Thursday, 26 February 2015

Knowing Who I am - the Crux of the Matter

One of the aspects of a diagnosis of Personality Disorder, particularly that of Emotionally Sensitive (ESPD) or Borderline PD, which causes controversy, is the idea that someone's personality can be fundamentally flawed or 'disordered'. There is also currently much discussion around the issues of diagnosis in general, not to mention the perenniel problems of labelling. Whatever it is called, or whatever diagnosis clinicians and practitioners seek to use in order to identify shared symptoms among those who suffer from PD, the diagnosis, for me, remains simply a signpost indicating areas in which my experience of the world may differ from that of others and help them to provide me with guidance as to the best possible therapies or approaches available to help me overcome my difficulties.

The fact that one cluster of BPD symptoms centres around issues of identity and, therefore human relationships, means that even the most basic understanding of myself and my place in the world, ie who I am, is problematic for me. My understanding has grown around this area as I have learned to observe my own functioning especially in the area of inter-personal relationships.

One of the key consequences of the invalidating childhood environment is to make me doubt entirely my expectations and understanding of the world as I experience it. In essence, the very fact that my emotional responses to pain, or neglect were, ignored, ridiculed or contradicted by my main care givers means that I cannot trust my emotional responses to the world. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that those of us with the symptoms associated with ESPD or BPD experience emotions at a much higher intensity than the average person. Fear, anger and anxiety are primary emotions in terms of helping us survive, particularly when we are at risk of physical harm. However, once again even these most primal of emotional responses have been distorted by the messages we received when growing up, particularly if we have survived childhood abuse, whether sexual, physical, or emotional. For many the intense emotions lead to hyper-vigilance, hypersensitivity and therefore, often result in what appears to the casual observer as inexplicably extreme reactions to everyday situations.

How I feel about the world informs how the world reflects messages about who I am, or who they think I am, back to me. If my emotional messages to the world come through a distorting prism, then the messages I receive back about who I am and how I relate to the world around me, comes back to me as a distortion - sometimes it jars with me, sometimes it confirms my deepest fears. So, I find it difficult to believe I am a likeable person, because even my parents had no time for me. If friends try to give me the message that I am likeable, this feels alien to me and I manage my discomfort with this by imagining reasons for them saying they like me - If I never check out my assumptions my ability to trust others will always be on shaky ground and I will not be able to learn new ways of seeing myself. In other words, I will constantly prevent myself from seeing me as others see me. Unless I am able to counteract the internal distortions by beginning to learn about myself as I am now, then I will continue to find myself in cycles of intense relationships where I try to mould myself to how I think I should be, followed by ongoing rejections which reinforce the distorted views of myself as unlikeable.

I have always struggled with statements which begin 'I am...', yet being able to complete these statements is an important first step in helping me to look at myself in a mirror which is not twisted by my internal emotional responses. I found this sheet from a website for teachers looking for ice breakers for the start of term. As I read through it and applied it to myself I found that I am able to fill in more of the statements about how I view myself, than a year ago. It is good for me to complete this exercise on my own and remind myself that the more clear I am about the 'I am' statements is a reflection of the progress I have been able to make in becoming more secure in my identity. This also reflects the stability in my current close relationships and friendships. It is so positive to be able to say I can measure some friendships in decades now, I've also never lived so long in one place since I left home at the age of 18. I am growing more secure in who I am and my place in the world.

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