Empathy and Me: Part 3 – Self-Destructive Empathy

Or… A Borderline in Love.

There is nothing more beautiful (or scary) than a Borderline in love. When I’m in love the rest of the world stops. There is you. I live and breathe to make you happy. To hold onto your love.
Even at the expense of losing myself. But this comes later.
When I’m wrapped up in you, I feel everything for you. Your smile is my smile. Your pain is my pain. Your sadness is my misery. Your happiness is my euphoria. My empathy for you has surpassed any normal level of empathy. It’s heightened beyond reason.  How you feel is more important to me than how I feel.
My own happiness is dependent on yours. Therefore I will do anything I can to ensure you are happy.
If I perceive that I have done any small thing to upset you, or mildly inconvenience you; I panic. This may be something you barely think twice about, but it will create an anxiety that grips my stomach and shoves it up into my throat. I may even feel the need to punish myself emotionally, even physically, until I can rectify it. If I do something that makes you smile, any small thing, the sun becomes a thousand times brighter. Everything seems amplified. I will go out of my way, exhaust my time and resources to provide, do, show, create the key to making you smile. The key to bind you to me. To secure your love for me. I’ll put my needs aside, for yours. I will feel so intensely about those things that you feel for that I begin to confuse how you feel about something, for how I do. Things I never had much of an interest in, or just a normal level of interest, are now points of focus and excitement. It happens so gradually I don’t even notice it happens.
How I feel is entirely dependent on how you feel.  
My empathy for you has become destructive to me. Cognitively I think my perception of how I feel is skewed, I’m being much too hypersensitive, but in the moment I can’t help but experience it.
That I can become this way actually fills me with a huge sense of shame. I pride myself on my independence, so to be so thoroughly consumed by someone with so little regard for myself wounds me. There should be a balance. It should not be all or nothing. Black and white.
Slowly I begin to realize I’m at risk of losing my own identity. I can become so wrapped up in another person that I begin to lose hold of who I am. At first it just seems like we’re sharing interests and experiences, then slowly things become more and more about you. Less about me. Until everything is about you and I fear that asking anything for me will be the inconvenience that pushes you away. I won’t even voice my concerns to potentially alleviate the dread I’m beginning to feel. I have become so in tune with what you like, my identity has slowly slipped into who you are.
*** We really need to learn to work on communication skills!***
Not for nothing, but I like who I am. My crazy mood swings aside, I have a lot going for me that I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to forget who I am.  But you’re letting me.  In fact, by continue to take, and take, and take all that I am willing to give, without reciprocating in a way that is nearly even, you’re encouraging this change. Forget the fact that you never asked for all the things I do for you. Forget that no normal person would consume themselves this way. Forget that you may have no clue that this is even going on. It feels like you’ve been taking advantage of what I offer so willingly, at the expense of my own identity, and I will begin to resent you for it.
This is too much. For as much as I crave having someone else so close to me, I’m also afraid of relying on someone so much. The closer you allow someone to get to you, the more you love someone, the greater the risk that they will eventually hurt you. I’ve been hurt enough. It’s like my Fight and Flight response has been triggered at the same time. My desire to protect myself suddenly overwhelms my need to take care of you.
I’ll flip from idealization to devaluation.
I don’t feel emotions simultaneously. I don’t feel worry and love and sadness all at once. I feel suffocation. I feel fear. Then panic. Then isolation. I miss you. I hurt you. I’m sorry. In the midst of each separate emotion, that’s the thing I feel the need to fix. This causes an impulsive reaction to each mood.
The Push-Pull cycle plays out. Until I’m right back head over heels. Rinse and repeat.
Fortunately this can be tempered. It takes time and some definite effort, but just over the past year I’ve noticed a big improvement in my own emotional impulsivity.  Now I know how this all sounds. I don’t actually run around with big moon eyes like a simpering submissive love struck teenager. I look just like anyone else in love. It’s more in the form of excited experimentation for me. Of course we can do that! Yes! Let’s try that. More often then not I take the lead and have the more dominant personality given the energy I exude. I don’t know if that makes sense.  I maintain a façade keeping the wildness in check, keeping my fears and worries inside… until I can’t. So when I do flip to a new mood it probably seems like you’ve been blind-sided.
I can only imagine what this must seem like from the other persons perspective. It must be baffling. And ultimately destructive and hurtful. I never do this on purpose. I don’t want to hurt someone I care about. I’ll end relationships just to avoid hurting someone before they even know what happened. It’s lonely. Very, very lonely.  There has to be a better way.
I’m not trying to justify this behavior, just provide a look at what it feels like.
As for everyone else around me, they usually get a reflection of the mood I’m in as well. The more in love, the more empathic I am towards everyone. Everything moves me just a little bit more. No one else will matter quite so much as my significant other. Everyone else won’t rank quite so high on the empathic totem pole, but everything is still at its empathic height. Opening up that much, however, has its drawbacks. You can become vulnerable to all the destructive and overwhelming emotions of those around you. It’s hard to feel so much on top of everything else you’re already trying to juggle.  When I am open, people are very receptive to this. I am the one that everyone seems to turn to to confide in. For advice. For a shoulder to cry on. And I let them. Until I either let it consume me, or it shuts me down. With my dissociative disorder I almost always shut down now, but this wasn’t always the case. The panic attacks, the feeling of helplessness, the sense that I couldn’t do enough for anyone else, it was all too much. I’m only one person.
Emotional extremes impair my empathy. Unsurprisingly it’s a very split all or nothing. I am extremely emotionally turbulent and have no empathy for you. Or I am completely in love, bordering on obsession, and I feel everything for you, at the expense of my own self.  Then for me I also have periods of dissociation where I simply don’t feel at all.
But wait! That’s not all! Really? Of course not. There are times when the empathic line is a little blurry, and happily, times when empathy is quite normal….

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Empathy and Me – Part 2: When Empathy is Beyond Me

When I am emotionally turbulent my ability to empathize with you does not exist. At the very least it is greatly diminished in the face of my own internal turmoil.

This isn’t because I no longer care for you. It’s not that you are no longer important to me. When the weight of an emotional building is crashing down around me, how you’ve stubbed your toe is going to get lost in the chaos. It’s not that your pain or problems aren’t significant, they might be, but in the midst of my mental maelstrom, when my heart is split and spilling apart, there is no more space left to fissure for you.
Contrary to popular belief, Borderlines are not always running in emotional Armageddon. We tend to spend the majority of our time in a sort of Detached Protector mode (at least I do). However, the emotional outbursts are the defining feature so that is what everyone remembers. Those emotions can be completely overwhelming. Our hearts and heads filled to capacity with what we are going through, struggling with, and fighting against. When my glass is filled to overflowing with my own problems, there isn’t room to add yours.
Especially if I’m angry. When my fury boils over, if someone has pushed me beyond my breaking point, all I see is red, and no amount of anything else can penetrate this veil of seething until I’ve had time to cool off.
I shut down to the outside world. I withdraw into myself. I feel too much. Every emotional stimulus is like a little torch lit upon my skin. I hurt so much within myself, hurting for you too creates that added pain that can push me into shock. I shut down.
Eventually this deadens me. I can only run on overload for so long. Like any machine, when your circuits are pushed past capacity, you reach a breaking point and the fuse fizzles out. It takes time to find a flashlight, feel your way down to the basement, open up the breaker box, and replace the fuse. I know this is not convenient for you, trust me, it’s not convenient for me either.
For the time though, I simply don’t care. I feel nothing for you, and eventually I may feel nothing for me as well. It’s a defense mechanism created by the brain to compensate for the lack of emotional regulation we deal with.
That doesn’t mean it’s not painful, or hurtful for you, the Non-Borderline that has to deal with us. Times like these are when we are most turbulent. I no longer Act Out. I work very, very hard to keep my behavior and feelings hidden. I Act In and take things out on myself. But this hasn’t always been the case. When I was younger I would rage, lash out, verbally attack those closest to me, with no regard for the feelings of those around me. It’s not that I wanted to be malicious, but in the face of what I was feeling I didn’t have the ability to recognize that other people were still feeling too. My scope of my world was focused on me. I’ve talked about this before. This is what I call Borderline Narcissism.
For someone with Borderline Personality Disorder narcissism does not manifest as a belief that we are actually better than anyone else. (At least I don’t generally feel superiority over anyone.) It’s more a sense that our emotions can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to see past our own scope and sphere of influence long enough to take into consideration the needs of others.
I strongly suggest reading the article I wrote on this. This isn’t a constant state for me, thankfully.
I also have a problem with relating to the severity of another person’s pain. When you’ve dealt with the abuse, neglect, and trauma that someone with Borderline Personality Disorder may have dealt with, many things simply don’t seem so severe by comparison. That doesn’t make those things are any less important, but it’s hard to relate. I’ve been emotionally battered beyond recognition to the point where small abuses no longer register as points of pain. My tolerance to such things has been built up so much that it’s hard for me to understand why someone else is so affected by something I see as so seemingly small. I also have a problem with Emotional Inhibition and EmotionalSubjugation. Growing up I was constantly told to suck it up, not to express my pain, internalize how I feel, don’t express it, that I don’t always understand why people complain about all the things they complain about. I love my Roommate to pieces. She’s one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever known. Every time she gets a paper cut or small bruise she points it out and analyzes the “injury”. I am completely incapable of caring or empathizing with her in such cases. Rape and attempted murder aside, I’ve had to send myself to the hospital to get stitches for wounds I’ve inflicted upon myself… wounds that didn’t even make me bat an eye. Something so small just seems so silly.
My threshold for pain, emotional and physical, is so high that you need to get past a certain point before I can even feel it.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this translates into emotion empathy as well. I know how severe and all-consuming my emotions can be; if I can survive that, than you can probably survive too. I think this is a projection of my emotional inhibition. And probably why my father always told me to stop reacting to things he considered inconsequential. He grew up in a household with abuse, alcoholism, and neglect. In comparison to everything he went through, and ultimately persevered over, much else seems trivial.
I think I used to feel more. I’ve run my life at emotional capacity for so long, with so little support, that I don’t think I have the ability to give of myself the same way anymore. In order to protect my mind, I’ve shut down to a lot of the outside world. I mentioned this video that I saw the other day that nearly broke my heart. This has become rarer for me, but I remember a time when every injustice would move me like this. Often things like hurricanes, tsunami, earthquake, massive event trauma, no longer phase me. I feel nothing. Cognitively I recognize what these people are going through, but to let myself become emotionally attached would be too much. If it’s not affecting me directly, unfortunately I can’t allow myself to care (this is a subconscious reaction, not an intentional one).
When I’m in emotional pain, everything in my world is about me.  
No matter how much I know I care about you, what you need is beyond my emotional ability in this moment. This is not constant and all enduring, it will eventually subside and we can be there emotionally for you again in the future, but in the moment of our emotional turmoil it is what matters. Even then, I may still try to be there for you. I’ll listen and provide what comfort I can because I do remember what you mean to me, but that’s all I can do. This can come across as hollow or mechanical, like we’re not fully there with you. Yeah, that’s a failing on our part. But you should probably keep in mind that you’re going to someone who is emotionally stunted for emotional comfort. People, Borderline and Non-Borderline alike, have selfish needs (< — this is OK!). We want what we want when we want it, or need it. So many Nons are hurt by our lack of emotional connectedness. I always try to take responsibility for how I act. But at the same time, those Nons need to remember that they want something too, from someone that they probably know isn’t capable of providing what they need. You wouldn’t ask a one armed man to juggle half a dozen knives now would you? Just because we want something from someone, doesn’t mean they can provide it. As a Borderline I try to recognize my limits, and the limits of those around me, but the Nons need to do this as well. Believe me, I know how psychotically difficult this can be. And it doesn’t stop it from hurting when our needs aren’t met. The reality of our situation is that we may not be as emotionally capable of dealing with things as you, you can’t force us to function at a level we haven’t achieved yet. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take responsibility for ourselves. We should. That’s why I’m doing the therapeutic work I’m doing after all.
When I am in emotional pain, you can’t rely on me for emotional support. I don’t have the ability to empathize. If I didn’t cause your pain, I can’t attach to it. I can sit next to you, I can listen, I can keep you company, I can bring you tissues and soup and ice cream, but that’s all I can do. I don’t understand why this isn’t enough either. Why would you want me to feel the pain you are going through? When I need emotional support from someone that did not cause my pain, I don’t hope the other person can feel what I’m feeling. It sounds kind of mean actually. I’m hurting, so I want you to feel what I’m feeling? That just sucks. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Just having someone there is enough. Cognitively I imagine it has something to do with not wanting to feel like you have been singled out and are suffering alone. But why do you want me to suffer with you? Why would I want you to suffer with me? Simply being there shows caring. Just because you don’t understand my pain, doesn’t mean you don’t care. If you didn’t, you’d have left. Just because I don’t understand your pain, doesn’t mean I don’t care. If I didn’t, I’d have left.
I don’t expect empathy from anyone. I’m so disconnected from people most of the time I honestly cannot fathom that people do empathize with me. I do desire someone that cares (even though I have no expectations that anyone does). Knowing that you care is important to me. Knowing you’re there for me is enough. I don’t need you to feel what I’m feeling though. In fact, that just sounds cruel.  Or maybe I do need this but I’ve had the hope of it broken from me. I’ve learned to live without it. Hm.
There is an exception to this, but I’ll get to that later…


** Please try to keep in mind that this description is only in times of extreme emotional turmoil. Often it is very possible for us to feel empathy. It is not always about us. I’ll get to this in more detail soon.

*** I also have a Dissociative Disorder which makes my ability to connect with people even more complicated. This is not representative of everyone with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Bringing Sex Into Focus

I saw this article over at Psychology Today and thought I would share. Rape and sexual abuse are a huge problem, not only for those with Borderline Personality Disorder, but for everyone, everywhere.

Bringing Sex Into Focus
The quest for sexual integrity.
by Caroline J. Simon Ph.D.

Rape Redefined for the 21st Century


Justice Department catches up with the complexities of rape.
Published on January 7, 2012 by Caroline J. Simon, Ph.D. in Bringing Sex Into Focus

Rape is wrong. Uncontroversial. But what is rape? The U.S. Department of Justice has finally made a giant step toward catching up with the 21st century complexities of this issue.

On Friday, January 6, 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder announced changes to the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of rape. Since 1927 the federal definition of rape has been “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” The revised definition includes “any gender of victim or perpetrator, and includes instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity, including due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age” (“Department of Expands Justice Definition of Rape.”). Commentating on this move in an NPR interview, victims’ advocate Scott Berkowitz praised the new definition because it “comes much closer to reflecting the reality of the crime. It happens to men and women, young and old, but in every case, it’s an incredibly violent crime and we owe it to victims to acknowledge and count every one.”

As an ethicist, I hope that this legal move will renew widespread public discussion of the important moral issues surrounding sexual consent.Make sure that there is consent is a vital rule. Easily said, but not simple to do. Especially after a casual sexual encounter, someone might say, “What do you mean you didn’t want to have sex? Why’d you invite me up to your room then?” If one person but not the other assumes that not saying “no” is the same thing as consenting to an escalated level of sexual intimacy, harmful misunderstanding–even rape–can be a consequence.

Consent is an act rather than a state of mind. If consent is an act, it needs to be given; it should not simply be assumed in the absence of any sign to the contrary. Lack of a “No” is not equivalent to a “Yes.” This means that it is a mistake to infer consent to sexual activities from the absence of an explicit “No.”

As most state laws, and now the federal government, acknowledge, consent is also complicated by such factors as age-differences and the murky role of alcohol and drugs in sexual encounters. Mere verbal agreement is not valid consent. A child cannot validly consent to sex. Fraud and coercion are other conditions that invalidate consent. So does intoxication.

Ogden Nash became well known in the twentieth century for writing catchy and humorous short poems. Nash said, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” Nash’s poem makes the cynical point that wooing a woman by sending her small presents like candy might eventually lead to sexual intimacy, but if you want to speed things along, get her drunk.

Before the term “date-rape” was invented, this poem counted as funny.

Lucid Analysis – Trials in Therapy: A Disorder of Relationships

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since my last appointment due to the holidays/vacation. I discovered something. I don’t like not being able to go to therapy. I was unexpectedly relieved to sit down across from Therapist last night. We had a lot of catching up to do.
Sadistic little bastard
I told her about my trip home to see the family for Christmas. I told her I almost didn’t go but my family guilted me into it. I told her about the stress that built up to it, including my continuing estrangement from Friend and my recent pregnancy scare. Oops, I think I forgot to mention that. I was 2.5 weeks late. That may have contributed to my freaking out about Tech Boy. Skipping periods isn’t unusual for me but when you’re in a lesbian relationship the causes (generally too much stress and/or low body fat) don’t produce the same potential worries as screwing a guy (baby positive). Needless to say, not being preggo is a huge relief.  No, I didn’t tell him. I’m fixing this today. Hello back on the birth control.
Tech Boy and I actually discussed this last Friday which leads me to the definite conclusion that he is thinking at least a little ways down the line. Yeah, yeah, I’m still with him. I’m seriously addicted to physical contact. Beyond reason I would do just about anything to have someone to wake up next to. He FEELS wonderful. Things have taken a turn for the better it seems. Last Friday amongst the beer and UFC matches we had quite a few serious conversations (which he initiated). Amongst them he told me about wanting to have kids someday (but not right now!). I yell a lot about hating kids (which is true 99% of the time), but the truth is that I’m afraid to invest my hope in things like kids and marriage, and my decision to have kids is dependent on my partner (being able to overcome my laundry list of reasons not to).  I will not be a single parent and I don’t believe I will find someone that will stay with me long enough for marriage. We talked about me going back on birth control, {lack of} STDs, dating other people… in terms of not having to worry about him doing this. He seemed quite adamant that I had nothing to worry about in regards to him seeing other girls. This was in response to me saying I didn’t care, I just want to be informed because I can’t control where other people have been and I don’t want to catch anything. I wasn’t pushing him for monogamy or anything, but he just shook his head and told me over and over that it wasn’t on his agenda. I don’t know what this means in terms of our “hanging out” status. The conversation evolved to a place that sounded very much like he was happy to see where things were going with our relationship, wasn’t necessarily into labels, but had no intentions of putting on the brakes. Idk. He may also have told me he loved me. And by ‘may’, I mean, he did, but I think it was not really romantic, and more “I can’t believe you like all this stuff and are awesome I love you”. I had a snap reaction where I responded with “No, you don’t, haha, but you’re cute”.
Do I have any male Readers out there that can interpret that one for me?
He does have a way of just staring into my eyes though and kissing my shoulders when I’m pressed against him. ::sigh:: Look at me getting all sappy. Then again, he also didn’t text me at midnight on New Years Eve or even the next day. Mixed signals much?
Friend. A couple weeks back I got really drunk and finally wrote the letter to Friend that Therapist has been trying to get me to write for weeks. It’s angry, poignant, a little vicious, but also very true and succinctly informative about how our relationship has been hurting me over the past year+ . Therapist was very, very proud of me. Writing out my feelings and thoughts is so important to getting control of how I feel and staying connected to my emotions. It’s been 3 weeks since I got in a fight with Friend and stopped talking to him (except for a few short text conversations/e-mail). I really needed to talk Therapist to help me decide if I should tell him all of this. I just didn’t feel like this was a decision I could make on my own. She was impressed with my ability to resist the impulse to send the unedited letter to him when I wrote it. Believe me, being drunk and as impulsive as I am, I was one tiny split click away from it. I held it together.  I’m going to clean up the letter, take out some of the more petty insults, and send it to him. Therapist reminded me that it is very important to express my anger in constructive and productive ways, like this letter. If I intend to continue a friendship with Friend than I need to release the anger that’s building to resent him. If I can’t let go of this, then there is little hope that we can remain friends. I know he misses me, but frankly, I don’t miss him. I honestly feel nothing. Not a thing. I have no emotions at all in regards to him. He’s a familiar name in my memory with no emotional attachment; a disembodied character floating through my mind.

I stayed home for New Years. I could have gone to a party at Club Boi’s house where Friend and his wife would have been, but I didn’t feel like having an evening of forced smiles and awkward conversation. I knew I would end up being miserable and uncomfortable the whole time so finally I made the decision to stay in (not that I couldn’t have gone to other parties but going places without a date leads to me fending off drunken assholes all night – no thanks). Therapist was VERY proud of me for this as well. At this time last year I was at that party, pretending to be happy, smiling, trying not to let anyone see how much Friend and his wife were destroying me. He wanted me to be there so of course I would be there, I would do anything he wanted, just to see him and spend time with him; no matter how much it was breaking my heart. That I made a different decision this year is major progress.  
Time to let go.
GF is coming over tonight. She wants to watch movies and “cuddle”. Therapist thinks it’s important for me to remain monogamous with Tech Boy, especially as it appears he has no intention of seeing anyone else. I have this sadistic voice in the back of my mind whispering that the reason he doesn’t want to give us a ‘label’ is because he wants a blurry line in case another girls happens into the picture when he’s out drunk with his buddies, but at the same time he doesn’t want me to see anyone else so he wants to plant the idea of exclusivity. < —- This is what Evil-Ex would do. I know that’s not fair to him, but my trust issues are a bottomless well of suspicion and paranoia.

Therapist asked me if I liked him, maybe had love feelings for him. Truth is, I don’t feel much of anything for him, or anyone, if they’re not in my immediate vicinity (or in direct communication) most of the time.( Part of why I hold onto Friend so much is we’re ALWAYS in constant communication so I ALWAYS know he is there.) I have an extremely hard time holding onto my connection to people. When I’m with him, nothing else matters. When I’m not with him, I do wish I was, and I’m very disappointed when I can’t see him, but right now I still have armed guards patrolling my walls after the casino weekend. I’m also afraid of getting too attached. We’ll see.
I’m still reading the book therapist loaned me. She talked about how I needed to cultivate my inner child and the attachment to the Healthy Adult instead of just letting my Outer Child run rampant. Especially as my Outer Child and Tech Boy’s Outer Child seem to really enjoy each other’s company. The gambling, excessive drinking, reckless sex are all reactions of our Outer Children interacting and are not healthy. That we’re going out more (not only drinking), talking more, really getting to know each other she thinks is good. He may not be “the one”, but I’m starting to engage some healthier ideas. In theory. We haven’t indulged the gambling again, but we still drink a lot and sex has gotten even more reckless if anything. TMI? Nah. This ‘relationship’ doesn’t seem to be based solely on sex though.  There seems to be more of a balance. We’re spending time doing other things as well. This is where my paranoia kicks in again and tells me all these ‘other things’ are just space-time  fillers to keep my female sensibilities appeased so he can get what he wants from me physically. I test these things. I know it’s a manipulative thing to do but, I give him ‘outs’ and purposefully say things that relieve pressure of emotional attachment, that leave the opportunity for him to {try to} take advantage of the situation, but he doesn’t take the bait.
 I don’t know what to make of it.
Confused? Yeah, me too.

Songs from Love Lost

An old boyfriend left me this message today: 

Hey there. Here is a song that I wrote about you shortly after I never saw you again. I wrote it and gave it to a local band from Chicago and they recorded it. Surprisingly, it never went anywhere (wink). I think that I could have sang it better, but then again, maybe not. Anyway, I gave it to them and it sums up how I felt about you at the time. I don’t expect a response, I just hope that you don’t hate it and will smile to know that you were inspirational in the world. Ha-av-en didn’t have quite the ring to it so it was changed to a Grandma’s name. All the best.

-C 

 
I don’t actually believe him, even though it’s something he would do, he lived in Chicago at the time, and has the means. Regardless I found it sweet. I just wish I had the lyrics. I actually have a hard time distinguishing what singers say all the time without reading them first.  It’s called Sorry Rose-Marie recorded by The Second Hand Poets.   (Click here to link) 

EDIT: Just spoke to him. Apparently this is all true. It’s a song he wrote 10 years ago (which is when we broke up) but he did. Wow. 
By Haven Posted in Music

Empathy and Me: Part 1 – Borderline Dissociation

Empathy is not the easiest topic to delve into. My penchant towards introspection and self-awareness make this easier for me than for others, but as my perspective is the only one I have, I can only tell you how I feel. Is how I experience empathy the same as how anyone else experiences empathy? I don’t know. I suppose you can be the judge. 
For me there are basically four different types of emotional states where my empathy is distinct.
1.)    Dissociation
2.)    Emotionally turbulent
3.)    Emotionally calm
4.)    In love
Bet you weren’t expecting that last one. Trust me, it’s important. I’ll go over each of these individually.
Dissociation
I’ve talked about Dissociation before, particularly Depersonalization which is my biggest problem. When I dissociate I can always, ‘check in’ and know that I am actually in the real world, I just don’t ‘feel’ like I am real.
Sometimes I feel as if I’m in the wrong body. Like I’m watching myself, my body, do things from someone else’s perspective. Cognitively I know it’s my body but the person that feels what’s going on is somewhere else, removed. My feelings are gone. Here, but part of me is left somewhere else, on the outside, not inside me where it belongs. Going through the motions of what I know I would normally do but without any connection to the motivating forces that would drive me to do these things. 
I don’t process emotions directly, internally. I process them from a dissociative place, “outside”, of my sense of Self. This creates a huge disconnect in how I think and how I feel towards the things I am thinking about. It’s like having two separate bodies; one to process thoughts, one to process feelings, but I’m only connected to one at any given time.  They don’t work symbiotically like they should. I either experience as an observer with detached emotions or I FEEL everything but don’t temper it with my rationale. Where most people have a natural balance I can either experience my emotions, my environment, or I can observe them. Seperately.
Having taken an objective look at, or talk about, my emotions I feel fine. I feel fine because I feel nothing. The act of talking about my emotions or experiences, causes me to not feel them.  But since feeling nothing is better than feeling emotionally destroyed, nothing = fine. When you can recognize that a situation should produce an emotional reaction, and instead all you feel is {blank}, it can be very disconcerting. It seems like nothing was ever there in the first place.
As you can imagine it’s very difficult for me to feel for other people when I am quite literally incapable of feeling for myself. I feel rather like a robot, void of humanity. This probably sounds scary, because if I don’t feel human, what’s stopping me from making very terrible and destructive decisions? Well, I’m not stupid and I haven’t lost hold of my good senses. I can reality check. When I dissociate I become emotionally numb. Nothing moves me in any direction. I don’t feel love, nor do I feel hate. I cannot be happy, but I also cannot be sad. It’s a defense mechanism due to past trauma, shielding me from the deeper well of emotions that threaten to overwhelm me now. In short, I have no motivation to do much of anything in any way. All that keeps me going is a cognitive decision to continue running my life because I’m still aware of the consequences of my actions. I just don’t feel attached to the body that would suffer them.
It’s odd. I see myself as just another body on the street walking amongst the masses. My own Self and those around me are like specimens under a microscope, or behind a glass wall. Curious. I see them, I could probably reach out and touch them, but they’re so separate from me as to feel almost alien. I can’t empathize when I feel this way. I am completely and utterly shut down. Numb. Floating above the hollow shell that continues to walk around in my shoes.
Sometimes this is nice. I wouldn’t have this defense mechanism if I didn’t need it after all. I’m almost entirely rational when I fail to feel in this way. It can make me a little callous though. Towards myself and others. I have a sharp wit at times, and I have a tendency to be very blunt with the truth. When I no longer feel an attachment to the people around me I can forget to add a touch of sugar to the bitter words that I can impart on those around me. I’m no easier on myself.
My saving grace is the ability to remember that I need people in my life. I may not care about the things I say because I can’t actually care, but cognitively I know what is appropriate and what is not. I have certain people in my life for a reason and those reasons are important. Those PEOPLE are important. I don’t want to destroy that. Also, my impulsivity is tempered with no emotional motivation pushing me to do things right now. It gives me the split second I need to think things through and catch myself before saying something I know cognitively could be hurtful.
Being around people is also uncomfortable, so it’s likely that I won’t interact at all and the need for empathy becomes a moot point. It’s uncomfortable in an uncanny valley kind of way, except pretend you’re coming from the perspective of the proto-human. You know you look like the people around you, but something just isn’t right. Off.  You can’t relate to them, and you can’t grasp the concept that anyone else relates to you.
I don’t expect sympathy. In fact, as I can’t feel it myself, I can’t understand how others would feel it for me.  It’s a two way street here. I don’t feel, but I also can’t fathom how someone else could feel for me. It’s very isolating.
In short, in terms of empathy during a state of dissociation I am almost completely emotionally unavailable.  It’s important to remember that when I am in a state of extreme dissociation I probably have had a build of trauma and emotional stress that I am fighting. Most neurotypical people can only handle so much. Being Borderline it’s like running on overload for extended periods of time. When the emotional stress finally becomes too much and my mind shuts down in order to cope, this is not a choice. There is absolutely no control over this state. It happens, and it’s there. There is no turning it on and off at will. It’s not that I don’t want to be there emotionally for the people I care about, in fact I’ll probably still try, but feeling empathy is beyond my ability.

I’d go so far as to say that the inability to feel empathy is necessary when trauma has induced dissociated states. When your own mind is trying to protect you from your own overwhelming stimulus, introducing that of another’s could push you over the edge.

Guest Post: BPD, HSP, and Empathy

Today I have a special guest post. Throughout this blog I talk about Borderline Personality Disorder and I relate my experiences with it. It’s important for me and everyone to remember that this is my personal experience, and not necessarily representative of everyone with BPD. The issue of empathy and BPD is especially controversial. How I experience empathy (I’ll start in on this soon) varies within myself depending on my frame of mind. Being Borderline and how it displays also varies widely from person to person. For this reason I wanted to give you the perspective of another as well….  

I’ve been asked by Haven to write a bit on my own experience with BPD and empathy. Before my BPD diagnosis I knew I was highly sensitive, the more official name for that being Sensory Processing Sensitivity and it’s there in about 15-20% of the human population, and even exists in other animals. As you can guess, people who experience the world with heightened sensitivity are very liable to fall victim to various psychiatric conditions, such as depression, strong mood disturbances and mood fluctuations, PTSD and general dissociative conditions. It’s almost part and parcel of being HSP, given all the normal challenges we encounter every day in our lives.
One of the defining features of being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), is having strong empathy; The ability to literally feel someone’s else’s emotions, to inhabit their world, momentarily and to transpose our own happiness, insecurities and pain from the other person’s experience. This often leads to an over-projection, where we forget the other person may be much thicker skinned, much less affected by emotions than ourselves, or it may just be that we recognize the strength and significance of someone else’s emotion before they even do. Who knows.
It can mean we feel close to people who we barely know, and other people are drawn to the fact that someone they hardly know, feels so familiar to them.
BPD I’d say is just when sensitivity has detrimental effects on our health and relationships. I’m classified on the lower end of BPD and I wouldn’t even begin to say my experience of it is the same as other people’s. At the end of the day, regardless what we label ourselves or have been diagnosed with, the behaviours look the same, and it’s the behaviours that matter, not the label.
So, do I lack empathy sometimes? Yes, I do. I can go into a right tizzy, lose myself in the moment, become very self-absorbed, self-focused, angry and without sympathy. I can be listening to someone’s problems and feel nothing. But, I don’t believe I’m a bad person. I just think I’m flawed, easily hurt and sometimes numbed. I have empathy breaks I guess, like most people. I also am prone to paint someone black for eternity (till they give me good enough reason not to) even if I didn’t care much about them in the first place and they simply hurt me in some small way. I can also paint someone black if they’ve hurt me in a big way. Small or big, I get hurt, indignant and prideful. Let’s just say I know how to hold a grudge.
In relationships, I’ve been called everything from perfect to selfish, cold and a psycho bitch among other things. So, from the outside looking in, I guess, I’m not always an angel. If I was a doormat I wouldn’t survive, quite literally, so I’m very glad I’m not. There are some exes I’ll always be fond of, even those who hurt me in some way, I just can’t always shake my empathy/sympathy and affection for them, even though I have to protect myself and accept the reality of a doomed relationship.
So, to cut a long story short, my empathy is more than intact most of the time, I believe. So, it is way more complicated than it seems it should be to others.. So many factors, (PD-related) interfere and make me a more complex person. I’m both a saint and a whatever you wanna call it. I’m just very human flying from the seat of my pants every day. 🙂
Empathy or a lack thereof is not the issue when it comes to borderline behaviour. Borderline behaviour, in my opinion is instigated partly by fear, insecurity and a desire to feel whole I guess, which, let’s face it, is nigh on impossible for us, but we strive for something as close as possible to that in our relationships, and life choices. The dissociation, insecurity and PTSD faced by many borderlines means our behaviour can be very irregular, inconsistent, and that can extend to our empathy levels since we can become so easily disconnected from ourselves, and therefore others, and our emotions are so easily disjointed and thrown out of whack. It’s far more complex than to simply say, borderlines do not have empathy, and that is inaccurate anyway. Of course, I am quite good at feeling like I am the victim, and this enables me to justify my erratic, sometimes objectionable actions to myself at least. But is it malicious in its intent? I would say no, at least, not in my case. We can be very flawed, but, what’s the world without imperfections? Like i said, if you’re looking for ‘callousness,’ or just mindless behaviour, you’re looking at the wrong end of the spectrum with BPD, but we are so varied amongst ourselves, that I can only give a general idea of what I believe BPD is about in terms of empathy.
 Borderlines aren’t incapable of the emotions, from intense hate to intense love, empathy to damaging rage or dissociation, we are just more extreme and changeable, and it wears ourselves out as much as it does others.