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.

How do we come to know things?

13 Comments

experienceI am suffering post-therapy confusion. Rather like being sure that you have forgotten something, but are not quite sure what it is, I feel as though I am missing something fundamental about human interaction, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

My therapist believes that I should come to know certain things through experience, rather than through words. “Do you care about me?” “Are you interested in the ‘grown-up me’ as well as the ‘child me’?” “Is it okay that I have these feelings for you?” “Do I annoy you sometimes?” 

So many questions on my part- so much verbal reassurance needed from my therapist, but not always given. When I raise the question – “why is reassurance not given?” – the answer is always that I will come to know the answers for myself, by experiencing them.

But I don’t understand why this should be the case. I don’t understand why it is so important that I learn the lesson of coming to know something through experience. Words are so important to me – I feel I need to hear something, in order for it to be unambiguous, and in order for me to remember it. For me, actions and events are open to interpretation, and the memories of them easily lose coherence and details fade. In contrast, I store up words in my mind, and play them over and over again to reinforce a message or a belief – to remind myself that something is true (or, at least as true as the words themselves). Once committed to memory, the words are always there, always powerful, always reassuring.

Is it really the case that ‘knowing through words’ is but a pale reflection of ‘knowing through experience’? What about that deep sense within me, that firmly believes, “how can I tell what someone thinks, until I see what they say?“.

Before I can learn the lesson of ‘knowledge through experience’, do I have to understand why the lesson is important? And is that something that I can be told, or just one more thing that I must come to know through experience?

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13 thoughts on “How do we come to know things?

  1. Very good post. I agree that it is difficult to understand because some times the experience being eluded to has to be understood first before you can assimilate the experience. That’s what therapeutic process is all about.

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    • I could not agree more. You have nailed the error in the therapist’s thinking. (To allude to something.)

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      • Thank you – and thank you for commenting! 🙂 Now that I’ve talked about it with my therapist, I understand more about why she is doing it, but I still agree that sometimes one has to just provide that verbal reassurance, and no strategy, however many merits it might have, is right all of the time….there HAS to be an argument for the use of clear and unambiguous words now and again, alongside the ‘learning from experience’…

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  2. Most people show their feelings through their actions. I’m a word person myself as well, but the rest of the world doesn’t seem to work that way. Maybe your therapist is just trying to better prepare you for the world?

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    • Thank you so much for your comment, and it’s good to know I’m not alone in this! I agree, it seems most other people seem to value action above words. I think you’re right about what my therapist was trying to do. We discussed it at the last session, and it seems that what she is doing it two-fold. She is using a particular technique or strategy within the framework of therapy, in order to ensure that space is left for analysis and for thinking about what lies behind the requests for reassurance. And given that open-ended therapy seems to be ‘spiral’, in the sense that we keep coming back to topics at various different times, that means that no topic is ever neatly ‘finished’ with. In consequence, I can’t just say ‘let’s analyse, and then please give me the verbal reassurance!”. She doesn’t want to foreclose any therapeutic avenues by constantly providing that reassurance. But it’s not just a therapeutic strategy -she said she also wants to give me more strings to my box, or more tools in my toolbox – she wants to give me another way of being able to deal with the world, and of understanding it…all of which, I think I intellectually understand, but still find it emotionally difficult to accept! 🙂

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  3. I agree actions and events are open to interpretation, but I usually have a “actions speak louder than words” view For me, words usually pose so much doubt.

    As far as the therapeutic journey is concerned, I think words might bypass the knowledge only gained by experience. Maybe your Therapist is encouraging you to ‘step out’.

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    • Having talked it over with her, I think you’re right. She doesn’t want to close off any avenues or opportunities for further understanding or learning, by simply providing the words. I think she feels the understanding and knowledge become much more embedded and deeply felt, through experience. I really value your thoughts Cat – thank you so much for commenting on my posts, I really appreciate it. I think that quite often we come at things from a slightly different perspective, and that’s immensely helpful. I love hearing from those who feel the same as me, as it’s very reassuring. But I also love hearing from those who feel differently, and bring a different view. It challenges me, and prompts me to think outside the box. I keep meaning to let you know that over the last few weeks I have been struck and challenged by a number of your posts, particularly in the area of things I might be avoiding talking about in therapy (I know we had a brief discussion about this recently!). Things are still churning over in my mind, in that respect, but at some point they will make it out into a post 🙂 Thank you again, and I’m sorry I don’t often get the chance to comment on your posts, though I read them all as they come in…I intend to do a bit of a back-trawl over the Christmas break 🙂

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      • Your posts always give me lots to think about. I think MH blogging is a lot like therapy online. It is good to challenge ourselves, particularly as we are going through therapy in person.

        Yes, about the recent discussions we had re therapy. A few things we write about are regularly on my mind when I’m in my own sessions and have even talked about your ideas of the therapeutic relationship with my Therapist. I probably take my relationship with him for granted because I was fortunate to feel at ease immediately. Was it you who recommended the book, “Psychotherapy counselling in a Nutshell?”. I’m reading – or trying to read – that book now. It’s so packed with valuable info, I resist the temptation to highlight on every page. I might need to reread.

        I have a tendency to put myself down over what I “avoid” talking about in therapy. Perhaps we are continuing the critical voice rather than viewing it simply as ‘not being ready’

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      • Hi Cat,

        Thank you for your reply, and it’s really nice to know my posts are thought-provoking for you, just as yours are for me! 🙂 I agree blogging is a lot like therapy online – I now see blogging as an integral part of my therapy….wow, I can’t believe some of the content of my posts made it into your therapy sessions- I’d be absolutely intrigued to hear what your therapist had to say about the therapeutic relationship ideas….I’m really glad you felt at ease immediately – I had that with Jane, and it made things so much easier. It feels as though the first eight months or so of working with my current therapist were mainly trying to ‘get over’ Jane and constant comparisons with Jane, and feel more comfortable….Yes, it was me who recommended the counselling book and I know what you mean about feeling as though it’s packed with info – I wanted to read it again as soon as I had finished it, though haven’t managed that yet! The urge to highlight is precisely why I now read on a kindle 🙂 I definitely find I continue the critical voice rather than giving myself some room to come round to things and to feel ready. I’m doing it right now as I managed to avoid two really difficult topics in my session on Tuesday and just feel like I wasn’t brave enough or wasted time. Having said that, we covered stuff I’d been meaning to talk about at some stage, and I think it was helpful – sort of a very brief potted history of my life and the sort of 18 month to 2 yearly ‘cycles’ that events/overarching moods have tended to fall into. My therapist tries to be reassuring and says we can come back to things, and from various things she’s said, I think she has confidence in me and in me ‘leading’ my recovery and believes I _will_ come back to things when the time is right. I’m not sure I have that same confidence, but then again, that’s probably the critical voice talking! I’m a very impatient person – I know my sessions are completely open ended and in theory I have loads of time with her and almost certainly will come back to thinks – but it all feels so up in the air and so uncertain and ‘vague’ sometimes!

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  4. I agree with you 100%. This is something I struggle with ALL the time. I talk about this often with my therapist and struggle a lot with it in my relationship as well. The actions are open to interpretation, as you so perfectly stated. Because I analyze things so much, I need to hear the words. You can hear words, and ask questions to clarify their exact meaning. You can’t do that with actions. They are too open ended and I can’t seem to connect with them the way that I can with someone someone says to me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to rely on the actions of people to tell me what I need to know…but I am told that same message that your therapist tells you, and it leaves me just as confused.

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    • Hi, thank you so much for commenting, and it’s very good to know I’m not alone in feeling and thinking this way, and with struggling with this SO much of the time! I agree with everything you’ve said about being able to doubt actions, but being able to understand the meaning of words through clarification. I spend a lot of therapy sessions simply going back to statements from the week before, and trying to establish what was meant – or referring back to things I said and making sure I wasn’t misunderstood…..is your therapist a psychodynamic or psychoanalytic psychotherapist? It’s interesting to hear your therapist has the same approach as mine, as I think they can differ quite a lot, and much of it is down to the ‘school’ they belong to or the kind of therapist they are. I am so ‘envious’ when I hear of people being told the very things by their therapists, that I would love to hear from mine! I long for that directness and certainty and reassurance! I blame myself for not asking for it directly, but then even when I do, I will most likely not get it, so it feels too risky to keep laying myself open to that..thank you again for letting me know you know exactly where I’m coming from – there is a great deal of reassurance in that! 🙂

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      • ps I’m so sorry for my delay in replying – I somehow got all my comment approvals out of order as I didn’t realise I had earlier comments off then bottom of my screen…sometimes I don’t manage to catch up for a week or so, but this has been even longer than usual, so many apologies!

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  5. Pingback: Seeking reassurance – when the story in your own head changes | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

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