Life in a Bind – BPD and me

My therapy journey, recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I write for , for Planet Mindful magazine, and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by

Leave a comment

TAT results, anyone?

[What follows is a story I wrote as part of an online Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which I found on the website of the University of Texas. I briefly discussed these tests, and how I came across them, in a previous post (called ‘TAT, anyone?), as well as the ways in which I believe this kind of ‘stream of consciousness’  (or should that be ‘unconsciousness’) can be helpful and illuminating.

I should mention that the online test ‘broke’ a few minutes into it, in that the ‘countdown clock’ stopped running, and I did not know how long I had been writing for (this particular test involves writing continuously for ten minutes, whatever comes to mind in response to the picture below). In addition, my computer ‘froze’ part-way through. What follows, therefore, is in two sections. The first section was written before I had to restart my computer. There was then a pause of a few minutes before I started writing the section that follows bellow the dotted line. I am not sure how long I wrote for in total, but if we assume ‘typical typing speeds’, I think it’s likely that the first section took around ten minutes, and the second section another ten. I see the second section, therefore, as being not a ‘true’ part of the test, although I think it nevertheless adds to the possible interpretations. Although the second section was also written in a continuous fashion, I believe that the gap of a few minutes would have allowed semi-conscious interpretations of the first section to begin to influence what was written next. I think I can see that in the text.

What does it all mean? Feel free to speculate! For my part, I think that as with dreams, there are numerous possible layers of interpretation. I think there is the ‘immediate’ interpretation, which in this case, for me, is all about therapy, particularly as this piece was written just days after finding out that I would need to stick with my therapist a little while longer, as there were no available slots for me to resume sessions with my ex-therapist, Jane (you can read All About Jane, here). Then there is the lateral or tangential interpretation, that perhaps lies a little below the surface of consciousness and requires a bit of a ‘leap’ to make the connection. In this case, I believe it’s about the relationship between different ‘parts’ of me, and I think I can see that interpretation starting to emerge more strongly in the second section of the story. And then there’s a possible interpretation working at a deeper, much harder to access level. An interpretation that only occurred to me after I wrote my ‘TAT, anyone?‘ post. That interpretation concerns my relationship with my mother – a subject I have been careful to tell several therapists is ‘out of bounds’ as far as possible change is concerned. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to see that interpretation when I wrote the story – I’m not sure I’m ready now. But it definitely adds another dimension, and I can come back to that, if and when the time is right.

On a practical note, as the piece is written in the third person, and as I see the two characters in the story as both being women, I found that the text could be quite confusing and ambiguous at times, when it was unclear which character was being referred to as ‘her’ or ‘she’. I have therefore used bold text when talking about the woman in the glasses, and I hope that this makes the story easier to follow! The image itself is taken from the same University of Texas website referenced above.]



She wasn’t sure she should be doing this – the bizarre scientific experiments they were asking her to carry out. And always this strange, lonely, hawk-like woman watching from the sidelines. What did she want to know? What was she hoping to find out? Why was it so important to her? And what would happen when the experiment was finally over? When she’d found whatever it was that she was looking for, that haunted her. Would something, some part of her, drop away? Would she have no need of the glasses any more, or would it be the opposite – would she need an even more impenetrable barrier to guard her inner being from the chaos of whatever was contained in those test tubes? Was it blood? She wasn’t sure – it was the right colour, but it didn’t smell quite right somehow. She’d always been told she had an acute sense of smell, but she couldn’t tell, not this time. And there was absolutely no way she was going to taste it to find out. Although the thought of doing something to ‘perturb’ her was both tempting and terrifying at the same time.

She wondered whether in another room , somewhere down the hall, there was someone else, carrying out similar tests, with similar test tubes. Maybe another one of  ‘her was watching, keeping silent guard – or vigil – waiting for her own ‘eureka’ moment. Or maybe there were countless upon countless of them, too many to number, all performing the same, repetitive tasks, in parallel universes of isolation and containment. Always alone. She didn’t count – she was barely human.

Would she know it when she saw it? Would the significance of it hit her, forcefully across the soul, or would it be a slow dawning, an immeasurably gradual spread of light, starting to creep its fingers of realisation into hidden corners of her mind, grabbing physically at her innermost parts, so that the dawn of knowledge was almost painful in its slow, suffocating squeeze? Suddenly she realised with a jolt that they were joined, she and her, in a way that she could not really explain, but felt as certainly as she had felt anything before. Her actions, tied to her deepest needs, hopes and fears. She was a prisoner, carrying out a mission over which she had no control. But she was her saviour – only the knowledge she had to give could free them both from the prison they were in. And somehow, she suspected that of the two of them, hers were the biggest and heaviest bonds to break…..


Suddenly, she had an overwhelming urge to reach out and touch her in a huggably violent way – to touch her where it hurt. Not in order to really hurt her, but to release them both from the prison they were in. There had to be another way. Beyond the test tubes and the ‘blood’, beyond the never ending search for answers, behind the glasses, underneath the skin. Another way to make her whole. She just wasn’t sure whether they would both be there when it was over. Whether in the process, both would be obliterated and nothing would be left. That in trying to put her back together, and run away in the opposite direction, whatever bond connected them would rip them both to pieces.

Would the world continue to exist if that were so? In those other, parallel rooms, would those other ‘she’s and ‘her’s, still keep working, still keep searching? Or would the ripple spread and devastate, a chain reaction, unstoppable –  a tide of grief, or maybe just of mercy? The end of work, the end of questions, the end of puzzlement, the end of hope. But she knew, ultimately, that that urge would be resisted. That the two of them would carry on as now. One the watcher, one the worker. One with questions, one with answers. One with no heart, one with a fearful heart. And oceans in between them, though just a few centimetres. Elbow to elbow – miles apart. It didn’t matter, ultimately, if there were others. The two of them could be no more lonely, no more together, no more apart, than this space allowed for. It contained them perfectly, and they moulded to its shape.


TAT, anyone?


A few months ago when reading ‘I Hate You – Don’t Leave Me’, by Kreisman and Straus, I came across mention of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which is a ‘projective psychological test’ aimed at revealing underlying motives, concerns, thought patterns and the lens through which an individual sees the world. The test involves eliciting associations to stimuli which are ambiguous (for example, a picture or an inkblot) and creating a story around them. According to Kreisman and Straus, the responses from borderline patients often describe more ‘bizarre’ or more ‘primitive’ images than the responses of certain other groups of  ‘patients’. The image included here, is an example of the type of ambiguous picture used in the TAT.

I chanced upon this at around the same time I first discussed a dream within a therapy session. More recently, I have been reading about psychodynamic psychotherapy (the type of therapy I am undertaking), in which the stories we tell, as well as the dreams we describe and the metaphors and symbolism that we employ, can all be used to access our unconscious minds.

Fascinated by the concept, I decided it might be fun (and hopefully informative!) to try an online version of the test, involving a single image, even though I believe that strictly speaking, ‘proper’ use of the TAT involves analysing responses to a number of different stimuli. I found such a test here, on the website of the University of Texas, which involves looking at a picture for a couple of minutes and writing whatever story comes to mind. Part of the test is that one should write continuously for a period (10 minutes in this particular test),  in order to minimize the impact of  ‘conscious thought’ on whatever story the unconscious mind might be trying to tell.

I should emphasize that this is not a fully rigorous use of the TAT, and I should also mention that reliability and validity of the TAT are both debated in academic circles. However, in as much as a response to a picture counts as a ‘story that we tell’, I think this is an interesting exercise from a psychodynamic perspective, and in some countries, it is widely used as part of a psychodynamic approach. Just as in dream interpretation, I am sure that there many different ways to construe stories written in this manner, and many different interpretations are possible, none of which are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I found it both an interesting and a useful exercise, which, much like a dream, took elements of my conscious experience, and fashioned it into something that revealed underlying thoughts and beliefs not previously tapped into. The online test itself ‘scores’ responses and gives an average score, compared to ‘typical’ male and female responses, in areas such as ‘positive emotions’, ‘negatives emotions’, ‘need for power’ etc. Personally, I found these scores less informative or useful than thinking about what my story might be telling me, that my conscious mind was concealing from me.

I would like to post the story that I wrote as part of that online test, but on the off-chance that a curious reader might also be interested in ‘taking the test’ and possibly even in sharing their story, I will do so in a separate post next week. If you do take the test and blog post your story, please do let me know – I would be interested in reading, and in seeing a different tale emerging from the same ambiguous image! In the meantime, enjoy your TAT – I can guarantee it’s more fun, more interesting and more informative than the plethora of Facebook quizzes out there (we’ve all taken them, haven’t we?!) that claim to assess your personality on the basis of your favourite food, or seek to match you to a ‘Frozen’ character…..