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What It's Like to Live With No 'Emotional Skin' as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder


The hardest things for me to deal with as someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are my emotions and their effects. So often I feel completely powerless to them. Most days I feel like everything is dialed up to 11, and if I feel something, I’m going to feel it completely.

For most people, emotions are like waves. We ride the ups and downs, weather the storms and hope we’ll wash up somewhere sunny after it’s all over. Well, you know that scene in “Cast Away” when Tom Hanks is desperately clinging to his deflating dinghy as gigantic waves throw him around? That’s exactly what it’s like for me when an emotion takes over. I close my eyes and hide my head until hours later, I finally tumble onto some forgotten island, alone.

And the most frustrating thing about all of this? It’s that the thing that gets me in the dinghy in the first place, my plane crash — it can be anything. It can be as simple as someone not texting me back or canceling plans — or as complicated as something completely unknown to me at the time.

Let’s say someone cancels plans… Even if they let me know and have a genuine excuse, my head can spin off in every direction.

They don’t like me anymore, or maybe they never did. They’ve finally had enough of me. I’m unworthy of anyone’s time and attention. If I would have just been a better person, this would never have happened.

Everyone knows what it’s like to think the worst, but imagine that feeling times 10. Imagine that feeling completely gripping you for hours, pulling you under until you no longer see light, just darkness all around as you suffocate and struggle. You want to get back to the surface, but shedding the weight of your emotion takes time. You’re helpless.

Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) once said, “Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch or movement can create immense suffering.”

Not long ago, I found the above quote in a medical article. When I read it, I felt the words strike me so deeply. That protective layer most people have that stops the little things hurting from hurting them — I don’t have that. Whether it went away through childhood trauma or difficult teenage years, I don’t remember. All I know is that for a very long time, I’ve had massive reactions to anything that hurts me.

“Why are you so dramatic?”

This is something people with BPD hear many times and the truth is simple — we’re not being dramatic. At least, not to us. It’s not an overreaction to us because the little things hurt like the big things. There’s little difference when you’re so raw and overexposed. I can’t help what hurts me or how — no human being can do that. That being said, I am striving to heal.

Though I am not ashamed of my mental illness, I am still trying to recover from it. I don’t want to have these reactions. I don’t want to get ground down into the earth by emotions. I don’t want to cry for hours. I don’t want to hate people I love. I don’t want to be a prisoner in my own mind. I want to get better.

Recovery is personal, but for me a combination of therapy and medication is starting to help me make sense of my emotions and reactions. I’m working hard to try and change my thought processes and behaviors and fight off my triggers, and even though the flames still find me on a regular basis, I do have strong hopes for the future.