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Why I’m Taking Responsibility for the People I Hurt, Not My BPD

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It’s never an easy thing to admit you were wrong. It’s even harder to admit you were wrong multiple times. And perhaps hardest of all is admitting you were wrong in the same way others have wronged you, or worse.

I’ve thought a great deal about that saying: “Hurt people, hurt people.” While I don’t think it should be used to absolve people of their wrongdoings, I do see some truth in it. When we go through hardships and endure trauma, we absorb that damage and it, in turn, permeates every facet of our lives, including who we are.

How we choose to adapt to the world around us and respond to what we are given says a lot about who we are.

But what happens when you make the wrong choices? What happens when you’re no longer the victim but rather the victimizer? What happens when you are the root of the toxicity?

Growing up, I faced a lot of what is now known to be “adverse childhood experiences.” Abuse was present nearly every stage of my development and my way of survival was to lash out — at myself, my brothers and sometimes others. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, but it happened. I loved, and still love, my brothers deeply but it was like watching a train wreck happen repeatedly, except I was the one crashing the train.

I remember one instance where my first younger brother, Thomas, went into my room and tore up my Korean diary book (Some of you may know of those little booklets with pretty paper and stickers you’d trade off with your classmates). He was about 2 or 3 years old and I was around 10. Now, of course, every little kid would be upset. But I wasn’t just upset. I saw red. I screamed, started bawling, throwing things, pulling my hair and swearing I’d never interact with my baby brother ever again. I don’t even clearly remember everything. But I remember how I felt — vividly. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe and my world was falling apart. I felt as if I was emotionally reliving every horrible thing that had ever happened to me. I wanted to tear my skin off and die right then and there. Here I was, steaming mad at this toddler, at my baby brother who really didn’t even know any better over replaceable paper and stickers. I can articulate all this now and clearly see the wrongness of everything but in that moment, I was in a tunnel vision built of my own toxic abuse responses.

There were so many times like this where I would react so extremely to things I felt other people didn’t really give much thought to. And despite desperately craving intimacy and love, I panicked every time a real friend — or anyone, for that matter — wanted to get close. It seemed that while one part of me was trying so hard to collect myself, to be “normal,” the other was constantly self-destructive in the most horrific ways.

I later found out I have borderline personality disorder (BPD), which meant I was in a constant state of reaction that could and often was explosive and/or intense. While others processed the events in their lives in a healthy, rational way, I was looking through life with distorted dreamlike lens clouded by paranoia, deep insecurity and irrationality. In short, I was a mess, living in my own warped wormhole.

And the thing is, for me, part of having BPD and a multitude of comorbid mental illnesses meant my thought process and subsequent actions were, and still are at times, deeply flawed. While most of the world has a somewhat stable foundation and core, people with personality disorders don’t. Our baseline, our roots, are tangled, cracked and distorted.

Of course, not everyone who is very sick is toxic to those around them; after all, these are all daily choices we choose to make or not make. But there are many like me who have been extremely harmful to those around them. It’s not always intentional; in fact, most of the time it’s us on autopilot. Except the thing is, while everyone’s brain has, say, an average autopilot, those with personality disorders have something like a drunk autopilot.

Now again, at end of the day, there really is no one to blame but ourselves. However, healing and growth from trauma, especially extreme and repetitive trauma that is enough to form a full-blown personality disorder, takes a lot of time and effort. And the thing is… you not only have to be willing to put in the work, you have to also be aware. You have to have the mental and emotional tools to analyze yourself and the world around you in a healthy, rational way. The problem is though that oftentimes, those resources aren’t available to those of us with drunk autopilots. We instead are offered a buffet of stigmas and stereotypes. While those in other DSM categories have illnesses, people with personality disorders are often seen as people who choose to be the way we are. Personality disorders are often not seen as legitimate illnesses but rather a series of bad choices made by bad people who probably deserve it. It’s seen as something easily controllable or, at least, something on par with, say, abusers. This fails to take in the fact most of us are not abusive and that “controlling it” would require years of treatment with an entire team of mental health professionals. So, instead of empathy and actual necessary treatment, we are dismissed and offered systematic demonization. The end result is that many of us learn the lessons we need to learn the extremely hard way, or unfortunately, some of us don’t learn them at all.

Living with a personality disorder is exhausting. You need to constantly be moderating yourself and analyzing yourself and the world around you. Am I being reasonable? Am I being manipulative? Am I making this up? Am I in the wrong? But again, it’s a process, and learning to rewire the way we think as well as rebuilding our base is never an easy task.

I don’t blame anyone for leaving me or any of us really because it’s not easy on that side either. We have the ability to be incredibly hurtful and really they aren’t the ones who are responsible. They aren’t the ones haunting us and they don’t owe us forgiveness.

But if possible, please try to understand how personality disorders affect us. Personality disorders are not like mood or anxiety disorders. We exist in a separate DSM category entirely for a reason, and anyway, part of having a personality disorder often means we have other DSM category mental illnesses as well. It is not just our mood and state of mind that is affected. It is the way we think. I cringe whenever I look back and go over the way I thought. I truly believed what I thought and my reality seemed so completely, honestly, 100% the actual reality. That no matter how many others stated otherwise, it felt real so it had to be real. But months and years later of analyzing, moderating, rewiring and brutal real talks with myself, I see how wrong I was. Don’t get me wrong; none of this is me trying to make excuses for myself or trying to get pity or trying to absolve myself of responsibility for my actions. I know what I’ve said and done. I know I’m responsible for it all.

But the point of this is to tell all you that I didn’t go out intentionally trying to hurt you. I did not form a relationship with you purely out of self-interest. I meant well. I just was incredibly wrong, as many of us are.

I hope you all, and the strangers who read this, are able to understand where I — we — were and are coming from. We are trying very hard and we do love you. We just have a lot of work to do. And we’re sorry we could not be better at the time.

Endnote: Another good friend of mine, with narcissistic personality disorder, pointed out that they don’t feel sorriness or guilt the same way and that’s how their personality disorder manifests and how their mind tries to protect itself. So, just a reminder that even amongst the different personality disorders and those similarities we have, we also have a lot of differences.

Also, years after that diary incident and after being diagnosed, I was able to sincerely apologize to my brothers as well as have a frank talk about what was going on with me. I told them they didn’t deserve my rages and that I was taking out the hurt I accumulated over the years unfairly on them. We ended up all crying, forgiving, hugging and laughing. I was also able to apologize (and explain — outside of the written piece) to others I love or loved, sometimes gaining forgiveness, sometimes not. None of it was easy but all of it necessary and not a single bit of it would have been possible without treatment and my own efforts to grow after becoming aware.

Photo by Nikola Majksner on Unsplash

Originally published: April 6, 2019
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