense of what is “true.” I really don’t. I’ve got a very strong sense of what my BPD believes to be true. And that’s never worked for me. In fact it’s sucked so bad at guiding my life that I’m now willing to do god-awful things like sit through the required group therapy (the horror… the horror) just to combat its influence. I know BPD is just a part of the picture and not the “real” picture, but I’m still struggling to apply that knowledge to my life in concrete ways.

#3) BPD’s symptoms can be very similar to the actual parts of your identity that it grew from.

Picture this: Take a creative, sensitive child with a propensity for drama, passion, story-telling and spontaneity. Now subject him to all the conditions that create BPD, including a genetic predisposition, a family that’s not comfortable with emotions or punishes them, a traumatic event that produces overwhelming feelings which can’t be expressed, and a peer group that rejects and belittles his ideas, emotions and identity. Gradually, the creativity and storytelling traits become duplicity and a talent for lying – even when it’s not necessary. Suppressed, the propensity for drama and passion become violence and uncontrollable emotions whenever they do burst out. The spontaneity become impulsiveness – promiscuity, gambling, self-harm, drug abuse.

In this way, BPD takes certain aspects of your being and slants them in a self-destructive direction. But because those aspects really do represent parts of your personality, you’ll feel as fiercely attached to them as if they were parts of you. How many borderlines meet their BPD diagnosis with anger, defensiveness and disbelief (*raises hand*)? “It is NOT a mental illness, it’s just who I am.” It’s an absurdly common reaction to any mental health diagnosis, and it was certainly mine. I was sure that I didn’t have a problem – everyone else just had a problem with the way I was. I was sure that I’d always had an association between love and pain, or love and violence: that’s just me. I was sure that I’d always had a habit of lying, or an inability to handle strong emotions, or a lean towards self-destruction. The resistance in me was insanely strong: THOSE THINGS ARE WHO I AM AND IF I GIVE THEM UP, I CEASE TO BE ME!!!!!!!

I still feel like that when I get in really severe BPD mode (i.e. depressive or raging low points). But by exploring and validating who I really am, I’m finding it easier to let go of the ways that BPD has defined me. It’s not easy, to say the least. I mean it’s been defining me, and telling me that’s how I have to define myself, for over 20 years now. But the cliche is true: behind every horrible person was (and sometimes still is) a ridiculously sensitive and damaged person in need of love and validation – the kind that only comes from within (please don’t fucking fool yourself like so many borderlines into thinking someone else holds that key).

Note: the very phrase “self-love” or “self-care” still my skin crawl instinctively. I’m not even remotely comfortable with it yet. But as I progress through therapy, I’ll be sharing a lot of techniques to facilitate the ability to “self-care” while I attempt to work on them myself too.

In conclusion, no matter how long it’s been going on, how bad things have gotten, or how many past examples you’ve built up to make your point: don’t be so sure that being horrible, evil, bitchy, manipulative, violent or destructive is your “true” nature – even if you’ve gone to great lengths to prove it to other people until they wholeheartedly agree.

That’s BPD’s identity, not yours: you owe it to your true self to put in the hard work it takes to separate the two.

Cat Earnshaw xx