What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder?
Many people with borderline personality disorder or borderline personality disorder and addiction ask themselves “Why me?” You may have a sibling, parent or other relative who also has a serious mental illness or an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, and you probably have many relatives who have not been afflicted with a mental illness or addiction.
Borderline personality disorder and addiction have been linked to learned behaviour, psychological factors, exposure to chronic extremes stressors and a genetic vulnerability. This is underscored by the fact that a vast majority of individuals with borderline personality disorder (about 60 to 80 percent) report a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. IT has even been suggested that borderline personality disorder is an extreme case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It should be pointed out, however, that abuse in and of itself does not cause borderline personality disorder. Rather, it triggers vulnerable individuals’ potential to develop the disorder.
We have found that individuals with borderline personality disorder consistently make the following three thinking errors: the conviction of basic badness, mistaking a want for a need and the inability to make compromises.
The Conviction of Basic Badness with borderline personality disorder
Feeling that you are fundamentally flawed, bad and inferior may be familiar to you. Often you may think: “If you really get to know me, you won’t like me and will reject me.” Using alcohol and other substances may have given you brief and temporary relief from these negative feelings, but the intense and deep sense of self-loathing returns once you are sober. Thus, individuals who have Borderline personality disorder and a chemical dependency find themselves in an eternal vicious circle: trying to cover up the bad feelings by using substances, but then having the sense of ‘basic badness’ re-affirmed by the substance use and other self-defeating behaviours.
You may find yourself in this cycle believing that “I am not worth anything and don’t deserve to be in a relationship with a decent person” and using a substance to temporarily escape this inner sense of emptiness, worthlessness, hopelessness and powerlessness. Based on your personal experience and environment, you started thinking about yourself in negative terms and internalised this belief over time. If so, stop and imagine yourself as a newborn baby. You were not born with a negative sense of self. Nobody is. Logically, you know that nobody is born feeling bad about themselves.
If you suffer from the conviction of basic badness, you may identify with some of the following statements:
- Nobody really cares about me.
- I am not a worthwhile person.
- If you really get to know me, you will reject me.
- Deep down inside, I am fundamentally flawed.
- I only feel good when I am around other people.
- I deserve to be punished.
- I don’t deserve anything positive (friends or success, for example).
- If I am myself, everybody leaves.
- I can’t stand losing a relationship.
- Everything positive is coming from others.
Mistaking a Want for a Need
Individuals with borderline personality disorder experience a want with the same intensity most of us experience a need. Fundamentally, we have very few needs: food, water, air and shelter. If one of these needs goes unmet, we may perish and die. Most of us would fight fiercely if someone threatened our access to basic resources. Consider, for instance, the following scenario:
You are in the middle of the desert and you have no water or food. Close to dying of thirst, you see a lone traveller pass by. The traveller sits high atop a camel and stops to talk to you. When you ask him to share some of his water and food with you, the traveller denies your request.
In such a situation of life and death, most people would not hesitate to get the food and water – even if it involves attacking the traveller. After all, life is at stake.
People with borderline personality disorder often fight just as fiercely if one of their wants does not get met. Due to the emotional pain and intense feelings of emptiness and badness, individuals with borderline personality disorder frequently mistake a want for a need.
While we all experience wants with varying degrees of intensity, our survival does not depend on getting our wants fulfilled. Individuals with borderline personality disorder, however, often feel that their very core sense of self is threatened if a want is not fulfilled. Subsequently, they will fight fiercely to get their wants met, as if their wants were actual needs.
If you have a tendency to mistake a want for a need, you may identify with the following statements:
- I must be in a relationship.
- I am always afraid people will leave me.
- If I can’t get what I want, I might as well be dead.
- When I am denied something, I often feel totally worthless.
- When I am rejected, I might as well drop off the face of the earth.
- When I am really close to somebody, I feel as though I am losing myself.
- I have been told that I am overreacting.
- I have many overwhelming and intense feelings inside me.
- I have been accused of being too sensitive.
The Inability to Make Compromises
Individuals with borderline personality disorder struggle with weighing the pros and cons of an action or situation. While recognizing that there are pros and cons in most situations, they may struggle with holding on to the ambiguity (and tolerating the insecurity) that comes from compromises. Subsequently, they may make snap decisions because it is too difficult to tolerate the ‘grey areas’ in life. The inability to make a decision fuels personal dissatisfaction and leads to increased insecurity. This insecurity, in turn, just re-affirms that they can’t trust their own decisions.
If you are afflicted by the inability to make compromises, you will identify with some of the following statements:
- I often feel either totally happy or sad.
- It is hard for me to make up my mind.
- Sometimes I make snap decisions.
- I can’t tolerate any ‘grey area’ in my life.
- I make impulsive decisions.
- I see things in ‘black and white’ terms.
- I often have doubts about whether I made the right choice.
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