The word “why” is the ultimate in inquisitiveness. Why is the sky blue? Why did the plane crash? Why does my cat start yowling at 6:00 in the morning every day? The purpose is to find information to an unknown.
The word “why” is also the ultimate in confrontation and judgment. Why did you break that window? Why did you get in that accident? Why didn’t you turn in that report? Why did you go on Match.com and email girls when you’re in a relationship with me? The purpose isn’t to find answers to the question asked, because we won’t like the answer we get. What we want is something deeper. We want to know why they hurt, shamed, or embarrassed us. Why did you think it was OK to do what you did, because I sure as hell don’t think it was. We want to make them think about what they did, and come up with how wrong they were.
When you are asking why of another person there are a couple things you need to look at. The first is what kind of answer you want. When I was 16 I got in a car accident in which I took a turn too fast. I thought I was cool, passed someone to fast, and ended up sliding on sand left over from the last snow storm; ping-ponging between the curbs of the two lane street breaking the axel of my mom’s station wagon. The question I got was “Why did you get in that accident?!” The answer was that I got in the accident because I was 16 and an idiot. Do you think that answer would have appeased my mom? Was that what she wanted to know?
Before I knew how horrible the word why is, I would ask the kids I worked with why the did whatever dumb-ass thing they did. It was truly an effort to get them to find within themselves the reason they chose to do what they did. In general a teenager isn’t quite ready for that kind of introspection. If I am truthful I also really wanted to know if they understood how wrong they were. I wanted them to show some shred of understanding of how what they did didn’t get them anywhere near where they wanted to be. I wanted things that they couldn’t give.
As a boss, partner or a parent asking the question why, we usually want to know if they know what they did was wrong. Or we want them to give us their excuse so we can rip it to shreds and tell them how wrong they were for whatever they did. The kid, partner or the employee knows this and immediately goes on the defensive. This results in either panicked attempts to find whatever answer will appease you or anger and resistance.
If you are faced with a situation in which you want to ask the question of why, you first have to figure out what your motivations are. As a parent or a partner; what do you want to hear from the person and what do you want them to hear from you? Do you want them to hear your frustration? Do you want them to hear how hurt or ashamed you are? Do you want them to tell you how wrong they were? Are you wanting them to fix the hurt, frustration or shame that they may have caused you? If so, then the question of why isn’t going to get you what you want. Knowing the why isn’t going to take away the hurt, frustration or shame. They also aren't going to all of a sudden tell you how wrong their actions were.
Instead of asking why, tell them how their actions affect you and what the consequences are. Instead of asking why did you get in that accident; “I’m really frustrated that you got in an accident with the car. You need to identify what happened and how to not do it again, and because you caused so much damage you aren’t allowed to drive for 2 months and you have to find a way to pay me back for the cost of the repairs.” Instead of asking why they went on Match and cheated on you, you tell them; “When I found out you went on a dating site my heart broke. I don’t feel like I can trust you anymore and I don’t know that I can stay with you if I don’t trust you. I’m so angry, and I hurt because I feel like I’m not enough for you. I just don’t know what to do, and I don’t know that you can make it better”.
This requires a level of self-identification that some people find uncomfortable. In some cases it requires vulnerability that we don’t want to have when hurt. Ultimately it causes fewer problems than the question why. It leaves less room for defensiveness and justification. It also leaves room to ask questions like “what were you trying to accomplish” when you truly want to know the answer, because sometimes, especially with teens they were trying to do something legitimate just in unhealthy ways. If you can figure out what they were trying to do, then you can help them find ways to do it in a healthy manner.
When we ask the why question about our own motivations it is because we have judged our actions as wrong and bad. This judgment serves no purpose but to add to the shame and shame serves no purpose. Instead ask “what” questions. What did I want to have happen? What do I want in the future? What can I do differently next time if I don’t like what I did this time? When you can look at what you want in the future instead of beating yourself up for what happened in the past shame won’t wear you down and it will be easier to be the person you want to be.
The question why comes with judgment and doesn’t help the situation. Why is a great question when we actually want to find out factual information. If our goal is different than that purpose we have to really figure out what we want. Ultimately why is confrontation question that will generally result in some kind of defensiveness. When you want to ask why, either find a way to ask what instead, or just identify your feelings and what you need. Let go of why.
lovingly release others to their own lessons. I tenderly care for myself and
move with ease through my life"
I think this is the quote that has had the most meaning in my life. Especially as a therapist I find myself becoming invested the change other people make. I am lucky enough to be able to watch a lot of people make change in their life. Sometimes though I watch people get stuck, and I struggle with letting them be stuck. Many of my clients, as they do change and see a difference in their lives, want to help their friends and family as well. Then comes a new level of frustration and helplessness as they begin to find that others aren't ready or interested in hearing all of their words of wisdom.
The desire to help others comes from an amazing and pure place. It is also often easier to see a way out of other's troubles than it is your own. It is difficult when you see a path for someone to keep from giving your input. The thing to remember is that you had to find your own path. Your friends and family were frequently there with ideas and different paths for you. Everyone has their own path in life. And ultimately they have to find it themselves. Being able to let your friends and family learn their own lessons and walk their own path can sometimes be one of the most difficulty thing you do, especially as you watch your friends and family fall and fail. Think of how many times you had to fall, how many times you had to fail in order to get to where you are. Keep working to find the way to move with ease through your own life, letting your friends and family learn their own lessons.
Just because I believe it doesn’t make it right. I’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating. We come by our beliefs from thousands of ways: our parents, our friends, our religion, even television. We are essentially indoctrinated to a way of thinking that holds us in a specific world. This is not to say all indoctrinations are all-bad, but we are all led to a certain way of believing and thinking.
We are all working toward our own version of enlightenment; A place of peace that we can’t be pushed out of. We use our beliefs to guide us, but if our beliefs are full of thinking errors and anger and hatred will be chasing peace without even getting close.
There are several beliefs that keep us from finding peace. The first one is the belief that we are a victim. Some people actually are victims; of crimes, or accidents, or terrible things. Staying in the place of being a victim leads to feeling powerless and helpless. Being the victim leads to blaming others for where we are in life. No matter what has happened to us in the past we still have choices about where we go next. In order to take power and control over our own destiny we have to stop believing we are powerless over where we go next because of where we’ve been.
We have to let go of believing there is a right and a wrong way to live life. There is healthy and unhealthy, and there is safe and save, there is kind and unkind. Right and wrong are the opinion that what works for me must work for everyone else, and if they don’t live that way they are “wrong”. The difficulty with this is the path to peace is the same path for everyone. There are generalities, but no specific maps that lead directly there. While I do need to protect myself from those that are unsafe, I do need to let go of the concept of right and wrong.
We have to let go of the belief of being enough for everyone else, or that someone else needs to be enough for us. They are both traps that we will never escape from. It leads to comparison to others, and it leads to the knowledge that you will never be the best and there will always be someone better. And just like us, the people around us are just human. They can’t be perfect anymore than we can, and we will just find hurt, frustration and disappointment if we set expectations that they be perfect for us.
We have to let go of the past and the belief that we can make things as good as they were. In trying to re-create the past we cling to what was instead of seeing the beauty and goodness of what is. We can’t eat the same apple twice. We can create new and differently beautiful, if we keep trying to go back to what was we will always be disappointed.
We have to let go of the belief that we are in control. I have control of me; my reactions and my behavior, and in general my path in life. Sometimes I don’t even have as much control of my emotions as I would like, only how I react to them. When I let go of the need to control the things around me that I can’t control, and accept what I truly have power over in this world I will live happier. I can take preventative steps in my life; for my car I can make sure that I have good tires, get the oil, brakes, wipers and fluids changed on time, and keep it clean, but ultimately my car is going to fall apart at some point, and I can’t fully control when. I can eat healthy and exercise, and my body is still not going to do what it is supposed to do at times. I can make sure I stay away from known dangers, and I can still be in danger. I will do what I can, and admit that some things are just out of my hands. When I do this I can relax and let go, riding the currents of life and more gracefully come out of the occasional whirl-pools that suck me under.
No one’s path to enlightenment or is going to be the same. I know Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Jewish that are on their path, some even further than I am toward the end-game of peace. There is no one way, and yet we do know what doesn’t work. Holding on to beliefs that hold to prejudice, anger and victimizations lead to bitterness and pain. When we can let go of these beliefs we can find peace and happiness in life.
A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive.
"I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived."
We walk a path every day, and in general we expect the path to be predictable. I keep several calendars to tell me where I’m supposed to be and when, and in general my day follows what is written. Life doesn’t always work this way, it isn’t always predictable. Last month I watched a roll-over accident two hours before I helped the Red Cross with an apartment fire where at least 30 people lost everything except each other and their pets. While both events derailed the plans for my day, the derailment was minor compared to those in the car or the apartments. The world is going to throw us curve balls, some bigger than others. If every time the world would change directions we fight to keep going the direction we want; the direction we are comfortable with, we are going to fall. We are working to shift from fighting the change and falling, to flowing with the change and dancing.
So much of the suffering I see in my clients is attempts to keep the world the way it was or they want it to be, instead of adjusting to the way it really is. Sakyong Mipham discusses in his book How To Turn Your Mind in to an Ally how we create difficulty for ourselves by resisting change. Struggling to keep the world in our safety zone where we are comfortable.
The world is going to shift, often in ways that we don't plan, or even want. If we struggle to keep the world the same, every time it shifts in a new direction we risk falling. Consider the world your dance partner, always in the lead. Once we learn to flow with the pattern, we can start to choose some of our own steps. There will always be times now and then the world shifts unexpectedly and we are knocked off our feet. In general though, if we keep our heads (and our hearts) together we can follow the shifts and keep our feet, hopefully with even a little grace.
Buddhism believes that suffering comes from wanting. Wanting to draw closer, push away, or wanting to keep the same. An old saying, possibly over used; "the only constant is change". The world will shift, time will move forward, and change will come. When we can learn to follow the changes the world is going to throw at us, we can learn to dance instead of fall.
I look back historically at some of the best and the worst of humanity, and I wonder what role I would play. Would I step out of comfort and risk myself for others, or would I watch from the comfort of my life as others suffer? Would I actively hurt other human beings in order to curry my own favor as some French and Germans in WW2 did by turning in their Jewish friends and neighbors?
I would like to think I would stand up and protect my fellow humans. I would like to think I would put myself out there and stand up for humanity. What about you? Where do you think you would stand up for inequity and suffering caused by fellow man, where would you find fear and run, and at what point would you actively pariticate?
I hear you thinking; “Not me, I could never!” History has proven you wrong. We are capable of some of the greatest acts of kindness and love and decency. And we are capable of some of the basest most inhumane acts. In the Milgram Experiment we studied how far a person would go; violating their own personal ethics, values and morals if an authority figure told them to. The answer was that we would go pretty far. In the Stanford Prison Experiment mentally and emotionally healthy students were taken and divided in to groups of guards and prisoners. The outcome was so unexpected and drastic they had to cease the experiment only a couple of days as it was found exactly how far people were willing to go under certain circumstances, especially under the group mentality.
I had been a soldier at Abu Ghraib (article and pictures may be disturbing and contain nudity) would I
have stood up to my fellow soldiers, risking emotional and physical abuse from
fellow soldiers; would I have watched but not participated; or would I have
joined in. Would I have
participated unwillingly just to avoid not fitting in, or would I have jumped
on the bandwagon. I know what I
would like to believe I would do, which is stand up to the others.
All around us there are little moments and sometimes big moments when we have the chance to go against the stream to do what is right. In France and Germany in WW2 people risked their lives and hid others in their homes and formed underground rescues to save complete strangers. In the Milgram experiment some of the subjects stood up to the testors and said no, I won't hurt someone. We are capable of great acts in times of stress. We need to remember to stay true to our values even when the situation makes it difficult. It takes true courage to stand in the fact of what is popular or powerful to do what is right. I know what I want to do in these situations, what would you do?
Harriet Beecher Stowe
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
in response to Uncle Tom's Cabin
She told the story, and the whole
At wrongs and cruelties it had not known
But for this fearless woman's voice alone.
She spoke to consciences that long had slept:
Her message, Freedom's clear reveille, swept
From heedless hovel to complacent throne.
Command and prophecy were in the tone,
And from its sheath the sword of justice leapt.
Around two peoples swelled a fiery wave,
But both came forth transfigured from the flame.
Blest be the hand that dared be strong to save,
And blest be she who in our weakness came--
Prophet and priestess!
At one stroke she gave
A race to freedom, and herself to fame.
Have you ever heard “all the good one’s are taken”? Are you stuck in a relationship that isn’t great, but you keep thinking that there really isn’t anything better out there, or that you don’t deserve better? Do you find that you are willing to settle because you can’t find the right person? What I see the most are people getting in relationship after relationship with jerks (or even just people that aren’t right for them), either not believing that there are better people out there, or not believing that they deserve these better people. The truth is we all deserve someone wonderful. We all deserve safety, trust, honesty, love, and partnership. The key is being patient until you can find the person you have this with, and being the person that is capable of these things.
We struggle with loneliness. We struggle with believing in our own value. Because of these things we sometimes are willing to settle for less. I have friends that have stayed with men that weren’t healthy, and clients that find relationship after relationship with people that lie to them, violate trust, and hurt them. The lesson is that it is worth waiting and working to find the person that is worth your love.
So how do know if the person is worth you time? There are some easy tells in the beginning.
The first thing to look at is their relationship history and how they treat and talk about their ex partners. What this will tell you is the kind of people your person is attracted to and how they treat others in general. If your person talks about what jerks their exes are, either it says that they aren’t nice and get bitter when things don’t go well, or it tells you that they tend to be attracted to unhealthy people. This should be a big red flag.
The next thing to look at is you person’s hobbies. What do they do for fun? How do they entertain themselves? Does your person have the ability to entertain himself or herself? You should have hobbies that you both share, and at the same time you shouldn’t ever be attached at the hip. Both of you should have hobbies that you have fun at that you don’t have to do with your person. If they don’t have anything, can be a sign that they may expect you to do everything with them and that they don’t have an independent identity. Having an independent identity through hobbies is an important part of relationships.
The third thing to pay attention to is your person’s friends. If you can’t stand your date’s friends, just remember that birds of a feather stick together. If all of his or her friends are jerks, or alcoholics, or just crazy in general, it is a pretty good sign that the person you’re with is going to show these signs later as well.
Look at your person’s family, and how they interact. Whether we want to admit it or not, we learn how to be adults from our parents. It takes a lot of work to undo the lessons we learn from childhood. The model of how we act as husbands and wives, as moms and dads come from our parents. Dr. Jon Van Epp in the book How To Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk put it very well: “When you marry Jed you get the Clampets”. Or; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If the tree is scary to you recognize there may be some things that you and your person need to work out about how each of you expect relationships and parenting work before you jump in to long term.
Be very wary of “This person is good, but they’ll be great when…”. Be even more wary if they tell you they are fully aware of a character flaw that you don’t like, and that they are working hard to change. You have to be able to fully accept the person your with as they are. If there is some great character flaw that keeps them from being Mr. or Mrs. Right, that flaw in all reality isn’t going to get better, and probably wouldn’t be a flaw for someone else. It isn’t OK to expect people to change for you to be the person that you want. Even more difficult is when that character flaw is something that truly makes them unlikable or unstable, they recognize it, and continue to do it.
The final thing to look at is your person’s history at reaching their goals. It is great and wonderful to have large goals goals; it is a different thing entirely to reach them. There is a difference between interested and invested, and you can see this through their history of reaching goals. If your person has a mountain of debt that they are doing nothing about, you see how they manage money. If they are 35 and have wonderful plans but still live in their parents basement, you have an idea of how well they move to reach goals. If they are 80 different unfinished projects but all the while tell you of the awesome project they are going to do for you or are in the middle of, you have a good idea that they aren’t going to finish anything.
Love is tricky and addictive. We don’t want to be alone, and on top of that we have a base
animal instinct to not only be together in family units but to have
children. We sometimes mistake
attraction for love, and because of the desire to not be alone we sometimes
make silly decisions that can affect us long term. You deserve wonderful in
your relationships. Don’t ever
settle. Recognize that no one is
going to be 100% perfect in every way, and at the same time you can find
someone who’s imperfections still work with you, your goals, desires and
dreams. In sorting through all of the not quite rights, the good one is out there waiting for you.
A Personality Disorder is distinct from all other diagnoses in mental health. It is not an organic concern that can be treated with medication, such as depression, anxiety or schizophrenia. It is not like mental retardation or autism. A Personality Disorder is how a person looks at the world around them and interacts with it. In general, medication has little to no effect on, as medication cannot change a person's personality.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is marked by a distinct fear of abandonment, and at times extreme efforts to avoid said abandonment, either real or perceived. Generally this disorder is developed during childhood as an attempt to cope with extreme environmental stress. It can be overwhelming and frustrating for a parent or friend.
The DSM-IV TR criteria for BPD are as follows
1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.
2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.
5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria (depression), irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms
If you have children, spouse's or friends that
have this disorder you find that you they don't know if you are coming or
going. You feel drained by the others emotions and are never sure what
response you are going to get. At times you will be confused by their
emotions and or actions. At times you will feel as though you aren't living
in reality, as things you either did do are denied (Eg. "You never take
care of me! You told me you hate me!") or did not do ("You were
looking at another girl, weren't you!").
While anyone can show the traits of BPD, women are more likely to have BPD then men so referrals in this will be She or Her.
One main cause of confusion is a term called "splitting". Splitting is the separation of people and events in to the categories of good and bad, love and hate. Have you seen her pick targets that are loved and targets that are hated? Teachers, Therapists, Doctors, Parents, Animals, Friends, etc. can all fall in to the trap of being the idealized or the demonized one. A person can also go back and forth between the two quickly. An adult with BPD will transition through therapists, doctors, psychiatrists, and partners as the person falls from grace, at times for unknown reasons. Teens will transition from friend to friend, as well as partners for the same reason. Friends will often be confused by the turmoil and "Love Hate" of the relationship, becoming overwhelmed and leaving quickly. Those that are often able or willing to tolerate the ambiguity of the behaviors have their own emotional or behavioral difficulties.
She will often seem to thrive on chaos. Their feelings of emptiness manifest in working to create situations that stimulate extreme emotions both in themselves and others. This effectively distracts from those feelings of emptiness, at least for a brief period. They also tend to be "chameleons", able to adapt to any group, without seeming to have a personality of their own. She will tend to thrive in periods of chaos but falls apart when life is stable and quiet.
Those with BPD often feel incompetent or unskilled in regards to getting their needs met. This leads to them either not asking for help when they need it, or demanding too much help. Their seeming irrational behavior often comes from a place of fear.
It is important to maintain your own level of emotional stability, even when you at times feel confused and hurt by the others behavior. You will find that you are repeatedly required to avoid being drawn in her chaos and at times she will intentionally hurt or annoy you. This is coined as "I hate you, Don't leave me". When things are going well, and you are on the good side of the coin you will feel overwhelmed by the warmth emanating from her, but when on the evil side you will feel empty, confused and angry yourself.
It is also important that you work to avoid getting sucked in to her chaos. The most blatant way she will work to suck you in is to create a situation in which there is a power play. This is a situation in which there is a blatant winner and looser. She will use flawed logic to make arguments that blatantly don't make sense to argue and argue and argue. The best defense is to avoid the argument in the first place and not get sucked in. There is no winner in this situation and the best way to maintain your sanity is to walk away. No matter what happens you will be the bad guy. It isn't running away, it is saving your sanity. Work to avoid trying to argue with their logic. It will just frustrate both of you. She will often blame you for making her feel hurt or sad. Remember that she is allowed to have her beliefs and feelings. You aren’t required to make her feel better, or to make her be able to see your side.
A communication tool is the "When you ____________ I feel ___________, I need you to ________" technique. With this tool you give a specific behavior, while avoiding subjective adjectives about their behavior. "When your room is dirty" "When you throw things at your sister" "When you cut yourself" as opposed to "When you are stupid", "When you act like a 2 year old", "When you throw a tantrum". The rationale for this is the argument that can follow. They either did or didn't fight with their sister, clean their room, cut themselves, etc. What constitutes of acting stupid, acting like a 2 year old throwing a tantrum? These are debatable. The objective fact is then followed by your feelings about the situation. "I feel hurt; sad; angry; betrayed; scared etc...". You are allowed your feelings, just as they are. There are no right or wrong feelings in any situation. Your feelings are followed by your need / want / boundary.
Another thing that is important is to maintain your own boundaries. The best way to do this is to consistently use "I" statements to communicate what you will tolerate and what you won't. "I will not stay here while you are yelling". "I will not give you your allowance when your room is not clean". "I need you to clean your room; talk about your feelings in stead of throw things at your sister, ask for help instead of cutting". Using this technique can help you feel more in control the situation, and avoid taking control away from her, when she already feels powerless. Using the words "I need, I want, I would like" as opposed to "you need to" is a disarming technique.
The “When you, I feel” also works for
praise! “When you did the dishes I felt really good, thank you!” " Praise is amazing in working
with someone with BPD. They often seek praise for mediocre work, which
can be frustrating, and leads us to less of a desire to recognize actual
accomplishment. Remember to give praise when due so they will not feel
the need to seek it as much when it isn’t.
We all get hit with a fear of abandonment at some point in our lives, and we sometimes to not-so-smart things when in the middle of this fear. When it begins to effect relationships, work and home life it is time to seek professional assistance. The book Stop Walking On Eggshells is an excellent resource for you as you. A provider that knows Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or has an understanding of additional interventions is important when looking for a therapist. Maintaining your calm and cool, and feeling skillful is as important for you as it is for the Borderline in your life as you navigate your way through this.
Have you ever had one of those days? The day where you just can’t do the thing you’ve done a thousand times before. The day where you stick your foot in your mouth and say something that embarrasses you so much you run it over in your mind again and again. The day when you made the decision that really is a shocking mistake? The day when you’re caught doing something silly; picking your nose or talking to yourself. Have you ever had the day when all of the above and more happened?
These days happen to all of us. The feelings that come with the day aren’t easily shaken off. If we aren’t careful we can slide downward with the hurt and shame that come with days like this and let these feelings consume us. It is important to be able to remember during the moments of shame and frustration that these days aren’t every day, and it does get better.
Most of the time the majority of us are at a pretty even keel. Our emotions aren’t super high or super low, our days aren’t super great or super horrible, life is just generally in a middle decent place. We take these days for granted because it is just how life is; generally OK. During the bad days we have to remember that we will return to this.
There will be days every once in a while that just suck. They are just days. Most of the time things are good, and we have to remember this. The day will pass, and you’ll be fine. Just hold on to the knowledge that the bad days aren’t forever.