I have lost count of the people I have finally cut out of my life after a year, or many more, because I finally realised that letting them make me feel awful about myself on the regular wasn’t healthy and certainly wasn’t friendship. Previously it was very much an issue of “I don’t deserve to be treated any better,” but now I realise it’s still happening and I didn’t understand why.
I have grown in self-confidence, I’ve established a sense of identity, I’ve gained self-respect and I leapt on the self-love bandwagon and have been clinging on to it ever since. All the things that people tell you will stop you being treated badly, all the things they say you need to attract supportive, loving people into your life and reduce toxic ones. Yet here I am, still spending months asking friends “is this behaviour ok?” “they said X and I feel Y about it, am I allowed to feel Y? Is that normal or am I overreacting?” “what if they didn’t mean it how I took it? What if I’m the bad/judgemental/horrible person for taking it that way when they meant it nicely?”
noun | self-re·spect | \ ˌself-ri-ˈspekt \
Definition of self-respect
1 : a proper respect for oneself as a human being
2 : regard for one’s own standing or position
Every time I eventually find the courage to block someone I was close to online or stop seeing someone in person I say to myself “no more, I don’t deserve this, I am allowed to remove people who regularly make me feel like trash from my life” and I swear that next time I’ll do it faster, I’ll spot signs quicker, I won’t make excuses for them for as long. But every time I still allow it to get to a point where I begin questioning everything and picking myself apart to try to find proof that they deserve to be blocked & I don’t deserve to feel this way. Inevitably I never find proof, I just eventually find friends who are so sick of telling me that no, that behaviour isn’t acceptable, and inadvertently guilt me into it because I don’t want them to have to put up with my worries and questions for another year or more!
This begs the question though; why am I still attracting and enabling those people even though I now have the full defence kit?
BPD & socialising
I’m sure there are people with BPD who are totally chill at socialising, if you meet them do send them my way, but I struggle with it. I know a lot of other people do too from following other people with BPD and regularly attending #BPDChat. It’s for a mix of reasons because each of us experiences our symptoms differently but, for me, I think it’s part “frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment,” part not really knowing or understanding what is socially acceptable or ‘normal’ behaviour and part living in a society & seeing mental health professionals who attribute your every thought, feeling & action to your mental illness.
A huge part of BPD is the fear of abandonment. I didn’t think I met this criteria initially but I have grown to see that that is where a lot of my anxiety stems from. My intense fear that people won’t like me, are laughing at me, think I’m a bad person, all of that and much more comes from the fear that because of that they will abandon me. If people don’t like me I will be alone, so I make every effort to have them like me, even people I don’t like, because the alternative is so frightening.
I don’t know if this is a BPD thing or something else entirely but I have zero understanding of what is considered ‘normal’ in social situations. I always feel like I’m on the outside looking in, faking normal by following the crowd. Worse, when I think I have figured out what is acceptable in that group and try to be myself but while following those unspoken rules, it soon becomes apparent that I am “too much” and have not understood what is normal at all.
I keep trying, that urge to connect but still be myself remains mostly untouched by the regular knock-backs but it does reinforce my belief that I just don’t know what is ok and that fuels my brain’s, already obsessive, need to figure out what is ‘normal.’ I start watching people more closely, Googling social norms, dropping into conversations to try and work out what the rules are. I am 30 years old and still none the wiser.
For all the awareness campaigns, the stigma around mental illness as a whole remains. The stigma around certain disorders, the “scary” ones, remains just as bad as it ever was and the stigma around personality disorders is still being taught to medical professionals. It is one thing for the average Jo/e to believe the misconceptions and outright lies about personality disorders that grace our media, it is entirely another for people who are employed to help us to believe those things too. You can come at me with that one mental health nurse you know who was so good to your friend in crisis but if you speak to the vast majority of people diagnosed with BPD you will hear story after story of people being told they’re
- Not ill enough
- Faking it
- Beyond help
- Not trying
- Don’t really want help
There are many more phrases that professionals who we go to for help use to dismiss us, deny us treatment or force treatment on us.
At the same time, our feelings and experiences are regularly invalidated by all those around us. We are told, by professionals and society alike, that if we are upset at being denied treatment it’s not that we’re really upset, we don’t have a right to be upset, “normal people” wouldn’t be upset, it’s because we’re mentally ill.
We’re not really angry at that person who treated us badly, we don’t have a right to be angry at them, “normal people” wouldn’t be angry at them, it’s because we’re mentally ill.
When that friend said/did a really hurtful thing it wasn’t that they actually said/did a hurtful thing it’s that we’re mentally ill and are overreacting.
Suffice to say, hearing from nearly everyone around you that you are misinterpreting things, overreacting, don’t understand or are just wrong fast becomes an internalised and regularly topped up notion that we are, indeed, misinterpreting, overreacting and don’t understand.
A positive spin?
I do a lot of shouting about the awful treatment of people with mental illnesses, mostly to vent my frustrations & try to make more people aware of the gross failings in the system. Those posts are generally overwhelmingly negative and only discuss the problems so, here’s some closing positive solutions to counteract that.
With increasing evidence that BPD can be caused, or genetic factors manifested by, an invalidating environment in childhood*, combined with my own experience of healing through validation from peers, I would say that not invalidating patients/service users/people is a pretty quick and easy fix. No, it won’t cure those of us with BPD but it could stop the vicious cycle that allows our symptoms to continue or worsen despite seeking treatment.
The mental health system needs to focus on working with patients. As the saying goes “I don’t expect you to save me, I expect you to stand by me as a save myself.” For me, that is absolutely what I needed but didn’t receive until my most recent private therapist. Give us the tools and support to do the work ourselves. Believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves. Allow us to feel how we feel and not judge us for that. Challenge our negative thought processes by validating us so we can begin to believe that we are allowed to be hurt or angry or happy or any other emotion because how can you process or let go of an emotion when you don’t even believe you are allowed to feel it?
Biosocial Theory of BPD: Invalidating Environment
A Biosocial Developmental Model of Borderline Personality: Elaborating and Extending Linehan’s Theory
Association among self-compassion, childhood invalidation, and borderline personality disorder symptomatology in a Singaporean sample
Consequences of Chronic Invalidation
Development of BPD in an Emotionally Invalidating Environment
Do You Have BPD? It May Be Tied to Past Emotional Invalidation
Why Some Phrases Are Invalidating for Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
Also published on Medium.