Monday, February 24, 2014

Resolution, Not Conflict: Part 2

Sorry a little late posting this but here we got…. So!

The guide to problem-solving. by Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

Specifically, how do some young people, most often but not limited to female, develop personality patterns that create chaos and fighting wherever they go? 
Four theories come to mind for me when I work with clients with borderline patterns.  One possibility is that the problem begins with their parenting.  A second hypothesis is that the tendency to create chaos comes from biological sources.  A third explanation might be that adult individuals with borderline personality disorder begin as children who are particularly sensitive and experience traumas in their youthful years. A fourth explanation may lie in a paucity of mature habits for handling emotions and for collaborative resolution of conflicts.

1.)    Let's look first at parenting glitches. 

I do think that Ginny Mae's mom may have been part of the problem.  On the brink of a second divorce, she probably was feeling highly stressed at the time.  I have a hunch too that the mom modeled anger as a means of forcing her husband and children to do what she wanted. 

In addition, Mom may have been too overwhelmed with her own problems to be able to take charge of Ginny Mae.  I had a hunch that Ginny Mae used her anger to control everyone in the household, including her parents, in a classic case of collapsed hierarchy. No adults stopped Ginny Mae's quarrelsome habits, so she continued to use them.
I have a hunch that Ginny Mae's dad played a role as well.  The more he treated his daughter as his special can-do-no-wrong little girl, the more he undermined his wife's ability to tame her tantrums.

Girls with a tendency to excessive anger need a strong parental unit.  Divide and conquer can be the daughter's highly effective strategy for taking charge, and that's to everyone's detriment, hers included.

2.)    The second theory, positing biological predispositions, is particularly ably set forth by Barbara Oakley in her book Evil Genes. 

Written to come to terms with the life of her deceased borderline sister, the book seeks to understand the biological factors that can underlie this syndrome. Could biological factors explain a personality characterized by quickness to take personal affront in situations that others would not, quickness to anger escalations by which she controls others, and a tendency to unscrupulously manipulate situations for personal benefit?

While the book does tend to lump borderlines, sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists in a relatively undifferentiated diagnostic heap, there's justification for this muddying of the diagnostic picture given how much overlap these syndromes seem to have with each other.

I absolutely disagree with this. At this point most professionals disagree with this as well. There is a great deal of difference between all of these diagnoses. Most notably in the ability to express and feel emotions, experience self-awareness, and recover, which are all possible for Borderlines.

I myself am sympathetic to Oakley's biological theory, having had in my practice two families in which one daughter in a set of girl twins appeared from infancy to be "borderline."  The aggressive twin would pick on the sister, repeatedly causing her to cry and suffer pain.  This pattern continued or worsened as the twins grew older.  The parents gradually gave up, creating collapsed hierarchy with the difficult twin ruling everyone in the family.  

I have treated similar patterns in other families, with siblings rather than twins, in which the parents could never come to terms with a difficult child who was eventually labeled borderline.

Typically, one aspect of the inefficacy of the parents was that the difficult daughter showered affection on the dad, and hid her aggressiveness toward others in the family from him.  As a result, the dad never accepted the mom's assessment that the problematic child was disturbed and excessively disturbing to others.  With a divided parental unit, the difficult child continued to conquer and rule the roost.

3.)    The third theory, positing prior trauma, also merits credibility. 

While my work as a psychologist focuses mainly on adults and couples, I often work jointly with an energy therapist, my colleague Dale Petterson.  In one session Dale treated an attractive third-grade girl named Bonnie.  Bonnie looked to me quite borderline.  She immediately brought to mind for me young Ginny Mae. (please continue on next page)

Like Ginny Mae, Bonnie could be charmingly cute.  At other times, according to her mom, Bonnie would become sullen, provocative, play the victim role, and then strike out, mostly verbally, at her siblings and her friends.   Bonnie's Mom, who accompanied her to treatment sessions, seemed to be warmly empathic and appropriately authoritative as a parent.  She did report that from infancy Bonny was a needier-than normal child, needing to be held far more of the time than her siblings had needed when they were babies, and engaging more parental attention than the other kids in the family.  Still, the young girl's frequent anger outbursts were wearing down the patience of her parents and sibs, and she seemed to get into considerably more frequent spats than most kids of that age.

Using techniques from the treatment method invented by Bradley Nelson termed The Body Code, Dale helped Bonnie and her mother to identify an incident that had occurred in Bonnie's nursery school when she was three years old.  Another child in her class had entered the classroom when Bonnie was in the room alone.  That child, known as a bully, had terrified Bonnie.  The minute they identified this incident, Bonnie's face clouded over.  Suddenly a cloudburst of tears erupted.  As Bonnie later described it, "I began to vomit out tears."  When the sobbing episode had passed and the tears had dried, Bonnie described feeling a huge sense of relief.  From that point forward, the frequency of her fighting with other children radically diminished.  Even more importantly, her self-confidence began to flourish, and she became a vastly happier and emotionally robust child.  

Energy therapy techniques, I believe, are especially essential in treatment with borderline personality patterns for neutralizing psychological reversal (the tendency to be self-sabotaging) and the deeply held subconscious belief, if it is present, that "I am not lovable." Without reversing these two phenomena, treatment is unlikely to make massive or long-lasting progress.

Of all the hypothesis presented this one resonated most with me. Talking to my mother I didn’t begin to get extremely disruptive until I was about 12, but I was much needier than both my siblings and I displayed abandonment issues beginning from the time I was 2.5 years old. My mother told me I was actually very charming, calm, and seemingly happy for most of my childhood, but I was also very anxious and didn’t like to be left alone, sleep alone, or to leave my family.

4.)    The fourth hypothesis is that people who function in the manner of a person with borderline personality disorder need to upgrade their emotional self-regulation and conflict resolution skills. 

Borderlines explode instead of engaging in problem-solving.  Living with them is like living in a field of land mines. Whatever their childhood experiences, to be successful in adulthood they need to learn skills for handling anger by exiting instead of by exploding in a manner that risks harming others and themselves as well. 

Borderline functioning involves a pattern of experiencing difficulties through the lens of victimhood.  Once they feel hurt, up pops the mantra "I'm a victim so I have a right to victimize you."  Lacking effective relationship repair tools, people with borderline habits make matters worse after upsets by aiming to get even instead of healing the wounds. Angrily getting even is just a wrong idea of how to enjoy gratifying relationships. 

I find this disgusting. This is actually how my Evil-Ex used to operate. He felt the world was out to get him, so he would get it first. He was malicious and vengeful. I’m sorry, but no. I know how it feels to be treated how horribly I’ve been treated. I would never in my life want anyone else to ever feel that way.

Similarly, when they want something and fear they may not get it, people with borderline personality patterns typically lack how-to's for creating win-win solutions, a skill that's essentially for sustaining harmonious relationships.

This may be were being an engineer has helped me personally. Creative solutions are something I’m pretty good at. I also tend to be someone that likes to take care of other people, especially people that I’m close to. Therapist will tell you that my problem is actually putting enough effort into thinking about myself and not just into the other person, because I will do too much for other people to the detriment of what is good for me.

The moral of the story? 

First and foremost, borderline behaviors do cause people to want to get away from them. 

But this is not the most well rounded of articles and clearly doesn’t illustrate everyone with BPD.

Second, with regard to the cause of the tendency to create emotional turbulences, I believe that all four theories of how and why borderline personality disorders develop merit consideration in assessing the sources of borderline personality disorders.  In any given case, one, two or most likely all three factors may turn out to be relevant.

I think they’re certainly relevant, but I’m not sure that there is enough here to quite cover everything. I like a little more neuroscience in some of my psychology.

Finally, the most important question is how to use these understandings to enable people with borderline personality syndromes to enjoy more gratifying lives and smoother relationships...if they want to.  Too much success at getting their way via anger can make it hard to accept that what seems to work for them in gaining domination is what makes them losers in able to sustain positive relationships.


Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver Clinical psychologist, is author of multiple publications including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two.  A graduate of Harvard and NYU, Dr. Heitler's most recent project is a marriage skills website, 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Resolution, Not Conflict

I found this article the other day and at first I was hesitant to present it because frankly, I found it off putting. I was offended by it…. At first. Here’s the thing to remember though, not all articles or studies will necessarily relate to you personally, we are all individuals with very different lives, with very different stories and upbringings, but it may help someone… and by the end of this article there was something that did hit home for me. Now it is quite long so I’m going to present this in 2 parts. Stick with me until tomorrow on this. It’s the bit tomorrow where it breaks down into the different types of patterns that I was most intrigued by….

The guide to problem-solving. by Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

From Cute Little Girl To Boderline Personality

Difficult daughters may show early signs of potential borderline patterns.
Published on December 12, 2011 by Susan Heitler, Ph.D. in Resolution, Not Conflict

One of the prominent commonalities usually found in folks diagnosed with bpd (borderline personality disorder) is their fear of abandonment.  Could it be possible that folks with bpd fear abandonment because they do things that motivate people in their lives to want to get rid of them? Their off-putting behavior may be related to feeling that they are royalty, special people entitled to be treated as the prince or princess of the family and entitled to create chaos if they do not get royal treatment.  Royalty syndrome is a losing formula for how to make a relationship last. 
How do borderline personality disorder patterns develop?

This flat out pissed me off. Royalty treatment? I wouldn’t know how to act like a princess if someone put a tiara on my head and handed me a kingdom. I’m the one that does for people, not the one that expects people to do for me. I generally feel bad and extremely awkward when people do anything for me, even at appropriate times. I take on everything myself. Even other peoples burdens. The few times I’ve needed help or to rely on others I’ve learned that this is wrong or something that I should be ashamed of. This is a lesson I’ve had practically beaten into me.
Then, I had to stop for a second and think that maybe this article was talking about someone that had a different experience than me. 

It's not pc to blame the victim.  If a woman has fears, we should be sympathetic, right?  Or maybe not.  Maybe the fears of a person who fears abandonment are totally appropriate because that person's provocative behaviors invite rejection.  

Why would someone want to abandon a person with bpd?  Allowing a person who expects to be treated like a prince or princess to remain involved in your life may sign you up for too much emotional turbulence. The kind of royalty belief I am referring to is the kind that bites off your head ("Off with your head!") if you do not do what they want you to do.

I learned this lesson the hard way, from experience. 

Fortunately, the experience was short.  It ended however with my behaving in a manner that at the time I could hardly believe was in my behavioral repertoire.  Using the tone of voice my mother used to call talking 'in no uncertain terms,'  I sternly told little Ginny Mae, "I will never allow you to cross the doorstep of my house again.  You are never again welcome to enter my house." 

Those words were harsh, especially for speaking to a six year old girl.  Were they words of abandonment?  Yes.  Or worse.  I didn't merely walk away from Ginny Mae.  I told her that I would never allow her in my home again.  I ejected her from my life.

My secretary describes me as unflappable.  People usually like me and I usually like them.  How could I have spoken so meanly to poor young Ginny May?

It started when I invited six cute little girls to join my soon-to-be-seven-year-old daughter and our family for a birthday weekend in the mountains.  We live in Colorado and my daughter and our family were relishing a fun weekend with the children at a cabin in the woods.

For two and a half days, the girls played with each other delightfully, all except Ginny Mae.  Every time a group of girls included Ginny Mae in their activity, fighting erupted.   Whether they played with dolls, built forts out of branches, baked cookies in the kitchen, or played hide and go seek amongst the trees, every two-some or three-some that included Ginny Mae ended up in tears, anger, yelling and sometimes even hitting.

The repeated eruptions of anger turned me into a firefighter.  By the end of the weekend, I was exhausted.  The last fight, an argument about who would ride home in which car, finally flipped my switch.  I transformed from warm helpful host to sternly rejecting, fed up, overwhelmed mother bear. 

"I do not want you ever again to set foot in my house!" I spewed out.  "You are never, that's never, to come play with my daughter again!" I repeated forcefully to be certain that Ginny Mae got the point that from this point forward she was to stay totally out of my world.

I succeeded in ejecting Ginny Mae from my world.  

I pretty much never saw her again.  Ginny Mae did however continue in the same grade as my daughter, who for years felt fearful at the sight of her provocative, quick-to-pick-a-fight friend.  

As it turned out, Ginny Mae even ended up attending my daughter's same college, but fortunately my daughter by then understood that Ginny Mae was herself the victim of her habit of picking fight.

Actually, my daughter's youthful experiences with Ginny Mae may have served to help her as an adult to understand borderline patterns of functioning.  Now a clinical psychologist herself, my daughter is particularly effective with clients who show borderline patterns such as emotional hyper-reactivity, seeing situations and people as all good or all bad, having a divisive impact on groups (splitting), misinterpreting situations in ways that lead them to feel like a victim, and repeatedly putting themselves in situations that prove hurtful to themselves.  With regard to her, and my, learning this story has at least a partially happy ending.  

In addition, this incident with Ginny Mae that happened now over thirty years ago continues to intrigue me.

Specifically, how do some young people, most often but not limited to female, develop personality patterns that create chaos and fighting wherever they go? 

            Well…. We’ll get to those tomorrow… Stay tuned!!!

Monday, February 17, 2014

A cautionary tale: Medication

I’ve been feeling so much better lately. In fact I almost feel back to my usual self. I’m so very grateful. One of my biggest problems, besides all of the emotional upheaval, my medication has been off. How does that even happen you wonder? Believe me it’s not as hard as you would think.

I’m a creature of regime. I tend to do things at the same time every day. I wake up, I brush my teeth, I take my meds. It’s what I do. Except I lately I’ve been going out of state over winter break to visit my parents and friends, I would wake up later, my meds would be packed away, OUT OF SIGHT OUT OF MIND… eventually I would remember, but then I was already a few days off. I’ve been sleeping so much more lately I hadn’t been taking them at the same time, I’ve felt practically like a zombie when I woke up. I haven’t been putting them in my handy little meds wheel to remind me every morning. The sadness and heartache is such an emotional brain fog I’m embarrassed that it does occasionally cloud my judgment that way. Then I just recently went back out of state again to visit my Sister for my birthday (hence my lack of posting the other week, sorry!). Again, more travelling, more sleeping in and a schedule other than what is different than what I would typically be keeping to. My medication packed away and not on my sink counter right at hand next to my toothbrush where I would easily remember to take them right away.

Out of sight, out of mind. I always try to keep the important things in places that I continuously look so I don’t forget them.

I also haven’t been taking my vitamins lately. This has been shear laziness on my part. Well laziness and depression. But not taking my B-complex vitamins which help lift stress, elevate energy, and aid depression, only makes it worse. So I’ve had kind of double whammy hitting my brain chemicals as of late. No good. Really no good.

That’s my cautionary tale. When you travel, be very, very mindful to place your medications in a place where you will see them and remember to take them. Even a day or two of missing them will mess up your neuro-chemicals and that will only compound the emotional mess, if not create it entirely, where there might not have been a problem at all.

Set an alarm on your phone or watch, even on vacations to keep a proper schedule. I know vacations are supposed to be a time of relaxation, but they won’t be very relaxing if your mind gets messed up due to terrible chemical imbalances. Take care of your mental health!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bargaining With Your Past Creates Regret in the Present

Along the lines of what we’ve been talking about…. Ruminating about lost love, pain, and regret from the past… we all know how deeply these things can haunt us and pierce our hearts well into our presents. This article has something rather healing to say about all of that. As well as some useful advice. What do you think?

Instead of regret, know that bad decisions were meant to be self-preserving.
Published on February 11, 2014 by Suzanne Lachmann, Psy. D.  in Me Before We

Your life has been a string of events that leads you to where you are now – in part determined by doors opened, doors closed, and the history, decisions and happenings that contribute to who and where you are today. When you look back on your life so far, how do you feel? Optimally, there are no regrets. But in reality for many, when you're having difficulty feeling okay with where you are now, you may look back with regret and grieve lost opportunities, lost relationships, no-win situations, and unfortunate decisions that you perceive as having affected the trajectory of your life – if only you hadn't married your ex; if only you hadn't put your career on hold to have children, if only... The list in your head of imagined and impossible negotiations to bring your loved one back or to gain access to that better life you should have had can painfully distort your thinking.

In this process, you grieve the loss of what you perceive would have been. You see yourself as having lost something, or the idea of something that is profoundly meaningful to you, and the experience is every bit as real as suffering after any kind of traumatic event.

When you feel despair at what could have been, and imagine how you could have contributed to a "better" outcome than what actually happened, you are participating in a form of "bargaining," which is one of Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. When you fantasize different paths and different outcomes, you are participating in “retroactive bargaining." What could you have done differently to avoid the remorse, regret and shame you now feel?

It is a common experience to look back at aspects of your life with regret, but for most people it isn't the only motivation for fantasizing about the past. Instead, many psychologists, myself included, believe that almost everything you do is meant to be self-preserving, even if it turns out to be self-destructive instead. During challenging times in your past, you undertook certain actions and beliefs in an effort to manage or avoid difficult situations and uncomfortable experiences. When you fantasize about things coming out differently than they have, you are attempting to transform the experience, albeit briefly – to allow yourself a respite from regret and other painful reminders of past “mistakes.” This process lets you briefly have the outcome you want.

Unfortunately, fantasy allows only a brief respite. You made the choices you made and have become the person you are. In the present, reality is reality, loss is loss, and nothing can be shifted by renegotiating your actions in the past. Retroactive bargaining is a band-aid that can make you feel temporarily better, but can leave you feeling worse when you come back to now and are painfully reminded yet again how things actually turned out.

That said, retroactive bargaining yields important information. Noticing a particular time or area of your life that you fixate on may indicate that there is loss in your life that you have not allowed yourself to adequately grieve. The event could even have happened 20 years ago or longer, but at the time you weren't able to give it the attention it needed to heal.

Ultimately, instead of engaging in retroactive bargaining, work on forgiving yourself for the decisions and actions in your past that you wish you could have changed. Yes, hindsight can illuminate how differently you could have handled something. But what gets lost, is context. As you engage in retroactive bargaining, you are doing it with all the knowledge you have now without taking into account what you knew and who you were at the time. There were reasons and forces and more factors than you could possibly have been aware of that compelled your choices and the outcome.

If you find yourself in the cycle of regret, replaying a scene in your head and sculpting a different outcome, try to acknowledge that there are reasons you did what you did at the time. Understand that your past self didn’t have the wealth of knowledge or perspective your current self does. Putting your past in context and acknowledging that there were more forces at play than you may have considered at the time can help you feel more accepting of the person you are now.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Love Literally Hurts

Somewhat serendipitously I happened across this article this morning that illustrates just why love and being ignored can hurt so much, as we were discussing yesterday. There is, in fact, a medically significant reason for it. This is something that affect people in general, not just those of us with BPD, though I suspect that those of us that are affected with being hypsersensitive to so many thing are likely to feel this even more grievously. Take a look.

Psychologists have discovered the neural link between social and physical pain
By Eric Jaffe

Most of us see the connection between social and physical pain as a figurative one. We agree that “love hurts,” but we don’t think it hurts the way that, say, being kicked in the shin hurts. At the same time, life often presents a compelling argument that the two types of pain share a common source. Old couples frequently mak

e the news because they can’t physically survive without one another. In one example from early 2012, Marjorie and James Landis of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, who’d been married for 65 years, died just 88 minutes apart.

Truth is you don’t have to be a sentimentalist to believe in broken hearts — being a subscriber to the New England Journal of Medicine will do. A few years ago a group of doctors at Johns Hopkins University reported a rare but lethal heart condition caused by acute emotional distress. The problem is technically known as “stress cardiomyopathy,” but the press likes to call it “broken heart syndrome,” and medical professionals don’t object to the nickname.

Behavioral science is catching up with the anecdotes, too. In the past few years, psychology researchers have found a good deal of literal truth embedded in the metaphorical phrases comparing love to pain. Neuroimaging studies have shown that brain regions involved in processing physical pain overlap considerably with those tied to social anguish. The connection is so strong that traditional bodily painkillers seem capable of relieving our emotional wounds. Love may actually hurt, like hurt hurt, after all.

A Neural Couple

Hints of a neural tie between social and physical pain emerged, quite unexpectedly, in the late 1970s. APS Fellow Jaak Panksepp, an animal researcher, was studying social attachment in puppies. The infant dogs cried when they were separated from their mothers, but these distress calls were much less intense in those that had been given a low dose of morphine, Panksepp reported in Biological Psychiatry. The study’s implication was profound: If an opiate could dull emotional angst, perhaps the brain processed social and physical pain in similar ways.

Panksepp’s findings on social distress were replicated in a number of other species — monkeys, guinea pigs, rats, chickens. The concept was hard to test in people, however, until the rise of neuroimaging decades later.

A breakthrough occurred in an fMRI study led by APS Fellow Naomi Eisenberger of University of California, Los Angeles. The researchers knew which areas of the brain became active during physical pain: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which serves as an alarm for distress, and the right ventral prefrontal cortex (RVPFC), which regulates it. They decided to induce social pain in test participants to see how those areas responded.

Eisenberger and colleagues fed participants into a brain imaging machine and hooked them into a game called Cyberball — essentially a game of virtual catch. Participants were under the impression that two other people would be playing as well. In actuality, the other players were computer presets controlled by the researchers.

Some test participants experienced “implicit” exclusion during the game. They watched as the other two players tossed the virtual ball, but were told that technical difficulties had prevented them from joining the fun. Others experienced “explicit” exclusion. In these cases, the computer players included the participant for seven tosses, then kept the ball away for the next 45 throws.

When Eisenberger and colleagues analyzed the neural images of exclusion, they discovered “a pattern of activations very similar to those found in studies of physical pain.” During implicit exclusion, the ACC acted up while the RVPFC stayed at normal levels. (The brain might have recognized this exclusion as accidental, and therefore not painful enough to merit corrective measures.) During explicit social exclusion, however, both ACC and RVPFC activity increased in participants.

The study inspired a new line of research on neural similarities between social and physical pain. “Understanding the underlying commonalities between physical and social pain unearths new perspectives on issues such as … why it ‘hurts’ to lose someone we love,” the researchers concluded in a 2003 issue of Science.

In a review of studies conducted since this seminal work, published in the February 2012 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, Eisenberger offered a potential evolutionary reason for the relationship. Early humans needed social bonds to survive: things like acquiring food, eluding predators, and nursing offspring are all easier done in partnership with others. Maybe over time this social alert system piggybacked onto the physical pain system so people could recognize social distress and quickly correct it.

“In other words,” wrote Eisenberger, “to the extent that being separated from a caregiver or from the social group is detrimental to survival, feeling ‘hurt’ by this separation may have been an adaptive way to prevent it.”

Physical Pain Dies, Lost Love Doesn’t

Psychologists believe that physical pain has two separate components. There is the sensory component, which gives basic information about the damage, such as its intensity and location. There’s also an affective component, which is a more qualitative interpretation of the injury, such as how distressing it is.

Initial studies that followed Eisenberger’s pioneering work focused on the affective component. (The ACC, for instance, is closely related to affective pain — so much so that animals without that part of their brain can feel pain but aren’t bothered by it.) As a result, researchers began to think that while the qualitative aspects of social and physical pain might overlap, the sensory components might not.

Recently that thinking has changed. A group of researchers, led by Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan, believed that social pain might have a hidden sensory component that hadn’t been found because games like Cyberball just weren’t painful enough. So instead they recruited 40 test participants and subjected them to a far more intense social injury: the sight of an ex-lover who’d broken up with them.

Kross and colleagues brought test participants into a brain imaging machine and had them complete two multi-part tasks. One was a social task: Participants viewed pictures of the former romantic partner while thinking about the breakup, then viewed pictures of a good friend. The other was a physical task: Participants felt a very hot stimulation on their forearm, and also felt another that was just warm.

As expected from prior research, activity in areas associated with affective pain (such as the ACC) increased during the more intense tasks (seeing the “ex” and feeling the strong heat). But activity in areas linked with physical pain, such as the somatosensory cortex and the dorsal posterior insula, also increased during these tasks. The results suggested that social and physical pain have more in common than merely causing distress — they share sensory brain regions too.

“These results give new meaning to the idea that rejection ‘hurts,’” the researchers concluded in a 2011 issue ofProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Still it’s not quite accurate to say that physical and social pain are exactly the same. As other research suggests, social pain may actually be much worse in the long run. A kick to the groin might feel just as bad as a breakup in the moment, but while the physical aching goes away, the memory of lost love can linger forever.

A research group led by Zhansheng Chen at Purdue University recently demonstrated this difference in a series of experiments. During two self-reports, people recalled more details of a past betrayal than a past physical injury and also felt more pain in the present, even though both events had been equally painful when they first occurred. During two cognitive tests, people performed a tough word association task significantly more slowly when recalling emotional pain than when recalling physical pain.

“Our findings confirmed that social pain is easily relived, whereas physical pain is not,” the researchers reported in a 2008 issue of Psychological Science.

Heart-Shaped Box (of Tylenol)

There is a bright side to the new line of research linking social and physical pain: Remedies for one may well double as therapy for the other. A group of psychological researchers, led by C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, recently tested whether acetaminophen — the main ingredient in Tylenol — could relieve the pain ofemotional distress as effectively as it relieves bodily aches.

In one experiment, some test participants took a 500-mg dose of acetaminophen twice a day for three weeks, while others took a placebo. All 62 participants provided self-reports on a “hurt feelings” scale designed to measure social exclusion. After Day 9, people who took the pain pill reported significantly lower levels of hurt feelings than those who took a placebo.

As a follow-up study, DeWall and colleagues gave either acetaminophen or a placebo to 25 test participants for three weeks, then brought them into the lab to play Cyberball. When participants were excluded from the game, those in the acetaminophen group showed significantly lower activity in their ACC than those in the placebo group — a sign that the painkiller was relieving social pain just as it normally did physical pain.

“For some, social exclusion is an inescapable and frequent experience,” the authors conclude in a 2010 issue of Psychological Science. “Our findings suggest that an over-the-counter painkiller normally used to relieve physical aches and pains can also at least temporarily mitigate social-pain-related distress.”

The effect breaks both ways. In another report from Psychological Science, published in 2009, a research group led by Sarah Master of University of California, Los Angeles, found that social support could relieve the intensity of physical pain — and that the supportive person didn’t even have to be present for the soothing to occur.

Master and colleagues recruited 25 women who’d been in relationships for at least six months and brought them into the lab with their romantic partner. They determined each woman’s pain threshold, then subjected her to a series of six-second heat stimulations. Half of the stimulations were given at the threshold pain level, half were given one degree (Celsius) higher.

Meanwhile the woman took part in a series of tasks to measure which had a mitigating effect on the pain. Some involved direct contact (holding the partner’s hand, a stranger’s hand, or an object) while others involved visual contact (viewing the partner’s photo, a stranger’s photo, or an object). In the end, contact involving a romantic partner — both direct and visual alike — led to significantly lower pain ratings compared to the other tasks. In fact, looking at a partner’s picture led to slightly lower pain ratings than actually holding his hand.

At least for all the hurt love causes, it has an equally powerful ability to heal.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Taking It Personally

In the world that is me, I am the center of it. As humans we’re fairly self-centered creatures. Society has programmed us to think this is a bad thing, but really it’s just the nature of existence. We see, we live, we experience from our perspective first and foremost. That is all I mean when I say I’m self-centered. Maybe I should say self-centric. Then, of course, you expand your perspective with sympathy, compassion, and empathy to encompass the experience of others.

Sometimes I think though, with BPD we can get stuck in a pit of our own small world. Where everything feels like it’s directly aimed at, or directed towards us. Not even in just a way that “life happens, gotta flow with it,” way, but when something happens or changes that we don’t want or expect, it feels like an attack or like someone is doing it to us on purpose; maybe because they no longer care, they don’t like us anymore, they found someone else, they want us to hurt, they’re really just the biggest asshole that ever existed, etc…. These are the blown up nasty exaggerations of thoughts that bang around in my mind anyways.

For example, when I went to visit my Sister, I was supposed to see another friend as well, but some things came up and our plans had to be cancelled. Completely legitimate life things that had nothing to do with me.  I was intensely disappointed. The more I thought about it, the sadder and more depressed I got. I felt rejected. I felt like maybe they just really didn’t want to see me. Maybe I did something wrong and they didn’t want to be friends anymore. That the only reason they wanted to see me in the first place was for such-and-such a reason and now they’re tossing me aside because they found someone else. I found myself in tears that I was being rejected and abandoned for completely (probably) made up self- centric reasons.

It’s like that with so many things. I don’t intend to, but I make these completely innocuous events all about myself, instead of putting myself in the other persons shoes, and remembering to think about them from their perspective.  I don’t mean to, because really all I can feel is that I’m  hurting, I’m depressed, I’m in pain, and I’m feeling intensely rejected. It takes a tremendous force of will try and pull yourself out of that and think… No. Stop. Really this person is not intentionally trying to make you feel sad. They are not trying to make you depressed. They are not trying to hurt you. (Unless they’re actually an abusive person!) This person is just a person with their own life and sometimes life things come up and get in the way. Those life things are ENTIRELY SEPARATE events that have nothing to do with me/you. They are not things should be taken personally.

Part of the reason I think I take things so personally is I invest so much of my self-worth in the desire for others to love me, like I talked about the other day. So when those things come up, I forget that they’re completely unrelated things to me. All I think about is, this person doesn’t want to see me? This person doesn’t want to be with me? They couldn’t have done this thing some other time? That must mean something [terrible] right?  Well, wrong. Really, really wrong. Because other people generally don’t think this way. All other people think is, “Damn this thing came up, can we reschedule? Awesome we’ll catch each other another time.” They don’t have so much of their self-worth, rejection, abandonment… invested in every day to day encounter the way that we so often can. For us it can be devastating, when for someone else, they may feel bad to have to cancel (as any normal person would) but they’re not out to get us, they simply had something unavoidable happen in their own life that they had to deal with.

That doesn’t mean they care any less, it just means that life got in the way for a moment.

It’s very difficult to not take things so personally. Especially the more and more invested we are in someone the more afraid we are of losing that love, and subsequently about losing how we feel about ourselves. This is why it’s important to try work on trying to step outside of our own perspective and put ourselves in the other persons shoes when these thoughts take over. We can get very upset about things that we don’t have to be getting upset about. It takes effort and practice to try and put yourself in the other persons place and just realize that it’s plain and simple life stuff, not some big grand scheme taking hold, but it’s an exercise that is extremely worthwhile in preserving not only our relationships, but our own mental health and happiness. 

***When I talk about losing someone's love, this can be a significant other, family, friends... anyone you care about. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thoughts from the Borderline: Self-Worth

One of the reasons I think things wound us so quickly, and so deeply, is that very often we never learned to recognize and internalize a sense of our own self-worth.

I’m saying this immediately. Just because we have a hard time recognizing it, or seeing it at all, does not mean it is not there.

Growing up I always felt that everything I did was never good enough, that I was never good enough. So now, at even the slightest rejection, or perception of rejection, I feel absolutely worthless. I was never really taught to internalize a sense of my own self-worth.  Often I think this is why we can have such a need, such a desire, for someone to recognize our worth for us. We need that external validation, because we never learned to recognize it internally.

However this is also why at even the slightest perception of rejection or abandonment we can react so volatilely to our loved ones; it would be the actualization of our fear that we are in fact, worthless.  And also, why we can so desperately need them to forgive us, and come back, to reaffirm that we are not.

Unfortunately when you look for validation externally, in a world, and in people and are never going to be perfect, who have their own flaws and own lives, no matter how well intentioned or loving, it will always end up being a recipe for disaster because they can never fill a void of self-worth that is inside of us. Relying on an external source is tenuous at best, and is what often leads to that crippling sense of self-doubt, misery, loneliness, never feeling that you will ever be good enough….

It is important that we learn to develop our own sense of self-worth. It is important that we learn to look within ourselves in order to find that sense of self-worth and not rely on external validation, on other people to tell us that we are valuable. Believe me! I know this is difficult. I think this is the crux of what I have been struggling with lately. It is in no way something that changes over night, and may take years to fully transform… but it can be done. Even if it’s just taking a good look in the mirror and telling yourself that you’re worth it. You may not believe it at first, but do it anyways.

More on this to come. These are just some thoughts for today. 

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