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When Borderline Personality Disorder Makes You Feel 'Unlikable'

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I am not likable. Or so I hear people say. For as long as I can remember, I was labeled “over-acting,” “dramatic,” “attention-seeking” and even “too passionate.”

Growing up, I learned if I muffled the emotions, I was more “acceptable.” Through the years, I got better at it. I learned that bottling up my feelings made me more likable. There were certain situations where I could let go… but just a little bit.

I learned that people were entertained when I told stories animatedly. I learned the only public place I could cry without judgment is in a movie theater, watching sad scenes.

I learned to lie when I was not OK. When I truthfully replied to “How are you?” people would avoid my eyes and look for ways to escape the conversation.

I learned it was OK to show my romantic excitement and affection, but only in the early days of dating. When the relationship settled in its rhythm, I had to tone down the passion or I would be “too intense.”

When jealous or angry, I learned to shut down and turn away. I was derisively called the “walk-out queen” for that.

When afraid, I learned to float out of my body, my disembodied self like a drifting balloon watching events unfold down on the ground.

With anxiety, I learned to sit still as my thoughts ran rampant in my head. I invariably ended up with worst-case scenarios. Thoughts would spin like obsessive windmills in my mind. But instead of generating energy, they would drain energy. I would drift off to restless sleep, exhausted.

I learned to escape to the wondrous worlds of literature. Books were my lifesavers. Then I discovered streaming and more colorful worlds to escape to.

When I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) in my late 40s, my emotions and my experiences started to make sense. So,  emotion dysregulation. That’s what’s been happening all my life. After decades of emotional muffling, I finally had the words to make sense of myself.

The National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD) defines BPD  “a serious psychological and psychosocial disorder where people have extreme difficulties regulating their emotions. “

BPD is highly stigmatized, mostly because of a lack of education and understanding about it. It’s OK if you’ve never heard of it before. Even among clinicians, it is often not recognized as a legitimate mental health diagnosis.

Whether you understand it or not, it does exist. BPD affects men and women equally. In the U.S., about 1.6 percent of the population has BPD. In addition, BPD can be fatal. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that up to 9 percent of people with BPD die by suicide.

So why does this happen? Individuals with BPD are in real distress. We are usually deeply ashamed by our behaviors.

With effective treatment and support, you can recover from BPD. Isn’t that hopeful and exciting? Most people with BPD can make great progress even in one year of treatment. Most move on to creative and successful lives worth living.

Treatment for me revolves around Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Medications help me manage BPD symptoms like anxiety and depression. Family and friends play essential roles as they cultivate an environment where I feel stable and validated.

With DBT, I finally learned tools that help me regulate emotions without stuffing or running away from my feelings.

I learned that stopping and taking a step back is OK. Walking out (disengaging) is an acceptable reaction.

I learned it is OK to let my thoughts flow without getting attached to them — just observing them pass without labels is possible. I learned it was healthy to get distracted by books, music and activities to survive a crisis.

I learned it is OK to soothe myself with self-care acts that others may criticize as wasteful indulgences. I learned that cutting myself off from crisis-provoking people and situations is an essential survival skill.

I learned that finding refuge in prayer and meaning works best for me. It took some time, but I found meaning in my BPD diagnosis.

A few months into intensive DBT therapy, it dawned on me. I’m not broken. I’m not an alien either. The part of my brain that processes emotions is not working as it should. It totally makes sense that I have intense and shifting feelings. It makes sense that I am sometimes overwhelmed by emotional pain, fears and hopelessness.

I continue to check the facts. When I think I’m not likable, I ask myself, am I really not likable?

Well, I like me.

I know I am loved, though I may not be understood. That’s good enough for now.

Unsplash photo via Gabrielle Cole

Originally published: January 3, 2019
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