Being optimistic about radical mood shifts May 28, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: Borderline Personality Disorder, Mental Health, radical mood shifts
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Overwhelming emotion has been a story of much of my life. From a bad temper as a child to the likelihood of anxiety and traumatic memories suddenly paralyzing me or causing dramatic behavior today, it is a thing I deal with most days. I can be calm one moment and in a minute I can be full of flurries of fear, hurt, and am shaking so much that it’s hard to type. This, in fact, happened to me while I was composing the draft of this blog post, because I received news that triggered fear, anxiety, and anger in me. I had to walk away from the post for several hours before continuing, knowing that had I continued as was, the post would have been full of anger. Parts may still contain a bit of that.
The neuroscience of BPD says that borderlines tend to have smaller amygdalas, and when a stressful stimuli occurs what happens in the parts of the brain responsible for emotional managements (amygdala included) is that it acts sort of like a small engine which revs up really fast, putting the person in a situation where they pass the appropriate level of emotion for that situation and often towards emergency levels of emotion. This, combined with the decreased activity in the pre-frontal cortex, where executive decision making, complex problem solving, and the ability to cognitively distinguish between nuanced ideas happens, causes a potentially explosive situation.
It’s like having the fight/flight reflex happen merely at hearing bad news. Wait, no, it’s not merely like that; that actually happens to me sometimes..
This state of affairs leads to a mood where impulses become much more problematic. For me, these impulses feel like swimming within an ocean of a new mood which I am drowning in. It’s like I was suddenly inundated with the waters of fear, anxiety, etc and the sudden desire to say something, do something, or hide in a corner alone is like being near something which is floating. To have the wherewithal to recognize that I’m not actually drowning and the floating thing is actually a hungry bear is a difficult challenge.
These sudden changes in the emotional environment within me may persist over an extended period of time, which for me is usually hours rather than days or longer (as with, for example, bipolarity, where the mood may last for weeks or longer.). Often, the mood will pass within minutes, depending on the severity and the cause. Adjusting to the emotion, allowing it to calm over time and through positive stimuli (affection usually helps), and preventing it from perpetuating via re-engaging the triggers all help avoid giving into the impulses.
Essentially, radical mood swings can sometimes mean going from calm to crazy in a few seconds. And because the parts of the brain responsible for emotional control and rational thinking are suddenly compromised, suddenly and often without much warning, one doesn’t always have time to prevent the emotion from taking over. The real strategy is to avoid triggering stimuli where you can, which can hard when sometimes that stimuli is a memory or a person (who might show up at any time at a social event, for example).
While there are medications which might help with this, for many borderlines the medication sometimes has little to no effect or the side effects may be worse. I am currently on no medication, and given my progress I am not convinced that I will need to start taking them. I will continue to monitor how mood shifts continue in the future, and re-evaluate whether I might want to consider medication in the future as that monitoring continues.
Stress, Anxiety, and Trauma
Being me, some days, is like walking around with a box full of fireworks in a warehouse partially on fire. If I pay enough attention, am diligent and careful, and if the fires around me are not too close, I will be fine. Triggers can range from specific people, being treated a certain way, having plans I was looking forward to cancelled, etc. One minute I’m fine, but hear some news, see a person, or am reminded of something painful. The next thing I know I’m (at worst) crying, alone, fighting of really strong impulses which will probably not end well, even if they are sometimes meant with the best intentions.
I don’t always succeed in resisting such impulses. Sometimes the radical mood shifts lead to dramatic behaviors. Sometimes it just leads to periods of depression punctuated by moments of intense hurt, unloving behavior towards people I genuinely care about, and further distance from everyone.
We all have things which cause anxiety, stress, and many of us have traumatic memories. I have lots of all of these. One specific traumatic event which happened shortly after college and involved a woman who I was engaged to, a daughter we had and gave up for adoption, and my finding out that my fiance had taken me for every cent I was worth and put me in massive debt was probably the major event that pushed me over the line of being diagnoseable (although it was years before I was diagnosed).
And as more traumatic life circumstances perpetuated, the amount of raw emotion present in my day-to-day life increased. Over the last few years of my life, I have dealt with being abandoned in a city where I knew almost nobody by someone I decided to trust. There was one bad living situation where Ginny and I were treating like servants, living in a basement and permitted to come upstairs only at allotted times. And while the events of a few years back still sting, they don’t have the potential, most of the time, to hijack my mood completely. More recent events of another unhealthy living situation are still quite fresh and have caused me a lot of trauma which have caused a variety of radical mood shifts over the last few months.
Those experiences existed alongside the many other complications of coming to grips with a diagnosis which excavates many deeply buried feelings, triggers, and memories. Much of the last few years have been a mine-field of sadness, trauma, and anger for me, especially very recently.
What I need from people close to me is some level of genuine consideration, and ideally care and love. (It’s fair to point out that this is also what I need to be giving, rather than allow the effects of these mood shifts to cause bad behavior on my part). And I get these things from many people, and my appreciation for that is immense.
But I cannot receive this from every direction, nor would it be rational to expect or hope that it would. We need to pay attention to where the love comes from, where the abuse comes from, and also that just because love or abuse came from somewhere it does not mean it will always come from there. People change, especially after formative events, and we should allow for the possibility that people will grow or that we had them wrong all along.
This is something I am constantly trying to remind myself of; the people that hurt me are not all evil nor will they necessarily always hurt me. I cannot lock in my view of a person for all time based purely on previous behavior and treatment, even if this is a significant or primary factor. I must also consider factors such as their willingness to change, their continued behavior to other people, and what they also did that was good towards me. Loss of trust, in other words, can be compared to how we think about prison; we can think of it as a pace to keep dangerous people away, or a place to give people a chance to be rehabilitated.
Because I recognize that I am a person who is capable of very good things but have also done terrible things, I have to accept the possibility that people who have hurt me might be equally capable of good, even towards me. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic right now (where earlier I was much more cynical), but most of the time I want to give people an opportunity to surprise me and to prove my estimation of them wrong.
Of course, there is always a line beyond which forgiveness and opportunities is too far removed. I would not advocate for this mentality to be applied to all situations, and am not precisely sure where the line is. I do, however, believe that when trust is attached to pain, it rarely will grow back. When trust is attached to our ability to grow, it slowly heals pain.
Causes and Types of Mood Swings
On Monday (Memorial Day), Ginny and I were driving back from Delaware where we had been visiting my mom for the weekend. We had been doing holiday weekend beach-bumming and drinking happy hour drinks, and on that ride back we were listening to one of my favorite albums (Collective Soul’s Dosage, if you’re curious). This is relevant for two reasons.
One, this album always makes me feel good (just like Counting Crows’ August and Everything After and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, among a few others) so it is a good example of a trigger than can effect my mood. But in this case, it’s relevant because despite the previous reason, I was suddenly, while driving and listening, struck with some recent and painful memories which started to suck me into a hole of hurt, anger, and depression. I had to fight them off by singing along, which got easier as I forced myself to ignore those memories. I was in a tug of war with the sadness, hurt, and overwhelming sense of existential loneliness inside me as well as the music which I love surrounding me and with my lovely and amazing wife next to me.
Such juxtapositions are very common for me, and they can be confusing for people close to me. There may seem to be a contradiction about being surrounded by people who love you and feeling crappy anyway, but it happens. Close temporal proximity of moods with conflicting natures is just part and parcel of my borderline existence.
Music can be a trigger for emotions, sure, but what about other things?
Clutter, disorder, and mistakes (especially if I make them) are a big source of mood shift for me. Staying too long in a messy place has a visceral and powerful effect on my mood. I may appear calm and normal, but if the space I’m in is especially dirty or disorganized (and not in a minor way; it has to be pretty significant to bother me) then I will be fighting back feelings of discomfort and the constant struggle against such feelings will make me more susceptible to other kinds of triggers, since I’m already taxing my mind by managing strong feelings.
If I make a mistake, I often punish myself internally. I have been known to get really angry if I miss an exit on a highway, especially if it’s because I got distracted. Not rational or proportional, I know. Remember the emotional management part of the brain going from calm to crazy? Yeah, it’s that. What should be a minor annoyance at most turns into heightened anger at myself or others for minor issues.
Dismissal or inconsiderate behavior is another. The closer someone is to me, the more powerful any level of rejection will feel. If a girlfriend were to dismiss a a struggle of mine, a desire of mine, etc it would really hurt. Luckily for me, all of my partners are very unlikely to do such a thing, so this is not a major concern for me. If a close acquaintance perpetually ignores me or scoffs at me, this is also painful and can trigger all sorts of mood shifts, but usually hurt and anger. This also does not usually happen (anymore), so it is not an every day concern.
A person who is coldly indifferent to the needs, preferences, or desires of others is also a major trigger from me. It’s one of the reasons one of my values is attention and empathy.
What about every day things? Well, as Ginny can attest, any annoying problem with (for example) one of my computers, especially if it was just working, makes me hella cranky. If I’m writing, being interrupted also makes me cranky and I will more likely ignore or be rude to someone who does so. Also, if I’m thinking really hard about a problem I have not yet solved, being asked about it makes me (you guessed it) cranky.
Why? Well, in these cases it is because I have managed to avoid radical mood shifting events for a while, and have settled into a place of some peace, order, and productivity where I am capable of moving forward and creating something worthwhile. But one idiosyncratic aspect of my mind is that (for many complicated reasons) I can lose a whole idea very very easily. Ideas form in my head like holograms, the whole is in a part, and the parts contain the whole. If I lose a train of thought and lose an idea, I might not get it back. Losing that train is one of the most powerful triggers, day-to-day, which can cause me to feel a lack of control and brings forth feelings of incompetence and frustration.
So, given this, one would think that the best thing to do, if I look like I’m concentrating and alone, would be to leave me alone. But then theirs the other side of this.
If I’m feeling crappy, I’ll sometimes lose myself in a game (although not always a game) as a sort of escape from the pain for what’s getting to me. If I stay there too long then I don’t want to leave, due to the numbing effect of the escape. The problem is that from the outside, telling the difference between the two can be hard, and even Ginny does not often know the difference all the time. If depression and deep contemplation look the same, what is a partner to do?
Well, as I have told Ginny, if a person comes over to me and touches me affectionately in order to get my attention and I don’t respond in any way or I pull away, then something is wrong. If I respond, but make it calmly , lovingly, verbally clear I’m working on something, then I’m fine. When I’m not fine, however, I sometimes need a tug away from the funk I’m in. And here is where these mood shifts have always become a problem for relationships, especially if we’re cohabiting.
One of the easiest ways that I can reel towards unhealthy and abusive behavior is when I continue to not be fine for extended periods of time, and then when I finally pull myself up a little bit the mood has not lifted and I am, you guessed it, exceedingly cranky. Then any communication becomes hard, and my deep feelings surface in the form of lashing out. If I’m in the funk, my behavior becomes erratic, hurtful, and sometimes mean. And I hate that part of me. I need to stop hating that part of me because hating it only makes it worse.
I have so many horrible memories of being in deep funks of depression and having a loved one try and reach out to me for attention, affection, and time together only to have me push them away. This, over time, turns into a cycle of emotionally abusive treatment which I desperately want to avoid. The problem is one of lack of communication about how I’m hurting, and it is unacceptable and needs to stop. I may occasionally need a loved one to pull me out of a funk. but it’s my responsibility to communicate about feeling shitty before I get sucked into that funk in the first place.
Which means that I need to exist, most of the time, in an environment conducive to emotional openness and vulnerability. I need not to be scared, feel bullied, or out-right abused myself. And if I’m not feeling scared, bullied, and abused then I am much better at communicating and not treating partners badly due to a mood swing sinking me into a depressive funk. Depression will still happen, but so long as I can communicate on the way down and keep my loved ones close, walking out of it in a few hours will be easy and the ensuing communication will lead to more intimacy and closeness rather than distance, hurt, and damage to trust.
The Solution (a work continually in progress)
So, how can this mess be fixed? How can I, as a person who struggles with symptoms of a disorder which fills me with fear of abandonment, feelings of emptiness, has the potential to make relationships difficult, makes me impulsive, and which subjects me to radical mood shifts succeed in the environment of polyamory? How can I navigate these harsh seas without sinking the ship?
In many ways, it’s akin to writing a symphony. Or, since I’m not a composer, it’s akin to appreciating the complexities, inter-weavings, and beauty of a symphony. If you have an idea of a theme for a piece of music, you can both anticipate and be moved by it. It may not do exactly as you’d expect or like, and there may be moments when you yearn for a note or a phrasing which will either be left silent or returned to later in beautiful and often emotionally powerful ways.
Over here, we have a deep, trembling, emotional tone (perhaps of a cello) which demands patience but is also capable of providing a sense of grounding and power to the music. Over there is the dancing quickness of the violin (for example), capable of soaring to emotional heights of joy and depths of sadness, but it’s part is different from the low tones and can often grab a hold of your attention in order to drags you along with it. The people in our lives play different parts, in different ways. And sometimes, according to what piece of music you want to play, the bassoon, piano, or timpanis may not work where in another they would be an appropriate addition.
But more important is the fact that we are not any one piece of music. Perhaps today I’m a playful divertimento, but tomorrow I’ll be a morose requiem (I’m been listening to Mozart today). With each mood, comes a different kind of music, and different people can play different roles in these moments. The people who keep coming back to play parts in our lives are the people we will develop close ties with. They fit us in different ways, at different times, and they help fill out the whole of our lives. Each mood, even the unpleasant ones, have people who can play parts within them.
We are complicated beings. We are not one thing, and we cannot (and should not) be defined by a single ideal or goal. We have to learn to move freely between our selves, including our moods, because they will happen whether we like it or not. We will change as people, both in the short term ups and downs of mood as well as the slow progression of intellectual, emotional, and social growth over years. We will learn new things about ourselves frequently, and we have to become comfortable with the fact that we are not people defined by either our past (our mistakes or successes), our present (how we are currently feeling), or our future (our ideals or goals). We are in flux, a Heraclitean river unto ourselves.
I am not a borderline. My disorder, as it exists right now, does not define me in any ultimate or unchangeable way. My past mistakes do not define me. The mood I’m in now will not determine who I am, because I know that it will change and I will float through sadness, happiness, and all the spaces around from day to day. My future is not limited to neither the ideals I might hold nor the symptoms which seek to imprison me. Ideals and anxieties of the future are not reality, and they don’t have to become real.
As a person who does not believe in free will as a possible state of affairs, I must recognize that the deterministic processes around me are the ultimate choosers. At the same time, I cannot see all of what those factors are. My will is as much a part of that process as it is a result of it. I cannot know the future, so there is no difference, from my limited scope, from being free and being constrained by the laws and forces of a deterministic nature..
My disorder is not an excuse, it is not a definition, and it is no more permanent, in the larger frame of time of my life, than my mood is right now to the frame of time of this week. I have hurt people, I will likely hurt people in the future, and I have many regrets in my life. My goal is not to never hurt anyone again because that would be futile and the prophesy it’s own failure. My goal is to continue to be aware of the geography of my mental landscape and to find the people who will contribute to the many symphonies which I am capable of playing.
And when hard moments, days, weeks, and months come (and they will), I will hope to allow them to pain my heart the way that Beethoven does in his 7th symphony, second movement; it will ache, it will make me want throw myself to the fire, but when that next piece of music come son I’ll be ready to dance. Those moments of paralyzed distance, where I need to be pulled out by loved ones, need to be moments of perspective and opportunities for intimacy, not potential for lashing out. Where I’m hurting, I need to recognize that there are people close by who wish to see me dance as well.
What the world has to offer, whether self-centered jerks, beautiful creative people, or all the NPCs of our lives, will give us all sorts of boons and banes. But the jerks can’t always hurt us nor can the beautiful people always raise us up. And remember; sometimes the jerks and the beautiful people are interchangeable from year to year, month to month, and maybe day to day. We are, all of us, legion. They, like you and I, are not defined by their past, present, or future. There may be many parts of them unseen by us. Remember to allow people to surprise you and I will try the same..
In the end I will continue to be optimistic about the people who have hurt me, knowing very well that this consideration may never be returned to me. I will not resign to classify others any more then I will allow them to classify me. Caution, not borders, is what is needed. I’ll try to remain cautiously optimistic, and not allow any person to define me any more than my moods.
And hopefully, soon, I will be on the borderline of not being constantly afraid, hurt, and angry.
I look forward to that day and I hope there will be many others with me along the road. The road to recovery is difficult but manageable with appropriate levels of compassion, empathy, and willingness not to define each other merely by the hurt we cause.
Impulsiveness: The invisible villain within May 21, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: Borderline Personality Disorder, impulsiveness, Mental Health
Why would I suspect such a thing? Well, people who have symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder tend to have these brain regions of reduced size, especially those with comorbid PTSD (source). People with reduced hippocampi tend to be more impulsive.
Borderlines tend to be impulsive.
Emotional management and impulsiveness are, in many ways, the hallmark of dealing with BPD. If you know a borderline, what you expect is a person who can shift moods quite quickly, and you might see a pattern of destructive behavior. For many borderlines, this takes the form of heavy drug use, unhealthy levels of promiscuity, etc. In other words, impulsive and potentially destructive behavior.
Perpetual fighting and flighting
Have you ever been suddenly scared and felt yourself become overwhelmingly alert, reactive, or anxious? Your adrenaline spikes, your fight/flight instincts kick in, and while you are more alert you may find that if you tried to apply some rational analysis to the situation you may be unable to do so. Some series of events have kicked up the parts of your brain responsible for quick decision-making, such as defending yourself or running away, but your resources towards rational thinking are temporarily compromised.
Now, imagine that this happened to you frequently, as a response to mild sources of stress or social situations. Imagine that this happened at a party or around certain (types of) people. Imagine if you grew up with this always happening to you, and so you didn’t realize this was abnormal. There are reasons I choose writing as an outlet, and tend to be quiet in person.
Living within a mind populated by fears of abandonment, chronic feelings of emptiness, and drastic mood swings (we’ll get to that in the next post) puts that mind on high alert all the time. Most of the time, I can easily manage impulses, whether they are to eat that whole container of ice cream, responding to that idiotic post or comment on the internet, or punching that douche-bag. In my life, I have eaten whole containers of ice cream, responded to idiots on the internet, and while it has been very rare (attending a Quaker school probably helped this) I have thrown a couple of punches.
But these types of impulses are not the largest concern for me. In my case, the larger concern is what I will call the potential monster lurking under the dark waters, barely seen but always present. This is the monster that interferes with rational thinking, probably due to the abnormal brain physiology consistent with BPD. You may have known me for years and never realized it was there. A few people do know it well, some of which do not speak to me any more. And yet, some both know about it and are close to me, probably because those people are amazing and awesome.
And, of course, my impulses, great and small, have led to amazing and awesome people leaving me. Hence my intense desire to understand, treat, and heal from the pain that often causes my impulses. Emotions and desires lead to impulses. Impulses can lead to both good and bad actions, but also to a wide range of radical mood shifts.
I have intentionally planned this post directly before the last in this series, wherein I will talk about radial mood shifts and emotional instability, because that instability and shifting is largely due to the presence of an aspect of my mind which sometimes terrifies me and forces me to be perpetually vigilant against an impulsiveness which is usually not a problem.
The fact that we all want to think of ourselves as good, smart, rational people means that we might lean towards self-justification in most cases, and this is also true of myself. But in my case, and I have no idea how this is true for other people, I’m almost always aware of the monster swimming under the murky surface which might, at any moment, cause me to make a poor decision, lash out suddenly and without apparent cause (there is a cause, it’s just usually buried under tons of emotions), or to spend hours or days parrying impulses towards a person who has severely hurt me. These feelings are the source of rationalization, self-justification, and cognitive biases.
When I first drafted this section, I spent some time composing examples of impulses, struggles with internal impulses to act in ways which might hurt people (because I’m being hurt by them), etc. As I kept writing, it became clear to me that the writing itself was a metaphor for itself. I was succumbing to the impulses that I was speaking of, and the tone of the section was highly aggressive, angry, and ultimately full of deep pain.
Because Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. After I wrote several paragraphs, I realized I was writing out of pain, anger, and I was suffering. And I wanted to redirect that suffering elsewhere. Those impulses to redirect pain (and abuse) are what has ended many of my relationships. I found myself doing that here, in writing about impulsiveness. Funny how that happens.
My writing was becoming an attack, not only upon people who have hurt me, but also upon myself. This is the largest, for me, result of my impulsivity. For me, being impulsive does not play itself out as drug abuse,gambling, or unhealthy sexual promiscuity. I don’t seek fights, stay out all night drinking, or go home with someone from a bar whom I hardly know.
Instead, my impulses lead to a frequent state of mind where the possibility for a rational or philosophical analysis are hindered. I find myself arguing between options which are all impulse-based, led by raw emotion, and I have to calm myself down to think rationally. Often anger and pain are the dominating emotions at such times, but not always. I am aware of this, most of the time, so I can catch it in order to calm myself down and re-evaluate (as I did here). As the years have gone by, this struggle and the subsequent need for re-evaluation has ended up making me too afraid to act in most cases just in case my decision might be made in a compromised state of mind.
That is, just in case my rational attributes are compromised (because if they are, I probably don’t know it) I have learned not to act, most of the time, rather than to act poorly. Of course, I do things quite often and sometimes a poor decision slips in, despite my trying to not allow poor impulses to make the decisions. The problem has become how to act wisely. How can I trust my ability to make decisions when I occasionally make really poor ones? Would trusting myself more make me more or less likely to act impulsively?
My intentions are good, the vast majority of the times (which is to say, I occasionally have impulses which don’t come from good places). I don’t want to hurt people, I want to treat people well, and I want healthy relationships. These are all trustworthy attributes, so long as I’m capable of practicing them in actual behavior (which is the vast majority of the time). I trust my ability to act morally and responsibly when I’m able to think clearly and rationally. And despite the fact that I usually act rationally and responsibly, that I make mistakes weighs heavily on my mind most of the time. I’m sure none of this is different from most of you who are reading this.
But my having a (likely) abnormal brain physiology, the skills to manage such human impulses require more honing and attention than with most people. We all can occasionally give in to an impulse, hurt someone, and then have to find a way to atone. The problem for me is that the little impulses every day lead to a habit of doing things which create day-to-day struggles for people close to me, which are often the result in tiny slippages of impulse control.
These slips can come to look like I’m a person to be afraid of, to not trust, and at it’s worst can turn into abuse. It is my most important day-to-day concerns to treat people well, anticipate their needs and triggers, and to listen and be self-critical. When things are very stressful for me, especially when I’m experiencing abuse myself, I have hurt people. I have lost relationships. I have lost trust.
I cannot take back my actions, but I can continue to be self-critical, listen to people around me, and be more aware of the causes of my behavior. And despite my mistakes, I have many people who do trust me because they know that I don’t deny responsibility for my actions, I am working to be better, and that trust is about who we are as people–if we are self-critical, if we are empathetic, and if we seek to learn from mistakes– as much as what we merely do.
And as my environment improves, I learn more about my disorder, and as I heal from traumatic experiences, my ability to manage normal levels of impulses becomes easier and I am less anxious and stressed. Where I, in unhealthy environments, had to be vigilant 24/7, now I just need to be aware of potential stressers and prepare for them when necessary.
Just like everybody else, except I probably have some abnormal brain physiology that makes it harder for me than most people. Lucky me.
Impulsiveness and relationships
What does this have to do with polyamory? Well, insofar as a person might be more impulsive in terms of pursuing sexual contact with more people, it might be a problem is some cases. Where increased drug use, gambling, etc affects relationships, it is relevant as well. It will effect communication and other aspects of interaction within relationships, but so long as that polyamorous environment is healthy, emotionally open, and everyone is aware of the issues and adjusts (to some reasonable degree, of course) to those issues, these symptoms are manageable.
Outside of the rare case where impulsiveness might lead to a decision which hurts a partner, most of my concern with impulsiveness comes from how I react to a recurring stressful situation or person. For me, the biggest concern about impulsiveness has been problems with a tendency to communicate with, react to, or act upon partners and metamours in ways, day to day, where I have not taken enough time to govern my impulses. That is, this is relevant to polyamory in the sense that it is relevant to any relationship.
Impulsiveness, and the subsequent shiftiness of moods, make communication difficult much of the time. Despite my desire for intimacy and emotional openness, because I’m managing impulses frequently this will sometimes interfere with my ability to communicate effectively. The resulting anxiety will have effects on my relationships.
I communicate my desires and needs poorly as a result of such anxieties. If I’m being hurt by someone, my ability to address this is hampered by a constant slew of impulses to say or do hurtful things in response. If I’m hurting someone, my ability to make amends is interrupted by an impulse to self-justify. If someone is walking away in frustration or fear, personally attacking me, or I’m being misunderstood or demonized then the problem is that I’m so busy fighting off the strong emotional impulses to lash out due to the fears and emptiness this brings to mind, that I am more likely to confirm any negative opinions of me than to demonstrate otherwise, if I do respond
This, unfortunately, leads to inaction where action is sometimes needed. And while I recognize that the ability to act, when appropriate, is healthier and better, sometimes it feels impossible to do so. Sometimes it may be unwise to do so, as a borderline, where for otehr people doing so would be good. Having these symptoms, I know that acting in some circumstances will expose me to overwhelming amounts of stress, anxiety, and my ability to manage impulses will probably be broken.
For people with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or a personality disorder which makes speaking up, demanding right treatment, or self confidence hard, to be told that we are somehow failing because of our inaction only rubs salt into the wound, because we already know that.
Any person proceeding with comparable ease in asserting oneself and not being paralyzed by fear, anxiety, or emotional management is in a place of privilege. A place of privilege should be a place of compassion and understanding, not accusation and superiority. I’m in a place where I need understanding, encouragement, and care and not judgment, abuse, and demonization. I’m trying very hard to manage intense impulses, mood swings, and fears every day. If you are not, then making assertive decisions, requests, etc is easy.
Communication will often be hard for me until I reach the point of remission; until I am no longer diagnoseable. Until then, please remember that my disorder may not give me a free pass on my mistakes, but it also does not define me in any essential or fundamental way. Don’t allow anyone to only be defined by their mistakes, because we all make them. We all sometimes succumb to the worst impulses within us,and we all need to remember that each of us has also done good as well as bad.
My impulses, when I’m in a healthy place, are manageable and often good as well as bad. I’m hoping for more impulses to say hello, to give hugs, and to force myself to move past my fears and develop relationships of all kinds. Because some impulses should not be resisted.
Right now, I’m having an impulse to stop writing.
Instability Multiplied May 18, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, Mental Health, relationship
This will be, without a doubt, one of the hardest posts I will ever write.
The reasons for this are complicated, and I will not dwell on those complications. I will simply say that to write about this puts on full display all of my deepest fears, my largest failures, and my greatest hope for improvement. And while I value intimacy and appreciate human vulnerability, I recognize how hard those things can be to show to the world. This is me at my most vulnerable.
Why would a person who has a disorder which makes relationships turbulent, often unstable, and who can bounce between fears of intimacy and personal envelopment willingly enter into an arrangement where they will have multiple relationships? If relationships can be so difficult, then why would a borderline be polyamorous?
Why might borderlines become polyamorous?
Well, there are the actual reasons, and there may be a plethora of reasons people might give which would act as criticisms. I cannot predict what those accusations and guesses might be, but here are a couple which come to mind when I think about this.
Some might postulate that borderlines might be attracted to polyamory because the fear of intimacy would push a person towards a relationship structure where the “true intimacy” of monogamy is absent. One can achieve validation, from multiple sources, while not being subject to too much intimacy, due to having to divide up your time.
This, of course, implies that true intimacy is not possible within polyamory, or is at least disadvantaged by it by spreading around the intimacy in a way that is detrimental to any specific relationship. This assumption is unwarranted, and thus the previous argument would be a red herring, if used. The truth is that in many ways polyamory can be a gateway to increased intimacy, honesty, and vulnerability for partners.
Some might argue that it is because of the impulsiveness of borderlines that polyamory looks inviting. Since, some may say, we borderlines often yearn for validation, intimacy, and often try to fill in the holes of emptiness with things like drugs, gambling, or promiscuity, polyamory might be seen as a more acceptable alternative to those extremes; as a way of compromising with our impulsiveness and finding a more acceptable outlet for our desire to get our rocks off. I say more acceptable, because to some people, cheating is considered more acceptable than non-monogamy.
And I cannot deny that this might be a factor for some people who are both borderlines and polyamorous. This is a question I have wrestled with for a long time, and I am confident that my motivations for being polyamorous are (at least mostly) about what makes polyamory great, rather than what makes me impulsive. But if I said that I never pursued any relationship out of at least some impulsiveness, I’d be lying.
Degrees, intimacy, and timing
Personality disorders do not merely bring in sets of foreign behaviors which no neuro-typical people could display and which cause havoc on the normal world blind-sided. Things like feelings of emptiness, fear of abandonment, and complications with intimacy in relationships are fairly common among most people. What makes someone a borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, or anti-social (staying within the realm of dramatic/emotional personality disorders) is the degree to which normal human behaviors begin to have more influence over someone’s behavior. It’s about proportions, degrees, and manageability. Many of the struggles I talk about here will sound familiar to most people, although the degree may be different.
Many people have issues with intimacy. These issues play themselves out as (in some cases) different needs and wants which effect different people in a variety of ways. For example, a person may need attention while another does not want to give it just now, or at least in that way. This may either cause an argument, cold distance, or a conversation which brings understanding and increased intimacy.
As we navigate the world, we meet people we want differing levels of intimacy from, and sometimes we might meet 2, 3 or more people who fit us in ways which make us want to develop intimacy (of varying kinds) with all of them. Our cultural expectations (as they are now) generally lean towards choosing one of these people to be our sexual, romantic, and potentially marital partner. The reasons for this are complicated, and well beyond the scope of this post.
The point is that we all have complicated needs and wants around intimacy, and we all have differing levels of ability to manage those needs. A borderline has an issue with management of feelings, fears, etc in a way that those who are neuro-typical do not. But borderlines also can genuinely love, and love many times over! It may mean we have to work harder at communicating our difficulties, we may have more exposed complications with triggers, and we may be more likely to have turbulence within relationships, but the underlying impulses, needs, and potential for multiplied love is the same as anyone else.
From my own experience, I can say that communicating fears, needs, and desires is hard. I mean hard. No, I mean really fucking HARD. It’s easier when intimacy has been established, sure, but it feels nearly impossible when any dislike or emotional coldness is present in the person we have needs from. This inability has landed me in situations where I have seriously fucked up a relationship by getting myself in a situation where I’m so frustrated, so stressed out, and so anxious that nearly anything becomes a trigger and my partner feels the behavioral effects of that stress. This has happened many times over my life, and while it happens in slightly different ways each time, it’s the same fundamental problem; fear of intimacy and the complications which derive from that fear.
This fear of intimacy can come in all shapes and sizes and is especially rife in a poly context because it’s not always just about my partners where intimacy becomes a problem. That’s because the issues around intimacy are not limited to people we want romantic and/or sexual connections with.
Speaking for myself, I often desire some level of intimacy with all sorts of people, even people I have no sexual or romantic interest in. I want to be considered, loved, and validated by people in my life. Of course, this does not always happen, which is painful for me day-to-day, especially if the person not giving those things is around all the time. How well a person treats me can have a major effect on my mood, feelings of self-worth, and potential for sustained happiness.
Often, it’s an issue with a metamour (partner of a partner) or close friend of a partner. I’ve had wonderful metamours who I felt distant from despite their awesomeness, often because my issues arose at bad times and in bad ways which created embarrassment, distance, etc. I’ve had terrible metamours who I’ve been OK with, because our interactions happened when I was managing well. I’ve had what could have been good metamours who ended up as bad metamours because of terrible communication and incompatible issues. I’ve seen all sorts of complications with partners of partners, and how we relate is a mixture of how well we are both managing our respective issues.
And, of course, sometimes the issue is with the partner themselves. I’ve had partners who were no good for me, but I didn’t see it because the blinders were on (whether because the sex was amazing, issues hadn’t been exposed, etc). I’ve had wonderful partners who were good for me, but it didn’t work out simply because I simply fucked up. I’ve had partners who could have been great only if we had both been at better places, including mental health wise, when we were together. Ginny and I were talking about how badly matched we would have been if we had met a few years earlier.
How silly it is that this fact is true. If only I had met some partners later (or earlier, depending), perhaps things could have worked out. Timing can be crucial, in such cases. A few years, a few months, etc might make all the difference between a relationship that works or becomes nothing.
So, then why?
So, why would a borderline want to be polyamorous? I cannot speak for anyone else who deals with symptoms of BPD, and I would actually want to hear from people in a similar boat as me. The symptoms can vary in proportion and play out in very different ways, so there may be many reasons for and against being polyamorous if one struggles with such symptoms. Therefore, I can only talk about why I am, and want to remain polyamorous. For the philosophical reasons (which may, in the end, be rationalizations) you can check out the pages about polyamory and skepticism, properly applied. And while I still agree with those essays and find them valuable as resources for understanding intellectual motivations for being polyamorous, they are only part of the story.
Because intimacy is difficult for me, when I meet a person who I am able to be close with I want to allow myself to be unrestrained in how I can relate to them. I already have enough internal fears to maintain distance from people as it is, so I don’t like living in a world where external restrictions add anxiety and unnecessary rules to this set of issues. Our standard social expectations about relationships can be a little confining, promote jealousy (emotional affairs, for example), and cause any potential intimacy to become surreptitious.
Living in a such a way where I don’t need to be anxious about whether I’m crossing some invisible intimacy line with another person with whom I can talk, share physical contact, etc according to what we want to do (because, of course, consent matters) is hugely freeing and comfortable. Worrying about whether sharing emotional vulnerability with another person might be cheating is not comfortable.
And polyamory gives me the freedom to have relationships of all kinds with any number of people. Of course, I rarely meet someone who I am really interested in getting to know deeply, right? I rarely like people, or something. I could be described as a misanthrope, perhaps. Except none of that is true. Well, maybe the last one, sometimes. The truth is that I often want to get to know people. I often like people.
But I’m also often terrified of being rejected, dismissed, or attacked. I often run into people who are struggling with their own mental health issues which cause a conflict in behaviors and treatment (usually on both our parts) which cause tension and anxiety (at least for me). In some cases, my shyness and fear look like disinterest, when inside I desire emotional contact with people.
But when I meet someone with whom I click and share common desires and interests, it feels amazing. It is so hard to get past those fears of intimacy and open up, that when it does happen it’s really rewarding. When I do so, I’m able to pour them into me, and to give all the vulnerability, consideration, and care that I have into them. I’m so happy that I’m able to open up, let them see who I really am, and hope that they like who they see.
Which is all great, until the other side of that coin gets exposed, in time. And that’s where this gets really hard for me.
Here it goes…
Sometimes Dr. Jekyll, this Mister Hydes.
In an ideal world, reaching a place of trusting someone, loving them, and sharing all of your deepest fears and hopes would create a stable, loving, healthy relationship. And even among neuro-typical people, problems emerge. But there is something that happens inside this borderline’s head which goes beyond normal relationship problems. Sometimes I feel and act crazy. The result, with some people, is a loss of trust in me, them being hurt by me, and my feeling powerless against my own fear, loss of self-worth, and desperate levels of guilt and shame.
Which, of course, can lead to the other symptoms of BPD being significantly increased. My impulsiveness spikes (leading to poor decisions about communication). My radical mood swings (an issue we’ll get to in a later post) will become unstable and unpredictable, leading to long bouts of severe depression, self-harm, and to acute splitting (of a partner, a metamour, and of myself). My anger may spike and I may throw things, yell, and generally scream (metaphorically) for validation and affection (pretty much any time I lose it, that’s what I’m craving and needing).
It is at these moments where the fear of abandonment, the emptiness, and the desire for intimacy turn into a storm of terrifying rage, sadness, and paralyzing fear. And it is these moments which end relationships. It is these moments when I hurt the people I love, which are memories which will keep me awake at night long after the relationship is gone. It leads to self-hatred, lack of any self-worth, and to thoughts of (and sometimes actual) self harm.
When I feel the most depressed, I start to internalize many horrible things about myself which are not necessarily true. When i start to believe these things, I know I’m at my lowest.
How does this happen? How does the person who I want to be–the trusting, caring, gentle man who wants nothing more than to love and be loved–become this raging source of hurt, distrust, and distance? It’s because I hide.
It’s very difficult to communicate my needs, especially when they are emotional in nature and especially from people who respond badly to emotional vulnerability. And so I hide my vulnerability most of the time. I appear calm, quiet, and normal rather than the intensely emotional and vulnerable person I feel like inside. I cannot be the gentle, trusting, and caring person I want to be because I’m afraid. And because I’m afraid, I create distance. And because I create distance I feel unloved. And because I feel unloved the stress and anxiety lead to my inability to manage every-day emotions, needs, and wants. And because of that, I make poor, impulsive, decisions. I hurt people, lose the trust I wanted to earn, and relationships end.
And where I wanted friends, partners, and family, I create enemies. People I wanted to love then hate me, and this hatred reminds me of all the things I’m afraid of and I carry more and more pain to be vulnerable about with people in the future. It’s a kind of vicious cycle which I’m always aware of. And I don’t want any of it.
I can do better, but I need help along the way
As a person struggling with symptoms consistent with BPD, I need an emotionally open environment which allows for honesty, vulnerability, and support. Polyamory provides an ideal environment to achieve all of these things because it allows me to develop intimacy with many people. From a variety of loving partners, metamours, friends, and an extended network of people who are more likely to be emotionally open, I have the ability to choose my family or tribe in a way that will be healthy to me which the monogamous world does not as readily supply.
I love all of my partners (three, currently), and they all offer me different, wonderful, beautiful things. Also, my partners have great partners of their own, which adds to my environment in different ways. So long as I keep challenging myself to get better through reading, talking, and other therapies then the person I want to be will dominate among these people around me. And no matter what the depressed, self-hating, and terrified person I can be from time to time might believe, that part of me will not win.
So, back to the initial question: Why would I want to be polyamorous? Simple; I want to love and be loved, without deference to social expectations and norms. I am not defined by being a borderline. It is a diagnosis of current struggles which I will get past, and all of the voices of demonization about who I am. whether internal or external, will either have to remain silent or look foolish in time, because I have the capability to maintain healthy relationships with people I love.
My mistakes are lessons, and not definitions.
Just like everyone else
When the abyss looks back: Polyamory and emptiness May 13, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: angst, Borderline Personality Disorder, emptiness, Jean-Paul Sartre, relationships, sense of self
I first read Jean-Paul Sartre when I was about 15 or 16. And, being an angst-ridden teenager, much of his writing resonated with me. For many years after first reading it, Nausea was a specific novel which stuck with me. Here, for example, is a scene about half way through the book. Here, the narrator (it takes the form of a diary) is recording his thoughts about writing a biography of a deceased “M. de Rollebon.”
M. de Rollebon was my partner; he needed me in order to exist and I needed him so as not to feel my existence. I furnished the raw material, the material I had to re-sell, which I didn’t know what to do with: existence, my existence. His part was to have an imposing appearance. He stood in front of me, took up my life to lay bare his own to me. I did not notice that I existed any more, I no longer existed in myself, but in him. I ate for him, breathed for him, each of my movements had its sense outside, there, just in front of me, in him….
From here, our narrator moves on to realize that he exists. Profound, I know. Through the rest of the novel, this existence presents itself as a sort-of ubiquitous, nauseating, inescapable heaviness of things. Much later, in the climax of his “nausea,” our narrator sits in a park where he looks at the root of a tree beneath where he sits. The tree, and its existence, becomes a metaphor for all of existence, and therefore also for ourselves.
…I was floating. I was not surprised, I knew it was the World, the naked World suddenly revealing itself, and I choked with rage at this gross, absurd being. You couldn’t even wonder where all that sprang from, or how it was that a world came into existence, rather than nothingness. It didn’t make sense, the World was everywhere, in front, behind.
It was unthinkable: to imagine nothingness you had to be there already, in the midst of the World, eyes wide open and alive; nothingness was only an idea in my head, and existing idea floating in this immensity. This nothingness had not come before existence, it was an existence.
This tension between feelings of nothingness and the ubiquity of existence has always resonated with me. The feeling of emptiness, of meaninglessness, and of nothing has an inescapable insistence about it. I exist, certainly, but this existence often carries with is a heavy, unyielding, absurd sense of emptiness.
In other words, I was a fun teenager to hang out with at parties.
Lack of identity
One of the aspects of a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is the lack of clear identity.Without a clear sense of self, one can easily define themselves via their relationships, and hold onto that relationship as a defining part of themselves long after the relationship is healthy. This makes letting go of a relationship difficult, because a sense of self, of identity, is still wrapped up in another person either gone or going.
We can dress our inescapable existence, our identity, in any way we like. We can take on the persona of M. de Rollebon. We can feel the absurdity of ceaseless existence in the dark bark of a tree in a park. We can peel away at the layers of ourselves to realize that there is no sense of self which is not constructed and narrated. For me, the sense of self is largely an illusion, if not an out-right delusion.
We are stories that we tell ourselves. And sometimes, when we really like a certain kind of story, we insist upon it at the sake of the truth. The truth is that we are often contradictory, inconsistent, and variable. We are a legion of selves, many parts of the brain processing many things which (in a metaphorical sense) fight to achieve consciousness and control. I believe that those people who maintain a static sense of self are just much better at weaving one narrative than I am, but ultimately that narrative is still woven and illusory.*
If we were to take a person with a strong sense of self, and take away the things that they define ourselves by–whether it be a place, a group of people, or an activity–such a person might be left with a kind of boredom and restlessness. In order to relieve that boredom, a person might yearn for meaning, fulfillment of empty desires, and other people. In some cases, thoughts about suicide, impulsive (often destructive) behavior, and ultimately the fear of abandonment (or pain from having been abandoned) might feed depression and loneliness.
Being a borderline is like having the definition of who we are never quite forming in the first place. This lack of identity, at least in my case, is generally not felt as a lack at all. A borderline (in many cases) never had their identity taken away, they never had a solid sense of self to begin with, or at least had one grown weakly or stunted. And so long as we aren’t borrowing our identity from other people, leading to a dependent relationship, we might occasionally become aware of this emptiness.
And, what’s worse is that this feeling of emptiness can exist even while surrounded by people. It is a perception of emptiness, not an actually being alone and without loved ones, necessarily. It is a feeling that can happen while at a party, at home with people who love you, or even if you have a wife and two girlfriends. It is a sort of delusion which insists itself upon you, and colors everything you feel, think, or are surrounded by. For me, this emptiness is a depression and it feeds off of fear (of abandonment, for example) and does not believe that people can actually love you.
Filling the void with others. Lots and lots of others.
There are good reasons to seek companionship, and there are less good reasons to do so. There are also ways to evaluate the means by which we do so. Many borderlines will seek out solutions of this boredom and emptiness through destructive behavior, including seeking out sex and relationships merely in order to distract themselves from the loneliness within them. The tension of the desire for intimacy and the fear of being engulfed leads to them sometimes seek out temporary solutions.
This has not been a major factor in my own life, but I have sometimes felt the pull of this emptiness pushing me in that direction. That is, even if I had not often sought companionship in this way, I am familiar with the impulse. If I’m feeling lonely, I do sometimes feel the impulse to go out to a bar, hoping to meet someone. Many years ago, when I would occasionally do this, I realized that not only do I not meet people this way (at least, not often), but that even if I did it would not fill the emptiness.
For me, this feeling takes a different path. Sometimes, the people you love are not there when the feeling of loneliness and emptiness strikes. I have had moments of severe anxiety and emptiness while (for example) Ginny was on a date that was running much longer than I expected, especially if I receive no communication about it. While I can be fine alone for much of the time (whether through writing, reading, etc) there comes a time when the feeling of emptiness and loneliness becomes overwhelming, and then each minute of the lack of presence becomes painful. And this feeling can come on suddenly, without obvious cause, and become quite compelling.
In those moments, the desire to seek out more people can arise. And here is where I think some people might use polyamory (or, in the case of monogamous people, affairs or serial and shallow relationships) as a means to fill in the emptiness, rather than for the sake of pursuing a healthy relationship. It must happen sometimes to us poly people, us being human and all. The question is the extent to which this impulse is universal, and thus part of all of our behavior to some extent.
The question is how much of our healthy seeking of others contains some of this emptiness and loneliness at its heart, and whether this heart is always an abyss or whether this perception of darkness and pain are the illusions. I am not sure these questions have good universal answers.
I say this because I am not convinced that any of our motivations are purely good or bad. I believe that when I feel a genuine desire to be closer to someone, part of this is because they are a person worth being close to but also because there is a need to fill up the emptiness inside of me. In the end, all there is in this absurd and ultimately meaningless world is each other. And so to fill up the emptiness with people we love is a wonderful thing, so long as this desire to fill holes in ourselves is more than just a dependency or a temporary fix.
Relationships can be co-dependent, and this is is equally true within polyamory. The ability, and practice, of loving other people does not prevent co-dependency. The trick, I believe, is to navigate the waters of filling the emptiness inside us without either creating a narrative of ourselves, others, or the relationship which cannot be shattered or dirtied. We cannot allow ourselves to create a visage of ourselves, our partners, or our relationships which are not subject to criticism or change. In creating identities for ourselves, we cannot allow ourselves to create ideals which cannot change, heroes which cannot be questioned, or spaces which cannot be profaned.
We may need identities, but those identities don’t have to be static, idealized, sacred facades.
(see the next post in the series: Instability Multiplied)
*This, by the way, is one of the major differences between Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality disorder; where the narcissist is quite good at creating a narrative sense of self–an identity which cannot be questioned!–a borderline lacks this singular definition of self.
Polyamory and the fear of abandonment May 12, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: abandonment, Borderline Personality Disorder, Mental Health, neglect, personality disorders, polyamorous
There is an idea which has always simultaneously fascinated and terrified me. It is an idea so simple and powerful, and so obviously true, that calling attention to it, at least for me, feels akin to perpetually indicating the nose on your face.
We are all alone.
We are “thrown into the world” (as Jean-Paul Sartre put it), alone, terrified, and essentially forced to figure out what the hell is going on. The beginning of our lives is a sort of slow adjustment to the reality that there is more to the world than us. We have to learn that the world is not a mere extension of ourselves, and that many of the other things in the world have a similar subjectivity as we do. We have to discover other people! And, after doing so, while we slowly become individuals with our own identities, preferences, and personalities, we are then capable of having relationships with those other people (as David Ray Griffin put it, other people are indeed objects, just not “mere objects”).
However, sometimes something goes wrong along the way and our sense of self does not develop in the healthiest of ways. Whether through neglect, abuse, or some type of suffocation, some of us do not create an ideal sense of who we are and thus don’t have the tools to create healthy and proportional relationships with others. One aspect of this, especially for people within some personality disorders, specifically Borderline Personality disorder (in my case), is the fear of being abandoned, rejected, or in general not validated.
Being alone can sometimes feel overwhelmingly lonely and depressing for most of us, but for some this experience takes on another dimension. As the book I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me put it, borderlines often perceive “temporary aloneness as perpetual isolation.” Thus, many borderlines will flee from being alone, often in dramatic and destructive ways, and often repeatedly. There is a sense, for many people who suffer from this experience, that we become defined and meaningful through other people rather than through our own actions.
The resulting shifts in mood, potential impulsive (and often destructive) behavior comes from a place of deep insecurity, fear, and lack of clear identity. These feelings can be transient, chronic, or they can come and go (especially as other diagnoses, such as bipolarity, depression, and anxiety come into play). Whether feelings of emptiness, sadness, or rage emerge, it is clear that there is a significant problem to be addressed here.
And the issue becomes a question concerning to what extent others can help, and in what specific ways they should help. One potential outcome to these feelings, for many borderlines, is a kind of co-dependence (I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me mentions how narcissists and borderlines can fall into this trap), a relationship of manipulation, or one of out-right abuse. There are, of course, ways out of these traps. And navigating these issues becomes an important concern for anybody who has relationships with those who are subject to such fears of abandonment, neglect, etc.
And, naturally, someone who is polyamorous has a related set of concerns, which may differ from the general concerns of people in more traditional and culturally acceptable form of monogamy/monoamory.
So, the obvious questions; is the maintenance of multiple relationships merely an attempt, for a person who might suffer from these symptoms consistent with Borderline Personality disorder, to stave off abandonment, loneliness, etc by hedging their bets? After all, if you have 2 partners, one leaving will not be as bad when you have the other, right? Is polyamory not just another form of the oft-discussed (within borderline literature) issue of transient, unstable, and problematic relationships, where parallel is used in place of serial relationships? Whereas non-poly people might utilize “shingling” (overlapping serial relationships), polyamorous people might do the same thing when they add a new relationship if another is experiencing problems.
I believe that this is at least true for some people, but to what extent this is a motivation for polyamorous people I cannot judge. It is up to each of us to examine our own motivations, fears, and strengths in order to figure out whether we are doing what we are doing for mostly good or bad reasons. All of us are capable of selfishness, lack of empathy, as well as loving attention to varying degrees. If we can figure out where we are not behaving ideally and fix those spots, while simultaneously figure out where we are being good partners and emphasize those traits, I think we will slowly improve as partners as well as individuals. If we are to improve ourselves, we should do it for others but we should also do it for ourselves.
I could talk all day about how, ideally, we should be free to pursue the people we love in the ways that we love them, without undue deference to social expectations and traditional relationship structures. If I love 2, 3 or more people, I should be able to honestly, freely, and ethically pursue those relationships. But there will inevitably be some part of each of us which will self-justify and rationalize a deeper set of feelings and thoughts which derive from a place of fear and need for interpersonal validation. These feelings are essential factors within all of us, but they have more significance for people with some personality disorders, including BPD.
The lesson is that anyone who has such deep feelings and vulnerabilities should make sure that they are not dominated by them, and to make sure that they try to cultivate the good and minimize the bad. For people like me, diagnosed with a disorder, this becomes more important.
Polyamory as hedging our bets?
This leaves ammunition for critics to argue that people who are polyamorous are merely seeking validation through multiple relationships, overcompensating for insecurities, or possibly that they are incapable of true (monogamous) intimacy, so they seek multiple shallow intimacies to make up for that inability. And, I’ll admit, these charges hit me deep inside, in a place where I am not especially comfortable excavating late at night, when sleep will not come. I admit that this argument has an emotional potency which terrifies me, deep down. This criticism pokes at the very weakness within me, and so when the idea comes to mind, I feel like recoiling into myself and hiding.
But isn’t that just like a borderline? I, having a skewed sense of identity and self fueled by fear of rejection, abandonment, and even “impostor syndrome.” I have a fear that I might merely be doing all this having of multiple partners, and advocating for it, as a rationalization for being afraid of being alone. I think, in those moments which torment the soul (metaphorically speaking, of course), that I might just be the kind of person who only is with the people I love because I’m trying to make up for a set of fears, rather than because I genuinely appreciate and care about some people.
And then, as I allow my mind to calm down and think about this (that is, allow the fight/flight physiological response to wane), I realize that while these feelings might be potentially problematic in general, they are, at best, merely part of the tapestry which is me. I am neither the idealized guru of polyamory, contemplating sage-like inspirational maxims about love, living a life of relaxed, reasonable, loving harmony nor am I a manipulative, selfish, and fearful parasite. This cognitive phenomenon of “splitting“, which is so common for borderlines (as well as other personality disorders), prevents me (often, but not always) from seeing myself and others as nuanced, complicated, and often contradictory people.
It also doesn’t help when people, angry with me, offer me fuel to think of myself as the latter monster. Having written and said mean, injurious, and abusive things to other people while angry, I understand such outbursts, but they still hurt and get internalized, often.
And whereas the person within the cultural milieu of monogamy might find themselves afraid to leave someone who is not good for them until they have a potential replacement (because the times between relationships is so hard for many people), a polyamorous person still has to deal with loss of a relationship, no matter how many other people they have in their lives. Losing someone you love, especially if it’s because of the very thing which causes you the anxiety about abandonment, is always hard even if other people love you. Having other partners does not make it much easier to leave or to lose a partner.
Which is not to say it doesn’t help, at least a little, to have loving support around you when things go badly. Ultimately, however, it is a pain that a person has to handle alone, especially in the middle of the night when we torment and punish ourselves for our mistakes. But a person who cares and who will listen and give you emotional support does help, even if it doesn’t stick.
Just like in the beginning of life and at the end of life, when we all will face death, the middle is full of moments of being alone. And while this is a universal human experience, those of us who have a broken sense of self or experiences with neglect or rejection feel this pain in a different way. Abandonment will kick us all in the stomach from time to time. Sometimes it will be our fault, sometimes it will be theirs, but more likely the fault will be distributed around. And whether we are monogamous (serially or stably) or non-monogamous, that kick hurts.
I am still working out the solution to all this (I may never do so), but for the moment I’m trying to keep in mind that so long as I’m trying to learn from my mistakes, am not allowing my fears to dominate my behaviors, and accepting what is my responsibility, I will be less likely to have my fear of abandonment become a repeated self-fulfilling prophesy.
The tension between my yearning for intimacy, my fear of intimacy, my predilection to hide from the world in solitude, and my fear of that same solitude can only be healed by maintaining healthy, emotionally validating relationships with people who not only treat me well, but who understand that I’m struggling very hard to not push people away or to control, have power over, or to manipulate them. And while the responsibility for the behavior that does push people away or make people feel manipulated by or abused by me, falls on me alone, it is also true that a healthy cultural and social environment is the responsibility of the individuals which make it up. Everything from micro-aggressions, invalidating communication, to down right lack of consideration and abuse will exacerbate the issues within us all, rather than create a safe and emotionally healthy space.
I will continue to do better on that front, and I will try and seek people who will be trying to do the same, from now on.
Tags: Borderline Personality Disorder, Mental Health, relationships
In reading about borderline personality disorder, talking about my symptoms and finding solutions to the problems they cause, and in evaluating the mistakes I have made both recently and in the more distant past in terms of my relationships, I have come to worry about a few things that pertain to being polyamorous. Over the unpredictable number of coming weeks while I will be writing about this issue, I want to tease apart some complicated, troubling, and ultimately interesting questions (at least to me) about how some personality disorders affect relationships, how relationships can best work for us regardless of such disorders, and what these things can tell us about how we should re-think the expectations of relationships as individuals and as a culture.
I want to deal with these issues in short bursts, rather than one large analysis (you’re welcome, readers). Today, I want to paint a very tentative overview of the terrain I plan on covering in the next several posts.
There are 9 criteria for diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder. While many of them may seem disparate in many ways, they are linked in complicated and often distressing ways, especially in my mind. There are 5 of these criteria which I believe have immediate effects on relationships whether they are sexual, romantic, or platonic in nature. I want to deal with each of these criteria one at a time, but here I just want to summarize them. I’ll qualify that not all of these criteria are especially strong or problematic for me personally, even if they have some relevance for me. I cannot speak for any other people who have symptoms consistent with this diagnosis, so the experiences and opinions of others may differ from mine.
(edit: I will add links to posts as they appear)
For many borderlines, although not so much me (being an introvert), temporarily being alone can be perceived as part of a perpetual isolation. The feelings which arise at times like this can include depression, but also rage at the world in general (depending on the specifics) There are times, whether late at night, at a party with people who are not trusted or close, or merely between social visits where the feeling of being alone feels heavy and infinite.
I yearn for intimacy, companionship, and love. When alone, I often feel empty (we’ll get to that next). I want someone to help make that loneliness go away. But I’m also too afraid, much of the time, to break the silence by actually reaching out, because deep down I’m afraid that they are over there because they don’t want to be around me.
This is related, closely, with the above fear of abandonment. The overwhelming sense of being alone, rather than being able to simply enjoy the relaxing and uninterrupted freedom of that time, is sometimes potent.
Personally, I am able to enjoy some time alone, but sometimes I cannot do so happily. Sometimes I can enjoy the time alone until expect someone to be with me. Waiting for a date, a friend, or just Ginny to come home after I expected them home is among the hardest things I ever deal with day-to-day. If I expect to be alone the next 4 hours, but then am alone for 6, the last 2 hours are often excruciating. If I have a date at 6, but they show up (especially without letting me know they’re running late) at 7, that last hour is often filled with anxiety, sadness, and feelings of lack of validation. What is usually a case of unforeseen delays or merely differing values of timeliness feel like lack of consideration and lack of care, which are huge triggers for me.
When someone is late in seeing me, the feeling I have is that they don’t care enough about me to be on time. This, of course, is a perception, and not reality (most of the time). It is a constant struggle for me, and I try to maintain perspective that someone being a little late is not really a big deal.
This, for obvious reasons, will be the most pregnant of issues in relation to polyamory, but because I want to keep this post short I will gloss over much of it today.
Essentially, there is a tension between the desire for intimacy and the fear of engulfment. There is a dynamic of alternating between being clingy (or merely intimate) and avoidance (or merely distant). One day I may be wanting all your time, thoughts, and affection, and the next I may be absorbed in a game, book, or other project and barely speak to you. This is often hard for partners to understand, and has been a source of conflict and hurt feelings for people I care about.
Also here is behavior within relationships which looks manipulative (and sometimes is, but not always). There is a kind of emotional amnesia that happens within the scope of BPD, related to a lack of object permanence (this may be a result of a problem with the separation-individuation stage of development), which makes borderlines behave in a somewhat self-absorbed and not-completely-empathetic way (I am certainly guilty of this, at my worst) which comes across as manipulative (for me, this is never intentional, although I can recognize it after the fact).
This criteria is where Borderline Personality Disorder is close to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is a related disorder, in many ways. One of the major differences is that with BPD, the subject is more likely to accept fault and responsibility, whereas the narcissist often shrugs off, rationalizes, or completely deny said responsibility or fault.
The result, with both disorders is often repeated mistakes, which for me is among the more frustrating parts of myself which I want to change. I very much want all of my relationships to be healthy, and sometimes I need more than I can give back. As I progress towards potential remission of these symptoms, I hope to achieve this more than anything else.
This criterion, of the 9, is one which is less powerful for myself personally. For many borderlines, this takes the form of addiction, including extreme sexual promiscuity (which is why I’m including it in a discussion of polyamory, because some people’s eyebrows will raise at the seemingly obvious relationship there), and other behaviors which ultimately seek to overcome the emptiness and lack of strong identity within the borderline.
Seeking that moment of excitement (NRE-junkies, anyone?) to break up the monogamy…I mean monotony…of life is a means to distract ourselves rather than solve a problem (assuming there is a solution).
Anyone who knows me well knows I have struggled with this all of my life. One moment, I can be happy, fulfilled, and contentedly working on whatever I’m doing. A trigger can change that quite suddenly, and the shift is almost unbelievable in quickness and scope, although this severity has softened very much since I was diagnosed. What those triggers are, how they relate to being polyamorous, and how to deal with them are issues I have been struggling with very strongly over the last few years.
If you were to go back and chart many of the posts I have written about problems, conflicts, and fears of mine, many of them would be rooted in this arena of mood instability. But the question I will want to tackle, when I get there eventually, will have more to do with how we might be better off shifting our expectations, defaults, and ideals about how different people can fill roles for us in our life.
If I have learned anything in the last couple of years, it is that no matter how much you love someone, no matter how much you want to be with them, some people are just not any good at certain roles in your life, and so you need to nourish your relationship with them in ways that are mutually beneficial for both of you, if that’s possible, rather than try to have all of your partners be everything to you. Intimacy does not have to cross all thresholds for all relationships. Each relationship needs its own type of intimacy.
Unlike monogamy, polyamory does not create a pressure for your partner to be helpful or great at everything you need. Some people (for example) can handle wild mood swings, and others cannot. And while the ultimate goal, for me, is to find ways to minimize those swings, the people who can help me get there will have to do so within their strengths, which may mean that some of the people in my life may not be able to help with all of that struggle, even if I very much would like them to. Some people can’t be there for some of what I’m struggling with, that has to be OK.
So, that’s the road map. This is barely a sketch, and I’m sure that I am missing many parts still and more of it will be filled in as I think more about these issues. For now, I need to get over this insomnia (a result of feeling empty, anxious, and isolated as everyone around me sleeps) and try to get some sleep.
[I’ll be scheduling this post to go live for the morning, but as I finish this, it’s about 4:30 AM]
Thoughts from the Borderline: social fragmentation May 10, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society.
Tags: Borderline Personality Disorder, don't Leave Me, I Hate You
1 comment so far
In reading about Borderline Personality Disorder recently, I’m noticing a fair amount of conversation about a sort of lament for the loss of aspects of culture which have never really meant anything to me, personally. The shifts in social structure, changes in the definitions and practices of family, and the contradictions of life, some apparently think, are contributing to behaviors consistent with Borderline Personality Disorder. I hesitate to label it as conservative, but it’s certainly more traditional than I like.
Take the following as an example:
For many, American culture has lost contact with the past and remains unconnected to the future.
…texting, blogging, posting, and tweeting all avoid eye contact. Increasing divorce rates, expanding use of day care, and greater geographical mobility have all contributed to a society that lacks consistency and reliability. Personal, intimate, lasting relationships become difficult or even impossible to achieve, and deep-seated loneliness, self-absorption, emptiness, anxiety, depression, and loss of self-esteem ensue.
(I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me, page 79)
The overwhelming experience, for me, in reading about BPD is one of a nodding recognition. Out of the 9 criteria for diagnosis, 7 are strongly consistent with my experience. But when I read this, I’m left shaking my head and confused. Is this a generational interpretation? I don’t know, but this does not resonate with me at all. I will leave any conclusion about how I think about this view until I have read the rest of the book, but right now I’m feeling skeptical about this aspect of the analysis.
The sense of anxiety, loneliness, etc are things I feel but I don’t think the modern digital age, with technology creating some barrier to intimacy, is the cause. I think I would feel the same way even with eye-contact. You know why I think that? Because I do, in fact, feel that way when I have eye contact with people. Being at a party with people I don’t know well is often cause for similar feelings. An unhealthy environment with people unable or unwilling to understand or consider the complicated emotional landscape within me is as alienating as anything else could be. A person who demonstrates indifference, aggression, and lack of consideration is always worse than mere lack of direct eye contact.
Physical closeness is not the solution, because the problem is one of perceived emotional distance. I can feel emotionally close to someone through texting, blogging, etc, but there are some times when i cannot feel close to someone when they are holding me, trying to comfort me. The issue is not physical distance, the problem is that I don’t, often, believe, that anyone could possibly love me, or that I deserve it if they claim to.
The world can often be invalidating and cold, whether through a screen or in the face of human fears played out in little private rooms and public spaces everywhere. I’m not yet convinced that modernity is exacerbating the problem.
Then there’s this.
Like the world of the borderline, ours in many ways is a world of massive contradictions. We presume to believe in peace, yet our streets, movies, television, and sports are filled with aggression and violence. We are a nation virtually founded on the principle of “help thy neighbor,” yet we have become one of the most politically conservative, self-absorbed, and materialistic societies in the history of humankind. Assertiveness and action are encouraged; reflection and introspection are equated with weakness and incompetency.
This is more like how I feel; like a ball of contradiction. I yearn for intimacy, but appear cold and indifferent to people who don’t know me well. I don’t want to hurt the people that I love, but there are obvious examples of where I have. I’m intelligent, educated, and often feel I can do anything I put my mind to, and yet quite often I find myself in a funk of inaction, depression, and I feel inadequate (yesterday was one of those days).
One of the most resonant aspects of this disorder is what is called “splitting.” Essentially, it’s the kind of black and white thinking which occurs, especially during periods of intense anxiety (part of the physiology of BPD seems to be a hair-trigger for the fight/flight response, leading to times of sudden extreme anxiety and decreased activity in the Pre-frontal cortex, leading to less ability for nuanced thinking).
Splitting, for me, takes the form of seeing myself, others, or the whole world as either wonderful or fundamentally broken. The name of the book I’m reading, I Hate You, Don’t leave Me, encapsulates this nicely. Sometimes I hate myself and think myself worthless (which is not helped when I receive abuse, dismissal, or rejection from people I was or want to be close to). Sometimes I demonize another person who has hurt me, and sometimes I try very hard to empathize and understand why they did so in an attempt to give the very consideration and empathy I did not receive from them. Sometimes I think the world is ugly and not worth fighting for, and sometimes I want to see it all, warts and all.
Because even the imperfections can be beautiful.
I much prefer when I can see myself, and others, that way.
But I’m not quite ready to throw modern culture, technology, and the shifts in our social structures away. The lack of consistent identity within myself, as well as the shifting identities of our culture, are (perhaps) not necessarily bad. Perhaps the solution, for myself and for us all, is not to seek an identity, but to recognize and accept the flux of the many parts of ourselves, good, bad, and nuanced.
Sure, structure is helpful and (at least for me) comfortable. But perhaps one of the problems with traditional American culture, as well as who we are as people, is the reliance of singular identity, tradition, and consistency. We all need a revolution now and then, after all.
Tags: Borderline Personality Disorder, Mental Health
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This is not a real post. This is more of an overture to future posts about the intersection of being polyamorous and having Borderline Personality Disorder.
Ginny pointed out to me today that I have a fair amount of experience being polyamorous, and while I was diagnosed about 4 years ago, all of my adult relationships have existed within the milieu of having the symptoms consistent with BPD. I have had relationships of varying degrees of intimacy, seriousness, and spans of time. I can say that I’ve honestly failed as a partner, been failed as a partner, been very good to partners, and had partners be very good to me.
The more I read and think about my disorder, the more I think about how the factors which play into making relationships more difficult for me are actually quite central to a borderline diagnosis. And this makes me want to delve into, chart, and analyze these waters where polyamory and BPD meet, not only for my own sake (of understanding myself better), but to possibly make some observations about the relationship between intimacy, fear, communication, and the nature of relationships in our culture.
I have already said much about how our culture views relationships in general, commenting on the expectations of monogamy and the perceived “perversion” of sex-positivity and non-monogamy. And while I agree with much of that cultural criticism still (I’m sure I could find many of my previous posts which I would disagree with now), I think there is more to be said about those issues.
I think the direction for me to go, in the future, is to take a closer look at the “emotional” and “dramatic” personality disorders, specifically Borderline but also Narcissistic, Antisocial, and Histrionic as well (which all have similarities), and take a look at how the symptoms which affect relationships might tell us more about mental health, social expectations, and relationship structures.
For now, I don’t want to say too much more. Instead, I might want to go back and take some notes about how the literature documents how BPD (and the others, perhaps) affects relationship health, and take a look at some of the things that polyamory might have to help, hinder, or perhaps be neutral concerning those struggles. I have certainly been able to understand (usually after the fact, unfortunately) how the symptoms of BPD were triggered, not communicated well enough, and were significant causes of the problems in a number of relationships (even the ones that didn’t end badly). I have a feeling that charting such things might tease out some patterns, and I might be able to tentatively conclude some philosophical and social implications of non-monogamy on some of the personality disorders as well as vice-versa.
I’ll admit that this is a challenging and terrifying project, and I hope not to get blown away by the potential scope of it. I know that each day I don’t succeed in brilliantly mapping out and explaining everything, perfectly, deep inside I will try to punish myself for this failure.
Because that’s part of being a borderline.
But I hope that I am able to work through those feelings and help myself (and hopefully some of you) understand a little more about the world. I’ll try and remain optimistic.
May May 2, 2014Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: Borderline Personality Disorder, Mental Health, PTSD, self-justification
1 comment so far
I forgot to mention that May is Borderline Personality disorder awareness month. As a result of this, along with the reading I’m doing about BPD, I may be writing more about the issue this month than usual.
The Spring and Summer are easily my favorite times of year. Earlier this year, as March came around and it was still cold, I would periodically ask those close to me, often to the point of annoyance (hopefully in an endearing and lovable way), if it was May yet. I was yearning for warm days, sunshine, walks in the city, and hopefully a reprieve from what was a depressing Winter.
Winter is always hard on me. It is probably at least partially SAD, as certainly the lack of light, sufficient exercise (I like being outside for such things), and other factors play into the changes in my mood, irritability, and thus will make my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) more pronounced. It’s a hard time for people around me, and I will act in ways, more often, which can be problematic.
So yesterday, the first day of May of 2014, it was sunny, warm, and I got to sit with a couple of drinks with an old friend before taking a walk and then having another drink with my beautiful wife and my very close friend, who also happens to be the fiance of my girlfriend.
Because sometimes just getting drinks can be described as “it’s complicated.”
It was a beautiful day, perfect weather and a chance to put behind me all of the Winter that was made of suck.
But life is never that easy. Because then, last night, the nightmares came. Again.
In recent months, I have had trouble sleeping. The very cold nights a couple of months ago were not helping, but most of it is due to what I have become increasingly aware of as symptoms consistent with PTSD, which in combination with BPD can be happy funtimes. Or not. I have some helpful resources to help with all of that these days, but at night, left to the mechanisms of my brain, those resources feel far away. It’s becoming more manageable. But it’s all still there always, lurking in the background.
In a cleaner, more sane, and possibly intelligently designed universe, a beautiful day would make everything better (and every day would be beautiful, or something). Because while I did have a fine day talking with people and such, the anxiety, fear, and trauma was sitting in the background the entire time. While I was never overtly thinking about it, I was aware of it.
Because I’m always aware of it.
It’s better these days. I’m in a healthier environment, I have friends, family, and partners who are emotionally supportive, and I am starting a new job next week which will provide stability and structure for me. All of these things will contribute to moving forward with optimism, and I hope that in time the fear, hurt, and painful memories will be more distant.
What will stick with me, more than the pain caused to me, is the pain I have caused others. That always sticks with me. Because I know that the pain caused to me I will eventually forgive and it will not affect me as much. I don’t stay mad at people very long, even if they have severely hurt me. But the pain I cause never leaves me. Anyone who knows me knows that at the end of the day it’s the hurt I cause which keeps me awake at night, much more than the pain I feel. I forgive others much sooner than I forgive myself. The problem these days is that I’m having trouble forgiving myself.
I am my harshest critic. And in those times when people I know will say mean, cruel, abusive things to me or about me, it hurts because in my most dark moments I think the same about myself. It hurts because at my worst I am prone to believe those things are true. In times of darkness, the mind goes deep into places of self-hurt. And when we are there, we can lash out at the world in ways we otherwise never would. Depression lies, and the lies it tells us can make us believe the worst about ourselves.
And anger. Anger and hurt are two things I know well. I have become aware of how much anger and hurt can skew things, make us disproportionately reactive, dismissive, and blind. I have seen it happen in my own mind (usually retroactively) and I have seen it in others. Anger and/or hurt repressed, whether over years, weeks, or even hours, can magnify the hurt we feel and the scope of a problem. These days, I’m doing my best to not allow my anger or hurt to win over my compassion and my ability to understand. Because empathy and understanding can allow us to comprehend how someone has hurt us, and why. Those who hurt us are not that different from us, in the end (most of the time).
I’m doing my best to understand the people who have hurt me, as well as to do the work to make it less likely I’ll hurt other people. Because while I will always make mistakes, I want those mistakes to be few and minor. We all have the capability to hurt those we love. We can only hope to do it rarely, and when we do so to hope that self-justification (on both sides) does not amplify and escalate that hurt into anger and damage to relationships.
We all have the capability to commit ourselves to a course, and then have that course carve out a narrative for us which fits the decisions we made (often in anger and pain) towards that vector. We are all capable of justifying, after the fact, the directions we go, and forgetting that there are other perspectives which could inform us. And the longer we stay on such paths, the more we are blind to alternative narratives. This is what causes rifts, wars, and losses of friendships. We are all prone to self-justification, and we all ignore the hurt that others feel. The key is to not get caught up in that narrative and believe it to the detriment of the truth.
Including me. I’m trying. I fail often, but I’m aware that I’m doing so.
But it’s May now. The weather is nicer, the days are longer, and on paper everything is going well for me. But I cannot afford to ignore the dark places within me, or to take for granted what I have and what could be better. It’s May now, but at some point soon, the Winter will return. When things are easier, I have to take the time to prepare for the dark Winter of my soul which will eventually pull me in and hide me away. And I will not forget that it’s not only depression that lies. It’s also optimism which lies to us. I will not remain pulled towards the narratives which I prefer in life, and I must remember that I have responsibility for the hurt I cause, and to learn to understand those that hurt me.
We cannot afford to lose sight of the alternative paths we could have taken. The more they diverge, the less likely we are to understand why we could have taken the other paths just as easily, and that a path only feels like home because we are on it.