The Pain Paradox: Why Individuals with BPD feel too much and too little
When individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder say I feel everything or I feel nothing at all, science shows they could in fact be right.
Borderline Personality Disorder has always been a mystery — not only for psychologists, but for doctors & physicians as well. The mystery is this: Individuals with a diagnosis of BPD often report high levels of physical pain as a result of long term health problems. However, when it comes to short-term visceral pain, such as from acts of self-harm, it isn’t felt at all.
Visceral Pain Unexperienced
When patients suffering from BPD, are put under the glare of EEG, and subjected to intense short-term pain, scientists discovered something remarkable: BPD brains quickly start producing Theta currents, the brainwaves of sleep, trance, and deep relaxation.
It is also now an established fact, that when the body is injured it naturally releases endorphins and other natural opioids which temporarily mask pain.
Finally dissociation, the experience of numbing-out to intense stress, inhibits pain recognition. On a neurological level, the brain temporarily shuts down in all but the most rudimentary functions, creating detachment.
This means, for those of us with BPD, visceral pain on a subjective level is often under-experienced. It also explains why cutting, burning or attacking one’s own body, often doesn’t hurt, and why self-harm is dangerously addictive. On a biological level, such wounds cause the brain and body to fight back with tranquility, which lasts a while.
‘Many patients claim to “feel nothing,” seemingly immune to the body’s experience and acknowledgement of tissue destruction’ Randy A. Samson, MD
Scars That Run Deep
Studies have also shown for people with BPD, endogenous pain located within the body, is often experienced as debilitating. One of the reasons for this is because, chronic post-traumatic stress from adverse events of early life leads to long term health problems.
Stress causes the overproduction of Neuropeptides, neuronal signalling molecules, implicated in learning, memory, and emotion. They are released by the brain, but then travel through the bloodstream to receptors all over the body. If a person has experienced childhood trauma, neuropeptides will be encoded with such data. This leaves a lasting imprint on the mind, but also the body as well. For lack of a better word, this imprint is experienced as “pain.”
Stress also causes the overproduction of cortisol, and the subsequent release of inflammatory cells called cytokines. These cause a variety of illnesses from high-blood pressure, and aching joints, to chronic fatigue, and Autoimmune disease.
BPD sufferers are often beset with physical health conditions from IBS to fibromyalgia. This is not because we are frail, derelict malingerers; its because stress effects us both mind and body.
‘Emotional memory is stored throughout the body […] The connection between emotions and health is more than folklore.’ Professor Gordon Turnbull
Of course, all this scientific talk of pain is rather cold-blooded for those of us who suffer it everyday. Anyone with BPD will tell you, we’d gladly accept physical pain if we could get rid of emotional hurt — unfortunately we often have to deal with both.
Perhaps then we may like to think of borderline personality disorder, as an illness that revolves continually around pain — both emotional and physical.
We need support not only from psychiatrists and psychologists but also doctors and physicians as well. The whole drive to “parity of esteem” in the NHS, hinges on the recognition that mind and body are interlinked. Individuals with BPD, are not morbidly preoccupied with pain, rather pain occupies us. It is inside us, and something we deal with day in and day out. Visceral pain, the type induced by self-harm, is way to ward off endogenous pain. Endogenous pain can be caused by chronic stress. The two play off each other, creating a viscous circle of suffering and misery.
‘How many mental health problems, from drug addiction to self-injurious behaviour, start as attempts to cope with the unbearable physical pain of our emotions?’ Bessel Van Der Kolk MD
When healthcare professionals are able to address the physical and psychological components of pain simultaneously, then all patients, including those with Borderline Personality Disorder, have a much better chance of recovery. Until the paradox becomes a question, the mystery of pain remains unsolvable.
**Visit www.rightresilience.com to find out how to stop ordinary pain becoming extraordinary suffering.