(I’m going to sound a little over-excited in this post but I’m still reeling from the revelation! I haven’t had the chance to apply this in real life yet, but I really hope it’ll work, and that it helps someone out there as well.)
The mistake pwBPD make is in assuming that things, especially solutions, are “all or nothing”. When we get triggered, it seems as if the only solution at hand is for the person who triggered us to get rid of the trigger. For example, a recurring issue for the Boyfriend and I is that I tend to feel insecure, jealous and scared when he wants to go out with his friends. The ‘solution’ that always jumps to my mind is for him to simply not go. It would be so easy, and I wouldn’t have to be upset, and everything would be alright!
Except that that’s a false statement. Going along with that ‘solution’ often winds up making things worse over the long run because we do eventually end up feeling guilty and horrible about it. This is when the self-hatred kicks in and we start ruminating about all the ways we’re disgusting and selfish and the people we love should just leave us to die.
In session today the Therapist wanted me to imagine how I would react in a healthy manner. I said that I would ask for some space to calm down, practice my breathing exercises, and then ultimately go back and tell the Boyfriend that, okay, he was well within his right to go out and have fun with his friends.
“Does that sit right with you?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “On the one hand, I’d probably feel better about myself knowing that I was doing the right thing, that I was being mature about all of it…”
“On the other hand?”
“But I would still feel sad. And scared. And upset.”
It was at this point that I realized that I tended to deal with things in either extremes. Either I flipped out and wanted the Boyfriend to override his own feelings to manage mine, or I became meek and passive and kicked out my own feelings (and wound up feeling resentful and even more hurt).
But it didn’t have to be that way.
“I guess I could find a way to deal with those insecurities… I could fact-check and ask for reassurance.”
“That’s good. What do you think about it?”
“So, there isn’t always only one catch-all solution? Wow. I don’t think I ever saw it that way.”
The Therapist pointed out that situations like that called for a two-pronged approach instead.
First was the solution for the more ‘superficial’ issue at hand. I needed to deal with that appropriately — do my breathing exercises, calm down, use my ‘wise mind’ to determine if there were any logical reasons for my emotions (i.e. if the Boyfriend had genuinely done something objectively wrong) or if I was acting out because of BPD triggers.
Next, I couldn’t forget that there were still root issues to tackle. At the heart of it, the reasons for my emotional outbursts were usually due to fear — of abandonment, of being forgotten, of not mattering. Again, I needed to alleviate these fears appropriately, or I would continue feeling upset and dysregulated. I could assuage my fears by asking the Boyfriend for reassurance instead of accusing or lashing out at him. For example, I could ask, “You’ll still love me even if you go out with your friends, right?” Or “Will you forget me if you’re out with someone else?” Or “But you still have the most fun with me, right?” While the Boyfriend would get defensive if I got angry with him and accused him of not caring about me, fact-checking and asking for reassurance would most likely elicit a positive response instead.
Wow. I don’t know. I honestly never saw things that way before. In the heat of a breakdown, I guess I always search for a simple, straightforward way out of the chaos. But oftentimes the simple, straightforward way either neglects the Boyfriend’s needs or my own. Which is why there’s a need for an additional route, thus ensuring both our needs get met.
It’s not a perfect solution, by all means, but it works. And sometimes I think we get so caught up in looking for a perfect solution that we don’t realize that maybe a perfect solution doesn’t exist.