When Borderline Personality Disorder Makes Me Regress
As someone with borderline personality disorder, I sometimes regress. I have this incredibly scarred and vulnerable core inner child.
She is the part of me that was damaged before she could fully form, before she could be nurtured. The part of me that I feel may never completely heal. The part of me that seems to continue getting damaged again and again and again. The rawest part. The most open part. The most daring and courageous part.
And my inner child is also the part of me that has opened me up to the caring, the love, the safety and the comfort of certain others. The trust and close and intimate relationships. The beautiful hearts that are out there, that at one point in my life, I had shut out. Yes, many of those beautiful hearts have hurt me and have put more fissures into my inner child. And yes, she often wishes to retreat back into the darkest recesses of my mind where she lived for so long — too long. Because even when I was that young child, I was told to, “Just grow up.” I was called names. I was ridiculed. I was verbally and emotionally abused. And my parents made it seem like my emotions were “burdens” or “overreactions.”
There are times I regret ever letting my inner child out of hiding. At least in hiding, my inner child was protected. That was the illusion.
The reality was that she wasn’t protected in hiding. She wasn’t safer if I repressed the younger parts of me. She was, and is, scared. She’s lonely. So incredibly lonely. And it feels like it doesn’t necessarily matter how much love and caring and reassurance I get; my younger parts always want more, and they hold onto every word that comes out of those caring, beautiful souls as though their words and caring are a lifeline tethered to me that I need to survive.
My inner child is needy. She’s clingy. And she is so vulnerable that it scares me. So open. So exposed. So emotionally raw. And so fearful. Because she’s been burned. A lot.
And if she sees an ounce of caring or concern in someone’s eyes, she will latch on with the most intense attachment and need I have ever seen. She’ll do it quickly — before I have the chance to realize what’s happening and try to guard myself.
It’s like she’s found the leg of the parent she never really had and she hangs on with all the might in her tiny hands no matter how much that leg insists on walking away from her. Once she’s formed that attachment, once she’s found someone who seems safe and who looks like they care and who talks in that soft, sweet voice of concern and understanding; when that person walks away, the entire ground beneath her becomes a broken jigsaw puzzle with pieces that don’t quite fit. The pieces start to pop out, and I am left grasping onto nothing and desperately praying for someone to reach out and hold me.
Once my younger parts find that person, she can’t let go because it feels as though my life depends on that person being there — always. Because while I am chronologically an adult, most of the time, I feel like a young child or an infant.
I regress. A lot.
I know I am an adult. I know that. But my feelings tell me otherwise. My feelings feel the way a child or infant would feel depending on how far back I regress.
Inside, I may feel like a scared little girl, curled up in a ball, hugging her knees until her knuckles turn white and you can see all the veins in her tiny fingers. She sits in the corner of the room with her back pressed so hard against the wall, hoping she’ll just fall through or become one with the wall; hoping that nobody notices she is there because she feels too raw, too open, too vulnerable, too exposed. But she also wants somebody to notice her, to come over to her, to sit with her, to talk to her in a calming voice, to reassure her, to love her, to comfort her, to care, to take care of her, to never let go of her, to be with her no matter what she feels. To tell her it is OK to feel anything and everything and that they’ll be there with her no matter what. She just wants to be safe, away from anything dangerous, protected and finally safe in the arms of those she trusts.
When I regress, I become the younger parts o me. I am aware that I am still an adult. But I feel so young. I feel like a 2-year-old or like a baby — desperately grasping the open air with fingers I don’t know what to do with yet, but I know I need contact with the person who will take care of me. Because I can’t take care of me. Because I feel so desperate to be held and loved. Because I am crying and the world is a big scary place to be in, and I don’t know where I belong anymore.
So, I lie down and try to make my body as tiny as it can get. I try to become compact. And when I can’t become as tiny as I feel I cry even harder because it feels like my body has to become as tiny as I feel inside.
I need to calm down, but I can’t. I can’t because I have no parent to: hold me, take care of me, be there to reassure me, tell me they care and will never leave me. And to an infant, having no parent would probably be horrifying. It is devastating. It is life or death. It is survival. It is needed. A baby can’t take care of themselves. They need somebody. And I am constantly on the watch for somebody to be that for me — a search that isn’t conscious.
I found a parent figure in my therapist. He was the first person who ever noticed my baby feelings and made me aware of them. He noticed that I felt so young inside and that that made the world even scarier for me. He was the person who helped me release the baby parts of me that I had unknowingly kept hidden inside. But that creeped out during our sessions and in between. And when those parts of me were acknowledged and welcomed to come out, it was like floodgates had opened and nothing could ever stop that force from coming out.
It was terrifying and it was beautiful. I was slowly learning what those young parts of me needed and why they were there. I never got to have what most babies and young children have. I never learned safety and security. I never formed a secure attachment. I never learned emotional consistency or object permanence. I never learned that people may leave m,e but that it doesn’t mean they are leaving me. I never learned to feel safe within myself because I never learned to feel safe, period.
So I regress. And it’s painful. When I am those baby parts, I feel everything to an intensity I can’t even find the words to describe. I feel things I didn’t even know existed. I feel intense love — like a baby would feel toward their parent. A desperate need to be with my parent figure. I talk like a baby, sound like a baby, use words that babies use, and I do all of this without trying to. It just happens. It just comes out. And I’ve learned to let it come out, to not hide the baby parts away.
I’ve been learning to accept that feeling like a young child or like a baby is “normal.” Everybody has child parts in them. Maybe not everybody feels exactly as I do, or to the intensity, but it isn’t abnormal. It may feel like it is, but it isn’t. It is normal, and it is OK.
The baby feelings come out more often — especially when I feel hurt or vulnerable or if my depression has spiked or I’m scared somebody is abandoning me.
If I feel rejected, I regress.
If I feel scared, I regress.
If I feel emotional, I regress.
If I feel joy, I regress.
If I feel an emotional reaction to something on TV, I’ll regress.
If I feel close to someone, I regress.
If I feel safe, accepted, cared about, reassured, comforted, loved, wanted or need with someone, I regress.
Sometimes, my regression is this happy baby wanting to curl in on herself and smile and babble and giggle. It is still scary because it is so incredibly raw, but it is this safety that is complete. It isn’t the same as safety that I’ve seen and felt as an adult, it is this childlike safety. This “wow,” I’ve found someone to: love me as I am, comfort me when I’m scared, hold onto me and squeeze the pain away and be in the pain with me so I’m not dealing with the weight of the world alone. To guide me. To love me. To be there. To accept me. To not judge me. To help me feel safe within my world. But it is so much more than that. I have no words to describe it. It is magical.
Other times, my regression is pure desperation. It is more than a want or a need — it is a whole other being. I must have the person I feel safe with, and if the baby parts can’t have that parent figure right then, my baby parts feel frantic and impulsive and desperate. They feel rejected and alone and like they don’t matter or nobody cares. And those baby parts don’t understand why somebody can’t be with me 100 percent of the time, why they have to leave me to go be with their family or go to work or why they can’t always stay. Because that part of me needs it. That part of me is so much more than scared.
When I am in that state, it is so hard to console me. And once someone is comforting me, I never want them to stop and I never want them to leave. I can’t handle them leaving. I am even more hypersensitive to any change in their tone or word choices or eye movements than my usual hypersensitive self. Because any change means rejection. It means they really don’t want to be there with me. It means I am a burden. It means I’ve shared too much. I’ve become too much. That I shouldn’t feel like I am a baby. That I shouldn’t have shown them my baby feelings. That it is abnormal to feel that way. To talk that way. To act that way.
Sometimes, when I can’t figure out how to soothe myself or calm myself down, I will reach for one of my favorite pacifiers. And yes, I am an adult who has baby pacifiers. But there are times when the pacifier, my bottle, my blankey and my bunny are the only things that can calm me down. Often, using my pacifier will bring this sense of calm over me and will help soothe the baby parts of me that are so scared. It brings safety. I’m honestly not sure why, but it does.
Sometimes, I’ll recite “Goodnight Moon” to myself before bed because my therapist, who has been a parent figure to me, recommended I read it before bed years ago.
I love using my pacifier. I love drinking from a bottle. And I wish somebody would be there with me and my baby feelings and not get scared. I wish people knew that I am still the adult they knew a few minutes prior, but something in me probably got triggered and I may or may not know what triggered me or what was triggered in me. But when something triggers me, I regress, and I need them to sit with me, be with me, care for me and not leave me. To accept me as I am. To go with it.
I need them to go with whatever age I feel. And if they need to ask me what age I feel, they can. I may not always know, and depending on how young I feel, I may not be able to answer. I may not be able to say those words. I may only be able to make sounds that mean so much to me but sound like nothing to other people. Or my voice will change dramatically — I will go from sounding like an adult to sounding like a child or baby instantly.
And it can be very confusing and scary for me. If I am in public or with people I don’t trust enough to show this part to, I will try so hard to either leave where I am or to push those feelings down or hide them or to feel them internally. But it’s hard. And if I’m triggered, the baby feelings come out and are so strong. My inner child screams so loudly and wants to be noticed but also wants to hide. She’s shy and needy and desperate. She needs someone to hear her, to hear her needs and to know her needs before she even says them, even though I, the adult, know that nobody can know what I need if I don’t tell them. My inner child doesn’t care. To her, that person not knowing is the same as abandoning or rejecting.
And I shut down. I shut down and shut the world out. I stop talking or I only say short sentences. I put my fortress walls up and station guards outside of any perceivable site of entry. And my inner child retreats far into the fortress to avoid any more hurt because those young parts of me have been hurt too many times by people who were supposed to love me. And for those parts to be shown is so brave and courageous for that little girl. It is putting herself out there even though each time she puts herself out there and hands her little heart over to someone, she gets crushed. But she keeps trying because she knows she needs that someone. She knows this.
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Thinkstock photo via panic_attack