So the other day I posted about the nightmares I’ve been having. In the comments, I started a discussion with Francesco Bellafante about the disconnection between what I know and what I feel. And as promised, I put down some of my thoughts on the matter. And I’ll be darned if it didn’t turn out a lot longer than I expected or intended.
Let me start by saying I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. My biggest problem seems to be the instability of my emotions, although that has gotten better with Dialectical Behavior Therapy and medications (which I no longer take). The way I feel (although I’m not able to put words to those feelings effectively) tends to bounce around, but not in a bipolar way. The best word I’m usually able to come up with is yucky. Only one word to describe the many different things I’m feeling.
For a bit of a historical background… Before I began working with a therapist when I was in graduate school (around 1997) I lived my life cognitively. I would have made Mr. Spock proud. I was almost emotionless as Mr. Data . Heh… Can you tell I’m a Star Trek fan?
But back on topic… I saw no need for emotions or feeling and thus buried them as deep as I could. Granted, it got rid of the negative ones, but it also eliminated the positive ones. As I started working through the abuse, those repressed emotions and feelings came flooding to the surface, many times completely uncontrollable. They left me exhausted and terrified that I was losing my mind.
Fast forward about ten years. I’m somewhat more comfortable with feelings, but I still don’t like them. I have a lot of problems putting names to what I’m feeling. Between being discouraged from talking about my feelings while growing up and then later stuffing them, it’s no wonder I have no idea what to call them. I feel “yucky” (as I told my previous therapists many times) but I don’t know how to name that yucky feeling.
I don’t always trust my feelings as they feel so irrational. I do however trust my thinking for the most part. I can be rational and logical. I can reason through almost any problem. Basing my actions on my feelings, rather than what I know, is frightening at best for me. And sometimes, it can be downright dangerous as demonstrated by my suicidal ideations.
When I did my eight month stint in the hospital in 2001, I participated in DBT and worked hard with the group leaders on integrating my thoughts and my feelings, but not with a significant degree of success. The slight gains I did make, I seem to have lost. Mostly I think because I stopped using and practicing those skills.
So, in some ways, because I have so little experience with my emotions, I have a hard time understanding them. I feel one way, even though I know the way I feel isn’t logical or rational. And it doesn’t change those feelings knowing that they aren’t realistic.
So, how to apply it to the example from the comments? My rational side knows that the suicidal thoughts are temporary and will usually go away once I manage to get some sleep. That is, my current suicidal ideations are a direct consequence of sleep deprivation (and to some extent the flashbacks and memories). I’ve dealt with this my entire life. The less I sleep, the stronger the thoughts become. But my feelings tell me that there is no end to this. Life will never get any better and I’m better off ending it all. I will always and forever feel like complete crap. There is no hope for change. The emotional consequences of sleep deprivation and depression are extremely powerful. They leave me in so much pain that the only option seems to be ending my life.
I can stand back and look at the entire situation rationally. Almost like being a third party examining what is going on. And I can see that what I know to be true (that the suicidal ideations will pass) and what I feel (that there is no end in sight) are two different things. The problem is reconciling the two into a more realistic view of the world. I guess that would be acknowledging the feelings but realizing they are temporary and will get better.
I also think this disconnect is one of the reasons my therapist gave me the assignment on asking me friends why they like me. Again, I know that there are good things about me or I wouldn’t have any friends. But I feel like I’m lower than a steaming cow pie.
Adapted from Linehan, M.M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. The Guilford Press, New York and London.
Getting to the diagram above, I tend to live my life on one side or the other. I have a hard time hitting that middle ground. It’s something that I know I need to work on. I’m thinking about buying that workbook because I can’t seem to find the handouts they gave me while I was in the hospital.
I hope this makes some sort of sense to people. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to explain. And as I’m working with four hours of sleep in roughly the last 72, I’m not as coherent as I’d like to be.