Perspectives to Remember for the Family and Friends of Those with BPD

“It is important to appreciate that once in hell, it is possible to climb out of it. -Marsha Linehan”

We complete this series of pearls from Beyond Borderline with the authors’ experience of close relationships. Some may find these perspectives both challenging and validating. Some may find comfort that it is indeed possible to support healing in relationship.

What has kept me here is the support of my family. Through everything I have put them through, they still stayed and held my hand. I went through intense therapy that felt like a waste of time, but eventually, over a long and tedious process, I began to find answers. I’m not better yet, but I am more stable… Relapse is a part of recovery. It’s hard to believe that’s true when you’re living it, but at the end of the day, if you are still on this earth, you have made progress.

I’m no expert on relationships, but I can tell you that being in one when dealing with BPD is a rollercoaster ride. If my boyfriend complimented me, I took it as sarcasm; if he was rude, I took it as a great personal attack. He is the person closest to me, yet I feel like he’s the enemy…It’s not easy on your partner. Author 7 (p. 54)

Just as somebody with lung cancer can’t search for a relationship to cover up the misery of their disease, I can’t either. Being coddled and cuddled may help soothe the misery in the moment, but it doesn’t resolve things in actuality… With BPD, relationships are complex, messy, and often riddled with projection as well as fear. They are not impossible but surely are challenging. Author 13 (p. 97)

Yes, I did do all those things (prompting others’ hurt, anger, exhaustion), but here’s what you may not know. While I may have made my loved ones’ lives miserable, I definitely did not wake up in the morning and ask myself how I could make everyone’s life miserable today.

After getting help, my family and I now understand we were all playing the blame game. When I said something that someone had said or done hurt or angered me, I was told that I was too sensitive, I was overreacting, I’d misinterpreted what they’d said, I should stop being such a baby, I should suck it up. “Life’s not fair.” “Why are you crying? It’s not that big of a deal.” And I always loved this one: “It wasn’t my intention.”

That it was not their intention (and I totally get that this was true) negated the fact that what happened, or was said, still hurt or affected me in some way. So, therefore, since it wasn’t their intention, or I had misinterpreted what they said or did, my feelings or reactions were unjustified–so, I was wrong, bad, or crazy. This is what caused the chaos: because I didn’t have “normal” reactions to things, they blame me; and because they didn’t understand or validate my feelings or reactions, I blamed them.

We know better now. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. We were both right, and we were both wrong. There was something wrong with me; I had an illness, and we just didn’t understand it or know how to deal with it. When a family member has an illness, be at mental or physical, it affects everyone around them. Therefore, everyone needs help to deal with it, not just the person with the illness. Thankfully, my loved ones did support me. They came to friends and family sessions that my DBT program offered to help educate family members about BPD and DBT. My sister went to the Family Connections program offered by the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder and learned the skills for family members dealing with a loved one with BPD. Our relationships are better than ever. Author 16 (p. 116-117)

This is the 11th and final entry of this series on Pearls from Beyond Borderline. Please explore the rest of the series and the many additional pearls in Beyond Borderline.

To further support programs, order Beyond Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder.

From Those Who Have Been There: Suggestions for Those with BPD with some Advice for Their Treatment Providers

“It is important to appreciate that once in hell, it is possible to climb out of it. -Marsha Linehan”

Helping others, validating one’s own pain and fears, persevering, having a life worth living, work with the treatment team, express your needs are among the recommendations for those with BPD from the authors who are making the climb out of hell.

And in the darkest of my days–of which there have been many–I have always found solace in the small ways of making life better for other people. So if my story, if my pain, can help me save someone else for making the same mistakes and I have, then I guess it was worth it. Author 3 (p. 28)

Living with borderline personality disorder is one hell of a ride. It’s hard, it’s scary, it’s passionate, it’s angry, and it’s everything in between. But when you’re given the right coping tools and a safety plan and a structure, life becomes more doable. Don’t give up. And don’t let it win, because when you come through to the other side, you see the world in a different perspective. Author 7 (p. 55)

What Marsha Linehan states is that a borderline needs to create a life worth living. That life can be different for every person. It’s a life that is right for you, beyond the chaos. Author 24 (p. 169)

The best piece of advice I can give to a recently diagnosed borderline is to never give up; even when it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, things do get better even if you can’t see it. There will be storms and valleys, and you will have to climb out and stand strong, but it is worth it. Listen to your doctors and nurses; communicate your needs and feelings, even if you think they are off the wall or you think no one will understand.

Accepting and learning as much as you can about the diagnosis is key. Don’t become defensive and bitter and hopeless because of the diagnosis. You can recover from borderline personality disorder. Life can be worth living, and it can be filled with hope. It is a process, not about the final result; it is about the journey, not the destination. Author 24 (p. 171)

Author 4 speaks from her heart in describing what it was like to be in a mental health training program where she witnessed the stigma that the diagnosis of BPD still carries in parts of the professional community.

I did try to fight every comment and judgment (about BPD)…That fight took a big toll on me, not so much on my work ethic or dedication to the cause, but it stripped me of my confidence and pride in having the disorder. I questioned every move I made and analyzed every comment that came out of my mouth. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was one of those dreaded borderlines. I was walking on eggshells, everywhere, making sure my secret was safe with me. It was really hard, and it made me really depressed. Why did people have to feel this way? Why did future social workers have to feel this way? Why were they learning about the difficulty of borderlines? Why were they taught to stay away from borderlines? Why were they caught the hate them, to hate me?

Be careful. Watch your words, think before you speak, and think before you act. You never know who might be around you. Author 4 (p. 33-36)

The next entry of this series on Pearls from Beyond Borderline will focus on the messages of advice to the family and friends of those with BPD.

To further support programs, order Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder

The Experience of Perseverance and Hope in the Treatment of BPD

“It is important to appreciate that once in hell, it is possible to climb out of it. -Marsha Linehan”

The authors of Beyond Borderline describe how they are making their way, respectively, along dark, twisted roads, coping with life’s hurdles, through the complex, messy process. No matter how long it takes.

Don’t get me wrong–I still have my moments of despair. Sometimes I still put my headphones in on the Metro ride without actually playing music so that no one will talk to me. I do not look in the mirror in the morning chanting loving mantras at myself. But I can look in the mirror without seeing the sum of all my flaws. I can look in the mirror and see beyond all the psychiatric and other sorts of labels that people have ascribed to me. Yes, I may be a borderline, raging alcoholic, depressive, former anorexic patient. But I am also a friend. A daughter. A sister. A niece. A cousin. A soon-to-be teacher. A lifelong student. I am becoming dependable. I am ambitious. I am intelligent. I am a woman.

My life and path to recovery has followed a dark, twisted road. But each wrong turn has made me stronger. At the end of the day, I am who I am today because of what I have been through. Author 3 (p. 29)

Life has not been without struggles, but as my health has developed, I am able to meet the challenges head-on with a knowledge that I am a valued member of society who family, friends, employers, and colleagues believe is able to cope with life’s hurdles and provide support to those I come in contact with. My journey continues… Author 5 (p. 45)

I have a bevy of DBT skills to rely upon, not to mention skills coaching from some pretty awesome therapists. I just applied to almost twenty jobs. I am hopeful that I will one day return to research, have a healthy relationship, and find my own apartment again. I am a dedicated person, so no matter how long it takes, I will achieve these goals. Despite my feelings. Author 15 (p. 113)

I’ve come to find that my recovery is going to take time, and that while it may seem to be simple, it will never be easy. Those who stick around through the complex and messy process are those I truly consider to be friends. Often this disorder can be isolating, but never will I let it defeat me. The breakup at first was devastating for me, but I was able to turn it into something beautiful, for it showed me that relationships are meant to bring out the best in others and not to be built on dependence. From now on, I want to enter them out of interest and passion–not out of need and desperation.

This disorder is a living hell, but I know it’s not impossible, which is what keeps me going, day by day. Author 13 (p. 98)

The next entry of this series on Pearls from Beyond Borderline will focus on the messages of advice to those with BPD and their treatment providers from the authors with BPD.

To further support programs, order Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder

The Experience of the Process and Outcome of DBT

“It is important to appreciate that once in hell, it is possible to climb out of it. -Marsha Linehan”

The authors describe how they participated in DBT treatment, as well as the effect and the hard-earned results that came from their commitment and efforts.

DBT taught me the skills I needed to help manage my illness. I deal much better with stressful life events. I am able to stop and think before acting on impulses. I have effective coping skills to replace the self-destructive ones I was using. I still have moments are lapses; I’m just better able to get back to the baseline or back on my recovery process quicker. Author 17 (p. 121)

Living with chronic pain, like BPD, takes severe patience, discipline, and self-knowledge. It is absolutely exhausting on every level to have to be so constantly aware, to have to keep employing DBT skills over and over and over again, only to watch those skills break apart under pressure. Author 14 (p. 104)

The cumulative effect of the DBT skills — I was learning weekly and practicing daily–was resulting in changed behavior and changed outcomes in my everyday life. It was clumsy, but I was making an effort to describe to someone a situation that was making me angry and expressing how the situation was making me feel and telling them what I wanted them to do or say in order for me to feel good or better about the situation — this, as opposed to a more scorched-earth pattern of profanity and unfixable relations.
The overall effect of six months of DBT was that I was less agitated, both in frequency and degree, than before. I found myself open to new things, new ways of thinking. When the doctor asked me to make a list of things I wanted, because I’ve spent my life focused on what I hated and was mad about, I found that I wanted a lot of things. I put together three pages of things under a heading of I WANT I WANT I WANT. Author 21 (p. 158)

Learning DBT was like finding the Rosetta Stone to my foggy fibro, BPD brain. Suddenly I understood. Everything became so clear. Building skills like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness has drastically changed how I see, interpret, and respond to the world, as well as to myself. I’m handling crises better. I no longer have a complete mental breakdown when I’m late or losing life, which is huge for me. Author 14 (p. 105)

And now, here I am to say this: yes, borderline personality disorder is frightening. It sounds scary, and it’s a horrible thing to have to endure. But I can also say that BPD is treatable and can be overcome with patience, persistence, and a well-trained DBT therapist who truly cares. It is so possible to get through it, so don’t quit. DBT not only saved my life; it gave me one. Technically, I no longer meet the criteria for BPD anymore. I still have some bouts with depression, but I can stand them, and I can get through it on my own. I do have a life worth living, and now I’m working on a life worth really loving. Author 22 (p. 163)

The next entry of this series on Pearls from Beyond Borderline will focus on the messages of hope from the authors with BPD.

To further support programs, order Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder

The Experience of the Therapist and Client Relationship in DBT

“It is important to appreciate that once in hell, it is possible to climb out of it. -Marsha Linehan”

Marsha Linehan emphasizes that “the therapeutic relationship and therapist self-disclosure” is essential to DBT (DBT Skills Training Manual). She gives equal importance to “treating therapy-interfering behaviors of both client and therapist.” This is an example of the dialectical stance that recognizes and works with the transactional nature of the therapeutic relationship. A strong therapeutic relationship grows with each authentic meeting of client and therapist. In DBT Principles in Action, Charles Swenson identifies the need to “build a stronger attachment between patient and therapist through the compassionate and effective handling of early adversity in therapy.” as a key therapeutic task. The DBT therapist balances change strategies (such as problem-solving) with acceptance strategies (such as validation) to build an effective therapeutic relationship. The authors describe the impact of the relationship with their therapists.

Although I still lived in emotion mind the majority of the time, I understood more and more what the heck a wise mind was and what it might sound like. I developed an awesome relationship with my therapist, and when I couldn’t find a wise, compassionate, loving voice, I would borrow hers. Author 12 (p. 89)

I remember my first DBT therapy session, and I was scared to death. Even though I had not made progress, I still was attached to my other therapist, and I felt loyal to her. By the end of the first DBT session, I felt as though this might be a good thing. I started to really look forward to my sessions with my DBT therapist. But even though I looked forward to them, I found I couldn’t answer questions; I had never been asked to describe my feelings and thoughts. I had no idea what to say. I was always so emotionally numb–no feelings at all, just numb–and there were no other words to describe that. Author 22 (p. 159)

On the first day we met, I looked down at my shoes. My shame filled her small office, and she gently asked that I look at her. So I did. She showed me in her eyes that she held no judgement of me. If there were ever a remedy for the ill effects of borderline personality disorder, it is DBT. But DBT alone does not suffice, as I learned many years ago. A framework without a heart and a soul is nothing. For DBT to truly work, there must be a therapist who is truly committed from her heart and soul to the recovery of her client. Author 10 (p. 77)

The next entry of this series on Pearls from Beyond Borderline will focus on the process and outcomes of the authors in DBT.

To further support programs, order Borderline: True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder