The “most vivid autobiographical memories tend to be of emotional events.” Based on experience with people with BPD, I have come to notice that these emotional memories become linked within one’s mind and outside of time. In other words, a distance of many years does not diminish the linkage between an emotional-laden memory and an event currently taking place.
A person with BPD will link long ago negative emotional experiences with current events because it “feels the same.” In that way, the person with BPD will sometimes act on these emotional memories in a way that is inappropriate for the current situation.
The sense of time is lost completely when it comes to emotional memory. As a response to this quality, one of my list members (who wishes to remain anonymous) crafted a brilliant “Top 20” list of the internal beliefs of someone with BPD. I will reproduce them here, slightly edited. I think this member did an excellent job of summarizing the feelings of BPD:
THE TOP 20 RULES FOR BPD
(An experimental outlook)
- All time is in the present. If something makes me feel bad now, it is linked directly to the greatest pain I ever experienced — and that pain is happening now, too. Time can’t heal any wounds because time never really passes. Everything – past, present, and future — is NOW.
- If I do something I feel is wrong, I am unworthy of living. Therefore, admitting I am wrong — or that I did something to hurt someone — feels just like committing suicide. I don’t want to die, so I can’t acknowledge that I am wrong. Even to the judges inside me.
- I am wrong means I AM wrong. It’s not about what I did; it’s about who I am as a person. This is also true of other people. If they do/did something wrong, they are unfixable. If I do/did something wrong, I am broken.
- I am constantly being judged by people who don’t understand my situation. Including myself. And the penalty for being judged as being wrong is death. (see #2)
- Memories are the files in my mental “cabinet.” But because I am always being judged, I need to use those files like a lawyer. Therefore, only the memories that suit my current feeling will be called up. Those that present evidence that contradicts that feeling will not be considered admissible… or will be doctored to preserve my innocence. Again, it’s a matter of my life or my death.
- I am like a ship with a thin, fragile hull — any hole will sink me. Therefore, anything that approaches near enough is a danger, and must be kept away. At all costs.
- Everyone is just an extension of me — so if I can’t control them, it means I can’t control myself. Likewise, when someone steps outside my control, I — by definition — lose control.
- I cannot bear pain — therefore I must find someone else to bear it for me. If they don’t take the weight of my pain, I will be crushed. Literally.
- If I take responsibility for making something happen, I will have to deal with disappointment. At some point, it won’t work, and that means I will have been wrong, which will feel like death. I cannot risk death, so I can’t risk responsibility.
- Relationships are attractive, but will end in disappointment. They are like cigarettes and drugs — soothing at first, but they’ll kill you. However, they are addictive. This makes them toxic.
- I was abused and need shelter. But whatever shelter I run to, they will eventually abuse me. So I must be constantly on guard, to prevent being violated. If I let down my guard, I will be abused again. There is only one thing that leads to abuse: trust.
- Asking me to be calm in the face of what I believe is danger is like asking the Scarecrow not to be afraid when the Wicked Witch holds up the burning broom.
- Thought is reality. If I think of something, it is already done. If someone else mentions something, they have already made it happen.
- Anyone who wants something wants it right now. Including me. All needs must be satisfied instantly, or something is wrong. And wrong means death.
- I would never hurt me or anyone else. Therefore, if that occurs, it means someone other than me did it.
- The way the world operates is “effect and cause.” If I feel a certain way, I will find a cause for it that does not involve me, because otherwise I will be judged as wrong. And I cannot be judged as wrong.
- Other people created the shame I carry. Therefore, only other people can remove it. I was rendered powerless to do anything about it the moment it happened. I was powerless then, therefore I am powerless now.
- The world is how I feel. Anything that does not reflect/support my feeling must be annihilated. When it comes to feelings and ideas other than what I experience, I am like the Taliban. Those alien forces threaten who I am, and so must be removed from my midst.
- If you agree with me, you agree with my feelings, which ARE me. If you disagree with me, you disagree with my feelings. But, because my feelings are me — if you disagree with me, you kill me.
- There is no greater weakness than vulnerability. Open yourself up, and all you will be is exposed. And if you are exposed, you can only rely on trust. And — trust is the cause of abuse.