She lived in a bubble. She was hesitant around strangers and was slow to open up. But when she did open up, she was loving, bright, and affectionate.
Over time, through the people she encountered, and situations she experienced, she learned it was better to stay in a bubble. She kept people at a distance. Because, as she had learned, physical affection means you’re asking for more.
She would flinch when others would touch or hug her, friends and strangers alike. She always kept her distance while yearning for closeness. She was lonely when she was not alone. She was starved for affection, yet her fear and anxiety held her back.
Somehow she ended up in relationships with others who would not be affectionate. “I don’t like holding hands,” they would say. “I hate PDA,” even when it was an arm around the shoulder or a hand on the knee. So it became normal for her.
“Why are you so codependent? Why are you so clingy?” they would say. Even though she thought her requests were normal, they made her doubt herself. Her doubts turned into shame, and her shame manifested itself as bitterness, self hatred, and jealousy. She had accepted that it would always have to be this way.
TW SELF HARM SUICIDE GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS
You could never, ever understand how it is to be at this point. To be consumed by all the reasons why you’re damaged. To have an intense surge of insight, where the swirling fog of uncertainty and fear disappears. Clear as the day, the only thing visible is the thought that things will never change.
You’ll never understand the simultaneous relief to have an answer and despair at the prospect of staying this way forever. Not just pain, it’s suffering.
I no longer feel as if I have a hole inside of me. I feel like there is an inescapable vacuum that sucks up any good that I produce or that others bring to me.
I don’t think you’ll ever understand – I hope you never understand. I hope you never understand the feeling of lying on your bed eyeing that ultra sharp blade you’ve scavenged after many nights of resisting temptation. Wanting to cut so deep you need stitches, to lose so much blood you pass out and maybe never wake up.
I’m so beaten and broken down, actually dying would just be a formality.
In music, consonance is when a chord or progression is pleasant to hear. It is harmonious; it sounds nice. On the other hand, dissonance is associated with unpleasantness and instability. Dissonance is perhaps when a pianist makes a mistake and accidentally hits the wrong notes. The sound is harsh and jarring.
Similarly, the term “cognitive dissonance” refers to the uncomfortable feeling we get when our beliefs do not align – when they are not in harmony with each other. Individuals that tend to think in extremes (black and white thinking, idealization/devaluation, etc.) may do so in order to reconcile their cognitive dissonance. In BPD this may occur in the individuals unstable sense of self or relationships.
For example, an individual who has the habitual belief that they are worthless or unimportant may experience cognitive dissonance when receiving compliments or while experiencing success. Their beliefs about themselves are being challenged and this makes them uncomfortable. One way the individual may try to dissolve this discomfort and sticking to their beliefs is to tell themself that these compliments were untrue or insincere. “They didn’t mean it, they were just being polite”. Another way that the individual may try to rationalize their beliefs is by downplaying their success. “I got lucky. It wasn’t that hard in the first place. Given my situation, I probably should have done even better than I did”.
These thoughts may temporarily dispel that cognitive dissonance, but the individual will experience the same discomfort again and again. The BPD individual who sees themself as “all-bad” will struggle to change their thought patterns that have been so deeply ingrained into them.
Another example is when an individual is in a relationship (platonic or otherwise). Individuals with BPD are likely to experience idealization/devaluation in their relationships, meaning they may switch suddenly from seeing their friend or partner as “all-good” or “all-bad”. Perhaps a friend cancelled plans or did not respond in a way that was expected. The BPD individual may turn to devaluation and perceive their friend as being a terrible person. They may believe their friend hates them or is trying to avoid them. However, there may be underlying discomfort because there are many other times where the friend has shown loyalty, trustworthiness, and love. In order to remove this incompatibility, the BPD individual may experience “tunnel vision” and block out any past positive experiences with the friend.
If experiencing cognitive dissonance as above, here are guidelines that have worked for me personally.
- Observe the discomfort. Write down the thoughts you are having. Acknowledge the judgements and assumptions.
- Look at the facts. Next, write down any factual evidence that supports or disproves your thoughts. Remember: facts are facts. Facts are not “probably’s” or “maybe’s”. Facts are not judgements or assumptions.
- Compare the thoughts and the facts. Do they align? If they do not, reconsider other possibilities.
- Express gratitude or acknowledge achievements and successes.
Further reading: How Cognitive Dissonance Relates to Relationships