My ‘Big Emotions’ Are Still Valid With Borderline Personality Disorder
My emotions tend to be capital “B,” Big. They are sudden-onset, quick-changing, high-intensity and just plain Big emotions. For example, I watched “Up” the other day and full-out cried three times. I tend to take constructive criticism extremely personally (and often cry). And I will vehemently stand up for those whom I care about. It takes hours for emotions to pass from “seemingly small” situations. I don’t know exactly why I have such big emotions, but even after going through intense dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), they still are like this. Now, I just have better coping skills and tools to handle the previously unwieldy emotions.
I’ve been thinking about my big emotions a lot lately because, and call me cheesy: I’ve been sad in the evenings since that’s when I really start to miss my boyfriend. He’s out of state for several weeks for work, and he has limited cell service. I feel incredibly close to him, so having less contact is a change. In DBT, we are taught that all emotions are valid. We are meant to feel and honor them, not push them away. Still, we are also taught to check the facts. And another part of my brain recognizes that 1) we’ve only been dating for just over three months and 2) he’s only been gone for two days. I have weeks to go, and others who have been together for way longer cope with being apart for way longer. “I shouldn’t feel this way,” I tell myself. “Or at least not this intensely.”
Of course, being well-versed in DBT, I recognize these thoughts as self-invalidation. Invalidating my emotions as “wrong” or “too big” will not help the situation, and will probably just make the emotions stronger. Still, I can’t shake the idea that “I shouldn’t feel this way” or that “I should keep these feelings to myself.”
I’m cautious to mention to him that I miss him. I’m cautious to “bother him” at all. “I don’t want to seem weak or possessive. I need to be strong for him. If I show my ‘clingy’ borderline personality disorder (BPD) tendencies, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and he will leave,” my brain spews. Again, I know these are just thoughts, and not all thoughts are helpful. Plus, it makes sense that my brain would produce these thoughts. They are my brain and heart speaking out of fear. But, still, I feel guilty for missing him. Emotions on top of emotions.
I recognize that it’s OK to be vulnerable and sometimes share some emotions. I will probably share this blog post with him as a way to explain how I’ve been feeling. But I’m also not saying I should totally forget therapy and start using unhealthy coping skills like texting him constantly that I miss him. That isn’t helpful for either of us. I am trying to convince myself that my emotions, no matter how big, are valid, and I can cope with these emotions. (DBT is all about the “ands” instead of “buts.”) My Big emotions are valid, even if the intensity wouldn’t be the same for someone else in the same situation.
In DBT, we ask, “Does the intensity of the emotion match what is warranted for the situation?” For me, the answer to that question is almost always an easy, “No.” My intensity is almost always bigger than what others would feel. What I’m realizing though is that doesn’t mean the emotion is less valid or somehow wrong. The answer to that question of what is warranted influences how we chose to act, not how we should feel. Do we act on the emotion or use another skill? The answer does not determine the validity of the emotion because all emotions are valid.
Even though I am now highly skilled at using DBT tools, it’s still hard. It’s hard when my brain is simultaneously feeding me strong emotions and telling me they are unjustified. I can work through this thought process and self-validate, but that doesn’t always lessen the intensity of the emotions. I’m not sure how to end this besides I miss him, and I’m coping.
Getty Images photo via Photoboyko