We often avoid painful feelings because… well because they are unpleasant. We numb them with substances or distract with activities or mindlessly scroll through social media. Distracting can help us get through tough times, but as a long-term problem-solving tactic, it’s pretty useless.
Why Avoiding the Pain Doesn’t Work
Research shows that stuffing and suppressing emotions actually doesn’t work to alleviate them. Instead, it leads to more problems.
Emotions that get locked away end up becoming stronger and more persistent. You know when someone tells you to stop thinking about something, and instead of stopping you’re thinking about it MORE? It’s like that. The more we ignore painful emotions, the more they are going to try and cut in to get your attention.
The 3 Main Reasons Painful Feelings are Valuable
This leads me to the main point of this article: why do my painful emotions keep cutting in when I’m trying to avoid them so much? What’s the benefit of experiencing the pain when I know it is going to hurt so badly?
Unpleasant feelings supply you with important data; vital information that you need to make effective decisions.
When you put your hand on a hot stove, the physical pain lets you know that your body is being damaged and leads you to pull your hand away, never touching the hot stove again. Without that vital information, the body would not respond to avoid further damage. The same goes for emotional pain. It lets you know when something needs attention, and motivates you to take specific action.
Even without intending to, our emotions communicate to others. Painful emotions can affect those around us as well as ourselves.
Emotional responses are so automatic that our facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice can reflect an emotion even without communication in words. For example, defensiveness and insecurity can quickly register on your face and send a message to the people around you to back off. If you are trying to make friends, this can become a nuisance. By building emotions of confidence and openness you can communicate in a way that will draw people TOWARDS you instead of away from you.
Painful emotions are your body’s way of helping you survive.
As human beings, we require human connection, and painful emotions like loneliness can spur us to take action and reach out to loved ones. Sometimes, we are in situations where we need to escape or defend ourselves. Anger and fear can contribute to taking action to protect or seek shelter. Ignoring or avoiding emotional responses can quite literally put us in danger or keep us from human interaction.
Instead of continuing to mindlessly go through life ignoring or actively avoiding painful feelings, take some time each day to pay attention to what they are communicating to you.
Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by instability in a number of areas, mainly an instability in mood and relationships. But there are many other areas of life that are thrown off-balance for the BPD sufferer, including one’s self-identity, decisions, and perception of the world.
Much confusion comes from a lack of consistency in feelings and thoughts…
Our self-identity develops from consistent traits over time. But for the person with Borderline Personality Disorder, moods are never reliable. With a constantly shifting emotional state, it’s difficult to determine what you like or dislike, what makes you happy or what makes you sad. Depending on your momentary mood, one situation may excite you and then the next day that very same situation will overwhelm you.
The same goes for people. One day you may love everything about your partner. Then your mood changes, maybe due to something extremely minor, and all of a sudden your partner becomes the enemy. You begin to doubt your feelings, and you begin to doubt your very self. Soon, you view yourself as the enemy; someone you can’t trust or depend upon to do anything right.
Some days you aren’t sure if you are the “crazy” one, or if the whole world is damaged beyond repair. You get so tired of trying to figure out that you just want to quit thinking altogether.
This back and forth, fearing yourself, fearing the world around you…this is the instability that leaves the BPD sufferer teetering on the edge of exhaustion and hopelessness.
Balance is the answer to instability.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the recommended treatment approach for BPD, relies on a concept of balance instead of extreme ideas of good/bad, happy/sad, black/white. Instead of high and low moods, it works on stabilizing moods. Instead of seeing people or the world as good or bad, it teaches us to separate people and things from our emotions in order to view them in a balanced light.
DBT skills help the person with Borderline Personality to repair instability not by ignoring the extreme emotions that cause imbalance, but by approaching them and bringing them into balance with purposeful effort. It applies those skills to relationships, to self-perception, and to behavior.
By identifying instability and imbalance, and then using the skills to synthesize extreme thoughts and moods, we can begin to maintain our view of our selves and of others in a way that provides us a more stable ground to walk on.
What a day. Seemed like things began bombarding me and my recovery goals from the moment I woke up. A few times throughout the day I thought to myself, “Why not just quit today; why not just lay down and give up? This is too hard. I’m not capable of handling this.” Then it spread into, “LIFE is too hard. I’m not capable of handling ANYTHING, let alone this day. I can’t survive as an adult; I can’t even keep my head above water. Everything is falling apart because I can’t handle basic tasks.”
Then it spread into, “LIFE is too hard. I’m not capable of handling ANYTHING, let alone this day. I can’t survive as an adult; I can’t even keep my head above water. Everything is falling apart because I can’t handle basic tasks.”
After a while I would catch myself, and for a moment I would breathe and see the bigger picture, that hard days happen and difficulties in relationships happen and everyday hassles happen. I’m okay, and everything is okay, and there’s peace.
But on days like today, you find the peace and instantly something else comes in like a rocket and blows you away again. You’re left tumbling and trying to gain a foothold somewhere. You get your balance and here comes another one.
It’s been like that all day long today, from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping tomorrow is a little easier and I handle it a little better.
More than anything I’m just thankful today is over and that I got through it without destroying myself or anything else in my life. Sure, things happened and consequences happened and things aren’t perfect. But I made it through, and I know how I can do better tomorrow. I learned some things today that will help me in the future. And I wouldn’t have learned those things or been motivated to search for them had I not been in the predicaments I experienced on this crazy day.
I made it through, and I know how I can do better tomorrow.
When you fear abandonment by the people you love, you start to see abandonment everywhere. To avoid being rejected, you push them away before they can hurt you. The result? No one can abandon you, because there IS no one.
Then the loneliness hits. You may or may not realize what just happened. But the end is the same. They leave and your worst fears are realized. Abandonment. Rejection.
Borderline Personality Disorder can make relationships confusing.
I’ll be the first one to admit dropping someone like a hot potato at the first sign of potential rejection. Before mastering the DBT skills, I saw everyone as a threat to my fragile heart. If I cared about them in the slightest, they had the power to hurt me and I simply could not afford that most of the time.
Sometimes I actually managed to convince myself I didn’t need anyone. HA!
That wasn’t me talking. That was the BPD.
THE REAL ME WAS YEARNINGFOR CONNECTION!!!
The real me loved people. Inside I cared about everyone; I was desperate for friends and relationships.
Furthermore, the real me knew I couldn’t survive for long like this. I needed people but I watched myself pushing them further and further away each day. Maybe they were rejecting me, abandoning me…maybe they weren’t. Maybe it was just me. Who could I trust? I couldn’t even trust myself.
HOW I STOPPED THE REJECTION CYCLE:
One of the things DBT skills taught me is that if I had thoughts telling me “no one cares” and “they’ll just leave you anyways,” there was a good chance my brain wasn’t telling me everything.
After I had that down, I started learning how to look at the facts to tell if abandonment or rejection was actually happening to me, so I wouldn’t leave good relationships based on an assumption. I learned how to tell the difference between feeling rejected and being rejected.
Ultimately, the skills taught me how to deal with actual rejection AND to heal from it. And they helped me make lasting relationships and deep connections with others, as well as myself.
Rejection, abandonment, and loneliness may be a way of life for you if you have Borderline Personality. And it may feel safer that way, from your experience. But that way of life will also keep you imprisoned and cut off from the true desires within you for connection.
If you don’t know where to start, that’s ok! I didn’t either. That’s what this page is for. Learn more about the DBT skills, recovery, and resources to help you break free. Surviving alone doesn’t need to be your only option.
There are so many stories of the pain and suffering of Borderline Personality Disorder. Unfortunately, we rarely hear stories about people who have taken their control and their lives back from this illness.
But this documentary is different, and when it first aired on YouTube it was an eye-opening picture for many others like me: people with BPD who kept seeing all the articles of hopeless prognoses for their illness.
Often a mental illness is accompanied by one or more additional diagnoses. These illnesses may go undetected when they are lost in the shadows from the limelight cast on the main problem, whether it be depression, anxiety, BPD, etc.
My own doctor specifies some of these comorbid disorders in his teachings/literature about BPD. He has focused on Attention Deficit Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder among others, but I would also like to add some extra conditions I have found to be common. The importance in explaining these hidden disorders is to make people aware that even when they are treating the prevailing illness they struggle with, it is also necessary to treat underlying problems as well. By underlying problems, I don’t mean just talk therapy or addressing past traumas. I want to stress the need for medical attention to all of the illnesses that can plague one’s mental health.
Because the main disorder is so hideous to deal with, the accompanying disorders are often forgotten in the treatment process. The disorders listed above are common with Borderline, but the tendency is the same in many cases. Some other things I have noticed with BPD are low self-esteem, self-destructive disorder, dissociative disorders, other mood disorders, and eating disorders. Once you think of the effects of having Borderline, it seems natural that they would accompany our illness.
Although there is a multitude of studies, information, and treatment processes, I’ve only provided my own personal example. I encourage you to look up some of the research and check out the video below for other examples. Most importantly, though, I encourage you to address ALL of your body’s issues. You don’t want a portion of mental health, you want it all!!! And you can have it when you are willing to acknowledge and seek treatment for the multitude of complications that come along with having a mental disorder. It’s a long, hard fight, but I assure you, it is worth it!
What kind of combinations of illnesses are you experiencing?