Burying Monsters: Surviving Paranoia in Borderline Personality Disorder
If you have BPD everything feels like a threat. In order to bury monsters, you must first bring the inner child to the surface.
With BPD emotions are intense. Really fucking intense. One of the theories as to why those of us with BPD feel emotions, that much more deeply than others, is that in times of distress we are unable to conjure a Soothing Introject to help us calm down. Instead we create a Malevolent Other as a way to cope.
You’ll be surprised to learn theres a whole language to explain paranoia and with it comes the insight to pursue recovery. First let’s return to the psychoanalysts dictionary of forgotten words.
Object Cathexis is a term which describes our emotional investment in what’s around us. A favourite teddy bear, a cosy blanket, a hug from someone we love are all examples of Cathexis. They demonstrate our attachment to the environment and our overall interest in life.
Object hunger describes the psychological state of constantly needing objects to comfort us. Common objects we hunger for include family, friends and partners. However, we can also crave drugs, alcohol, food or sex to fill that sense of emptiness we carry inside us.
Introjection When we like something we create a mental representation of it. Introjection describes the minds ability to incorporate objects into our unconscious mind as a representation, so that when a good object disappears from view we never lose it entirely. In this way we navigate the world feeling safe, secure and loved.
At the beginning of our infancy, we were unable to identify what was inside and what was out. The difference between subject and object didn’t exist. It wasn’t: ‘I’m hungry I need my mum to feed me,’ rather just ‘hunger!’ Everything was chaotic and filled with light and sound.
As our brains developed so did our cognition, and with it external reality began to impinge on our senses. Our parents would have revealed the outside world to us, and if they were good enough, we would have experienced a sense of safety, trusting they’d always be around. As a result we developed Object Cathexis. On the other hand, if we had bad parents who weren’t good enough, and who were absent in their parenting, we would have felt insecure and fearful, believing the world around us was unreliable and even dangerous. As a result we developed Object Hunger.
All of us grow up one day. Those of us with secure attachments, learnt that if our parents weren’t always there, they were always nearby. We were able to introject positive mental representations of them, internalising their love, and incorporating it into ourselves. Our parents became our soothing introjects. On the other hand, if we had insecure attachments, we assumed if our parents went missing they might not come back. We introjected their negativity, and if it appears they didn’t love us, we internalised the idea that we were unlovable. As a result, we went through life, feeling threatened, alone and unable to be soothed. In the absence of help, we created a Malevolent Other.
For those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder, we will all be familiar with the feeling of being out of control. One of the reasons emotions feel so bad, is that we are unable to conjure a Soothing Introject in times of distress. In other words, we can’t create in our minds the image of someone who loves us, and are therefore unable to create the feeling of love even for ourselves.
Feeling unloved and unworthy of love is a terrible experience. In order to cope, we may resort to self-harm. If our attempts at communication fall on deaf ears, we may become paranoid. One of the most negative ways to bypass the need for the Soothing Introject is the creation of the Malevolent Other. If you have BPD you’ll anticipate threat before it even arrives. You’ll be hyper-vigilant to danger and watching others closely for clues about their intentions. The blessing of exquisite sensitivity is being highly empathetic to those around us, the curse is that our perceptions can be wrong. We may create the feeling of persecution even if it doesn’t exist, or is much more benign in nature. We may even do so, because we cannot tolerate being alone.
It happens unconsciously: When feelings of fear or distress become overwhelming we create a ‘Malevolent Other’ to help us understand the situation. Usually it will be a symbol from childhood, that by transference we place on someone we know such as a friend or partner: They suddenly become an enemy. It may appear as if they are out to get us.
Many parents feel stigmatised by us survivors of Borderline Personality Disorder. They feel that we’ve unfairly scapegoated them as being bad parents and even child-abusers. We know that while BPD is highly correlated with trauma, some individuals with the diagnosis grew up in relatively mild family environments and escaped childhood unscathed. How do we account for the discrepancy? The answer lies in the failure of the Soothing Introject and the creation of the Malevolent Other. Now we’re treading on a very controversial subject here, because it appears to say survivors are prone to fabrication. This could potentially stop them speaking out.
The truth is many of us have grown up in invalidating environments, and whether it was low level and took the form of excessive criticism, or was more serious and involved physical or sexual assualt, all of us have scars. More often than not, it is the survivor who has a more accurate representation of family members than their family would like to admit. If we feel abandoned and mistreated it’s likely that we have experienced such treatment when we were children, and the feeling has carried over into adulthood. If we feel those around us a malevolent, then there are usually reasons for this attribution, whether in the past or present.
Being unable to conjure a soothing introject is akin to the real life problem of having no one to comfort us when we cry. Family, friends and professionals ask a lot: We are expected to tolerate burning pain of emotions in and of themselves, but also the auxiliary feeling of feeling as if no one cares. The vicious irony is that with BPD our levels of impairment are so extreme, that the perception may become a reality. We are lonely because we’re alone having driven everyone away, we are paranoid because our behaviour has led professionals to stigmatise us.
One of the first principles of recovering from trauma is establishing safety. Usually that means creating distance from others, so the body and mind has a chance to heal. When we’ve done this, symptoms will go into remission. It’s now time to to create new symbols. We can all get in touch with the inner child, and regain that sense of spontaneity and freedom we had in youth.
Burying the malevolent other is hard work! Conjuring a soothing introject is harder. In real terms it means we have to let go of the past and embrace the future. It won’t be without challenges; stigma, discrimination, loneliness, and depression may lie in wait. But that’s better than being borderline. You will be out of the unrelenting crisis, and working towards a life worth living. New symbols or images of love replace emptiness. Calm reflection on the negativity of some people will replace the feeling of paranoid persecution. We’ll be able to rediscover life once again.
The best introject is the image of the inner child, strong, resilient and radiant. Perhaps you thought, it was your job to comfort them, little did you know they too have the power to comfort you.
To find out more visit www.rightresilience.com