Why I'm Grateful for My 'Unstable Identity' as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
Funny thing with symptoms is they’re automatically seen as indications that something is wrong. That it needs correcting or adjusting back to “the norm.” But what defines “the norm”? I remember during my Schema Therapy assessment phase being challenged by my therapist who stated I hide behind semantics to which I replied I was simply trying to ensure she understood exactly what I was saying during assessment. I found myself week after week correcting her reflective statements at what I’d just told her. The biggest thing she couldn’t understand was my admission that I didn’t know how much I wanted to change because I’d learned to channel some of my symptoms in such a way that they could be as powerful as they could be destructive. I didn’t want to lose those. I was fearful of who I would be without those. She interpreted this as my being negatively ambivalent — that I wasn’t fully committed to the process of change.
One of these symptoms is my unstable identity.
I don’t know who I am, not fully, and as I write this, I’m glad I have this symptom. I’ll come to why I’m glad of it but first let’s step back to when I had no idea what was going on for me. There’s always been a fire inside me that I was capable of more and that was always fueled by a belief that other people didn’t think the same. I wanted to prove people wrong. These days I question whether there are elements of narcissism in me because of this, but self-diagnosis is rarely anyone’s friend so I’m happy to keep that as a musing for now! I believed I was always simply following my gut which, unknown to me then, was a tempest of intense emotions. I’d jump from job to job because I was always going to be “more.” I’d go from relationship to relationship, always seeking “more.” I could be the romantic boyfriend or the cold, heartless guy depending which way the wind was blowing that day. Unpredictable would be too predictable a term to describe how my mood would fluctuate. I’d read books of self-made millionaires and underworld gangsters in equal measures desperately trying to pull things I could use in my own life to move forward and find a place I felt I belonged because I never felt like I belonged anywhere. I’d spend evenings and lunch times writing business plans while getting drunk on the weekends, meeting girls all with this feeling I was
on the cusp of something… special. Because I wasn’t like everyone else and I knew it. I just didn’t know why.
I do now and that’s why I’m glad I don’t know who I am. Now that I understand my unstable sense of self, I can unpack the previous paragraph. As people, we consume all that is around us whether we do this knowingly or unknowingly. And as someone with my symptom, I was attaching — with intensity don’t forget — to the stories found in those self-made millionaire books. I would unconsciously attempt to replicate those stories just in the same way I would attach to the mindsets of underworld gangsters. Concepts such as respect and loyalty spoke loudly to me as someone with low self-esteem, intense self-loathing and a fear of abuse/manipulation, that’s where the identity switch to being cold would come from if I felt in any small way (which would be amplified due to the BPD) under threat.
The romantic boyfriend? Simple imitation of Lotharios found on TV and in films. Going to the pub on the weekend was the social norm but the alcohol lowered my inhibitions and I found it was all too easy to tell girls what they wanted to hear to get that rush of feeling attractive to someone. I would take on the culturally expected identity of stereotypical 19 or 20-year-old lad but amplify it to do it better. It was nowhere near as conscious as this paragraph makes it seem, I was never that calculated. It’s called an unstable identity for a reason! This is me retrospectively picking it apart, but these influences were able to have a connection which was missing in my world. I had this ability to emphasize and connect through imitation, but of course, these identities didn’t stick. My “symptom” is (still) too easily swayed by the lure of attractive properties found elsewhere.
It’s only through introspection that I’ve been able to find the foundation of who I am — and to be OK with it. In fact, being OK with it is probably harder than finding the foundation. I’m glad I have an ocean of uncertainty ahead of me, that I don’t know my limits and that I don’t have the constraints of feeling that I should be constrained by societies norms. My “symptom” allows me to experience a massive range of emotions found in others which has helped me enormously in my professional and personal life. Yes it is draining, but I understand that now. I never used to. My “symptom” allows me to pick from a range of music and ensure I can connect to a feeling with intensity in ways I’m not sure other people do. There are times, if I’m feeling low, this isn’t helpful but even that… even that allows me to experience and grieve for the emotion I need to exorcise from my head space. I know this will be temporary, I know I am in control. I am able to do the same thing with films and TV. Sometimes these characters are not helpful, sometimes I get resentful, sometimes I get egotistical, yet other times they give me a feeling of affection, love and laughter. But through understanding, I can pick and choose how I want to feel knowing I’m going to attach to the characters. That’s immensely powerful.
My “symptom” means I’ve learned to constantly put myself out of my comfort zone and experience some amazing things around the world all because I’m able to shift my identity to that which is needed in a given situation. My “symptom” now means that professionally I can become what I feel a project needs during my 9-5 and then relax after work in a way I know others find confusing. I know this because I’ve lost count of the times co-workers
have said how different I am out of work and that’s because my unstable identity means I switch to a different me outside of work. I have internal rule sets which are admittedly exhausting but they’re safety mechanisms for me. Without them, I am unmanaged, erratic chaos.
So you see, my symptom of unstable identity is no longer something that destroys me. I have taken the time to understand it, understand what changes it –— to identify with the unstable identity — and now it is a tool I use to move forward in my life. I’m not like other people (nobody is) and that’s what makes us all the same. I can connect emotionally with people and help them in ways I wouldn’t be able to without my “symptom.” Diagnosis is not a terminal sentence. And that’s why my “symptom” doesn’t need correcting or adjusting and that’s all I was trying to tell my therapist.
Pexels photo via Saied Anvar