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Learning to Love Yourself With Borderline Personality Disorder

Mental Health

Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can feel like an uphill battle. It’s a disorder that, at its worst, can make you feel trapped inside a brain that is always fighting against you. The self-loathing can be exhausting and leave you feeling hopeless. However, there is always hope for a healthier, happier future. The first step is acknowledging that you have a problem and loving yourself enough to look for a solution.

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

BPD is a personality disorder and mental health condition that affects self-image and emotional control. Although BPD is not as normalized as depression and anxiety disorders, it is a fairly common condition. It’s estimated that about 1.6% of the population has BPD. That’s more than one in every 100 people. BPD targets a person’s moods and self-perception. Some of the symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Intense fear of abandonment
  • Fear of being alone
  • Feelings of emptiness or worthlessness
  • Explosive emotions, especially anger and sadness
  • Impulsive and risky behavior, such as substance misuse, unsafe sex, reckless driving, binge eating, etc.
  • Self-harm
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself or reality
  • Recurring suicidal thoughts, behavior, or threats
  • Intense and variable moods, sometimes called mood swings
  • Distorted or unstable self-image
  • A pattern of unstable and intense relationships

Borderline Personality Disorder vs. Bipolar Disorder

BPD can be difficult to diagnose because symptoms can vary so much from person to person. Additionally, BPD can easily be mistaken for other mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder. Both disorders are characterized by impulsive behavior and mood swings. However, there are a few key differences between the two. People with bipolar disorder go through periods of depression and mania. Mania is a state of feeling elated, euphoric, and extremely high energy. During a manic episode, a person with bipolar disorder will usually have very high self-esteem. This is in contrast with BPD because people with BPD do not experience mania. Their mood swings will typically only last a few hours, and even when they experience a short period of happiness, their self-esteem usually remains low. With bipolar disorder, manic and depressive episodes usually last weeks to months. Additionally, the impulsive behavior characteristic of bipolar disorder takes place during manic episodes, when the person is feeling invincible and on top of the world. They may do risky things because they genuinely believe they will not be hurt. With BPD, however, a person may engage in impulsive and risky behavior at any time despite their emotional state. They tend to put themselves in dangerous situations as a form of self-destruction or because they do not care about their own well-being.

How Can Borderline Personality Disorder Affect My Life?

BPD significantly impacts self-esteem and self-image, which can have profound repercussions in your life. Individuals with BPD often grapple with an unstable self-concept and self-worth. Their self-image is like a fragile mirror, easily shattered by perceived slights or rejections. This instability in self-esteem can result in a perpetual sense of emptiness, self-loathing, and chronic feelings of inadequacy. These feelings can make socializing difficult. If you struggle with BPD, you may find yourself analyzing every interaction in depth to look for signs of rejection from the other person. Regular conversation may seem, to you, filled with passive aggression, derisive comments, and hints that the person on the other side doesn’t like you. Because of this skewed perception, you may take extreme measures in self-defense or in an attempt to forge connections. This could include changing the way you present yourself to be more acceptable to others. You may also find yourself becoming intensely emotionally attached to others, sometimes to the point of dependency. This can happen as someone with BPD tries to avoid abandonment. On the other hand, you may push away all emotional connections to avoid getting hurt or rejected in the first place. Romantic relationships can be especially challenging for people with BPD. You may find yourself craving a romantic partner intensely despite the unsuccessful relationships you’ve had in the past. This is because people with BPD crave acceptance and fear rejection. They also are not secure as individuals and may feel that having a partner can make up for their perceived inadequacies or help them feel more whole. Unfortunately, a romantic partnership will not fix all of the issues in your life. In fact, BPD can cause unique issues for partners because of the core features of the disorder. In professional environments, BPD can also bring challenges. Impulsivity and intense mood swings can make consistent work difficult, and criticism from superiors or colleagues can cause emotional meltdowns. Additionally, problems with interpersonal relationships within the workplace may become a recurring issue. Engaging in risky behavior at or outside of work may make someone with BPD an unreliable employee with subpar performance. Similar issues arise for students living with BPD. This can make it difficult for people with the disorder to hold down a job or complete their education. On top of all of these challenges, BPD poses a financial risk as well. Impulsive behaviors such as shopping sprees or drug habits can be costly, but the monetary cost often doesn’t occur to the individual until it’s too late. Bills from treatment and therapies can also put a financial strain on the individual and their family.

What Are the Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder?

There is no single cause of BPD. Rather, there are risk factors that can make you more at risk for developing the disorder. You do not have to have all or any of the risk factors to have BPD, however. There may also be contributing factors outside of the ones listed here that are unique to your life experience. Genetics can play a role in the development of BPD. If you have a family member with BPD, especially a close relative such as a parent or sibling, you are more likely to have the disorder as well. The risk increases if there is a longer history of mental health disorders in your family. This is because chemical imbalances in the brain can contribute to the development of the condition, and those imbalances can be inherited. The biggest risk factor for BPD is adverse experiences in childhood. Emotional or physical abuse, neglect, and abandonment can have profound effects on the way the brain functions. The trauma caused by these events can be difficult to deal with, and mental health disorders often develop as a way to cope with the long-term effects. BPD makes you expect abandonment or harm from everyone around you, potentially as a result of the abandonment and hurt you felt as a child. Trauma that takes place later in life can also increase your risk for BPD. Being in an abusive relationship as an adult can have similar effects as childhood abuse. Although BPD usually begins developing earlier in life, there is no age restriction for who is at risk.

Combatting Borderline Personality Disorder With Self-Love

One of the biggest barriers to getting better when facing BPD is the obstacle of self-hatred. You may feel like you will always be a victim of the disorder, and that can be a scary thought. The behaviors and thoughts caused by BPD can also lead to deep feelings of self-deprecation and loathing. You may not even think that you deserve to get better; this is simply not true. Every person, including you, deserves self-love and self-acceptance, as well as the time and effort it takes to get better in the long term. Self-love can look different depending on your current needs. If you are in a moment of crisis or are having a flare-up of symptoms, you can’t exactly wait to go to therapy. You need immediate self-care that will bring you back to a grounded state. That is an important type of self-love that usually involves doing things you already enjoy. Long-term self-love, however, might not always be the most exciting thing. Taking care of yourself in the long term may involve therapy and mental exercises that can help reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

How Can I Practice Self-Love in This Moment?

If you’re feeling angry or frustrated, you could:

  • Exercise
  • Hit something that won’t cause damage (like a pillow)
  • Do an activity that involves your hands (like origami or knitting)
  • Listen to or play loud music
  • Try some deep breathing exercises

If you’re feeling sad or lonely, you could:

  • Cuddle or play with a pet
  • Allow yourself to cry if you feel like it
  • Listen to soothing music or nature sounds
  • Call a friend or family member to talk
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal

If you’re feeling anxious or tense, you could:

  • Take a hot bath or a cold shower; the extreme temperate can shock the nervous system out of an anxiety state
  • Eat or drink something flavorful and describe the flavors, texture, and temperature to yourself
  • Take slow, deep breaths and count each one out loud
  • Try drawing an everyday object from your house, and pay close attention to the small details you may have never noticed
  • Meditate, paying particular attention to the physical manifestations of your anxiety; witness the sensations without judging them

If you’re feeling dissociative, you could:

  • Chew on a piece of ginger, chili, or mint/mint-flavored gum
  • Clap your hands together and notice the stinging sensation
  • Splash cold water on your face or run it over your hands
  • Visualize a mental “safe space” you can retreat to so that dissociation doesn’t become anxious

If you want to self-harm, you could:

  • Rub an ice cube over the place you want to hurt
  • Draw on your skin with a pen or marker where you want to hurt
  • Stick tape to your skin and peel it off
  • Wash the part of your body you want to hurt and imagine the temptation washing away as well
  • Eat something really sour or really spicy
  • Call the suicide and crisis hotline at 988

How Can I Practice Self-Love in The Long Term?

In order to cultivate self-love in the long term, the following suggestions may be helpful.

Professional Help

Getting professional help is often the best option for people with BPD in the long term. Evidence-based therapies such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are proven effective in reducing BPD symptoms and flare-ups. We offer both of these modalities at Avery Lane and can set you up with a knowledgeable therapist to guide you through sessions. DBT is a modality that was specifically created for people with BPD. Because of this, it focuses on emotional regulation, self-acceptance, and reducing self-destructive behaviors. DBT helps people with BPD deal with distressing emotions that inevitably arise for them without resorting to impulsive and risky behaviors. This approach also focuses on the idea of the “middle path”; this is the concept of finding a balance between self-acceptance and acknowledging a need for change. DBT has been shown to be highly effective for people with BPD. One study from 2014 found that 77% of a group of clients no longer met the diagnostic criteria for BPD after undergoing DBT. CBT is also a great therapeutic approach for people with BPD. CBT focuses on retraining the brain to naturally choose more logical and neutral thought patterns as opposed to extreme and irrational ones. This can be extremely important for people with BPD who often struggle with negative and ungrounded thought patterns.

Mindfulness

A mental health philosophy and a set of practices that center on being fully aware of the present moment. Although mindfulness is generally considered a holistic approach, there is also plenty of anecdotal evidence that shows that these practices can be helpful for a wide range of mental health disorders. At Avery Lane, we think that mindfulness can be a great tool for people struggling with BPD. With BPD, your thoughts have a hard time being grounded in reality. They are constantly jumping to what other people might be thinking and the worst-case scenarios that could happen. These thoughts often lead to anxiety and spiraling. Mindfulness practices can help stop these thoughts before they get out of control. If you feel yourself spiraling, try closing your eyes and focusing on the physical sensations you’re experiencing. How does the chair feel underneath you? Are you hot or cold or somewhere in the middle? How fast is your heart beating, and can you feel how each beat moves through your body? Grounding yourself in your physical experience is often the first step to grounding your thoughts. You can then turn your attention to your mental state. Try to acknowledge the thoughts you’re having and look at them without judgment. Do not label them as good or bad; just allow them to exist. Next, try looking at the thoughts from a different angle, as if you’re an outsider with no prior knowledge of the situation. Are the thoughts logical and rational? Or would an impartial party come to a different conclusion? This process can help you acknowledge when your thoughts are products of BPD. Slowly, you can start to correct these thought patterns to more grounded and rational responses.

Harm Reduction

Harm reduction can also be a very important step in showing yourself self-love throughout your healing journey. This is a concept that acknowledges that progress is not linear, and it never happens overnight. There will be setbacks along the way, and in moments of flare-ups or crises, making you as safe as possible is the most important thing. Harm reduction practices can look different depending on what you’re struggling with. If you choose to use substances, make sure that you are in a safe place, such as a friend’s house when you do so. Ideally, this should be a sober friend. When using intravenous drugs, always use new, clean needles to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV. Take advantage of needle exchange programs in your area if you are a regular intravenous drug user. If you feel the urge to self-harm and feel that it is unavoidable at this moment, there are harm reduction practices that you can implement to keep you safer. Always sterilize blades before using them to prevent infection. Clean and bandage any injuries as quickly as possible to reduce blood loss. When cutting, try to cut shallower than you may have the urge to do. These suggestions may seem bleak, but they can be the difference between life and death in some situations. Avery Lane in the San Fransico Bay Area is committed to the wellness and empowerment of women of all backgrounds. If you are struggling with self-love and self-acceptance as a result of borderline personality disorder (BPD), know that we are here to help. You deserve to live a life without the weight of BPD on your shoulders. We can help you get there. With a team of incredible therapists and mental health professionals, we can cater your treatment plan to your specific needs and goals. Whether that means DBT, practicing mindfulness, or something else, we are open to whatever route is right for you. To find out more, give us a call at (800) 270-2406.

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