Life in a Bind – BPD and me

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


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Memory Monday – “Separation anxiety – BPD and emotional development”

A couple of days ago a reader posted an interesting question in response to my post “Separation anxiety – BPD and emotional development”, which can be found here:

https://lifeinabind.com/2014/09/26/separation-anxiety-bpd-and-emotional-development/

The question was: “…. just read this ‘old post’… and was wondering how you would feel if you read it today. Did things change for you concerning the ‘therapy bubble’?….”

So I went back and read the post, and it seemed to fit so well with some of the things I’m thinking about at the moment in relation to therapy, that by way of answering the question I thought it would be appropriate to share it as a ‘Memory Monday’ post.

How do I feel, reading the original post now? I think I feel that I can still relate very closely to everything described in it – while at the same time recognising that some things have changed. I still find it very difficult to leave my ‘therapy bubble’ – particularly when, as has been happening recently, sessions have involved talking about painful and distressing material and have left me feeling regressed and child-like. At those times I hate leaving, and I hate the thought of coping by myself with those emotions. The need for comfort, for my therapist, is intense. As well as a desire not to leave the therapy bubble, it’s also a fear of staying in the place that therapy has taken me, but without her presence to contain me.

I think I do still feel guilt over the time and mental energy that therapy takes – or rather over the time it ‘takes away’ from my family life. My thoughts are so often absorbed by it  – either directly, or because I’m ‘processing’ something – when I should be more present with my children. However, I now often remind myself of an incredibly valuable comment that someone made to me a few months ago. I mentioned that sometimes I feel guilty because if I wasn’t spending money on therapy I could take my children to Disneyland. She said that she only wished her own parents had spent money on therapy, rather than Disneyland. And that made so much sense (and I shared the same wish – not that I went to Disneyland as a child!), that it helps me to feel a little less guilty and to more fully appreciate that in trying to change myself, I am also making things better for mine and my children’s current and future relationship. And that change will, hopefully, trickle down through the generations, into the ways that they parent their own children.

As for emotional development and the weight of being an adult – I think that my recent ability to identify ‘parts’ of myself and to relate to them almost as separate entities, and to observe their thoughts and feelings, has helped me to not get completely taken over by them, and to stay in a ‘more adult’ frame of mind more often than I used to be able to. It’s a very great struggle, and my mind and heart are still often battlefields in which wars of words and emotions take place – but it’s a question of ‘who’ is uppermost and in control, even if the ship is very difficult to steer, or even if it’s only just possible to keep my ‘adult head’ above water.

Separation is still incredibly difficult  – but I think I am better able to cope and I fight hard to try and retain a sense of my therapist’s constancy and my connectedness to her. It is often a fight – against myself, as described in a recent post – and it is far from automatic. But I am managing it more often, and as well as this being a function of the therapeutic relationship and the closeness and trust I am discovering over time; I think it is also at least partly due to the fact that I am on a more even keel because other areas in my life are slowly improving. My husband may still feel that there is little improvement in our marriage – but at least now he says that I am a much better flatmate! For me, this is a key first step – and it also means that there are fewer huge rows and triggers for my suicidal ideation.

At the end of the original post I wrote: “Perhaps when the separation becomes a bit more bearable, I’ll know that there is a bit less growing up to do“. I think there now is a bit less growing up to do – though the thought of it, and of the eventual ending of therapy, is as terrifying as ever. In that sense, I am still clinging, desperately, to my ‘bubble’ and the thought that it will burst eventually, is still heartbreaking. But for now, I am making the most of being metaphorically ‘held’ inside that bubble during session itself, and trying to remember that I am ‘held in mind’ when I am outside it.

If my reader is still reading in a year’s time, perhaps they will be kind enough to ask me the same question again? I wonder what my response will be….. 🙂


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Separation anxiety – BPD and emotional development

I hate going back into the world after a therapy session. All I want is to remain suspended in that sense of comfort and connection. All I want is that relatedness, that safety, that mutuality. I want to stay in that therapy bubble so very badly, that leaving it is heartbreaking.

I feel guilty; selfish and self-indulgent. I feel as though by wishing myself so strongly back into that therapy room, with my therapist, I am rejecting not just the good things in my life, but the people in my life. I have a husband, children, a good job, relative material comfort. There is so much that I could hope for, wish for, and live for – how can that ‘bubble’ be the most attractive thing in the world to me? How can that be the thing I feel I want more than anything else? As a mother, with her children’s lives ahead of her, how can that possibly be true? And if it is, what does that say about me?

There is only one way that I can rationalise it to myself, that releases me from some of that guilt and feeling of self-centredness. And that is to try and argue that perhaps these are not adult dreams, or adult desires. That perhaps it’s not the adult who wants to be in the therapy cocoon forever; that the adult is not rejecting her own children. Those are the child’s desires, and she would be happy if the entire world disappeared as long as she was safe and held in that ‘unconditional positive regard’ that is the bedrock of the therapy relationship.

I’ve been aware for some time, of the fact that I feel different ages at different times, and with different people. I cannot help but feel around twelve years old whenever I am in the presence of our vicar’s wife, and it takes a constant effort to remind myself that she sees me as an adult, and not as the child that I feel when I’m around her. She feels motherly – not in some stereotypical way, but simply in the sense that she is the kind of mother I would have wanted to have.

But nowhere am I more aware of the adult and the child parts of me, than in therapy. In her excellent post ‘Mind Blown’, Half of a Soul commented that her therapist had asked her what age she felt when she was distressed, and that she had realised that it was the age at which she had started to suppress emotion, rather than allowing herself to experience it. I too, tend to feel much more child-like when distressed, and the age that I associate with those feelings, has been getting younger. Therapists have a difficult task in that they have to identify ‘who’ (adult or child) is engaging with them at each point in the session, and they have to decide how best to respond in a way that meets the needs of the one, without invalidating the other.

The idea of ‘regressing’ during therapy while re-experiencing events or feelings of childhood, is a common one, but the difficulty with BPD is that it’s not just a case of going back to childhood, but a case of being stuck there. There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of BPD, but some have argued that BPD is at least partly due to early ‘developmental arrest’. Individuals continue to grow physically and intellectually, but their emotional and psychological development is impaired, and key developmental stages are interrupted and never properly negotiated. Comparisons between some BPD behaviours and characteristics and those of toddlers, is common. These behaviours and characteristics include: splitting (black and white thinking); projection (of disturbing emotions onto others instead); difficulties with object constancy; lack of boundaries or a distinct sense of self. Given these theories of developmental arrest, it is easy to see why such comparisons are made – to a greater or lesser extent, those with BPD have never really outgrown those early defence mechanisms and ways of seeing the world.

Toddlers want to be ‘grown up’ but their desire is for a superficial adulthood and a responsibility that provides temporary excitement and a sense of control, but has no real consequences. Their real desire and satisfaction is in the land of fantasy and play, and being burdened with inappropriate levels of adult responsibility too soon, leads only to insecurity, anger, distrust and emotional pain. That is why being an adult can weigh so heavily on someone with BPD. There are so many ways in which our ability to relate to and to deal with the world, is compromised. What should be ‘normal’ adult interactions can be laden with confusion and pain because the adult response feels ‘wrong’ even though intellectually one may appreciate that it is ‘the right thing to do’.

I recently asked the advice of a school friend of mine, on how to deal with a situation in which I was feeling triggered by the lack of contact from another friend. The adult, non-BPD response would be to just go ahead and make contact. I recognise that that is the right thing to do, but it is a giant struggle against my BPD to actually try and do that. My inner toddler is sulking, but not only that – she has big insecurities and a great need for reassurance. I don’t want to contact my friend first – if I do, how will I ever know whether she would have contacted me at some point? How will I ever know whether she would have thought of me – whether she cares? My school friend replied that those are the risks of adult life  – but part of me hates adult life, and has difficulty in engaging with it.

The weight of ‘being an adult’ falls heavily back onto me when I leave the therapy room. Even if the interaction with my therapist on a particular day was more ‘adult-like’ than child-like, going back into the world feels like a burden. Can I really ‘blame’ that intense desire to stay, purely on the child within, and divorce it from all other parts of myself? It’s one thing for the desires of the child to be uppermost; my concern is that I cannot find the adult. Where is she, and what are her desires? If I want to ascribe to the child the desire to ‘live in fantasy and play’, I have to be able to separate it out from the desire of the adult, and be able to show that it is different. But I’m not sure that I can. Perhaps it is because the adult is here in body, but in a very real sense, she has not fully come to be.

And so I am left, every time I leave, with the sense that I want to stay forever, and with the guilt that I should be wanting something else. I’m left with ‘separation anxiety’ and crumbling memories of that precious hour, until they can be recaptured again when I am back in that room. Leaving the therapy bubble is heartbreaking – but I have to keep on doing it, time and time again. Perhaps when the separation becomes a bit more bearable, I’ll know that there is a bit less growing up to do.