Borderline Personality Disorder: emotionally intense or emotionally empty? Part two
(Continued from part one of this article)
What got us here will not get us there
It is not wrong to live in your head for a while. Perhaps for a very long time, it has been a necessary salvation from the darkness. This might have been necessary when you were little and vulnerable, but as an over-stayed defence strategy, it holds you back from your full potential, and the deep fulfilment that you ultimate long for.
Your emotions are not in the way; they are the way.
We have emotions for very good reasons.
Thomas Merton said ‘Everything that is, is holy’, his words point to the limitations of our judgement and perception. We are often tempted to see something as good and others as bad.
Many of us have forgotten how to embrace the totality of reality. We see the wet grass on the mountain top as ruining the camping experience, as if that isn’t what camping is about. We complain when it rains, forgetting that without it cycling with the sun we wouldn’t even be alive. In the same ways, the wave of emotions is an essential part of life. When we cut ourselves off from pain, we lose our joy. The less fearful you are, the more aliveness and fulfilment are available for grasp.
Of course, some days are harder than the others. At times, we just feel more tender more porous, and more affected by every little blow in life. However, even during your bleakest hours, see if you can challenge your own fixed belief that emotions are ‘in the way’ and what you are experiencing is ‘bad’. Instead of judging and resisting, see if you can take a moment to contemplate the possible messages within your difficulties- it may well be serving a bigger purpose that you do not yet see.
Your feelings are not here to haunt you, but rather, they are invitations for you to process and digest what was unfinished so that you can become more whole, more healed, and free. As a living organism, we have to complete the cycle of emotions. Like a sneeze that is coming on or breath that is held back, the inhibition of anger, fears, sadness and grief will leave us with a lingering dissatisfaction. It is when we give ourselves over to a natural, biological cycle of responses, of ‘shaking it out’, could we be set free.
Like a detox process, being with your feelings maybe challenging but will ultimately leave you in a better place. Your psyche is always working to find its balance between past and present, between sorrow and gratitude, fear and hope. If only we can trust our feeling body a little more, and hear what they have to say before they have to scream so loud.
Judging versus experiencing
In a world that is often shallow and fast-moving, we slip into the tyranny of logical productivity and dismiss the heart-centred intelligence guided by emotions.
Our intellectual mind’s primary function is to pass judgement, but it is not our best friend when it comes to forging a fulfilling life. We are often so busy and eager to try and label our experiences as good or bad, right or wrong. The reality is, however, by the time we have figured out if something is for us or against us, it is already on its way out. In the end, we spend our entire life trying to figure out if life is hopeful or hopeless, if we have done right or done wrong, if the Universe is for or against us, while the experience itself is passing us by.
How about embracing this moment as it is, without the busy intellectual label and judgement?
We never quite know, anyway. What we think is good may turn out sour, what we think of as bad may turn out to be a gift. Things can always be better, and they can always be worse.
If we go down the rabbit hole of busying our mind with rational judgement, we may just end up never actually living our lives.
Life is an existential experience. We are the most alive when we move beyond dualistic thinking, attitudes, preferences and judgement. We exist by direct experience, and we do not achieve healing and transformation by ways of intellect and thinking, but by our heart and our being.
There is no need to forego your intellect altogether, as it is indeed one of your biggest gifts. And yet, it will be a massive loss to not enter fully into this world, to embrace reality and to savour intimacy in its full strength. Real emotional health is not about stoicism, nor is it about contracting ourselves or bubble wrapping the world. It is about our ability to expand, to absorb, and the willingness to say yes to our inner and outer world. It is about allowing life to move you and affect you deeply, without losing your ground.
Perhaps your emotional intensities will not stop, but by realising that these emotional crises are a natural part of your growth and not somehow symptoms of a “sickness,” you can feel more grounded while sailing through the ups and downs of life. When you realise your capacity for healing and thriving, peace will emerge, powerful enough to change the course of your life.
Imagine having three dimensions to your being: your intellectual mind, your emotional body or feelings, and your physical body. With what aspect are you most identified with most of the time? When situations arise, what aspect of your personality do you shift into? When you face challenges in life, do you feel things physically? What parts of your brain— is it the emotional limbic system or the logical pre-frontal cortex that you move into?
Reflective exercise: listening to your emotions
Every emotion has a function, even the so-called negative ones. They play a significant role in our lives by motivating us, preparing us for the necessary behaviours, and signalling us to our needs and wants.
Reflect on the following:
- What are some of the examples where your emotions have prompted you to take the necessary actions? (E.g., feeling anxious that you had to make the necessary preparation).
- When was the last time an emotion helped you to overcome an obstacle or propelled you to make the necessary changes? (E.g., Feeling annoyed at work that you had to speak up for yourself).
- During the coming week, when you notice an emotion arising, consider the possible messages embedded in them. Here are some hints and prompts, but the list is inexhaustible and should never override your instinct.
- Has someone violated my rights, or overstepped my limits?
- What are some of my needs that have been deprived or compromised?
- What boundaries must be asserted or restored?
- Should I adjust some of my social and interpersonal rules?
- What would I say to the other person/ an institution/ the world/ God if it is safe for me to do so?
- Have I been self- critical, perfectionistic, and set unreasonable standards for myself?
- Do I have enough clarity about what is within my control and what is not?
- For what is within my control, have I prepared sufficiently?
- If it is beyond my control, can I release my attachment to a fixed outcome?
Fear and panic:
- Have I been confusing an old fear with the actual threat in front of me?
- Was there psychological trauma that has been frozen in time and needs to be addressed?
- What can I do to protect myself now, as a mature adult?
- What needs to be mourned and released?
- Am I holding onto a fantasy, and refusing to let go of an idealised version of reality?
- How can I live more fully in the present and embrace what is in front of me?
- Do I allow sadness to go through me, or do I resist it with a stoic outlook?
- What are some of my expectations that have not been met?
- Am I stuck in an addictive cycle of some sort?
- What has moved me forward in the past? What resources or support I may need to change my course?
- Can I change my expectations- of myself and others?
- Have I been over-indulging in hedonistic pleasure, rather than things that lead to deeper fulfilment?
- What excites me? What invigorates me? What brings me joy?
- What did I use to enjoy doing when I was a child?
- Do I make time for playfulness and creativity in my life?
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About Imi Pui Yin Lo
Imi is an award winning mental health professional, accredited clinical psychotherapist (UKCP), art therapist (HCPC, BAAT), certified schema therapist, supervisor and trainer. She specialises in emotional intensity, sensitivity, giftedness, and borderline personality traits. She is the founder of the Eggshell Therapy and Coaching Practice.