Archive for the ‘C-PTSD / BPD’ Category

Been busy, I swear!

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Okay, I know I’ve been busy, but this is nuts. No posts in more than two years? Wow!

Returning to the intended topic of this blog, I would like to recommend the book “Not Trauma Alone“, by Steven Gold. (You can find my review on Amazon, by the way.)

This book is written for the clinical or research professional, but I found it to be generally accessible. The author seems to understand that the problems which tend to lead to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or codependence are based in childhood experiences which generate complex-PTSD along with measurable physical changes to our brains.

One chapter is fairly heavy on how the practicing therapist should apply the author’s schema with clients. He stresses that, far from being “manipulative”, we BPD’ers are actually flailing helplessly. It’s just that we were raised — we were explicitly or implicitly trained — to do things in manners which appear (to the uncharitable or uninformed) to constitute manipulation.

A few examples: One of our customs is to shower gifts on people who we want to have like us or do something for us. This is what my parents expected of me and my sisters. If we wanted something (food, say, or a third pair of underpants), we were explicitly required to “earn” it. It was expected that we shower the parent with care, compliments, gifts, whatever, in order to soften them up for our request. Another custom of BPD’ers is that we don’t say what we want. When I was a kid, making a plain and simple request (“This toothbrush is two years old. May I have a new one please?”) was guaranteed to result in punishment. Another habit of BPD’ers is to “help” people (as though we are trying to curry favor) even when those people haven’t asked. We’ll even get pushy with the “help”, or get upset when our (idea of) help isn’t immediately accepted. In my case, this stems from my upbringing. My mother would scream at me, “How DARE you FORCE somebody to ask you for help!” I was explicitly required to provide help, instruction, and directions, no matter what.

Rather than us BPD’ers being some sort of evil geniuses who effortlessly control those around us, we in fact tend to be clueless and generally not in control of anything. We were raised this way, and we really don’t know any better. We feel like everybody else must be reading from some manual that we’ve never even heard of, like the rest of you have some vocabulary that we totally don’t understand (perhaps because we were raised with different definitions for those same words). We’re really not trying to control you; we’re trying our best to get along and be agreeable. It’s just that we were trained in entirely wrong ways to do that.

Rather than telling us to start being “nice” or “honest” or “straightforward” or whatever (we don’t have the correct definitions of these), or telling us to “get over” the abuse we’ve suffered in adulthood and “recover” our childhood health (which generally never existed), therapists need to understand that we need to learn that basic childhood stuff in the first place. We have to start at the bottom, at the beginning. Rather than assuming us to be slimeballs and “problem” clients, they should assume that we’re missing years of normal background, history, and training. They can’t assume that we know normal stuff. In fact, they need to assume that we do NOT know that stuff.

Which seems obvious, really, when we’re in the middle of the situation. But, as “normals”, hardly any clinicians seem to have any clue.

Control Patterns (1)

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Control pattern: I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.

I would never have stated this explicitly, and I don’t think I ever thought this, at least not that I was aware of. But when so much of one’s life is spent in cleaning up after other people, is there any more-likely conclusion for one to draw? No matter how clearly a problem was not my fault during my childhood and much of my marriage, it was always still somehow “my fault”. Of course I came to act as though I believed others were incapable of caring for themselves: that assumption — that they required me to take care of all of their problems — was the foundation of so much of my intimate relationships. How could I have thought otherwise of my parents or my husband?

In the context of Borderline Peronality Disorder, this may be characterised as being “clingy” or of having unstable relationships.

I can remember one time, when I was a teenage, my parents rented me out to one of their church friends. I can’t remember what the friends needed me for, and I have no idea why my parents consented to letting me out of their sight (and thus their immediate control), but the weekend involved travel out of state and visiting one of the friends’ families.

The trip was over and they were taking me back home. When we were almost there, we had to stop; a tree had fallen across the road. They weren’t sure what to do; this was the boondocks and was well before the era of cellphones. But then we noticed that the car stuck in the road in front of us was my father’s. So we all hopped out and, while they chatted happily with my father, I climbed into the back seat of his car.

Where I found my sister looking anxious. Before our father got into the car, she had just enough time to whisper that we were in big trouble.

It was months, maybe a couple of years, before I found out what had happened. That’s another story for another time. The point is that I was “in big trouble” for something that had not involved me. I hadn’t even been in the same state! But somehow it was my fault, what other people had done and said, and I had to bear the responsibility.

So, yeah, I developed the habit of viewing people as incapable. I’m hoping that, with time, intelligence, and determination, I can learn to view people as just people. We each have our strengths and our weaknesses, and other peoples’ lives are neither my fault, my responsibility, nor my shame.

Low Self-Esteem Patterns (1)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Low Self-Esteem Pattern: I  have difficulty making decisions.

For most of my life, my opinion didn’t matter. Heck, the facts, if I were the one presenting them, didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. My attempts to say anything, on my own behalf or otherwise, met with disapproval at best, reprisals at worst. Is it any wonder that I learned to doubt myself?

But it is worse than that. I learned how not to make decisions at all, how not even to have opinions at all. When one is not allowed an independent existence, when attempts at such are punished as representing “betrayal”, then one tends not to have much “sense of self”. When everything “wrong” is somehow “your fault”, will you dare take the risk of being seen to make a decision, to have an opinion? Of course not! For one’s own safety’s sake, one learns not to think, not to care, not to decide. One only watches. One is ever-watchful for any sign, any hint of what one is “supposed” to think, feel, believe, want.

In terms of Borderline Personality Disorder, this might be characterised as “intense attachment” or a lack of a “sense of self”.

A friend of mine has, for many years, been in quite a few different Twelve-Step programs. He recommended that I try something similar. I’d tried Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) some years earlier, but hadn’t been ready for it. And I’d been trying therapy, and still couldn’t get past the “give yourself a break” and “give yourself permission” stage. I didn’t “get” to give myself permission. I’d lived nearly five decades being required to get permission from outside sources. What outside source had the authority to overrule that, and give me the permission to give myself that authority?

Yes, it’s very messy inside my head.

In the context of CoDA, I couldn’t get past the “turning my life over to” any sort of “Higher Power”, because that just meant more of the same: obeying people who, in the name of God, told me to do things that hurt myself and others.

This friend asked me if I really thought God wanted me to hurt myself and others. Did I really think that God wanted me to do things, for instance, that profited (literally, in monetary terms) my ex-husband but (emotionally and monetarily) harmed my child? No, I didn’t. So maybe it was time to let go of that idea of “God”, and instead accept the idea of a god that wanted me to do good things, both for myself and others.

And that God did “give me permission” to “give myself a break”. That was what I needed to get over that hump, and learn to start exploring making decisions for myself.

Thank you, Jade!

Denial patterns (1)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Denial pattern: I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.

My therapist could attest to this one. He has often asked me things like, “How do you feel about that?”, and I’ve honestly had no clue. Other times, I’d been feeling intensely about something, but had no idea how to describe it. Nearly all the time, I “minimize” or hedge. For instance, I’d never be “angry”; instead, I might be “perturbed” or “unsettled” or “displeased”.

Within the context of Borderline Personality Disorder, this characteristic might be referred to as a mood disorder or as an inadequate sense of self.

Throughout my childhood and much of my marriage, I was required not to feel how I really felt. I was told that my (normal) reactions and feelings were wrong somehow, and was often told how I “really” felt or how I “should” feel. After decades of covering, hiding, squelching, and numbing myself, being allowed at best only to hint at what I meant, I finally reached the point of being very much “out of touch” with myself, sincerely having no idea what I might have been feeling in that instant before I’d managed to supress.

While I still believe that we shouldn’t be run by our emotions, I also now believe that we have emotions for a reason. They serve a purpose. If nothing else, they provide additional data. If I’m feeling happy about something, this doesn’t necessarily “make” the thing “okay”, but it could indicate that I’m feeling invested in the thing and am thus deriving pleasure, on more than just an intellectual level, in the success of the thing. If I’m feeling angry about something, this doesn’t necessarily “make” the thing (or me) “bad”, but it could point out that I’m trying (by force of habit) to ignore something that I shouldn’t, or that something is attacking me and I need to start defending myself. (Whether or not it’s acceptable to protect myself is another issue for another day.)

A very kind lady told me many times that I needed to learn how to “feel your feelings”, which made no sense at the time, but she worked hard at explaining. Her first rule was to use basal terms for my feelings. I’m not “perturbed”; I’m not “unsettled”; I’m not “distressed”. No, I’m “angry”, “scared”, or “sad”

As silly as that may sound, just the fact of naming my emotions with such bald terms was enlightening (though scary) and eventually freeing. After decades of being required to minimize and hedge and hide and cover, I was saying, explicitly and with no “shading”, how I felt. And I wasn’t struck by lightning; the world didn’t come to an end; people didn’t hate me; I didn’t become evil. It was okay.

Learning — from experience — that it was acceptable and safe to feel these things, and also to acknowledge feeling them, was one big step in my early recovery. Peggy, wherever you are: Thank you!

What is “good” in a relationship?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

My therapist has assigned this for my “homework” this week: figuring out what I view as “good” in a (romantic) relationship. I pointed out that, with my background (an abusive childhood followed shortly thereafter by an abusive marriage), I don’t have much experience with “good”, and clearly my judgement is suspect. After all, had I had a solid grasp of “good” or “healthy”, it seems doubtful that I would have married a man who turned out to be disburbingly similar to my own mother.

But I suppose this is something that I need to work through, or at least consider investigating, if for no other reason than in hopes that I won’t be quite so ready to make the same mistakes as I have in the past. Granted, I’ve already become aware of how completely my ex-(yay!)-husband fulfills the checklists of “warnings he may be an abuser”, but that is in retrospect. It would be better, surely, to be able to have some confidence going forward, rather than only in looking back.

So what is a “good” relationship? What does one look for, both positive and negative?

For so long, I could easily have been presented as a “needy” or “clingy” woman — though only after a relationship had begun. I’d been so deprived of positive attention that any attention that wasn’t actively negative (in the early days) was precious to me, which left me open to (and likely attracted toward me) abusers who would take advantage. I hadn’t had much in the way of healthy relationships so, not knowing any better, I accepted unhealthy ones. I’d like something better now, but how would I, of all people, know how to recognize that?

One thing I should probably start doing more of is “listening to my gut”. For too many decades, I discounted my own feelings and desires and deferred instead to what others claimed was right and “for my own good”, merely because the person hurting me insisted that he was doing it “out of love”. Actions should speak louder than words, and my own feelings should be viewed as more reflective of my own needs than somebody else’s self-serving and unsupported say-so.

Another thing I should probably do more of is speaking for myself. I don’t mean just complaining when I don’t like something. I mean asking for what I want (after figuring out in the first place what that actually is), being willing to say “no” when that’s what I mean, and being willing to give up a relationship if it’s hurting me.

If I’m putting all my emotional health at the disposal of somebody who’s draining me, will I have anything left that I can invest in somebody who genuinely wishes me well? Probably not. It’s the “oxygen mask” analogy: when the plane loses cabin pressure, I can’t help my child with his mask if I haven’t put my own mask on, since I’ll have passed out already. It’s not (entirely) selfish to take care of myself; in fact, sometimes self-care can be the more caring and un-selfish thing to do.

A “good” relationship is probably one that encourages me to put my own oxygen mask on first, if and when I feel the need.

Learned helplessness

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

“Learned helplessness” is a behavior observed in animal experiments. When a dog in a cage is subjected to shocks but restrained so that it cannot escape, it eventually stops fighting. Even when the door is open, the dog just lies there, “taking” it.

It has been proposed that people who suffered sufficient degrees of abuse (especially women, and especially those subject to intimate terrorism) eventually manifest this same tendency. This is used to explain why “she doesn’t just leave him”.

However, others have observed women in these situations, and have contented that the women do not demonstrate this behavior. In fact, they do still “rebel” in various ways. It’s just that that ways aren’t particularly useful or effective. Therefore, the thinking goes, the women are not “helpless”; they are just… well, they’re something that makes the results pretty much their own fault. “Hysterical” or “immature” or “manipulative” or something.

I think each position has merit, but is too absolute.

Another metaphor for “learned helplessness” is the elephant who was trained in its early years not to fight the chain holding him to a stake in the ground. When the elephant is small, that stake is sufficient to hold him fast. If he fights, he only tires (and perhaps injures) himself. Fighting has no positive result, and potentially negative results.

Once the elephant is grown, he has more than enough strength to pull the stake from the ground, but he never tries. Instead, he may toss its head, trumpet, give his mahout a dirty look, or otherwise generally act cranky or resentful. He does “rebel”, but not in effective ways. He learned long ago not even to try. Pulling the stake doesn’t even occur to him as a valid option.

This, I think, is a better model of the ineffective patterns resulting from prolonged abuse, especially when it started in childhood. The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) generally includes the accusation of manipulativeness, but also condemns the sufferer for her ineffectiveness and clumsiness. The abused spouse is condemned for staying with her abuser, and her staying is used to accuse her of making it all up or blowing things out of proportion.

But the problem is simpler than that. She makes those dysfuntional decisions because she honestly can’t conceive of other options. She is ineffectual because she learned, long ago, that the effective means of rebellion were not options. Fighting for help (as a child) or leaving (as a spouse) simply never occurs to her.

“We admitted we were powerless…”

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Part of any Twelve-Step program involves agreeing with the statement that one is “powerless” over whatever is the problem at hand, whether alcoholism, codependency, or something else. This presumed powerlessness may be presented within a “disease” framework, such as calling alcoholism an “allergy” or referring to codependency as “Borderline Personality Disorder”.

I objected to this “disease” characterisation because it seemed to “blame the victim”. My parents and spouse abused me, and the results are my fault?!? Sure, I’m damaged, but I’m hardly “diseased”! But I’ve rethought the issue.

Imagine a child who was born perfectly healthy. While he was still just an infant, he was “shaken” to the point of having his retinas detach. It doesn’t matter that the child did nothing wrong; the fact is, he’s blind, and always will be. He will always have “issues”; the effects of the damage will always be present.

And if he tries to live his life without taking that damage into account– well, that’d just be crazy, and his life could easily become unmanageable.

Similarly, my sisters and I never did anything to “deserve” what was done to us. But that doesn’t matter; the fact is, we’re damaged, and always will be. The effects of that damage will always be present.

I need to start taking account of that.

Child abuse as trauma

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

I’ve never claimed that my childhood was a happy one. When starting my research into the effects of my background, I kept coming across references to Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. But I didn’t bother with it, since I’d “only” had a really lousy childhood; I hadn’t been “traumatized”.

But then a woman whose opinion I very much respect recommended that I read this book. I did, and was astounded. Ms. Herman makes the connection between soldiers, rape victims, and children who suffered long-term psychological abuse. She has even coined a term for the effects of that long-term abuse: Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (also written as “Complex-PTSD” or “C-PTSD”).

The term “comples” is not meant to imply that what soldiers or rape victims suffer is “simple”. The distinction is meant to be in the circumstriction of inducing events. The soldier did not grow up in that war zone; he did not experience that battlefield trauma every day for the first decade or two of his life. The rape victim (assuming we’re not talking about child-molestation) did not grow up in that alley or back seat; she did not experience that assaultive trauma every day for the first decade or two of her life.

On the other hand, children who grew up abused did grow up in that terroristic environment; we did experience that intimate trauma every day for the first decade or two of our lives.

Instead of having a limited traumatic experience to overcome in order to return to our pre-existing mental health, we have little but traumatic experiences, and we have little or nothing healthy to which we can return. The “complex” part of “C-PTSD” is a reference to the thoroughness and duration of our abuse.

Unfortunately, because we never had a secure psychological foundation, the techniques for helping suffers of “regular” PTSD tend not to be effective for us.