Cognitive dissonance

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.

  1. Observe the discomfort. Write down the thoughts you are having. Acknowledge the judgements and assumptions.
  2. 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.
  3. Compare the thoughts and the facts. Do they align? If they do not, reconsider other possibilities.
  4. Express gratitude or acknowledge achievements and successes.

Further reading: How Cognitive Dissonance Relates to Relationships

The bad thoughts 

are talking to me. They’re saying you’re a psycho. You’re obsessed and sad and pathetic. You’re trying to feel better – but do you deserve to feel better?

Rip the hair out of your head but you won’t get rid of me. I’ll always be here. I’ll always be here.

You can’t rely on yourself but you can always count on me to be here. This is where you belong and deserve to live and die.

Here is home. Listen to me. I won’t leave you. You can tell me your problems and woes. I won’t make you feel better, but I’ll always be there to listen.

I will tell you what you already believe. What you want is for people to lie to you. To tell you that what you’re feeling is understandable.

I will tell you the truth. I will remind you that you are worthless and you deserve to be knocked down because frankly, you’ve been happier for much longer than you deserve.

You always get what you want. It’s time you relearn what suffering is.

So take it, stew in it, become it. Become the pain and self hatred.

Become the bad thoughts.

Become me.

I am who you are. Let me guide you.

Let me in.

Let me drive you into the ground where you belong.

Drama queen 

Addressed to my friends and family.

I feel worthless, hopeless, and small. I don’t want to tell you because you’re logical and you’ll ask why. Then when I tell you, I know you won’t understand. Or you’ll think, oh here we go again, when will she learn? 

I am too self aware for my own good – I know that logically the “reasons” I am upset make no sense. I know that. But here I am feeling empty and withdrawn, and I already feel like that. I need help with that feeling. I want to rant about the root of my problem and I want you to patiently tell me the logical way to think about it. Because I simply do not have the ability to think about it logically in this state.

I want you to validate me – tell me that it must be hard for me going through this even if you don’t understand why. That’s all I want. Even if you cannot fathom why anyone would ever be upset over what I am sad about, tell me you understand that it must be hard for me.

I am telling you that I am not sitting here crying for attention and drama. I am not being a drama queen. I don’t want to tell you about my problems and have you jump up and tell me you’ll fix it all, or you’ll beat up who hurt me, or you’ll find justice for me. I don’t want to be dependent on alcohol or cutting or sex or drugs. I want a friendly face, a coffee, dinner, ice cream, a hug. I want you to listen and help me dissolve the pain.

Thanks for reading.

Control

I need to be in control. I want to be in control. But don’t we all? We all crave a sense of control – mainly over ourselves and our lives. When that doesn’t work we may try to control other things. Like what we eat, where we hurt. Maybe even other people.

What is scarier than not having control? Imagine driving down an icy or slippery road and you temporarily lose control of the vehicle. Those few seconds are horrifying, and when you finally screech to a stop or straighten the wheel, you’re left in a panic.

What if you could lose control of your emotions this way? Like when you’re driving, you may drive slowly, and pay close attention to your surroundings. But the minute you hit a patch of pure ice, it’ll catch you by surprise.

Some people’s emotions are like driving down a highway in summer.  It’s easy to see the signs and keep track of the road. Sometimes it rains, and that’s when it’s harder to control the emotions.

Other people’s emotions are like driving down a highway in the middle of a blizzard. They can tread carefully, but there’s a higher risk of losing control. They can put on their studded winter tires and chains, they can drive slowly and turn up their high beams, but they are navigating dangerous territory. That moment of fear and loss of control happens so often that they are stuck in a constant state of fear. Or maybe they have felt it so much they shut it out, feeling nothing at all, not caring if their car spins out of control.

These people may feel awful, comparing themselves to the summer drivers. Wondering why they get into so many more accidents and sustain so many more injuries. What they don’t realize is that the two are simply not comparable.

You won’t like me – I’ll make sure of it 

Every time I bring up an issue with my therapist, the root always comes back to my self esteem and self worth. This is especially true when it comes to relationships. Here’s the issue:

I think I’m a bad person. When people first meet me, I feel like they only like the person I pretend to be. I feel like I can be loved as a friend, but only superficially and especially not romantically.  I believe I am hard to love. So when I become close with someone intimately, I constantly feel like I am peeling back the layers of paint, leading them closer to my rotting core.

You may have told me I was beautiful and funny and charming – but that was before you saw who I really am. Do you still think those things about me? How about now? I need reassurance. I need constant updates. I keep fucking up and I know one day you’ll change your mind about me.

The problem is, people often assume that others see the world as they do. My immediate perceptions are black and white extremes. After I cling, obsess, or wear a person down, I believe that their perception of me switches from idealization to devaluation.

I believe that anyone I am with will eventually see me for the horrible person I really am. I believe that they will come to despise me as much as I despise myself. So I subconsciously push their limits and test them until I have created my own self fulfilling prophecy.

Once they lose their temper or give up on me, it feeds into that belief that I’m inherently undeserving of love. It’s a vicious cycle that is so hard to break, especially when I’ve lived this way for years. So unfortunately, until I start liking myself a little more I’m going to wreck any resemblance of a relationship I have. I can’t expect anyone else but me to fix my sense of self worth.

Reconciling identity disturbances

Before yesterday, I hadn’t written in almsot a month. Partially because I have no internet at home, but also because I’m typing out long posts and then deleting them when the perfectionist in my head starts pointing out every single flaw. I’m frustrated because I can’t seem to find the words to convey my thoughts when normally it comes very easily to me. Writing was my thing – I always thought I was a good writer, but recently I’ve been really struggling to communicate my ideas.

When I first moved, I made sure to take care of my health. Being physically active was very important to me, so I was at the gym almost every day. My friend here remarked how fit and active I was (jokes on her!). Last week I was bouldering and found myself so fatigued I couldn’t even make it halfway up the wall. And it suddenly wasn’t fun anymore.  I also had a cough that lasted for about two weeks, so I would also be coughing so much I couldn’t properly breathe at times.

I am studying nutrition, so I recognize the importance of good eating, but I also feel the need to fill the role of a “nutritionist” sometimes. I cooked homemade meals every day, I packed healthy snacks, and I made sure I ate at least three meals nicely spaced out throughout the day. Recently I’ve been so busy, I’ve barely had enough time to buy groceries or cook. I’m so tired I’m scrambling to feed myself, and as a result I am grumpy and sluggish.

These areas that I identifed with are currently damaged. How can I be “fit” or “healthy” or “a writer” if I am unable to do any of these now? An unstable sense of self or identity disturbance is considered a core characteristic of BPD. In general, I don’t feel like this is a characteristic that applies to me, but I do struggle sometimes with identity. One way that my therapist suggested I reconcile these difficulties is by identifying with traits, rather than roles.

Many of us, BPD or not, often define ourselves by our roles. This is why relationships can be so dangerous. My identity becomes “so-and-so’s girlfriend”. This is why I know I can’t be in a relationship right now, because I get sucked into that illusion of an identity. What happens when we break up? Who am I then?

I am proud to call myself a student and also a teacher. I am also compelled to define myself as a student and a teacher. Those are roles, though – they are not who I am. What happens when I graduate? What happens if I am no longer offered a teaching position? Who am I then? Instead, it is better to think of the traits that led me to be so successful in these roles.

I carry the role of being a friend, a sister, a person to lean on. But that is not who I am. I am empathetic (too much, sometimes), I am loving, I am protective and I am loyal.

I carry the role of being a teacher and a student, but that is not who I am. I am curious, I am creative, I am a problem solver.

I carry the role of being a writer, musician and someone who tries to be physically active and healthy (not always the case). But sometimes I sink and don’t have the energy to bring myself back up. Sometimes I can’t be a good writer. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed, never mind going to the gym for a good workout. Sometimes I don’t have the will to leave my house to get groceries to cook something healthy.

The thing is, I don’t write, cook, and workout because those roles have to define me. There’s a reason why I write, play music, stay active, and eat well – I want to recover.

I am determined.  I am strong. I am resilient.

Vulnerability factors

I am doing research abroad for half a year and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier. I left all the bad memories and baggage at home and have started over. I know this is only temporary and I will return, but I do think that I will be more at peace when I return home.

Since I arrived here, I have been happy and there has been no need for me to practice my DBT skills. After a few bumps in the road including a misunderstanding with a friend, I had some reality slapped back into me. Even when I am doing well, I still need to practice those skills. Even when I feel like I am at peace and I am “cured”, I still need to have those coping mechanisms in my back pocket.

Now I’m getting very busy with my project, and I need to take care of those pesky vulnerability factors again. For me, I need to focus on 1) eating; 2) sleeping; 3) moderate caffeine consumption; and 4) staying hydrated. Sometimes it is not possible to eat regularly with the nature of my work, and at the end of the day I feel really awful and hopeless. But all I need to do is have a good meal.

BPD is almost embarrassing in that way. Not only do I react enormously to the smallest social interactions, but I also am very sensitive to things like hunger and sleep deprivation. I joke about how “hangry” I get, but it’s something that I actually feel quite embarrassed about. Like most things regarding my emotions, the difference in my affect is like night and day.

This is something I need to be very careful of. I don’t always feel an intense urge to hurt myself, but there are little things. I don’t care about my well-being. It’s a slippery slope.

Good things happen (in pairs and in threes)

Two nights in a row, I went out with friends, despite that looming negative voice telling me that nobody liked me, that I should hide, that I am worthless.
Two nights in a row I threw a huge middle finger up to that voice and dressed up, did my makeup, and attempted to have a good time.
Two nights in a row, I felt a wave of hopelessness and emptiness that I couldn’t quite shake, that made me want to hide, that convinced me people would be better off without me.

Two nights in a row I was given a helping hand from a friend, who listened and stayed with me until the feelings passed.
Two nights in a row I overcame the hopeless thoughts and fractured self-image and ended up having a good time anyway.
After two nights in a row, I saw a pattern emerge.

I had always known that I had sudden, intense mood changes – but I also knew that these passed relatively quickly. In the past I would just leave, letting the changed mood ruin my night.

Now I see that I can overcome these difficult moments, especially with the help of friends and family.
Now I see that I can weather the storm.