Another great full question and answer episode today! The course is now closed. Thank you so much for helping me have a successful launch. You guys are the best!
I’ve been diagnosed with Borderline for about a year now. It’s been hell, but through Group and individual therapy I’ve had some progress. Of course BPD is marked by intense inner personal relationships, which is what has brought me to this question. My partner, who I’ve been with for five years, says that I’m cold, detached and unable to empathize with him when arguments heat up. He’s not really wrong, I do detach. But it’s so I dont get consumed by intense emotions, not because I don’t love him. I’ve constantly heard friends reiterate the phrase “you can’t love someone unless you love yourself” and it drives me crazy. I don’t have a sense of self so how can I love myself?
Does my mental illness make me unworthy of love? Or incable of truly loving and caring for other people?
My therapist recently told me that borderlines “love in the best way they know how” and I feel like that’s just a cop out and would appreciate your thoughts.
First off, that you can’t love someone unless you love yourself thing is bullshit. It also assumes that love is simply one thing. There are many different kinds of love and many different expressions of love. You can be still learning what it means to love yourself and fully unequivocally love someone else. I think what people mean to say is that improving yourself and treating yourself well will make you a better partner and will help any relationship that you are in, which is true. There’s is just the shitty common advice version of that.
When you are not already in the midst of a fight or something, it may help to talk to him bout your patterns. To explain that you love him and care, but it’s a natural reaction for you to close off somewhat because your tendency is to have an extreme explosive reaction, which will probably be even less helpful than shutting down. Help him understand that you closing off temporarily does not mean you are always closed off, it’s just a defense mechanism that you need to learn how to work with. I’ve said this before, but remember that in a relationship, conversations don’t have to be all or nothing. Often the best and most productive conversations come in the days following the big blow up argument. When you’ve both said the raw emotional piece and have now had time to sit on the feelings you can now use your rational mind to sort through it all. A lot of this has to do with neuroscience. When you have a strong impulse from your amygdala and the other deep emotional structures in your brain, it puts you into fight, flight, or freeze mode. It also overwhelms your frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the part of your brain that usually integrates the input from everywhere else in the brain and decides what to do with it. This is the rational part of your brain.
Don’t fall in the trap of thinking that every relationship and every pattern of communication needs to be exactly the same. Maybe this could be a good prompt to be experimental and try a different way of having discussions. Maybe you could take turns speaking and the other person not respond. You could have him tell you all that he feels and then you can take that and think about it for a while before coming back and continuing the conversation. Maybe you could write each other letters or emails first as a preface to important conversations and then follow up on them in person.
Maybe you need to make sure that you are talking more often in general to help desensitize yourself to the sensation of having “a talk” with someone. There could also be small tweaks that help such as having a canned statement that you can say such as “I totally hear what you’re saying and I care. I just don’t know how to react right now, but I promise that I hear you.”
In terms of your 2nd question. Your mental illness 1000% does not make you unworthy of love. If the tables were turned and you were hearing someone that you care about or respect ask this very same question, would you tell them that they are unworthy of love? I suspect not. You didn’t ask for things to be this way and your efforts in treatment and in asking this question in the first place prove that you are trying to do something about it. It’s not your fault. I think you probably have a capacity to love even more deeply than many people, which is part of what scares you and causes you to back off. Again, don’t forget that love means many things and is expressed in many ways. You are capable or giving and receiving love. It’s just that the automatic form of that causes friction with the “normal” way of doing things and you are continuing to search for an good middle ground.
Resource: Borderline Personality Disorder
How can I break the pattern of recurring anxiety that prevents me from staying consistent with my habits? For example, when I am about to work on my novel, I start to worry about my future and for that I found a solution to block my thoughts or write down self doubts and do counter argument.
But when it comes to actually sticking to writing daily or as simple as mediating just 3 breathes a day, I quit after 30 days because suddenly I feel anxious and meaningless.
Once I feel anxious I want to get inside my head and figure it out but it’s the same pattern over and over and I never really find a cure.
I have always been the type to finish work early, (in my case homework’s), and then play whether watching t.v or singing, etc but now it’s as if I only procrastinate and external accountability only works if I don’t feel anxious.
I know the basic solutions include going out in the sunlight, exercising etc, but because of anxiety I am unable to stick to them. I have tried doing all at once which left me feeling miserable for a day, and I have tried picking just a few.
Is there or will I ever feel like the people who can wake up and do things without feeling anxious every minute? (When I hang out with friends, my anxiety doesn’t show, but inside I feel worried that I have so much to fix)
There is a huge link between anxiety and procrastination, which I have touched on in a previous podcast: https://www.duffthepsych.com/episode96/. Be careful to not assume that this is just the way that you are now. As if you have shifted into a different person. Remember that writing a novel is very different than finishing homework for school. Homework is concrete. A novel may be funner to write at times, but it can also be more daunting because it is totally abstract. You are making it up and there are no firm guidelines. A lack of boundaries and guidelines can be difficult for someone with anxiety.
There are a couple trouble shooting points that might help. First, with procrastination, one of the biggest things that people do wrong these days is actually reward themselves for procrastination by switching tasks. Rather than pushing through writers block or simply sitting through it, we avoid the sensation by pulling up social media, focusing on something else, or even something like eating. Not only does this establish a pattern of avoidance, but you actually end up rewarding and reinforcing yourself for procrastinating, which often leads to even more of it. At the same time, being all or nothing with your habit building can make you more likely to fail and beat yourself up for it. If you say I am going to write 20 pages every day no matter what and then you fall off the bandwagon, you are going to get upset at yourself for that. Instead, strive toward a goal and recognize your progress.
Maybe you could use some strategies such as writing apps and limiting environmental distracters to help you focus on your writing and then resolve to write for an hour at least 3 times per week (scheduled in ahead of time, if possible) and leave it at that. Don’t place any expectations of your writing. Just sit with the window open and try. If you don’t write anything for an hour, that’s okay. After a while you will adjust and when the inspiration comes, you will have eliminated some of the roadblocks, which will allow you to actually write a bit. Noticing your progress and giving yourself props is also going to be really important because you have a really negative attention bias right now. When you say you do something for 30 days and then feel bad for suddenly stopping, I just think that it’s badass that you did something for 30 days straight. Hardly anybody actually does that.
You’re allowed to have anxiety. I think it’s easy to fall in the pattern of thinking that anxiety and action are mutually exclusive. Rather than waiting to reduce all of your anxiety to get started, practice doing things while being anxious, which will help you reduce your sensitivity and become less anxious in the end anyway. Keep your goals small and manageable. Just focus on the most salient thing do you right now and work on that. Everything else is bonus.
I’m a 26 year old female, dealing with what I think might be bipolar disorder. However, this question is not about my personal mental health, it’s about my friends. Sorry in advance, this email is a bit long, but I feel I need to explain my position a little. (You can skip to the last paragraph if you just want the specific question)
Last December I lost a friend to suicide who I had talked to a week earlier about his recent attempts and have felt guilty for not doing everything to help him. Since then, I’ve been even more terrified than I had already been about losing my friends to suicide. I have one friend who I’ve gone through hell trying to make sure she was alive and still am dealing with to keep alive. But there are times when I had to distance myself because it was killing my own (already poor) mental health. I’ve done a lot for her, even desperately calling the police for a wellness check even though she has big traumas around the police. So I was worried she’d think I’d betrayed her or something rather than helped..
Currently, I’m worried about a friend who lives about a 3hr drive from me. He’s told me many times about his attempts, and a recent attempt this weekend during a big event that all his friends and even I was at. He stopped telling his therapist about his attempts because he doesn’t want to be hospitalized again and I know he hasn’t been talking to any of his friends about it. He’s on medication and probably doing all that he can. I’m terrified of losing him, but I don’t know what I can do to help. I can’t hurt my own mental health dealing with this, but I know it will hurt me even more if I don’t try. Is there anything I can do to help my friend?
Sorry to hear about your situation. First off you are allowed to feel confused, hopeless, helpless etc. It’s a shitty situation and that’s supposed to feel not so good. There is no perfect answer to this situation, which also sucks. But that’s how suicide goes. There is no perfect solution to it. If there were, people wouldn’t be killing themselves everyday. Sometimes suicide is like a force of nature. There are small pieces of influence that we might be able to exert, but this is a battle that is much bigger than us. The war within someone’s mind between the will to live and the desire for nonbeing is huge and complicated.
It’s not your job to save this person and it’s not your fault if they eventually end their life. You don’t want that to happen and you’re allowed to try to take action to help them not get to that point, but it’s not your responsibility to prevent it. Even if you believe that you do have a duty to this person, it’s a duty to try and to care. The end result is something that we cannot totally control.
I made a blogpost a while back at duffthepsych.com/4cs that talks about things to keep in mind when supporting someone with mental illness. They are: clarity, consistency, curiosity, and compassion.
For you, in particular, I think that clarity and compassion are important. Even if you don’t have the answers, which none of us do – you can say exactly what you mean. You can say that you care about this person and that you don’t want to see them go. That you can’ help as much as you’d like but you are willing to be a resource if it comes down to it. Whatever it is that you actually feel. If you say exactly that, even if they are not willing to hear it, at least it is out there. And even if you don’t have a way to make the feel better, just seeing that they are struggling and feeling for them is so important. You can only help in the ways that you can. Don’t push yourself to be an expert or a hero. You are also allowed to change the way and the extent to which you support this person over time as you need to also focus on your own needs. If there are resources that you can connect them or their family too, that’s great.
One that a lot people don’t know about is Ketamine infusion. I talked about this on the podcast episode about what to do when depression doesn’t go away. But ketamine infusions are now used to treat depression and have a really strong effect for people that are suicidal. So do what you can and not more than that. Take care of yourself, be super clear that you don’t want to lose him, offer support that is reasonable, and connect him to resources if you have them. Keep your intention in the front of your mind and realize that this is bigger than either of you. You’re just trying to be one of many influences that subtly shifts the tides.