Tag Archives: Character

Sense of Self Part 2: Know Thyself

Developing a Sense of Self

One of the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder is “Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.” What this means is different for everyone, but basically it’s a sense of not really knowing who you are. This can be debilating, and many people with Dyslimbia struggle with it. Therefore, it becomes useful and even essential to develop a good sense of your own identity. There are several ways that beginners can go about doing this.

Goals

When it comes to developing a sense of self, it’s important to set goals. This is because “knowing yourself” means knowing what you want. Most people have life objectives or plans for their career or living situation, etc., but it’s much more important to list short-term goals—even daily ones. Meeting those goals will boost your self-confidence and sense of self, and you can learn about yourself from your failures and shortcomings, too. As for me, I have the following daily goals: Do some exercise (even if it’s just a short walk), find a social activity (such as calling a friend on the phone), engage in something therapeutic (talk counseling, mindfulness exercises, meditating), do something relaxing, do something useful or helpful (chores, work, etc.), and be sure to eat enough. You can also benefit from having personality goals; for example, I want to be a “Courageous, Healthy, Helpful, Capable, Strong, and Self-Controlled” person.

Personal Example

Examining your reactions to certain events or your patterns of thought can also help you develop a sense of self. For a personal example from last week, I meditated and examined my responses to grief and loss. This is because a death occurred in my family last week. I realized that my pattern of grieving is generally as follows: Shock, Anger, Guilt, Depression, and slow Acceptance. Knowing this about myself means I can better monitor and understand my responses and behaviors. When I feel like blaming someone for my cousin’s death, I make a mental note that this is normal Anger-stage grieving for me, and try to behave kindly, not judging myself, until I am past that stage.

Personality Type

Another interesting way to work on your sense of self is to find out your personality type. There are many types of personality tests and some are more helpful than others. I have always found the Myers-Briggs Typology to be the best test for learning about oneself. In this test, you are given a four-letter Type (there are 16 total) in response to your answers. Each letter represents a different dimension of behavior or character. I am an INFJ.

The first dimension, I versus E, means extraverted or introverted. While introverts get most of their energy from being alone, extraverts usually draw energy from other people in social interactions. The second dimension is sensing versus intuitive (S and N). Sensing types are generally more practical and in touch with their senses, and think about things in terms of parts and pieces. Intuitive types usually prove more abstract and theoretical, thinking about things in terms of the big picture. T and F stand for Thinking versus Feeling, and this depends upon how you make most of your decisions. If you are very objective in your decision-making, you are probably a T, while an F thinks subjectively. Finally, the fourth letter would be J or P, Judging versus Perceiving. J types show more organizational and planning habits, while Ps tend to be more spontaneous and flexible.

With a test like the Myers-Briggs, you can understand a) where you draw your energy, b) how you relate to the world, c) how you make your decisions, and c) how spontaneous or premeditated your actions tend to be. Knowing this much about yourself can be really helpful. With better understanding comes a better chance of adjusting your behaviors.

Remember that understanding yourself can help you in a pinch. When you feel empty or dissociated or extremely out of it, having a solid identity to cling to can save you.

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Explaining Dissociation Part 4: How to Help People

Now we know what dissociation is, and some ways in which it can be treated. But the non borderline may be wondering, “What can I do?” Or the borderline patient might be looking to give suggestions to their loved ones about what they can do. Well, the best way to help a sufferer of dissociation is first know how to NOT help them.

Things That Don’t Help People with Dissociation–

Minimizing our problem. This includes statements like “it’s not a big deal” “just relax” “others have it worse” and “everybody goes through the same thing.” This is damaging to the person with dissociation, because we need to feel like our experiences matter.  Chances are, the person is already trying hard to put perspective on their problem, and being preached at to try harder will make them feel incompetent.

Commanding us to be normal. Statements like, “just calm down” “come back to earth” “snap out of it” “just be happy” “just think about it rationally” are completely pointless. The borderline is mostly  incapable of being rational when in a severe dissociated state, and if they could just act normal again, they would! So don’t waste your time telling them things they cannot currently do.

Shaming Us. “Be strong for your family” “this isn’t the real you” “strong people don’t act like this” and “toughen up” are examples of making the dissociated person feel ashamed. Again, this will not help— if  the patient could snap out of it, they already would have. Shaming will make them feel worse and may prolong the episode.

Strong emotional reactions. When a borderline is in temporary psychosis, anger, or dissociation, it is best to avoid strong reactions, so long as the borderline is not being violent. Try not to act horribly shocked or disappointed, as this make the borderline feel extremely guilty and even more helpless than ever.

Saying it’s a character problem. If you think borderline is a character problem, you are scientifically incorrect. More on that later. The dissociation is likely a result of brain abnormalities, so don’t reject the person for their neurobiology unless you would reject a person based on their skin color, height, sex, or weight.

Helpful Tips—

When a friend is in a dissociated state, the key is to remain calm, and remain present. Dissociation and temporary psychosis fade away quickly in borderlines. No matter how crazy they sound, how distant they seem, or what important things they have forgotten, it’s critical that you calmly listen. Instead of trying to offer  advice, offer your presence. Tell them/us you will stay with us for as long as we need.

Brain Abnormality

Dissociated people are often accused of being stupid, slow, or too careless due to amnesia and derealization. They may also be accused of faking when they feel their identity has been split. However, none of these accusations are true. People like me with dissociation don’t have any more or less “character problem” than you do– it’s a brain thing. Dissociation has been linked to brain abnormalities. It’s not something we can just will away by trying to be better people.

For example.  The hippocampus, a brain center that helps memory, is smaller in patients with some dissociative disorders. The right prefrontal cortex, which helps with memory and processing, is under-active in dissociative amnesia. So, it’s a brain thing, not a character thing!

Closing Words

Dissociation is a defense mechanism that went wrong. Sometimes, it works. Severe detachment from the world, and/or from the self, means you are protected from trauma that is happening. You essentially are not there. But the brain overcompensates, and victims of dissociation may start to dissociate at the smallest triggers, or over nothing, during random conversations. Life gets very difficult as you constantly live in a cloud, separated from the world, forgetting important details, forgetting who you are, thinking that the world is a puppet show or a hazy dream. Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for dissociation, but improvement has been shown through professional therapy techniques. And everyone would be better served to learn something about dissociation.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3233754/

http://stantatkin.com/wp…/uploads/2012/09/Brand2009.pdf

Coming out as Borderline, Part 1: Not a Character Problem

The Great Escape is a Blog about Borderline Personality Disorder, or Dyslimbia. The name came about when my friend asked “How’s life?” I replied, “It’s like a prison, where the guards take me out to be tortured for most of the day and then throw me back in the cell with the rats and mold at night. And there are other people who talk to me from outside and tell me it’s all going to be ok, but it’s like to them the entire dungeon is invisible. They have no idea what I see because we have different eyes.” Nevertheless, I keep fighting every day for the Great Escape.
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One of the most difficult challenges about Dyslimbia is that people rarely understand it, and often misrepresent it. At the same time, removing stigma can only be done by practicing honesty and transparency. Among your friends and family, I believe it is healthy to “come out” as having a Dyslimbia/Borderlines Personality diagnosis.

So how do you explain to people about your sickness? I will be posting a series of topics related to this “coming out” process. I will do this in a rough question-and-answer format. Real life conversions won’t be this cut and dry, but try to model them so that you still answer your friends’ questions clearly. First on the list is telling your loved ones you have an illness, not a character problem.

You: Hey, I know we have had some rough times. I want to explain to you that I have a disorder, and the disorder has been the cause of some of my mistakes in the past. It’s called Borderline Personality Disorder, or Dyslimbia.

Person: A disorder can’t explain bad behavior. I think you’re just over emotional, or uncaring, and you need to try harder.

You (take a deep breath): Think of it like this. Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological disease. Something goes wrong in the brain. As a result, motor coordination is altered. With Dyslimbia, something ‘went wrong’ with the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system controls emotions. Studies have shown that people with Borderline have very irregular limbic systems. This means that the structure of my brain makes it impossible to regulate emotions normally.

Person: So you think the brain controls emotions? And because one of your brain systems is messed up, you have these emotional problems? This makes it sound like you have no control at all, and we’re all just robots to our brain machinery. I don’t believe that.

You: That is not true. I can still control my actions about as well as anybody. I can’t control the way I feel. I might get very very angry over something small, and that feels very uncomfortable, but I can still control myself enough to not yell curse words and break things. I can control myself enough to make the decision to go to therapy. I can control myself enough to practice helpful habits like daily exercise, eating well, and spirituality. I can control myself enough to make a decision to try medications, or to buy self-help books. The only part I can’t control is the emotions themselves. They might appear with no cause. Or they might be extreme feelings in response to tiny events. Does that make sense?

Again, real conversations won’t flow like that. But the point is to be able to calmly explain yourself to someone without a brain illness. Explain that new studies really do show that Dyslimbia is a brain condition, like epilepsy, and not a character problem.