Borderline Personality Disorder,  Emotions

Emotions and #BPD

A person with BPD is characterized by having a diminished ability to regulate their emotions during interactions with other people. This means that someone with BPD will likely react much more emotionally to a given situation than someone without BPD.

A person with BPD is likely to get angry and, at times, fly into a rage at seemingly trivial events and interactions. She also will have a tendency to personalize external events. In other words, the person suffering from BPD will believe that other people’s behavior and comments are “about her,” sometimes interpreting veiled criticism or judgment of her behavior when the evidence shows that there is none. The person with BPD is also likely to be seemingly obsessed with blame and fault-finding.

You will likely hear a person with BPD say, “It’s not my fault!” or “I did nothing wrong!” These comments and fault-avoidant behaviors are a consequence of sensitivity to judgment and rejection.

Everyone has both an in-born and learned capacity to regulate his or her emotions. Reflexive emotions play a vital role in our ability to survive in a sometimes threatening environment. They are “mind reflexes” that protect and inform the mind of the state of the body and the body’s assessment of the immediate surroundings. Unfortunately, as with BPD, the messages that are sent are sometimes not in tune with the actual environment – there may indeed be no basis in reality for her reactions.

An ancient Hindu text characterizes this “misperception” of reality in the following manner: “A rope may be momentarily perceived as a snake before ignorance is lifted.” The importance of this “ignorance” is that during the time the rope is perceived as a snake, your emotions react almost automatically. (I say “almost” because if you have been taught to love snakes and not to fear them, you will not have a fear reaction even if you misperceive the rope as a snake). You feel fear, it is real, and you jump away. Your body reacts as well.

When I say “feel fear,” I really mean it. Your heart rate increases, the capillaries in your extremities contract to save blood for vital organs, adrenaline is released to your blood stream. Your fear is real and felt directly. However, it is based on a misperception of reality. When you see that it is actually a rope, you might feel foolish or you might, if you had BPD, still try to convince everyone else that it is really a snake even though others can see it is a rope. The reason for this behavior is that the feelings are so immediate and seem so “true” that you have to make “reality” match your feelings, rather than the other way around. When an emotional reaction conflicts with the state of the environment for whatever reason, it is said to be a “misaligned” emotional reaction.

What I realized about this story after I published the first edition of this book was that 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. Considering the “false alarms” (positives) that a person with BPD experiences, this threat-awareness, for whatever reason, seems to be on a hair trigger for someone with BPD.

Adapted from When Hope is Not Enough

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