TW: mentions of self harm and suicidal thoughts/actions
At the best of times, the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) are like listening to rain gently tapping on your bedroom window; you know it’s there and that it’s probably going to continue to rain for a while, but it’s not necessarily distressing and the noise can easily pass you by.
At the worst of times, it feels like the rain has poured through a gap in your window and is filling up your room while you’re struggling to keep your head above the water.
For those who aren’t familiar with BPD, it’s a long term mental health condition which affects mood regulation and thus interpersonal relationships and your sense of self. It can manifest itself in many different ways, but one of the symptoms I have struggled with the most is feeling completely overwhelmed by my emotions, to the point where I engage in destructive behaviour.
Self-harm and suicidal idealisations/actions are common in those with BPD and are arguably the most destructive. These behaviours have proved damaging to a handful of my interpersonal relationships and have had a long lasting effect on my self-esteem – mostly due to the guilt I feel for causing such extensive damage to others.
I experienced the pressing desire to engage in these at the times when I felt unable to keep my head above the water, as they seemed to hold the potential of release from suffocating emotions. I also wanted to communicate to others that I was struggling.
However, self-harm is not a productive way to convey emotional distress; and in the long term it can have damaging psychological repercussions for both the BPD sufferer and those around them.
I think the majority of people with BPD become aware that continuous self-destructive actions can create unhealthy interpersonal relationships (and destroy them), but often repeat them in a cycle of guilt and low self-esteem, in turn leading to a desire for validation.
What became evident to me over the course of the last year was how essential it was for me to break this cycle in order to live a more fulfilling life with healthier relationships.
During lockdown, I had a lot of time to reflect on my behaviours of the past and my attitudes towards myself and others, initially sending me into a spiral of self-loathing and shame about the impact of actions on others.
However, as I found myself growing depressed, I realised this self-loathing was ultimately what led me to repeat my behaviours in the past, and that I needed to forgive myself in order to move forward.
Self-forgiveness is arguably one of the hardest forms of forgiveness to achieve; I’ve found I generally harbour much more resentment to myself than I do to others – even those who caused me a great amount of pain.
What allows me to forgive others is the knowledge that part of the human condition is making mistakes, and generally most people don’t actually intend to cause others pain. I strongly believe there are very few people who are beyond the point of redemption, and eventually realised that if I can apply this logic to others, then I must also apply it to myself.
Being kind to one’s self often feels much harder than being kind to others; it’s often more difficult to accept your own humanness and vulnerability. But for me, doing so was the first step to breaking my seemingly endless cycle of self-destruction and self-hatred.
However what I found helpful to do in these times was to remind myself, often by writing a physical list, of the good things I have seen other people do, and the good things I have done for others, to remind myself of the human capacity for compassion.
I also had to remind myself that BPD is a very difficult condition to deal with. While I don’t think that’s an excuse to hurt others or yourself, the pain of living with BPD and the traumas that contributed to it are very real and intense, and dealing with emotional distress in a productive way must be learnt over time – it is not a natural born skill.
I don’t want to deduct from how my BPD has impacted those around me, but found that focusing solely on that was preventing myself from addressing my behaviour in a way that I could bring about personal change.
Through therapy, I’ve met a handful of people who also have BPD, and while many of them have made similar mistakes to me, they also proved to be some of the most loving and resilient people I have met.
While BPD brings about great pain, the intensity at which we feel also provides a huge capacity for love and strength. We can learn to forgive ourselves and nurture our inner good through little acts of self kindness and respect. If you can forgive someone else, or show someone else love, then you can do the same for yourself; borderline or not, you are more than your past.
Once I began to forgive myself for past mistakes, I felt as if I had the potential to grow into the person I wanted to be.
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