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 and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges.


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Yoga, internal parts, and therapy

In an article for the therapy website welldoing.org back in January, I wrote about the ways in which Yin yoga supports my therapy. As well as the physical and emotional benefits of a yoga practice, I mentioned that for me personally, yoga was also an opportunity to ‘catch-up’ with the ‘parts of myself’, or my internal ‘personas’. I find that though my mind doesn’t tend to wander onto the events of the day or onto my to-do-list for the coming week, it does drift off into ‘daydreams’ (or ‘yoga imaginings’ as I call them when I discuss them with my therapist). Those ‘imaginings’ tend to centre on my various internal characters, and rather than being elaborate stories, they are often only a simple set of images or interactions, often wordless.

Like dreams, I have found them fascinating to try and interpret, and also like dreams, they seem to offer insight into how I am feeling, and in particular, how I am feeling about therapy and the therapeutic relationship. I find it fascinating how my ‘imaginings’ have changed over time – but rather than changing gradually, there have been significant key differences or step-changes at particular points in time, which reflect the deepening of my therapeutic relationship and the changes that are occurring within me.

There have been three key developments in my ‘yoga imaginings’ that I have identified since I started yoga in September, the most recent of which happened only last weekend. It used to be that the only protagonists of these scenarios or images, were my internal parts, which interacted with each other. But then, on one occasion when my inner child was crying alone in the snow, next to the unfinished house described in this post (which symbolises my ‘self’ and my therapy being a ‘work in progress’), my therapist appeared in the picture, took off her blue cardigan, and put it around my inner child’s shoulders, to comfort her. Since then, the figure of my therapist has almost always been part of these imaginings, and I have taken that as a reflection of the way in which I am internalising her and am able to hold onto a connection with her – who is both my ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ therapy-mother – when we are apart.

The second change occurred within the last month, and followed on closely from the incidents described in my post ‘When I realised how much therapy has helped me change’ (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). Rather than visualising my ‘internal parts’, I found myself gazing internally at a picture of ‘adult me’ standing on a beach and looking out to sea. The air and water were calm, but in the far distance, a storm was brewing. I called out for my therapist, and she came to join me. She took my hand and we looked out at what was to come, together. I said that I was scared, and she said that she was with me. It felt significant to me, that this was the first time that ‘adult me’ had appeared in the picture, and the first time therefore that my therapist’s interaction was with that developing part of me, rather than with a younger or a more resistant aspect. Given the deep trust I have felt recently in therapy, and the strong determination to be open and vulnerable and to engage more fully, this change in my ‘yoga imaginings’ made complete sense, and acted almost like validation or verification of what was taking place both within me, and during sessions.

And then last weekend I was taken by surprise by the third change, which occurred in the form of a spontaneous ‘internal comment’. Over the last few months, four characters in particular have been dominant in my internal world and imaginings. Three of those characters feel like ‘core elements’ of myself; one has felt like an aspect that I needed to ‘win over’ and integrate in some way. That fourth character is the ‘I-don’t-care’ part of myself – the defensive, resistant part that comes to the surface to defend me and cut me off from pain and from attachment. I’ve known for a while that she is ‘problematic’ and gets in the way of me feeling my feelings and being vulnerable or authentic, but I always used to think that somehow I just needed to ‘give her a heart’ and win her over.

It was a complete surprise, therefore, when, during one of my yoga poses at the weekend, she tried to enter the picture where the other three characters were present, and they said to her “you have no place here”. It felt like a bizarre type of free-association, because it seemed as though it came out of nowhere and completely flew in the face of what I thought I was aiming to do with the more resistant parts of myself. My therapist has long spoken about keeping them at bay, but previously I was always wary of that, as it didn’t feel right to ignore them or to stave them off. However, when other aspects of myself told that part of me that she had ‘no place here’, it felt right, somehow. A little sad, maybe, but right. Again, it felt very much as though this development was a reflection of the changes I was trying to make in terms of being more engaged and vulnerable in therapy, and not keeping my therapist at arms’ length.

I’m looking forward to discovering what else my ‘yoga imaginings’ have to tell me! I don’t think this is quite what my yoga teacher has in mind when she talks us through poses during the classes, but it’s an invaluable part of my practice, and a helpful, motivating, and validating adjunct to my therapy…..

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What do you wear to therapy?

Girl in therapy’ recently wrote a fantastic post entitled ‘The significance of what you wear to therapy‘, and it prompted me to write about this subject as well, as it’s one I’ve been conscious of for some time.

One of the things I find fascinating about therapy is the way in which it can be a microcosm of every aspect of life, despite the apparently limited nature of the physical space it takes place in, and the types of interactions that occur within that space. Though it almost feels as though therapy ‘forces’ me to channel emotions and messages through innocuous every day occurrences or objects that otherwise might not carry much meaning; perhaps it is that in the absence of other ‘distractions’, and under the intense focus of the process, the meaning of all those things that might otherwise be missed, can be thought about.

How I pay my therapy bill, whether I am late or early to session, how I sit in the therapy chair, can all tell me something about what is going on internally for me – what I am thinking and feeling, even if I am not fully conscious of it. The same applies to what I wear.

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In general, my ‘default’ position is to try and ‘look nice’ and be fairly neat, whether I am casually or more formally dressed (which depends on whether I am going to session from work or from home). I always try and turn up with some foundation and eye-liner on, though I have noticed that I am becoming a little more relaxed about the possibility of turning up without them! Perhaps this follows on from an occasion when I mentioned this to my therapist and she said she didn’t notice whether I was wearing make-up or not. Not, I hasten to add, because she is unobservant – I think she was trying to tell me it doesn’t make a difference to how she perceives me!

I know I am not beautiful – but I suppose I would like to be so, in her eyes. And though I know that that is not all about physical appearance, at the same time I have a fear of being repulsive and untouchable; and so mustering as much physical attractiveness and as much ‘youthfulness’ as I can, feels important.

But – and it feels difficult to admit this (though I have done so, to her) – it is also about ‘competition’ and ‘sibling rivalry’. She has two daughters, and though I have never seen them, I know that they are younger than me, and I imagine them to be beautiful. I know that I can never ‘measure up’ in any way, shape, or form, because they are her flesh and blood; but as her ‘therapy daughter’, I don’t want to be left too far behind, either. When I imagine her going downstairs after our sessions, and seeing her daughter, I think of her perhaps feeling grateful that her daughter is wiser, happier, more fulfilled than I am. And prettier. And I know that it is perhaps unlikely that any of those thoughts cross her mind; but they cross mine, and I do not want to be the ‘poorer’ child.

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I do not always dress according to my ‘default position’; sometimes I dress according to the ‘internal part’ that feels most dominant at the time. More often than not, when I diverge from my usual dress code, it is because ‘the flirty one’ is in charge, and I have let her loose in my wardrobe.

I remember the first time this happened – I turned up to therapy in a very short skirt that had last made an appearance about fifteen years ago (when it fit far better). As usually happens to my more ‘confrontational’ internal characters, they orchestrate a scene but then they tend to flee it the moment I actually arrive at my therapist’s door. When my therapist and I later talked about what I had been wearing, she said that I had ‘looked sheepish’ as soon as I walked in. However, that didn’t prevent me from turning up a few months later in a pair of very short denim shorts and high heels……

My semi-conscious attempts at flirting with my therapist via poorly chosen outfits and bare skin, abated for a while. Instead, I remember at one point arriving all in black, with a top that buttoned up very close to my neck. I was covering up, as much as I could – conveying just how closed off from her I felt, and how little I wanted to communicate with her.

But then, all of a sudden a few weeks ago, when I was going through a very painful time both during therapy and in my marriage, I turned up to session wearing one of my fanciest sets of underwear that I hadn’t worn for many years. Of course my therapist was oblivious of the fact, and I didn’t enlighten her. Neither did I enlighten her (at the time) about the fact that the ‘original plan’ had been to turn up with no underwear on at all – having inadvertently had to ‘go commando’ once in jeans, after a swimming trip, I am very glad my internal part and I saw sense! The following week I went ‘half-way’ and turned up with no bra and my shirt unbuttoned as low as I dared (which wasn’t very low at all) and then kept my hands crossed over my chest and my knees tucked up against my front, for most of the session.

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I feel rather pathetic describing this behaviour; and I’m trying to make light of it as it seems better to laugh, than to feel ashamed. But fundamentally, I think my behaviour is about wanting to be seen and accepted. It’s about creating a space for a different part to communicate, albeit not in the most productive, effective, or appropriate way. Recently I had a dream in which I was first of all flirting with a male colleague on a stage in front of a large group of people, and then was flirting with a woman in front of both of our respective partners. When I told my therapist, one of her first comments was that it seemed as though there was a desire to be seen, and I think that she was right. There are often parts of me that feel left behind in therapy, or in life, and they are still learning how to make their presence felt, and they are still trying to feel integrated. While they learn, and while I learn with them, they make use of what they can, and I try and notice, and interpret for them.

What we wear in therapy is about what we want our therapist to see – not just literally and physically, but internally, emotionally, and metaphorically. It is part of our communication, and not just with our therapists, but with ourselves. But – and as I think can be seen by the way in which my mood often changes the moment I arrive at my therapist’s door – what we wear can simultaneously be a defence against what we don’t want to be seen or talked about. It can be part of our resistance to the process of therapy.

What I wear to therapy is a communication; but it is an indirect one, and I have found that much of my indirect communication is simultaneously a defence – against vulnerability, against pain, against fear of rejection. It is a type of communication that keeps my therapist out, rather than inviting her in. It challenges her, rather than welcoming her. It speaks to the fact that there is something that does not wish to be spoken about. As I have written about before, it is a mask to hide my true feelings, my true ‘face’ and my true self.

What we wear in therapy says something, but what it says is something that we need to figure out. Our clothes can be revealing – in many more ways than one.


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More thoughts about inner parts

[Preamble: A reader asked if I was claiming, in this post, to have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and so I wanted to clarify what I am trying to describe, and make it clear that I am not here talking about DID. As I understand it, in DID the ‘parts’ switch in and out and aren’t aware of each other at the time, and to a large extent have their own memories as well. Whereas my ‘parts’ are simply the roles and different ways of relating that I tend to fall into – some are more childlike, and some more parental, for example. But I’m aware of them all and as far as I retain memories (which is an issue for me generally) they are all ‘my’ memories, covering all experience irrespective of what role I feel I’m in, and when I speak in this post about locking things away, I am talking about suppressing feelings rather than ‘switching’. I feel conscious when I am talking about ‘parts’ that I am to some extent trespassing on the language of DID – however, I think that it can be a helpful language and way of thinking about aspects of oneself in general, and I am hoping I won’t confuse or offend by using it!]

It has been useful for me recently, to be able to think of the different aspects of myself as semi-distinct ‘parts’, and I drew a picture of these in a recent post. Bearing them in mind has helped me to more easily identify when I am slipping into particular ‘roles’ or ways of being, and to try and stay on top of and in control of, the various thoughts and emotions that accompany them. It has also helped me to try and figure out ways of soothing or helping myself, depending on which ‘part’ is most at the fore.

However, I have started to wonder whether I am beginning to misuse the concept – as with most things, there can be less helpful applications in addition to the valuable ones. Last weekend I felt as though I was hovering above my feelings; for example, I was aware of at least three different emotions in response to my therapist’s offer of an additional session this week, but I wasn’t really feeling any of them. I felt like an observer of, rather than a participant in, my own reactions. And when my therapist asked me a few days ago how I had been feeling over the weekend, I found I couldn’t really answer the question.

locker-1392186_1920That experience may have been a response to my intense sessions last week, when I was describing past distressing events in which I had dissociated and felt as though I was observing myself. Perhaps my sense over the weekend of being a ‘watcher’ of my feelings, was a mild re-creation of that experience. On the other hand, I have also noticed a tendency recently to use my ‘parts’ as a sort of ‘dumping ground’ for my feelings – somewhere to put them to ‘get rid of them’. Or, thinking of it another way, I have come to visualise my ‘parts’ as lockers – places where I can shut things away that I consider ‘bad’ and undesirable. This is particularly true of aspects associated with the part I call ‘the stroppy one’, and feelings and behaviours that remind me of the ‘teenage me’. These are the aspects described in recent posts such as ‘Addicted to feeling torn’ and ‘A tale of three houses: therapy, progress and internal conflict’ – self-destructive, relationship-destructive, looking for a fight. I am starting to get a handle on how to deal with the ‘inner child’ part of me, but I haven’t got a clue about how to reach the slightly older version of that child. And so it has felt much easier to simply pick up on her presence, think ‘oh, that’s not good’ and then mentally compartmentalise her experience and try and shut it away.

cabinet-157891_1280My therapist encouraged me to think of the parts as filing cabinet drawers rather than lockers – not somewhere to shut feelings away, but a way of identifying where they might belong, where they have come from and what they might be linked with. I think that is helpful, but I’m still struggling to find a middle ground between becoming immersed in all my emotions, whether positive or negative, and maintaining a healthy perspective without cutting myself off from them. I didn’t like that sense of ‘hovering over’ my feelings during the weekend – it felt far too remote.

As well as feeling ‘cut off’, another difficulty of trying to lock parts away, is of course the fact that it doesn’t really work. The parts are still persistently there, and it takes mental energy to actually keep the lockers locked. While that energy is slowly being drained, the parts themselves are growing in their clamour to be heard, and they become more easily triggered and harder to ignore. A couple of days ago I went into therapy feeling a little like the person on the left, and came out feeling a lot like the person on the right:

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It wasn’t just my ability to keep ‘the stroppy one’ from taking over that seemed to have vanished, but my desire to do so as well. Although some part of me really didn’t want to feel that bad, other aspects were colluding to persuade me that it was pointless to resist the angry and self-destructive feelings, and that giving in to ‘her’ would be a welcome relief.

Perhaps if I had tried to consistently ‘file’ her rather than ‘dump’ her, I may have been more successful in terms of staying in control; though I suspect she is almost as resistant to categorisation as she is to segregation! But I have been trying to keep her away from my therapist, fearing the wrecking power that she has over the relationship, and perhaps that was a mistake. Things always have more power when not talked about, and therapy should be the place where anything can be brought out into the light.

I will continue to try and understand the various parts of me, and allow myself to experience them rather than trying to identify but then ignore them. In the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions on how to get through to a stroppy teenager and help her feel better, they would be very welcome!

 

 

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