Borderline Personality Disorder,  Emotions,  Lying,  Manipulation

Ask Bon: Why can’t this person listen to reason (or see the truth)?

The Truth and Nothing but the Truth

It has been said in popular culture “if it feels good, do it.” In the case of BPD, the saying should be more like “if I feel it, it must be true.” Emotional reasoning is the inclination to believe that feelings actually equal (or cause) facts and events to happen. The feelings of someone with BPD are so immediate and overpowering; it is difficult for someone experiencing these feelings and emotions to believe that these feelings are self-generated. It is important to remember the function of emotions to understand why emotional reasoning takes place. As stated, the basic emotions function to detect threats to one’s survival (or either body or mind). Fear is useful to protect a person from attack. Anger is useful to cut a threat off and attack back quickly and decisively. However, in the case of BPD, a person will react to threats that are not completely “true.” Although she may feel that a situation is threatening, it is possible that she is detecting a threat that doesn’t actually exist.

My wife had a sure-fire defense: ‘You’re cornering me.’ But while I thought I was ‘cornering’ her into admitting the truth, she felt I was manipulating her into feeling something about herself other than what she felt. – ATSTP member A. (male, divorced)

In the case of A’s wife above, she detected a threat from him – that of “cornering” her – and would react with fear and anger. He didn’t notice that she felt the threat because his intentions were not threatening. His intentions were merely to have his wife admit the “truth.”

The problem with “the truth” when emotions are involved is that emotions lead to emotional reasoning and when someone is subject to emotional reasoning the only “truth” is how she feels. She will seek to mold the “facts” of a particular situation to match her feelings. This emotional reasoning is natural for BP’s. As Ekman states in Emotions Revealed:

For a while we are in a refractory state, during which time our thinking cannot incorporate information that does not fit, maintain or justify the emotion that we are feeling.

This is an important piece of information, which is why I re-quoted it here. He states “our thinking cannot incorporate information that does not fit, maintain or justify the emotion that we are feeling.” During a period of emotional dysregulation, the person with BPD will be unable to “see the facts” if those facts do not support the conclusion of what she is feeling. Therefore, the person with BPD is likely to interpret or generate alternative “facts” that support what she is feeling. She cannot be “reasoned with” during this state because reasoning requires an objective view of the evidence presented. The strong (usually negative) feelings will drown out all reasoning or examination of evidence.

This aspect of BPD is one of the more frustrating ones for loved ones. Loved ones (especially partners) will often ask, “When will this person admit to the truth?” I have already covered lying previously, so I will not expound on the nature of truth. Instead I will only say that emotional reasoning is born from strong emotional reactions, whether or not these emotions are based in reality – whether or not the threat is real or imagined.

From When Hope is Not Enough FAQ Section.


  • Caz

    BPD’s do understand that they’re mistaken and wrong about their past life.It is hard when people tell them that they’re mistaken and wrong and crazy and ‘misinterpret’ faces, comments and events.I guess it’s all part of their healing – admitting and agreeing that they’re disabled in a number of areas and that they’re wrong about things they say.

  • Bon Dobbs

    I understand that past mistakes and wrong are known to people with BPD. My post was to point out the problem with “in the moment” understanding “the truth” which can be deeply and profoundly influenced by a person’s (BPD or not, although more likely with an emotionally dysregulated person) seeing things objectively.

  • Caz

    You say “A person with BPD will react to threats that are not completely ‘true.'”I guess that’s right.BPD’s do have a lot to learn when it comes to ‘perceived’ threats and hostility from other people.You have to remember their anatomically damaged limbic system and amygdalas though.It’s not all their fault.Guess they need to listen to their teachers more.

  • Bon Dobbs

    Well, that’s not to say that there are no real threats out there! It doesn’t let a non off the hook if he/she is really threatening someone else. As you say, people with BPD are neurologically wired to perceive threats – real or not-so-real. The fact that people with BPD tend to perceive neutral faces as angry and that people with BPD are likely to read malevolent intentions of others definitely contributes to that idea. In the Siever/Stanley study they say this:

    In the intrapersonal domain, cognitive distortions include misperceiving others’ intentions, classifying people in extremes as “good” and “bad” (26, 27), misperceiving abandonment threats, attributing malevolent intentions to others where none exist, and inability to understand the mental state of others (i.e., mentalization) (28). Interpersonal manifestations typically include excessive dependency and turbulent relationships. However, these symptoms too can be viewed as manifestations of difficulties in the intrapersonal domain: others may be needed for self-definition and soothing, and thus neediness and hypervigilance to real or perceived abandonment can be readily understood.

    Interpersonal Dysfunction as a Core Component of Borderline Personality Disorder

    Manifestations of behavioral and affect dysregulation in borderline personality disorder can be viewed in the context of a disrupted sense of self in relation to others. According to Fonagy and Bateman (29), the inability to make sense of self and others is at the core of the disorder and is a result of disrupted attachment in early development, which may depend in part on the developing child’s capacities and vulnerabilities as well as environmental influences. This conceptualization is consistent with Gunderson’s proposed endophenotype of disturbed relatedness (2, 30). Although common conceptions of the interpersonal difficulties of borderline personality disorder focus on external relationships and DSM-IV defines the interpersonal difficulties of the disorder as “a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation,” the symptoms that cluster on this dimension in factor analyses are unstable relationships, identity disturbance, chronic feelings of emptiness, and stress-related paranoid ideation (typically, rejection-related paranoid feelings) (31). All but the first factor relate to internal states and self-regulation and have an impact on relatedness. Identity diffusion can also lead to extreme vulnerability to real or perceived loss of important relationships (21) and overreliance on others to experience a coherent sense of self. This perspective is consistent with an object relations theory of borderline personality disorder (26) as well as Bender and Skodol’s conceptualization proposing that lack of self-integration is at the core of the disorder (27).

    My point on mentioning that is that when any person is emotionally dysregulated, it is hard to understand the nature of the threat and the intentions of others.

    Additionally, when considering if something is a rope or a snake, humans get more utility from a “false positive” (thinking a rope is a snake) than a “false negative” (thinking a snake is a rope). It allows us to better survive in a threatening world.

  • Caz

    I still don’t understand how you can accuse BPD’s of “If they feel it, it must be true.”(sarcasm.)Surely feelings are real and true.No-one sits down by a river with a glass of wine and a good book and starts to make up a whole load of feelings.And again,accusing “the feelings of someone with BPD as being so immediate and overpowering that it’s difficult for…them…to believe that these feelings are self-generated.”All feelings in a non or a BPD are self-generated aren’t they?My feelings don’t come from yours and your feelings aren’t that of your wife’s or your closest friend,so why are,then,”self-generated” feelings in a BPD wrong and untrue and right and true in a non?When you say “It’s possible she’s detecting a threat that doesn’t exist”,is that about every single situation?Every threat? (In which case I have a lot of apologising to do).I see your point that “emotions lead to emotional reasoning and when someone is subject to emotional reasoning the only “truth” is how she feels(“truth” in inverted commas though.)That’s semi-validating.But then you say “she will seek to mold the “facts” (“facts” also in inverted commas),of a situation to match her feelings.”It’s not true.There is no such deliberate manipulative action there.BPD’s don’t twist and manipulate and lie about every situation merely to justify their “wrong” feelings to themselves or others.There is no space or time in their psyche to deliberate such individual and specific actions.To end with “whether or not these emotions are based on reality – whether or not the threat is real or imagined”is pretty harsh.But that’s just me.

  • Bon Dobbs

    Well, I think that my post must have triggered feelings in you. I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I’m stating the emotional situation as it often is. The situation to which I’m referring to is what mentalization people call “psychic equivalence” – where there’s a belief that if the feeling is there, the facts must be there. It’s an “effect -> cause” situation. Like, “I feel threatened, so someone/thing must be threatening me.” I said in my previous response to your comment that sometimes the threats are real, and the emotional reaction matches the situation. My intention in posting this was to point out that the feeling are real to anyone (BPD’s included) and the reactions to those feelings will be in line with the natural reactions to emotions – i.e. fear = run, anger = attack, shame = hide, sadness = withdrawal. Many times nons don’t understand why their partners or children react the way that they do to things that seem “trivial” or not in line with the intentions of the non. These reacts are emotional reactions and make perfect sense when looked at in an emotional context. Everyone, when emotional, seeks to mold the facts to match the emotions felt. Sometimes, there is little molding to do, because the emotion is an accurate portrayal of the intentions or others or the situation at hand. Sometimes it’s not.

    My wife reacts to most threats as if the threat is a life or death situation. She will “go nuclear” on people that she cares about or friends or family members because the threat feels like the same self-destroying threat that she endured as an abused child. When asked whether a current threat warrants the same reaction that she might have had as a child toward her abuser, she indicates that it is not really the same, yet it feels the same and she has conditioned herself to react with guns blazing to that feeling.

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