Wanting to be understood is part of the human condition. For someone with BPD, that can be a craving so strong that it eclipses almost everything else, save what I’m coming to see two sides of the same coin – wanting to be loved.
Wanting to be understood can be the force that drives us so strongly to connect with another individual that it tries to push all boundaries, physical and emotional, out of the way. I remember vividly, when in the grips of an obsessive attachment, the sense of wanting to be ‘in another person’s head’ and ‘under their skin’, or, conversely, the sense of wanting to be ‘taken over’ and ‘subsumed within another’s identity’. I’ve heard it described as ‘the urge to merge’, and I think it has its source in the desire for a perfect connection, a perfect understanding. A union so metaphysically powerful there is no need for words in order to convey meaning.
However, wanting to be understood can also be the force that drives us to put up barriers and build barricades behind which we hide ourselves. The desire is so strong, that when it is not met, or met ‘imperfectly’, the inevitable result is devastating pain and disappointment. We dare not take the risk of making ourselves vulnerable, or trying to explain how we feel, because we could not bear the pain of being misunderstood, particularly by those we most yearn to be close to. It’s the reason my husband still knows virtually nothing of what has been going on in my head for the last few years, and why my marriage is essentially in crisis. I cannot bear the thought of opening up, and not being understood. It’s the reason why I’m contemplating leaving my current therapist – because I have opened up, and because I don’t feel understood, and that has been a source of great distress, on a number of occasions.
Wanting to be understood is part of the human condition, but that doesn’t mean that we all experience it in the same way. Many individuals with BPD are acutely sensitive to any sense of being invalidated, and being told that everyone has these feelings and reactions, but perhaps not quite to the same extent, can feel like a minimisation of their difficulties. On the other hand, it is also hugely painful and isolating to feel as though your thoughts and feelings are so out of kilter with society’s ‘norms’, that you may as well be inhabiting a different planet to everyone else. I remember a mild dissociative episode in which I felt as if life was going on on another train, while I was stuck alone on my express train to ‘who-knows-where’, my reality frame-shifted onto a parallel, un-intersecting track.
I think I’m coming to realise that both of the above positions can be true. That the borderline’s experience can be a more intense and perhaps a more ‘extreme’ version of a standard, human reaction, without this being invalidating; but that those experiences can take place within the context of a BPD worldview that does not just frame-shift the way that ‘most people’ see things (if I may make a gross generalisation), but completely turns it on its head.
Feeling as though my therapist and I are worlds apart, is not normally a positive experience. However during my last session, I came up against the stark realisation that parts of my world-view that I do not question and assumptions which I assume that everyone makes, are far from universal – and it was a breath-takingly powerful experience. According to my therapist, ‘most people’ go around feeling understood ‘most of the time’, and don’t find it difficult to trust in that understanding, even when it is not being made explicit. That may sound like an obvious point, but it was genuinely news to me. As was the realisation that my default position is precisely the opposite – why would I assume, let alone trust, that I was understood by anybody? It seems like an utterly bizarre way to approach life, and other people.
And yet, why so bizarre? It makes perfect sense that those who have grown up feeling understood and accepted, not only come to expect or assume understanding and acceptance from others, but also feel they have little need to hide who they are, and are therefore open to giving others the opportunity to understand them. But the experience of so many with BPD is one of growing up in an invalidating environment in which understanding and acceptance were in short supply. And those who experience pain over not being understood or accepted for who they are, very quickly learn to close themselves off and present only a version of themselves to others, which they feel will be acceptable. My assumption of a lack of understanding is therefore based on a worldview created through my earliest lived experiences. However, it is also reinforced by the fact that I am not giving others the opportunity to understand me, because I am not allowing myself to be truly ‘seen’.
Sitting diagonally across from each other, in our small therapy room, the obvious disconnect in worldviews was palpable, almost comical. My therapist said I found it hard to trust and believe that I was understood. To her, the significant and profound realisation was the fact that I do not assume that I am understood. To me, the significant and profound realisation was the fact that other people do. Thus demonstrating that in fact, she had not really understood me at all. Alanis Morissette, take note – there’s something that’s actually ironic.
May 19, 2014 at 1:01 am
Good post. The phenomena you write about were also described in psychodynamic books I read about BPD. Those writers would call the need to be understand/feel close to another the “need for merger” or “fusion”. The strong urge for that experience can be understood as a wish to gain or recapture the feeling of closeness with a mother figure that was never provided sufficiently in childhood. I often felt this painful, urgent need in my late teens and early 20s. Feeling the strong need for merger, and then defending against that need (i.e. approaching and then avoiding people, also known as “ambivalent symbiosis”) becomes a difficult borderline pattern that it is necessary to develop insight into to overcome.
May 19, 2014 at 7:26 pm
Thank you 🙂 For the as usual very interesting reply, and the comment on my post! Jane was a psychodynamic psychotherapist and was clearly very familiar with the ‘need for merger’. I tried to get across to her that that’s how I felt about her, but I’m not sure if I succeeded! ‘Ambivalent symbiosis’ sounds as though it’s essentially the ‘borderline push-pull’ that I’ve often read about, and experienced. Still experience, frequently, with two good friends, two of a handful of people who know about my diagnosis. And I felt the ambivalence extremely strongly back in February, when I thought the prospect of returning to therapy with Jane was imminent. It was what I had been craving for months, but I found as it got closer that part of me was really scared at the prospect of getting completely engulfed and overwhelmed by all those feelings again, even though I desperately wanted it. It was interesting, actually, that this time round, when I thought Jane might have a space for me after Easter, I had none of the same anxieties about going back. Somehow I felt more at peace with the fact that leaving my current therapy and going back to her, was the right decision. Maybe that says an awful lot more about my current therapy, than it does about any situation of ambivalent symbiosis with Jane! Thank you again for the information and your really helpful insights 🙂
May 20, 2014 at 12:16 am
Thank you. You should write more about Jane sometime; it sounds like she is a good therapist. I remember feeling a great loss after leaving one particular therapist, and feeling a great fear that I could never replace her adequately. Luckily, I was wrong.
May 22, 2014 at 10:10 pm
I do want to write more about Jane. About why I felt our therapy worked, and what was great about her. In a way, I’m scared that I will write it down and then there will be nothing else left to say. That that will be it. That all we went through and did will make up just a few words on a page. But it will also be a record, a reminder, and there are things I definitely don’t want to forget. It’s so difficult that unlike most cases where you have something by which to remember someone you’re grieving, I have no record of what she looked like or how she sounded. I can still remember – but one day I won’t, and that’s a scary prospect too….How did you get over the loss? And how did you let yourself feel the same way about someone else? Did you look for someone ‘like them’, or were they quite different? Do feel free to email me if you’d rather reply in a different forum! Thank you again for your input, which means a lot.
May 22, 2014 at 11:21 pm
Sure, what is your email again? Or send me a message at bpdtransformation (dot) gmail (dot) com
May 23, 2014 at 11:07 pm
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply so fully over email – it is very much appreciated! I am preparing to go away for the weekend right now, but should get a chance to reply ‘properly’ over the next few days….
May 20, 2014 at 12:55 pm
Oh that urge to merge (love that term haha) – I was nodding my head while reading your post because it all made so much sense to me! I must admit that I find my BPD oddly in ‘remission’ at times, as in I can handle ‘separateness’ much better (or at all). However, most of the time, it seems to be an intolerable condition that drives my every decision and action. Going through darker times seems, bizarrely, to help because the reality of the human condition (as I see it anyway) is fully allowed to sink in and, although it can seem overwhelming, it hasn’t overwhelmed me yet. “We are all alone – and yet I’m still here,” is kind of how it feels at those times. Is any of this making sense or is it just me off on a morning ramble? lol Thanks for the great post – sending you big hugs! xxxxxxx
May 22, 2014 at 10:15 pm
I do have times when I feel ‘normal’ for a very short while (I must admit these days it’s literally a matter of the odd day or two). You’re definitely making sense – it’s a very coherent morning ramble! 🙂 I’m not sure how or why I’m still here. Often I just wish that I would end up actually overwhelmed and that my seemingly bottomless pit of resilience would reach its bottom 🙂 It feels like way too much – why isn’t it too much? Thank you for the comment, and sending you big hugs too 🙂 Looking forward to our next chance to chat – let me know when you will be around! xxxxx
May 22, 2014 at 11:52 pm
I guess what is also ironic is that i absolutely feel as if i have understood this post. I have had the same thoughts throughout my life, and definitely suffered with an invalidating adolesence.
Anyway- i dont think there is such a thing as “most people” traits. There are millions of people on earth and these traits arent saved for bpd alone. I think western psychology builds too many boxes to fit people in.
Im having trouble coming up with a response, however i saw you liked one of my posts and i was pleasantly surprised with your insights.
May 23, 2014 at 11:05 pm
Thank you, I really appreciate your comment. I agree that everyone’s experience is different, and that even if, for the purposes of diagnosis, for example, people seem to fit under certain ‘umbrellas’, we all see the world through a slightly different coloured lens, and that goes for people with no ‘diagnosis’ as well for people who have one. One of the reasons I personally found that CBT didn’t work for me, is that I felt it was trying to put my experience into a particular ‘model’ or ‘box’, and things were in reality much more complex than the model seemed to allow for…..
May 24, 2014 at 12:03 am
Yeah. Absolutely. I find alot of inspiration reading through your blog. Dispite all the hardship- you seem to almost embrace your internal battles. I have alot of respect for this. I am learning to do so myself. Learning about shame has really helped alot in this regard. Have you ever seen a film called, “crooked beauty”? It is a very amazing film on mental illness- very radical approach, something i highly resonate with. There is a trailer on youtube- and you can purchase the dvd online. The director is wonderful. The trailer made me cry. I agree that many therapy models have a way of institutionalizing even those who arent currently behind locked doors. I find that western psychology has roots in many oppressive features that actually contribute to (or create) mental illness. What i mean by that really, is certain aspects of our society (such as sexism and classim) that consequently disempower many people from early on. This has an impact on mental illness definitely. That film i mentioned talks about this too. Anyway i better stop before i dont stop lol. Respect your way- and if you ever need a place to vent or talk i am always available.
May 25, 2014 at 10:29 pm
Thank you, I really appreciate your words (and I think that’s definitely the first time someone has mentioned ‘inspiration’ and me in the same sentence!). I think I know what you mean about embracing the battles – but at the same time, I don’t quite know what to do with them, or how to resolve them….maybe that’s the next step 🙂 I haven’t seen that film, but will definitely look it up. And thank you for the offer of venting, which is again appreciated – I need to learn to be able to ‘allow myself’ to vent, without feeling like I’m imposing. Things are never simple 🙂
May 23, 2014 at 9:17 am
Argh this is so relatable! You write about it so well.
May 23, 2014 at 10:59 pm
Thank you so much Hazel 🙂 What really helps me is finding posts by others that I find relatable, so I’m really glad this one spoke to you, and hope it helps…..
June 3, 2014 at 4:58 am
I really liked this post and could relate to a lot of it, would you mind if I re-blogged it?
June 3, 2014 at 5:54 am
I wouldn’t mind at all, please feel free to reblog at any time! 🙂 I am so glad you liked it and could relate to it 🙂
June 4, 2014 at 4:28 am
Reblogged this on Marci, Mental Health, & More and commented:
This is a great post which explains why some people with Borderline Personality Disorder have such intense interpersonal relationships. Especially when they flip from being over involved:
“Wanting to be understood can be the force that drives us so strongly to connect with another individual that it tries to push all boundaries, physical and emotional, out of the way. ”
“However, wanting to be understood can also be the force that drives us to put up barriers and build barricades behind which we hide ourselves. The desire is so strong, that when it is not met, or met ‘imperfectly’, the inevitable result is devastating pain and disappointment. We dare not take the risk of making ourselves vulnerable, or trying to explain how we feel, because we could not bear the pain of being misunderstood, particularly by those we most yearn to be close to.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
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June 5, 2014 at 11:39 am
June 5, 2014 at 9:09 pm
Thank you so much for reading and commenting 🙂
June 21, 2014 at 1:31 am
Reblogged this on MAKE BPD STIGMA-FREE!.
June 22, 2014 at 9:08 pm
I’m so glad you liked this – thank you for reblogging!
June 23, 2014 at 1:21 pm
June 21, 2014 at 2:36 am
Reblogged this on THE BORDERLINE PERSONALITY BLISS AND MESS and commented:
The hardest craving of all. Hard to accept, hard to deal with. Hard to live with it.
Read this post, if you want to know a little bit more, what is it like to be a BPD owner.
June 22, 2014 at 9:09 pm
Thank you so much for re-blogging – I’m glad it struck a chord…..
LikeLiked by 1 person
June 22, 2014 at 9:22 pm
You had crushed it to the core.
That’s why I admire your posts.
You always get to the core, no matter what the topic is.
Thank you. 🙂
June 22, 2014 at 9:46 pm
Thank you Tina 🙂 Now you’ve REALLY got me smiling. I think you’ve just made my day 🙂
When you write, you do it for so many reasons: for yourself, for others, to give and receive support…at the end of the day you would like it to _mean_ something to someone, and so it’s great when you hear that it does. Thank YOU. 🙂
June 22, 2014 at 10:03 pm
Oh thank you!
Now you made my day!
You really do an amazing job and I just love to read your posts. I relate to them, you are hitting the right spot, and you do it fantastic.
Just keep on writing, Tina is your’s follower, a real one, indeed. 😀
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June 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm
This was a great post. I relate to all you said. Over the years, and I’m mainly talking about the years in my adult ages, I’ve had moments of realization like what you had described. Moments of pure mind-boggle, when I’ve come to find out that most people go through life thinking or assuming one thing, and here I am on the whole other side of the fence. Completely unaware that there is another side of the fence, let alone a fence at all.
It’s almost a scary place to be. How did I get here? Just how many people are on the other side? Sadder so when you find out that almost the whole rest of the world is on the other side. The only similarity is that they, too, do not know that the fence exists, or that I’m over here living a whole other world of my own, right aside them.
Thank you for posting this. I feel for your with your marriage. Exposing this part of you, to the one person you want/need the most, is a scary thing. I remember when I finally told my boyfriend. I was so so afraid. If there is anything I can do, let me know.
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June 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm
Thank you so much for reading, and for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad you could relate, and I love your description of most people being unaware that there is even a fence to be the other side of, when it comes to a lot of BPD traits and viewpoints….this feels so true, and on the odd occasion when I have had the courage to talk to my husband about my feelings, that sensation of ‘being from a different planet’, or ‘on the other side of the fence’ has really been brought home to me. I can see that he really doesn’t understand where I’m coming from at all. I very much appreciate your offer of support/help, and thank you for reaching out- it’s both fantastic and humbling to be part of a support network that may be ‘virtual’ but is so ‘present’ and real and compassionate. Thank you again.
July 1, 2014 at 9:14 pm
This resonates strongly with me.
Then there’s this other side when you finally are understood by someone, and you become very attached to them emotionally.
July 2, 2014 at 9:03 pm
Thank you for your comment Lunna Raven 🙂 I completely agree, the sense of being understood has amazing power to draw you close to someone. I sometimes find that the very act of ‘unburdening my thoughts and feelings’ to someone is enough to launch me straight into immensely strong attachment. And it’s one of the reasons why becoming emotionally attached to one’s therapist happens so often, and sometimes so easily….
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July 9, 2014 at 8:10 pm
Reblogged this on Depression Hub and commented:
Do you feel that you are understood by most people most of the time?
Do you have a sense that you are on the same plane as most other people, and that you are an actor on the same stage as all the others?
Personally, I cannot say that these things are true for me. But I suppose that, after 53 years of living with depression in one form or another, I have grown accustomed to it. The world I live in is one in which I am somewhat apart, somewhat of an observer.
I often do not feel I am “in the movie”; rather I feel like I am the viewer rather than the actor.
The writer below, who has a BPD diagnosis, talks about how she wrestles with the problem of feeling “not understood”, of feeling not connected. A powerful and poignant piece, and one that is hard to answer if you are determined not to resort to platitudes.
Of platitudes she has probably had her fill……………
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July 27, 2014 at 8:01 pm
Many apologies for the delay, I thought that I had replied to your comment! Thank you so much for reblogging, and for your very kind comments 🙂
July 27, 2014 at 8:17 pm
You are very welcome. I thought yours was a powerful piece, a cry from the heart.
I was in my early forties before I figured out that my experience of life was fundamentally different from that of others. That was an important insight that helped me to get a lot better, and to stop being so damned tough on myself.
Your understanding of yourself as operating in different principles than the “average” guy or gal may perhaps be important for you to hold onto. Perhaps you may be presented with a choice: do I want to change this situation, or not? The realization of the truth of your situation may open doors to self-acceptance, which, of itself, is very healing.
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July 29, 2014 at 9:45 pm
Hi Gene – thank you! Yes, I do think that it has been important for me to realise that my ‘starting assumptions’ can be very different to the those of ‘most people’. It can help when trying to rationalise through those very difficult and painful situations where you feel a certain way, but intellectually you also know that those feelings are not necessarily an accurate reflection of reality. Validating those feelings whilst also recognising that they are part of different world-view, which others may not share, can help to ease that pain a little bit. And yes, it can help with self-acceptance too. I completely agree that self-acceptance can be incredibly healing – I find it very hard, but the small extent to which I have sometimes been able to do it, has been positive.Thank you again for your comments, and take care too!
July 27, 2014 at 8:49 am
Rather impressing and – most of all – true words. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I can see myself in a lot of things you said … and that helps! Knowing to be understood (and if only by reading what someone else experiences) – yes, that’s it!
July 27, 2014 at 8:29 pm
Thank you! 🙂 I’m glad it struck a chord, and that you can relate to the post – it definitely helps whenever we feel better understood, whether that’s through someone’s verbal comment, or through reading about someone else’s experience, which is very similar to our own. Seeing myself in others’ blog posts has been a huge help to me in the past. Thank you for reading and commenting!
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