Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org under the name Clara Bridges.

Are you receiving me – BPD, communication and expectations

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I may write blog posts and enjoy giving presentations, but in many ways, I have a BIG problem with communication. I think the difficulty is two-fold: on the one hand it stems from the desperate desire to be understood (which I described in a previous post) and the fear that communication will not result in the understanding or acceptance that I crave.

On the other hand, my difficulty with communication also stems from something which, just like fellow blogger and friend Cat Earnshaw from ‘Half of a Soul – Life with BPD’, I believe is at the core of BPD. And that is the issue of EXPECTATIONS. ‘Expectations’ writ large – the way they are inside the minds of so many with this diagnosis. We withdraw and stop communicating when we feel betrayed and disappointed because our expectations are not met; and sometimes we don’t realise we need to communicate how we think or feel, because our expectation is that the other person does, or should, already know.

Cat Earnshaw titled her post on expectations, “If you’re going to read one post I write, please let it be this one”. If you’re going to read one post on expectations, please let it be that one. (Although I admit I’d also appreciate you coming back to this post!). It’s one of those wonderful pieces of writing that, at least for me, describes a phenomenon exactly as I experience it.

So what is it, exactly, that we expect? In some cases, it is nothing short of perfection: someone who is perfect for us; a perfect relationship; perfect patience; perfect words; perfect understanding; perfect care. Someone who will always be there, who will put our needs first, and who will never let us down. I would suggest that few of these are conscious expectations – our logical brains know that perfection is unattainable and human beings are fallible. But our hearts, and our emotion-minds, and those very young parts of us that have not yet been able to grow up, think and feel very differently. They still believe that perfect care is possible – they still need it to be true.

That need gives rise, I think, to an incredibly heightened sensitivity and reactivity to others’ words and actions, to the extent that everything someone says, does, doesn’t say or doesn’t do, can become evidence of that person’s lack of caring. Much though I hate it, I know that when I’m in that frame of mind and being triggered by my expectations, regardless of what may be going on in someone’s life that influences the way they relate to me, in my mind it all becomes about how they feel about me. This leads to me being much more likely to become wary or suspicious of them; to misinterpret or read things into what they say; to feel wronged by them; to feel jealousy towards them, particularly with respect to their attention and time; and to want to test them, or more accurately, to test their caring for me. My instinctive reaction to these feelings is often to want to blame others and to ‘punish’ them for the crushing disappointment and rejection that I feel. And the greatest punishment I can inflict is the one I fear the most myself – distancing, pushing away, and withdrawing communication.

But for me, the greatest threat to communication is not withdrawing it, but assuming it. Undoubtedly one of the largest and most crippling expectations that I have, is what my ex-therapist called the expectation of ‘magical thinking’. That is, the assumption that others could (and should) be able to know what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling, without me having to tell them. ‘Half of a Soul – Life with BPD’ referred to this as someone being able to telepathically intuit my every need, for ever. The expectation of magical thinking plays havoc with communication and with relationships and its poison lies not just in its assumption of another’s knowing how I think or feel, but in the importance and meaning that is attached to that assumption.

Put simply, part of me holds this unshakable belief. That if someone really understands me and cares about me, they should know what I need without me having to ask, and they should know what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling, without me having to put it into words. And consequently, if they don’t know, they don’t really care or understand. Moreover, part of that unshakable belief is that if I have to ask for those things (for example, if I have to ask for reassurance, or ask for a hug), it diminishes their value, in two ways. Those things can no longer serve as ‘evidence’ of caring and understanding; and I can no longer be sure that they are ‘freely given’. Part of me feels that if I have to ask for something, emotionally, then it is not my due, and I do not deserve or merit it. If I have to ask for something, emotionally, I feel that the giving is in response to my coercion, and not to a genuine feeling within the other person.

It’s a fallacy. I know that it is. But it feels so incredibly logical. It feels so incredibly true.

And as with any other of these seemingly logical expectations, when they are not met, the accompanying feelings are a whirlwind of rejection, blame and hurt. I spoke about blaming and punishing others, but we also blame and punish ourselves. Just tonight, I read a post on ‘Big battles, small victories’, which I think was also, at root, about expectations (apologies to the author, if this is not the case!), and which contained the line “I want to hurt myself again”. Every time I feel crushed because my expectations are not met, I want to hurt myself again.

I suspect that for almost everyone reading this who has BPD, the phenomenon of ‘great expectations’ is a familiar one. But it’s also worth saying that it’s possible to carry on with life and with relating to people for years, without realising the powerful force that lies within, waiting to be triggered. ‘So Illuminate Me’ said, in one of her posts, “My BPD often comes out more, when I genuinely care for someone”. And so it is with BPD and the expectations we have of people. Our exceptionally high expectations, and the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that flow from those, seem to manifest mostly in relation to those we feel closest to. In my own case, they manifest in relation to those to whom I have made myself vulnerable, and those to whom I have made myself more fully known. And because I spent the majority of my life being determined never to be fully known, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve experienced the painful phenomenon of BPD expectations on a much more regular basis.

Although I’ve made progress over the last couple of years in terms of revealing more of myself to a very small number of friends, I’m still very wary of widening that ‘inner circle’. Part of me doesn’t want to add yet another person to the list of those who trigger me in this way. I’ve tried to understand how it happens – how someone can go from being outside that circle one minute, to crossing the line into the centre of it, in an instant. I think it’s a complicated picture involving a number of factors: it’s about me sharing a great deal of myself, and my feelings and thoughts; it’s about the other person having either explicitly or implicitly given some sort of commitment to ‘be there’ for me; it’s about trust; and it’s about me testing that trust and commitment by revealing ever more ‘difficult’ things. Sometimes the very process of ‘unburdening’ myself to someone can lead to an immediate and invisible bond being forged between us, which may be very real to me, but which the other person may be completely oblivious to.

Given the fact that my expectations tend to be triggered by the factors described above, it’s unsurprising that I experience these feelings with respect to my therapists (both past and present). This is particularly true of me at the moment, and as it is such a recurring theme in my therapy, I intend to write about it separately.

In the meantime, however, I wanted to leave you with a quote from an excellent post I came across on ‘Tracing the rainbow through the rain’. Although it is mainly about BPD and ‘competence’, it describes how I experience the problem of expectations so exactly, and so completely, that I wanted to quote the relevant paragraph in full. In particular, it talks about the expectation of magical thinking, and about how it applies in the context of medical professionals and service users. I hope you came back from Cat Earnshaw’s post to this one, if only to read this paragraph:

“Paradoxically, whilst constructing a mask of competence and coping with excessive levels of stress and responsibility, I would vilify those closest to me along with medical professionals for not seeing my real needs. Effectively, I would blame everyone around me for not being mind readers. This is one of the greatest challenges to professionals trying to help those with BPD who display apparent competence. I will not openly tell you about my emotional distress, but I will hold you accountable for not seeing ‘through’ my mask of competence and I will make you ‘suffer’ as a consequence. My outward co-operation as a service user was tempered by a harsh assessment of those seeking to help me, particularly if I felt they couldn’t see through my outward competence. If anyone failed to ask the ‘right’ question, or misread my mood on any given day, then progress for that day would be painful if not halted.”

The tragedy of expectations is how self-defeating they are: we are so desperate for someone to truly ‘see’ us, that we pull down the blinds simply because they fail to ‘see through us’. We make ourselves invisible, by not accepting the inherent invisibility of our minds.

Somewhere deep down, we are still the infant who believes that she and mother are one being; we are still the toddler who believes that everyone else knows and sees what she does. These are the growing pains of BPD. 

 

 

[If you read the comments on Half of a Soul’s post ‘If you’re going to read one post I write, please let it be this one’, you may notice a strong similarity between my post above, and the comments of ‘Still Hiding’. That is because ‘Still Hiding’ was the ‘name’ I used before I started blogging and before I created ‘Life in a Bind’!]

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26 thoughts on “Are you receiving me – BPD, communication and expectations

  1. Reblogged this on spoonfullsofmagic and commented:
    I needed this right now. Too much black and white thinking tonight along with splitting, and I’m truly trying to face this part of myself

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    • Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad I was able to help – it’s always a comfort to come across the right thing at the right time, and it’s one of the privileges of blogging to very occasionally be able to provide that for someone. Splitting is so painful – I’m going through it again myself at the moment,and I’m thinking of you and hope you are able to work through it, slowly. Keep in touch..!

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  2. Thanks for writing down what goes through my head all the time and what I’d never be able to communicate in such a brilliant way!

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  3. Reblogged this on Thoughts of a Lost Princess and commented:
    What a great description of some of the most hardly to understand parts of BPD!

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    • I see reblogging as a real compliment – thank you so much for doing so, and for your own words about the post…..

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      • Well, as I already mentioned somewhere else do I have this attention deficit problem (yeah, ADHD) and this makes it quite difficult for me (and sometimes impossible) to transform my thoughts into words. So I was truly thankful when I read exactly what goes through my mind and could simply reblog it.

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  4. “Moreover, part of that unshakable belief is that if I have to ask for those things (for example, if I have to ask for reassurance, or ask for a hug), it diminishes their value, in two ways. Those things can no longer serve as ‘evidence’ of caring and understanding; and I can no longer be sure that they are ‘freely given’.” This is so me. I don’t think I could have explained it any better and my case manager looks at me odd when I respond that if I ask for what I want/need then the person is only doing it because I asked. I’ve never heard anyone else say this… do you mind if I link this post on my FB page or re-blog it, with my thoughts?

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    • Thank you so much for the kind words, and I’m very glad to find others who think this way too! It seems to be yet another example where the BPD worldview can be poles apart from the non-BP mind-set. I’m sorry that your case manager doesn’t seem to understand this – have they read any of your posts (would you want them to ?!). I am always thankful and humbled to be reblogged, I see it a real compliment, so please do go ahead! A reblog or post on FB (or both!) would be fine, and very much appreciated, thank you. I would be very very interested indeed to read your thoughts on it, and I always like to add mine when I do a reblog, as I think it’s really helpful to know what prompted someone to reblog a post, and what struck a chord. Sometimes it can be really good to have two similar but slightly different perspectives side by side….Many thanks again!

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  5. Wow! That explains an awful lot. I have one lone friend. I’ve pushed everyone else away because in some way they betrayed me. I never knew this was linked to bipolar instilling bigger expectations. You’ve really given me something to think about. Thank you very much 🙂

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    • Thank you, you’re welcome 🙂 I know there’s a big overlap between some of the aspects and symptoms of BPD and Bipolar, particularly Bipolar II. I can only speak of my experience of BPD, but because of these overlap areas, I’m not surprised that at least some people with Bipolar experience it too, as you do. The overlap is an area I’m really interested in, would like to read more about, and perhaps write about too. I suspect that as with many with BPD, I have a co-morbid mood disorder as well, and I am currently trying to work my way through the mental health system, to get an assessment to see if there is indeed a missing diagnosis. My GP has referred me, but there seem to be a million and one steps between that, and getting to a psychiatrist! It was so much easier last time, when I was in state-funded CBT therapy, and they referred me direct to a psychiatrist….! I’m glad my post was food for thought, and if you have any thoughts you want to share, do feel free, or if you post about them, I’m looking forward to reading! 🙂

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      • Thank you! Yes, the overlap is fascinating. What really hit me was everyone knows that bipolar moods are extreme, and in the same way should be applied to expectations. My lone friend often tells me I’m too hard on myself and because I set the bar so high for me, I have high expectations of others. I really see this a pattern, and now, thanks to you, I can put a logical reasoning behind it. Thank you again 🙂

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  6. Yours is one of the blogs I delight in. I admire your commitment to your personal health and wellbeing, and to the courage it takes to translate your life experiences into the blogging environment so that we all may learn and be inspired. That being said, I’m thrilled to nominate you for The Liebster Award. Please head to my site https://piecesofbipolar.wordpress.com/category/awards/ to check out all the details. There is no obligation to accept this award. Please just know that you brighten my day

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    • Thank you SO much for this comment. The brightening is most definitely reciprocal, and your comments here have most definitely made my day! :)Thank you so much for the nomination – it means a lot 🙂 You may have read my 2 posts about blog awards – if not, they explain why I’m delighted to be nominated, and take awards for the compliment that they are, but struggle to ‘officially’ accept them. Thank you for saying there’s no obligation to do so 🙂 I am honoured and delighted, but most of all pleased and touched that you enjoy reading, and that my writing makes a difference. Thank you again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re most welcome! And I understand the struggle to accept the award. Had a bit of a wrestling match myself 🙂 I’m just happy to know that you feel recognized and appreciated

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      • Thank you 🙂 I’m glad you understand, and I can reassure you that not only do I feel recognized and appreciated, but that your comment came at a time when I really really needed to hear it, and to know that that was the case, as I couldn’t escape out from under thoughts that were the complete opposite of feeling recognized and appreciated…..at the risk of sounding slightly self-obsessed (!), do you mind if I ask you to elaborate a little on what you meant by your comment on my commitment to my personal health and well-being? I’m asking because I know that we often see ourselves differently to how others see us, and I guess my own beliefs about myself may be different to how others see me, or they may have seen something that I have missed. I tend to think of myself as being very poor at looking after myself, in so many way (self-harm, not enough sleep, not eating well etc), and yet your comment must have stemmed from something different, and it would be interesting to know what, as it might give me a different perspective on myself! 🙂

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      • I know what’s its like being pinned in place by your mind. I haven’t had a very good week myself. I resort to the bare bones of existing – get to work, personal hygiene and food. My comment – what a valid point that will be interesting to analyse. My memory is awful. Let me go back to some of our chats. I’ll pick up the train of thought I had and get back to you. Be reassured, we all understand. And we all appreciate one another, because we are the ones that KNOW what it feels like. I’m new on here, but that’s been my overwhelming experience – love, acceptance, tolerance and encouragement.

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      • I’m so sorry for my delay in replying to your comments – I am on holiday, and not checking as often! Thank you so much for your reply and reassurance. Appreciation is definitely the right word, and that is what I have found here as well. Like you, I’m relatively new on here too, but the support and tolerance have been humbling, and I genuinely feel as though I have made some wonderful connections, and also a small number of friendships, which I hope will last some time….

        Liked by 1 person

      • The content of your posts are intelligent and written with insight and authority (you know your subject). To me, that would mean that firstly, you’ve sacrificed a lot of time learning about your illness with the intent to improve your health (reading, researching, self-reflection leading to greater self-awareness). But you haven’t stopped there. You’ve also had the courage to stand up and be heard on a public platform that is worldwide. By sharing, you’ve made yourself vulnerable so that others’ may benefit from your experience and insight. Simply put, based on your blog, you strike me as brave, informed, self-confident and compassionate. Funnily enough, I view myself as you’ve just described yourself. Yet I see you as someone who has got it all together. Perceptions are intriguing, aren’t they 🙂 Any further questions, please ask away

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      • Now I’m blushing 🙂 Thank you for your thoughtful and kind reply, which I really appreciate! Perceptions are indeed intriguing 🙂 It’s odd – a couple of people have used similar words to describe what I ‘present’ to the outside world. The ‘persona’ that has nothing to do with mental illness, but enables me to survive and get by in the world. The reasons for those descriptions must be very different to the reasons that you have for using those words, simply because what you and they are seeing, and what you and they know, are very different. And yet the words are similar, and completely different to the way in which I see myself. I do place a lot of store by self-awareness, and I’m fortunate, I guess, that I find these issues interesting, and so reading about them (whatever time I get to read, which is not very much!) is not a chore. However, I always want to be honest, and so I cannot hand-on-heart claim that the sole (or even main) intent is to improve my health. Part of me really does want that – but part of me is still very scared of improvement and change. ‘Getting better’ feels as if it would involve putting certain parts of me to death, and I’m not sure how to deal with that at the moment. I think I have made progress over the last year – I am less scared of ‘recovery’ than I was, and feel more motivated to do the work of change as well as the work of exploration and self-reflection, but it’s very often one step forward and multiple steps back, including in terms of motivation and intent. But I think trying to see ourselves as others see us, can be so important, and I’m really grateful for your perceptiveness and your comments, and for your honesty. And everything you’ve said about me, I wish you could also apply to yourself – you too have had the courage to stand and be heard. If I am brave and compassionate, so are you! And thank you for the invitation to continue asking questions – I am sure I will take you up on it again 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha, I’m delighted you have found joy in my observation/perception. I certainly understand recovery implying the death of parts of you. I’m at that point right now 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your holiday

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      • Thank you! I always appreciate and find joy in your comments x

        Liked by 1 person

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