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.

Accepting otherness and separateness

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caring and separateness in BPD

I wrote these words, and placed them on this image, during the winter of 2014. I think it may have been shortly after writing ‘My borderline mind‘, which itself was written following some very emotionally challenging and intense therapy sessions. They were sessions in which I was testing my therapist, in which I was agonising over  seeing everything through the lens of ‘obsessional attachment’, and in which I was despairing over ever being able to ‘do therapy right’. But they were also the sessions that culminated in the wonderful and precious occasion, described in ‘Waiting revisited‘, when my therapist mentioned her caring for me – something I was so desperate for and had doubted so often.

Though I don’t remember the details of the sessions that followed, I wrote the following to a friend of mine, very shortly after that occasion: “What I am finding really interesting at the moment (and I think it is really important) is the fact that she didn’t realise she’d said something that was that huge for me. Or rather, she didn’t remember exactly what she’s said, and that really does show me that she’s not in my head (!) and I think, eventually, it’s going to teach me something about people’s ‘otherness’ and freedom to be authentically themselves while still being able to be there for me…..but that’s a long way from being internalised or even properly accepted.

Those sessions were indeed the start of a lesson about the possibility of being cared for and caring for someone else deeply, while remaining separate people, and without the need for the complete ‘merger’ that I had always longer for. This lesson continued to be cultivated and embedded over many many months of sessions, and different experiences of conflict and misunderstading, caring and ‘repair’, with my therapist. Around eight months later, I wrote the following, as part of a different post: “I used to want so much to merge indivisibly with Jane, my ex-therapist. But it occurs to me now that if I’m swallowed up by my therapist, I cannot see her – and I really, really want to see her. And to be seen. And that’s only possible if we do not occupy the same space.

The truth that began to dawn on me in December 2014 is now much more an accepted and lived out part of my life. I still have a deep and intense hunger and need to be loved, but that’s no longer associated with merger with another person, in the way that it used to be. It feels okay, even desirable, for that love to exist between two independent people who can truly see each other and have the freedom to care for each other because of their separateness, and not in spite of it. When it comes to my feelings for my therapist, I love her and I want to be loved by her; I want to walk alongside her and be with her, as we work together. And I want to be part of her in so far as I want her to keep me in mind and to remember me, and I want to be a significant part of her experience and her memories, just as she is, for me. But I don’t feel the need for the kind of ‘metaphysical’ merger that I used to crave; a merger that involved some kind of mingling of our atoms and a complete absorption of me into everything that she is. I used to want to lose myself in people; but now it strikes me that that defeats the point of wanting to be loved. I want to be found, seen, accepted and loved as a separate and special person, and I want to return the same feelings – and that requires separateness, and the freedom to be authentically ourselves.

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13 thoughts on “Accepting otherness and separateness

  1. You just have the most amazing posts and insight!!
    I too wanted so desperately to merge but I still have big issues with the boundaries where she won’t be friends, sometimes even take me home with her when I feel really little and generally let me be a part of her life outside of the therapeutic hour.
    I am challenging her each time I feel I need to “keep” her in my life but not as a therapist.
    I await her return to continue these talks and secretly hoping that one day I will win!

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    • I’ve been feeling the ‘we don’t have a friendship’ thing quite strongly at the moment, as my therapist is abroad visiting good friends, and somehow that feels worse than the times when she goes away with her husband. It really brings home the fact that we can never have a ‘normal friendship’ and they get to see sides of her I never will. Then I try and console myself with the thought I see her 3 hours a week, which is far more often than she sees most friends, and I see a side of her that only her clients see…..but it’s still really hard…..thank you again for your lovely comment 🙂

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  2. I read your post this morning, and then had my last session before a three week therapy break. I recognised so much of what you describe – the desperate need to feel cared for, and the pain of separateness, the desire to merge. I’ve been struggling for some time to accept that my therapist and I, like everyone, have separate lives and that we all have to, and only can, live our own lives. I’ve been thinking of this in terms of Erich Fromm’s definition of love as care, respect, responsibility and knowledge, which we need to have for ourselves as well as for each other, and which is based on understanding each one of us as worthy of such love in our own way. It is a struggle, and I find it hard to imagine why amyone would want to care for me. You so often describe things so well in a way that’s new to me, but really makes sense of something I’ve been struggling with. I love your image of us having to be in different spaces to be able to see each other, and your post today helped me tell my therapist how I feel, and go into the three week break with a feeling of having been “seen”. I just hope I’ll be able to sustain that for long enough.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment, and I’m really glad this was helpful for you. Like you, I find it hard to understand why anyone would care for me (unless they had a ‘biological imperative’ for doing so). I’m glad you were able to tell your therapist how you feel, and it’s wonderful that you were able to feel heard 🙂 That is definitely a feeling that can help to sustain through a break (or at least part of it!) and I hope you found that too….how has it been? Is it almost over now? I hope you’ve been keeping okay, and that returning to sessions goes well…take care!

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  3. This is incredible insight. I too have the desire to “merge” (completely and 100%) with other people. The “I want to see her, and be seen, and that’s only possible if we do not occupy the same space…” that really hit me hard. I’m far from internalizing it myself, but you’ve definitely given me some wonderful food for thought (and even something to bring up with my own therapist!). xx

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    • I’m so glad it struck a chord with you 🙂 And there are so many things that struck a chord with me (like this post!) that I didn’t actually ‘internalise’ until much later, but I think it happens when you’re ready…..hope you had a good discussion about it with your therapist! Thank you so much for commenting….

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  4. You have written this post with the most amazing insight. When I read it, the words really struck a chord and brought home an important message to me. As ‘Blooming Lily’ quoted (above) ‘I too have the desire to merge (completely and 100%) with other people …………only possible if we do not occupy the same space’ was something I definitely needed to read today and is something that I too, will talk about in my own therapy. Thank you for sharing this xxx

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  5. I had at least one patient who had the fantasy of being so tiny that she might fit in my pocket and be with me all the time. Perhaps we all want to get back into the womb at one time or another. Your solution and progress to that solution, however, are the best we have — and we must make them the best.

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