“She could do so much better if she would only apply herself.” That, in a sentence, is the story of my childhood. The issue was, I was applying myself. To all the things that wouldn’t serve me in the end.
See, I applied myself to being all things to all people. All. The. Time. So they wouldn’t leave me. This is the nature of borderline personality disorder, which I will call BPD for the rest of the article. We are so afraid of being left alone, abandoned, that we cannot fathom doing anything other than what we think will please the person we see as Most Valueable Person of the day. Yes, at the expense of our own needs. At school, the MVP was my teacher, or my friends (what few I could keep), and at home this was usually a parent. Every time the MVP changed, the rules changed. Generally, however, there is one overarching MVP who starts the ball rolling in BPD.
Whoever that MVP is, they keep changing the rules of love. They probably don’t mean to, or even realize they are doing it. They probably learned it as a child themselves. But love becomes a conditional thing. If you this, then I will love you. Except THIS changes every day, and so the person who develops BPD has to anticipate the change, or risk the punishment. And there is punishment. It can be physical. More often it is emotional. It can be as blatant as yelling or screaming or as simple as a cold shoulder. So let’s break some things down.
How Borderline Personality Disorder Starts
And yes, it does start. No one is born with BPD, though researchers believe there is a genetic component to it. It starts with needs going unmet, and a deep sense of shame and terror of abandonment. Shame is the feeling that I am bad. Not guilt because I’ve done something bad, but the idea that because I have done this or that thing that I am bad. The needs unmet are generally needs for affection, acceptance, and unconditional love. This can come from a variety of sources. All that matters is that the source was significant in the child’s life, enough that the switch flipped in their brain and they began living so that they would not be abandoned by anyone again.
Once those seeds are planted, they can blossom into the beast of BPD, and I will call it a beast. It can take over, and has taken over, my entire life at times. It has caused me to lose sight of my core self in favor of trying to be the person I thought my MVP wanted. Once it even caused me to lose sight of my own gender for a few years. That was *fun*. BPD can ruin you.
Or it can make you.
How Borderline Personality Disorder Shaped My Sense of Self
From the DSM-5, one criterion for the diagnosis for BPD is “identity disturbance with markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self”. This one is a real blighter. In lay-speak, it means you have no idea who you really are. This is where the MVP comes in once again. They are the knight in shining armor, here to rescue you from the chaos that is the incoherent nothingness in your sense of self. Imagine for a moment looking in the mirror one moment and knowing exactly who that person is, then the next moment wondering who you’re looking at.
Your face hasn’t changed. Not your hair or your skin or even your teeth. No. But somehow the freak staring back at you is not you. They were a second ago, but not now. That’s what it’s like. So the MVP becomes your mirror. It is their responsibility (unfairly, and unreasonably, I know now) to reflect back what they see as who you really are. And when they get it wrong in those moments you can see you in the mirror, you lash out at them. That’s a symptom called splitting, which I’ll cover next Monday, since that’s not the only reason to split.
I was not fair to my past MVPs. One of the ways I’m working on healing is working past the need for an external MVP. I had to start being my own Most Valuable Person. I had to craft a sense of self from the ground up. I had to start learning, like a babe learning to crawl, then walk, then run, then dance, how to see my own strengths and weaknesses accurately. It’s been mental hell in a lot of ways. I don’t always succeed, but I work at it every day. I am learning to function on my own core values, rather than relying on an external MVP to give me core values of theirs to function on. I am learning to challenge those beliefs that are so deeply ingrained they feel like a part of my core, and rewrite the ones that no longer serve me, even if I can’t yet see evidence to the contrary.
None of this is easy. Some of it isn’t even simple. It’s work of a kind I never expected myself to be capable of. Yet here I am slowly crawling my way to self-mastery, because I don’t want to spend the next thirty years in the same mistakes of the last thirty. I want to make different mistakes. Better mistakes. New mistakes that I can learn new lessons from. After all, isn’t that the whole point of living this life?
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