The Truth About My Need to Achieve

Thinking back to the early years of my childhood, I can recall being a rather precocious child, always vying for attention in some small way and always trying to be brilliant. For
me, this meant shining above all others in school. I had to be the girl who could spell the most words, had read the most books, had to neatest handwriting. All I wanted was to be brilliant; not a great ask, at all! I had an idea of myself and if I could not fulfill this image in my head, I believed I would be wholly useless, a failure. My goals were extraordinary, even for a small child – I had hopes of Oxford or Cambridge aged 5, aimed at eventually studying a PHD when I was 7. I had constructed a vision of myself that I had to become and this has always stuck with me.

Looking back now, I realize two things. Firstly, this was an early manifestation of my borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits. Though it is only diagnosable post-adolescence, I believe I demonstrated some characteristics to a problematic degree in my youth, and that it was something I was always predisposed to. Secondly, since embarking on the road to recovery through therapy, I understand this idea of brilliance that I held so close was a need for validation. I wanted concrete manifestations of my goodness so that others around me could tell me I was great, as proven through my accomplishments. I held onto dreams of becoming this ideal person because it was a mask, a mask I wore to hide the cripplingly anxious and self-loathing person I was growing up to be. Under the ambition, ambition I still have to this day to an extent, I was a fragile, nervous person and I needed to somehow “trick” others into seeing a version of myself that I would have rather been.

As my BPD manifested itself clearly at the exit stage of my teenage years, I sought validation just as desperately as I had in my childhood, but the means of doing so varied greatly. I entered into serious romantic relationships; they were, as characteristic of BPD, unstable and I would constantly seek reassurance from partners that I was loved, liked and wanted. This extended to friendships, even to some relationships with family members, as I doubted the need others had for me in their lives.

By the time I was in my 20s, this kind of insecurity had ballooned and become a great obstruction to my relationships, my studies and my ability to form new friendships. I needed constant reminders that I was wanted; if I didn’t get them, I would “punish” the perpetrator by cooling contact, almost ghosting the people I cared for over some perceived slight that indicated to me I was not as wanted as I had to feel. I started drifting away from people, and they from me. I was lonely, and this only reaffirmed the little voice in my head, my BPD telling me that if I wasn’t being validated, if people were not constantly telling me so, then they did not want me.

Since I have begun therapy, I have started to separate that insidious little voice from my rational brain, the one that tells me that no one can respond exactly as I want them to. People are not mine to control and I cannot hand out punishments to those who do not telepathically understand what it is I want from them all the time. I am more able to contradict the gnawing voice that tells me I need to seek validation all the time, the one that said I had to brilliant or I would not be good, worthy or cared for. Sometimes I still fall prey to it and find myself wondering if my friends really do like me, or if I am just a needy, wanting burden upon them. But, I fight this voice because mine is louder and I will not succumb to what I now know is my disorder, something that I can learn to control. Through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) techniques and a greater self-awareness, I can fight even this most vitriolic of my BPD symptoms.

To my loved ones; I am trying my hardest every day to win the battle with the little voice that wants to make me feel inferior and unworthy. Sometimes, I seem cold and unresponsive because I was not victorious and I feel like you don’t want me anymore. Most of the time, however, I am beating it and I am telling it that I don’t need it – I can validate myself now and know that I am loved. But there are times when I still need your understanding because this fight with my disorder will not be won overnight, and I will need you by my side.

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