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When Borderline Personality Disorder Makes You Think in 'Extremes'

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I constantly struggle with “black and white thinking,” meaning I see only one side of the coin, only the darkness but not the light, everything zoomed in to one extreme. For me, there is no in between or coexistence: it either is or it is not. I either love or I hate. I am either elated or depressed. Even on my best days, nothing is even-keeled.

The positives of this type of behavior is that I tend to be an extreme rule follower, I am honest to a fault and I do everything full force with everything I’ve got to give. Because I can’t see any sort of alternative or even a world of “gray,” this is the only way the world makes sense to me. The alternative is only the antonym, and that just seems unbearable.

The struggles with this type of thinking, however, are dangerous and often get me into trouble. I am a perfectionist, so any mistake I make means disaster and that I’ve ruined everything. I also don’t understand any areas in between the “all” or the “nothing,” so I often misinterpret the behaviors and words of others by either seeing an act of kindness as meaning they are a close friend so then I latch on, or I interpret the worst from any sort of pushback or aloofness and go into complete avoidance.

Dealing with people in any type of setting often leaves me frustrated and angry. I simply lack the ability to understand people at times because I can’t see a different perspective or even a less extreme version of my own view. I often see people as unorganized, unconcerned or lazy because they don’t care as much as me or put as much effort into everything as I do.

Many people refer to this borderline inability to see both positive and negative as “splitting.” I have struggled to understand why this term is used, just like understanding why they call people with our disorder “borderlines” at all. As I learn about borderline personality disorder (BPD) and work on improving myself through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), though, I think I am beginning to understand a little better. It’s not that we are “splitting” or “on the borderline” because we have multiple personalities or because we have a good side and an evil side; we are constantly “on the borderline” between the facts and rational mind and what we perceive because of the overwhelming pull of our emotions. We are constantly split between what we feel and what we know, a constant battle between our head and our heart.

I’ve read that “splitting” arises in us subconsciously as a defense mechanism, just like many other of the “symptoms” of BPD. I hope someday that further studies will help us all better understand the causes and exact ways that this all comes to be, and maybe I can even be one of the people that helps us find some new answers. What I have found for now, though, is that many of the skills Marsha Linehan developed within dialectical behavior therapy can actually help us gain control over our splitting and help us see the world as a whole, not just in bits and pieces. Tapping into our wise mind helps us use both our head and our hearts to look out at the world. Radical acceptance can help us let go of our struggles and events that we simply cannot put together. Emotion regulation skills can help us find what that “middle ground” we thought didn’t exist actually feels like. We don’t have to live in the extreme forever, my friends: we can experience both the darkness and the light and do so without feeling terrible about it.

Unsplash photo via Matthew Kane

Originally published: June 6, 2018
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