One theory is presented by Dr. Linehan’s. Linehan has developed a comprehensive sociobiological theory which appears to be borne out by the successes found in controlled studies of her Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
Linehan theorizes that borderlines are born with an innate biological tendency to react more intensely to lower levels of stress than others and to take longer to recover. They peak “higher” emotionally on less provocation and take longer coming down. In addition, they were raised in environments in which their beliefs about themselves and their environment were continually devalued and invalidated. These factors combine to create adults who are uncertain of the truth of their own feelings and who are confronted by three basic dialectics they have failed to master (and thus rush frantically from pole to pole of):
– vulnerability vs. invalidation
– active passivity (tendency to be passive when confronted with a problem and actively seek a rescuer) vs. apparent competence (appearing to be capable when in reality internally things are falling apart)
– unremitting crises vs. inhibited grief.
So it’s nature and nurture here, or nature and lack of nurture. So let’s see how this applies to me.
“Beliefs about the self were constantly devalued.”
I hate to say this is true, because I was raised with incredibly loving parents in a very loving home where both my parents wanted the best for us, for us to be the best. My father however, was an art critic, our coach, our teacher… so everything we did was always capable of being improved upon, never good enough, always something wrong, always could be better. That’s not to say he never praised us, he often did, it was always followed by… “and now you could do this”, “that’s good but this is off, try doing this”, “but this could be improved in this way”, “watch out for this”. For me this translated as, if there’s something wrong with my work, there’s something wrong with me and I need to work harder, to the point of obsession, in order to be the right kind of person. If I’d get hurt or upset, about anything, I was often told to suck it up and deal like a grown up. Crying was not acceptable so I learned to hide my feelings. He didn’t mean to cause these feelings, but I guess being predisposed to this kind of thinking made his critiques all the more impactful.
One of my earliest memories was when I was 3 years old. I had a Little Shop of Horrors coloring book. I did an entire picture all in orange crayon. It was the very first time I had stayed completely in the lines and not messed up. I proudly showed my father. He said good job girl, took my crayon, and decided it was now a good time to show me how to shade my colors. On my current picture. He went outside of the lines. I was heartbroken with disappointment that my painstaking achievement wasn’t good enough and was now ruined. I thought I had done so well, but apparently I hadn’t done well enough. It may not seem like much, but to a 3 year old, it seemed like a big deal. That’s just one example, I could go on with a lifetime of me being pushed to be the best, pushing myself to be the best, but maybe another time.
I will say that as a result of a lifetime of this, it is difficult for me to ever believe that what I do is good enough, that I am good enough. I constantly question and second guess my own sense of self worth and often measure it by what people think of the things I do for them, be it cooking, baking, costuming, gifts, art, work, etc. In an odd twist, I also have a hard time believing people, believe they are telling the truth, unless they give me uneditted criticism. It’s so ingrained in my thinking that I can always improve things, that unless someone tells me how I can do things better the next time I doubt whether the thing that I’ve done was actually ok. So I set higher goals, harder goals, and work my ass off to prove to myself that what I do is valuable. That I am capable of doing things of value. I’ve never set a goal I haven’t accomplished beautifully, and yet, I always wait for someone to tell me how to improve.
Now do I think this is the only theory? or the best theory? No, but it’s interesting to explore.
Coming up next… Vulnerability vs. Invalidation