Looking Your Pain in the Face

I saw a friend today I haven’t seen for a really long time. I’ve been avoiding her, because I tend to find her intensity hugely triggering. She has a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, and has really suffered in her life. She can be dazzlingly insightful and wise, but she can also be massively draining. Being a person who finds the definition and defence of boundaries near impossible, there have been times when I just couldn’t be around her.

 

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a hugely complex ‘umbrella term’ diagnosis which comprises a huge range of tendencies and behaviours. Of course, as is the case with any human diagnosis, no two cases are the same. But from what little I know of BPD it is an excruciatingly difficult diagnosis to live with, and often to be around too. There is a kind of push/pull motion that happens in the orbit of people living with this disorder, with cycles of connection and rejection that can be extremely confusing and distressing to those around them. Difficulties with emotional regulation, and obsessive compulsive traits also seem common, and can make the formation and sustenance of relationships really difficult for people living with this condition.

 

There is some really good information here:

BPD: https://www.borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com/what-is-bpd/bpd-overview/

 

We talked today about our respective struggles, as we always do, and she gave me some really valuable advice. We were talking about what it takes to get better. About how you go about changing your internal state, and addressing the root causes of distress and maladaptive behaviour.

“You have to look your pain in the face”,

she said, and I agreed. The trouble is, I tried to explain, is that I KNOW this. I hear this everywhere I go right now, and whilst it makes sense to me on an intellectual level, I simply have no idea how one goes about actually doing this. What does it really mean to sit with your pain? I feel like I do it every time I sit down, because I AM my pain, but it doesn’t get me anywhere. So how, I asked her, do you do this? What does it really mean?

 

And she explained that, for her at least, it has been primarily about identifying patterns. She described it as deconstructing her behaviour and considering all the patterned habits that define her day, taking each one in turn, and really thinking about how it feels to engage in those behaviours. She used the example of flirting with men. That has always been a part of who she is and how she relates to the world, but she realised that it wasn’t making her feel good anymore. Perhaps it once served a purpose but that time had passed. So she let it go, and she no longer engages in this behaviour.

 

The process has also been about, for her, allowing herself to feel all of her feelings. This was fine by me… another one of those instances where I understood with my mind and not my body, but nonetheless something I could relate to. But then she shared that she has been allowing herself to get really angry with herself. Calling herself a ‘stupid fucking bitch’ and really feeling that rage, regret, and bitter self-recrimination that has consumed her for so long. All the anger that she feels towards herself for wrong thoughts, wrong decisions, and wrong actions. Now my first instinct here was to jump in and say NO!!! Don’t do that to yourself, please! It’s not your fault! None of it is your fault, please don’t do that! It was very uncomfortable to hear this, and it didn’t sit well with me at all.

 

But she explained. These were feelings that she was having, like it or not, and like every other feeling in our bodies, if we don’t allow a channel up and out it will grow, ferment, and slowly poison us from the inside out. She made what felt to me like a very courageous and mature point, that sometimes we need to knock ourselves down a peg or two in order to grow and develop.

 

I said I felt it was a tight-rope, especially for someone struggling with issues around obsession, addiction and low self esteem, as we can become very attached to negative thinking habits. How do you make sure, I asked, that you don’t get lost in that place? How do you know when to stop? She told me that when she truly allowed herself to feel all of her shame, and her self-loathing and her anger, somehow, when the time was right, it disappeared. Of course it hasn’t gone completely and no doubt it hasn’t gone for good, but she described a new lightness in her being, and I could see it in her. There was a calmness and an ease that I hadn’t seen in her before. She looked beautiful.

 

What a brave person she is, I thought, and what a radical idea she has put to me. I have spent my whole life doing absolutely anything I could to avoid, ignore and deny all of these feelings that she talked about. And I have expended enormous amounts of energy puzzling the question of HOW. How do you look your pain in the face? How do you start, and how does it end? How do you make sure it doesn’t devour you?

 

But she has given me new hope, and I feel like giving it a try. I am ready to start considering my habits, and reflecting on how I feel when I do things that feel automatic. And I’m ready to allow a little of the anger that I feel towards the world sometimes, and the people closest to me, to hit the mirror. It’s controversial, and add odds with my understanding of self-care, but I can see that as long as we exclude any part of our emotional experience, we are not truly accepting ourselves as we are. Unheard voices scream the loudest, so I’m going to try and listen a little better. Thank you Sarah, you are a wounded healer and I salute you.

2 thoughts on “Looking Your Pain in the Face”

  1. Sound advice if you ask me. Good luck with your new challenge. It isn’t easy but doable. The difference it makes will forever impact you.

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    1. I totally agree!! It reminds me of the parable of the two wolves… one representing good things like kindness, love and generosity, and the bad wolf representing bad things, like hatred, greed and jealousy. Which one wins? The one you feed. That bad wolf is a sneaky bastard though, and used to a diet of luxury!!

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