Understanding the wounds underlying borderline reactions

I often struggle when I read that people with so called BPD are struggling with being able to understand that what seem to others to look like ‘over-reactions’ are actually grounded in past experiences of not being met, responded to with empathy or sensitivity or being given what we truly need.  As a result we tend to carry a lot of inward frustration and what I would called ‘historical suffering’ which can get triggered in the present by either perceived abandonment or invalidation which we then project and can tend to respond to in ineffective ways.   Our reactions may seem out of order and beyond context but we do need to understand that they do make sense once our true history is understood.

Core wounds and old pain act in many ways like black holes of suffering that can be triggered in the moment and then suck us down.   Dialectical Behavioural Therapy was developed by Marsha Linehan a sufferer of BPD who found she needed help with thinking about her thinking and responses to current events when old pain was triggered.  From what I understand DBT involves finding ways to reframe our reactions to triggers and soothe distressing painful inner self talk which then promotes us to over react to current situations in which some old wound, pain or sensitivity is then triggered.

I am often wary about the diagnosis Borderline Personality.  Most so called ‘borderline’ individuals started life as highly sensitive beings who were supremely in touch and high wired in terms of respondability to external stimuli.  As babies they required a high level of attunement, mirroring, empathy and sensitivity to their cues, hungers and needs from caregivers and often they find themselves born into environments ill equipped to deal with and respond affectively and effectively to them.  As a result they often are not soothed adequately and also do not manage to internalise the messages of adequate self soothing and self care which would enable them to mother themselves effectively.

When such a conditioning occurs it leaves a deep wound or hunger in the soul.  The borderline or highly  sensitive person is highly attuned and intelligent.  They notice things that others don’t.  They may try to point out things others don’t see or do not understand and they can then be abused or invalidated for such perceptions, seeing or understanding as adults and also when young.  They can then internalise this kind of abuse or misunderstanding coming to believe ‘there is something inherently wrong with me’.

They may then try to adapt to what is expected of or projected onto them, rejecting themselves in the process.  They may also lack the capacity to understand the very real limits and different ways of reacting of the non highly sensitive individuals around them, getting angry or flying off the handle when empathy is not shown to them.   The realistic truth if understood by the borderline/sensitive would show that the less sensitive were only reacting to the highly sensitive individual out of not understanding a depth of feeling, particular perception or way of being which varies greatly with their own, rather than this being a sign of something ‘wrong’ with either person.

Such an understanding for the so called borderline or highly sensitive individual requires a high level of inner work as well as a detailed unpacking of ways in which the nurturing environment failed to respond in empathic ways, leaving key wounds or perceptual distortions kicking around inside the borderline or HSP.  Arming ourselves with such deeper emotional understanding involves work with an empathic person who can help us with this process.  Then and only then can we begin to work effectively with extreme feelings or so called ‘over reactions’ to outside events which are really just triggers.

I have only ever read books on DBT and my understanding of it may be limited but this is my understanding of how it works.   It works by helping us to correct our thinking and as a way of helping us to self sooth and not attack ourselves more with painful thoughts and feelings which in belonging to old events may be re-experienced in the present moment and projected leading to confusion and distress for those around us who do not understand our trauma/disconnection history.  In the end we must understand in a way others who do not suffer could never possibly understand unless they lack that empathic framework.

When I read the blogs of borderlines I see how much self judgement they have.  We self judge because we know how extreme our behaviour can be at times and we can often feel shame.   Unlike narcissists who in many ways are full of a shame they buried long ago and often will not face, Borderlines feel our shame over and over and over and can almost drown in it.  We are often scapegoated and we so often need to break that identification and projection because the original shame was never ours to own,  our responses came out of finding ourselves in consistently disabling or unempathic environments in which we struggled, pure and simple.  Certainly we do not have the right to enact our rage at a lifetime of frustrations, misunderstanding and invalidation on others, we need to understand where these feelings comes from and feel them and transform them rather than act them out.  This I guess is where DBT can help us teaching us ways to talk to ourselves compassionately and with empathy to pour balm on burning wounds that so often can flare up in the present.

10 thoughts on “Understanding the wounds underlying borderline reactions

  1. This was another great post, D. The group I attend every week is a DBT group. We go through each module (there’s 4 of them) for about 12 weeks, before the program starts off again from the beginning. DBT is brilliant! It’s extremely hard work though, as our unhealthy patterns aren’t easy to break, which is why it’s so necessary to really let it sink in deep, and practice each skill every day. Mindfulness is the core of DBT. If we learn and practice how to just “be” in every moment, and take notice of things, we’re less likely to fly off the handle. I hated Mindfulness at first, but it’s really starting to grow on me, and it actually DOES make a difference. Then there’s the Distress Tolerance module. This is where we learn how to self-soothe, and the skills needed to stay safe during moments of high stress, triggers, basically any crisis. Emotion Regulation… This is a set of skills that I struggle with, but no one said DBT would be easy. Interpersonal Effectiveness is probably my favourite. We learn how to interact with others, how to ask for things we want and need, how to build rapport with others, validation, etc. Anyway, just thought I’d share. 🙂

      1. It’s great. 🙂 I’ve been with my individual therapist for a year and a half now, and she uses DBT with me, but not that much. I prefer it that way, as I like how our sessions work.

      2. Yes, it’s interesting. The individual therapy is a little different than what I’m used to…which a VERY GOOD thing. I have had crap luck with therapists.

        This one really gets the scapegoat dynamic of the family which is what I am, so big plus. The other therapist that runs the group is really great too. He’s so into it and loves the modality. So as long as no rug gets pulled out from under me, I believe I have a good year in therapy to look forward to.

  2. Reblogged this on Sleeping Tiger and commented:
    A good view on the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. This is a blogger well worth reading if you suffer from complex trauma…which is where the symptoms that lead to a BPD diagnosis originate from.

  3. I totally agree…I think a disordered society labels BPD, a ‘disorder’…i really hope the new therapy and therapist helps. Since ive been with my latest therapit who works more deeply than with labels I ve made better progress …thanks for the reblog. And love 💖

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