The notion of being kind to ourselves is a concept most borderlines find foreign. So many of us have internalized the harsh, critical voices of our parents; the little voice in the back of my mind is often my mother’s, pointing out my mistakes, telling me I am being unreasonable or weak or overemotional.
Part of this, I believe, stems ironically from our fear of abandonment. We figure, if we’re perfect, then the people will love will want us and love us and stay with us forever. Whenever we slip up, that part of ourselves (the ‘manage-atrix’, as Kiera Van Gelder called it in The Buddha and the Borderline) berates us harshly because it is scared, as well. The manage-atrix is convinced that perfection can fend off abandonment. And so whenever we prove to be imperfect, it lashes out.
How do you be kind to yourself when there’s a very large part of you that thinks, first of all, that you don’t deserve to be treated kindly? Logically, I realize that this is a silly opinion to have — everyone deserves to be treated kindly. But emotionally, I find myself obsessing over the times I’ve ever been unkind, and I become convinced that someone so selfish, so self-centred doesn’t deserve kindness.
Second of all, the manage-atrix dislikes self-love. Being kind to yourself, it figures, means being careless. It means forgiving yourself for mistakes, which is unacceptable to the manage-atrix because it thinks that punishment is the best way to prevent slip-ups from being repeated again. The manage-atrix’s line of thought is this: if you’re kind to yourself, you will wind up letting yourself deteriorate, and obviously nobody will want you and you’ll be abandoned.
Last, but perhaps the most important of all… how do you be kind to yourself when you have absolutely no idea how to go about doing that? I’ve lived like this for so long that I have no clue how it works any other way.
This, I guess, is where the Boyfriend comes in.
Some time back the Boyfriend and I had a fight. It was one of those ‘perfect storm’ arguments — an awful combination of things that lit the powder barrel, so to speak.
What happened was that when I was over at his place, I saw him reply one of his friends on his phone. This was a friend that I disliked, mostly because I felt that she behaved a little too indiscriminately, being all touchy-feely with the Boyfriend even in front of me.
I didn’t snap immediately. What I did was pout and ask, in a somewhat whiny tone, why he was talking to her. He, on the other hand, saw through my passive-aggressiveness (ha) and reacted defensively.
“What’s wrong with me doing that?” He asked.
Of course, I rationally and logically knew there was nothing wrong with him doing what he did. It was perfectly reasonable for him to talk to his friend (maybe a little insensitive to do it while he was spending time with me, but eh)… and deep down, I knew that.
But if he wasn’t in the wrong, then why was I still upset? If I was upset about him doing something perfectly alright, then wouldn’t that make me the one in the wrong? Predictably, this train of thought pulled into its station with me falling apart and sobbing, desperately asking him if I was crazy for blowing things out of proportion.
And he ended up responding in the kindest way possible.
“You’re not crazy,” he said gently but firmly. “You’re just scared.”
My first instinct was to harshly label and berate myself. The Boyfriend’s, instead, was to perceive my actions in the kindest, gentlest, most loving way.
Once, I asked him what kind of person he thought I was.
This is what he said: “Your actions are just, at its core, a bid for and reassurance for love. You’re most generally easygoing and happy to spend time doing whatever it is someone else chooses to do. Yet this easygoingness extends itself sometimes to a fault where whatever it is I choose or want to do upsets you, but you’re actually upset at the very fact of your contention. In other words, you’re so easygoing that you get displeased when you’re not as easygoing as you’d like to be.”
I was honestly surprised that that was the way he saw me. What he saw as ‘a bid for and reassurance for love’, I saw as ‘clingy’, ‘needy’, ‘demanding’ and ‘annoying’. Instead of focusing on my overreactions, my anger or my demands, he saw through all of it and recognized my core driving forces: fear and desire for love. He even spotted something I hadn’t even noticed — my pained confusion whenever my actual behavior detracted from what I longed to be.
There are always two sides to everything. I always pick the worst one to look at. He, on the other hand, always picks the best.
He doesn’t give in to my (unreasonable) demands, but even as he stands his ground, he still chooses to look at me with love.
I wish I had his eyes. I wish I knew how to refrain from acting on my impulses, yet still be kind towards myself for having those impulses in the first place. For now, I must learn to look through his.