I’m not Perfect… Yet – Unrelenting Standards / Hypercriticalness

Another day another Schema. Just two more to go! The one we’re covering today is especially relevant for me.
Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness
Typical Presentation of the Schema
People with this schema present as perfectionistic and driven. They believe that they  must continually strive to meet extremely high standards. These standards are internalized; therefore, unlike the Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking schema, people with the unrelenting Standards schema do not as readily alter their expectations or behaviors based on the reactions of others. These people strive to meet standards primarily because they “should,” not because they want to win the approval of other people. Even if no one were ever to know, most of these people would still strive to meet the standards. People often have both the Unrelenting Standards and Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking schemas, in which case they seek both to me very high standards and to win external approval.
If I were to hazard a guess I’d say that my brother has both of these, where I only have the Unrelenting Standards schema. Ok, I may have some Approval-Seeking in there as well, but I think it’s highly overshadowed by my need to meet the standards I believe I should reach. No one sets standards for me. I do. If what I do is not perfect, it’s not good enough. If I am not perfect, I am not good enough. I’ll make elaborate dishes of food, costumes, etc., and if I think there’s even a chance of them not meeting the standard I think they should I’ll scrap it all and toss them right out.
 It’s like I believe I’m only as good as my accomplishments.
The most typical emotional experienced by patients with the Unrelenting Standards schema is pressure. This pressure is relentless. Because perfection is impossible, the person must perpetually try harder. Beneath all the exertion, patients feel intense anxiety about failing – and failing means getting a “95” rather than a “100”. Another common feeling is hyper criticalness, both of themselves and of others. Most of these patients also feel a great deal of time pressure: There is so much to do and so little time. A common result is exhaustion.
This is perfectly me. When I was at University I would study from the time I woke up until I passed out in the Science and Engineering Library. If I received a homework assignment, quiz, or exam that wasn’t perfect I refused to let anyone know my score, even though I routinely scored higher than everyone else. Making any mistake at all filled me with shame that someone would judge my failing. Pressure. Everything feels like so much pressure. The anxiety starts in the pit of my stomach and seeps out through my pours until I’m weighted down by a wet blanket of my own expectations. The only relief is to be flawless…. Which never quite happens. Which always remains just out of reach.
It is difficult to have unrelenting standards, and it is often difficult to be with someone who has unrelenting standards. Another common feeling in people with this schema is irritability, usually because not enough is getting done quickly enough or well enough. Yet another common feeling is competitiveness. Most people who are classified as “type A” – that is, as demonstrating a chronic sense of time pressure, hostility, and competitiveness – have this schema.
Well I definitely have the irritability part down. If I ask someone to do something and it’s not done by precisely the time I need it done by, exactly how I need it to be done, I begin to fume. Consequently I tend to do a lot of things myself because at least I know I’ll do it right. Which doesn’t do anything to relieve the intense amount of pressure I already feel. However I am in no way competitive at all. Competition is the equivalent of being judged in my mind and I want to avoid judgments at all costs.
Often, people with the Unrelenting Standards schema are workaholics, working incessantly within the particular realms to which they apply their standards. The realms can be varied: school, work, appearance, home, athletic performance, health, ethics or adherence to rules, and artistic performance are some possibilities. In their perfectionism, these people often display inordinate attention to detail and often underestimate how much better their performance is relative to the norm. They have rigid rules in many areas of life, such as unrealistically high ethical, cultural, or religious standards. There is almost always an all-or-nothing quality to their thinking: People believe that either they have met the standard exactly or they have failed. They rarely take pleasure from success, because they are already focused on eh next task that must be accomplished perfectly.
People with this schema do not usually view their standards as perfectionistic. Their standards feel normal. They are just doing what is expected of them. In order to qualify as having a maladaptive schema, the person must have some significant impairment related to the schema. This could be a lack of pleasure in life, health problems, low self-esteem, unsatisfying intimate or work relationships, or some other form of dysfunction.
Lack of pleasure in life? Check. Low self-esteem? Check. Unsatisfying intimate or work relationships? Check. How about self-loathing? Or chronic disappointment? It’s funny, because I don’t view my standards as perfectionistic. I often say I don’t believe in perfection because to me perfection equates to stagnations. However, there’s always room to grow and improve. There’s always something more to learn. There’s always some way to make what I’m doing, better.
Goals of Treatment
The basic goal of treatment is to help people reduce their unrelenting standards and hyper criticalness. The goal is twofold: to get people to try to accomplish less, and to accomplish it less perfectly. Successfully treated people have more of a balance in their lives between accomplishment and pleasure. They play, as well as work, and do not worry as much about “wasting time” and feeling guilty about it. They take the time to connect emotionally to significant others and are able to allow something to be imperfect and still consider it worthwhile. Less critical of themselves and others, they are less demanding and more accepting of human imperfection, and are less rigid about rules. They come to realize that their unrelenting standards cost more than they gain: In trying to make one situation slightly better, they are making many other situations a lot worse.
Bleh.  Accomplish less and accomplish less perfectly? This sounds horrid. I actually can not fathom why I would want to do this. How can someone love me if I’m flawed and not the best that I can be?
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
It’s important for people to learn to challenge their perfectionism. They learn to view performance as lying on a spectrum from poor to perfect – with many gradations in between – rather than as an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Conducting cost-benefit analyses of perpetuating their unrelenting standards is also helpful. They ask themselves: “If I were to do things a little less well, or if I were to do fewer things, what would the costs and benefits be?” Here the advantages of lowering standards can be highlighted – all the benefits that would accrue to their health and happiness, all the ways they are suffering as a result  of their unrelenting standards, and all the ways the schema is damaging their enjoyment of life and relationships with significant others. The cost of the schema is greater than the benefits: This conclusion is the leverage that can motivate a person to change. It’s also important to reduce the perceived risks of imperfection. Imperfection is not a crime. Making mistakes does not have the extreme negative consequences that people anticipate.
It feels like the consequences will be extreme though. If I feel like I’m not performing to the standard I should at work, I have a low lying dread that bubbles over into heart clenching anxiety that I will get fired. Taking breaks, taking lunch, this is all time I’m afraid someone will see me not working and I will get in trouble for because I am not utilizing every moment towards productivity. Don’t even try to convince me that taking vacation and sick days are ok. I feel guilty and like I’m practically guaranteed to get suspended or judged as being a slacker. And don’t even get me started about my appearance. Right now I am not at my ideal weight and I am hideous. I obsess and dwell on every perceived imperfection endlessly, regardless of the fact that no one else seems to see these things. I don’t want to go out in public if I’m not at my ideal place within my own skin.
The Unrelenting Standards schema seems to have two different origins, with different implications for treatment. The first and more common origin is the internalization of a parent with high standards.
The second origin of the Unrelenting Standards schema is as a compensation for the Defectiveness schema: People feel defective and then overcompensate by trying to be perfect.  
I think I qualify for both here. I know I feel defective, however I also had a father that pushed us to constantly achieve bigger and better standards.
Special Problems with This Schema
The biggest obstacle by far is the secondary gain that comes from the schema: There are so many benefits to doing things so well. Many people with this schema are reluctant to give up their unrelenting standards because, to them, it seems that the benefits far outweigh the costs. In addition, many people are afraid of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and their own self-criticalness, if they do not live up to the standards. The potential for negative affect seems so high that they are reluctant to risk lowering their standards even a little bit. Moving slowly can help these people, as can closely evaluating the outcomes of lowering the standards.
Embarrassment. Shame. Guilt. Self-Criticalness. Yep. Having these standards for the things that I do is proof that I have something to offer people. If I have nothing to offer, why will people stick around? I inherently feel like I’m a bad person. Being able to do these things is a way of proving that I have some good in me. Something good to offer. Something to keep people around. Something to keep them from leaving. Something for others to value in me. Why would I want to “fix” this? Why would I want to diminish the things that make me of value to other people?  Because the things that I can do for people does not actually comprise the entirety of my value. The few friends that I’ve talked to about this (Friend and Roommate) have told me that even if I were to never do any of the baking or cooking, or painting, or crafting, or whatever the things I do for other people, it wouldn’t change the fact that this is not all of who I am. They tell me I’m sweet, funny, loyal, an amazing listener, incredibly intelligent (with the most bizarre range of knowledge), caring… and all these other things. All these other things are the reasons people like having me around, not just because I make a killer pie. I don’t see it though. Or I do, but it’s lost in the shadow of my imperfections. You know the expression, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”? That’s how I feel about myself. I’m only as good as my worst flaw. And I’ve had a very flawed life. I think that’s the cost of being human though. I need to learn to let the past remain where it belongs, in the past. Maybe not forget it, definitely learn from it, but also let it go so I can move into the future with more knowledge that I can do things differently.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – Body Dysmorphic Disorder

I actually started writing this with every intention of doing a Sunday post, but wouldn’t you know, I got distracted and ended up doing something entirely different. So here it is for Monday.  Since this is something that is constantly on my mind and has been the subject of my latest therapy session; let’s talk about Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I’ve talked about dysmorphia before but not about the extent of the disorder.

So what is it?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a kind of mental illness or somatoform disorder where a person is exclusively concerned with their body image. It manifests as excessive concern and preoccupation with a perceived defect of one or many physical features; or even vaguegly complains about appearance in general to the point where it causes psychological distress that (and this is important) impairs either occupational or social functioning, or both.

Snow White had it easy.
I’m going to reiterate this because as something that I’ve noticed a lot with self-diagnosing … you can run through the checklist of criteria for any disorder and say ‘yes’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes’, ‘yes’ to any number of qualifications and on the surface it may look like you’re a good candidate for the illness or disorder, BUT, and this is a big ‘but’, if the problems do not create a SIGNIFICANT problem of functionality in some form of your life for an EXTENDED period of time, you may not actually have the disorder or illness, just passing symptoms of it that may be something else entirely. Being generally self-consciousness does not mean you have Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Being a cutter with mood swings does not make you Borderline (Yeah, I’m looking at all the pre-teen emo attention whores out there).

For years, starting in middle school, high school, and college… I could not go out in public. I could not do anything in a crowd of people. I would lock myself away in my room, wear baggy clothes (fortunately skater goth was a look that worked with my sense of style), and refuse to see anyone because the thought of anyone looking at me, seeing the “flaws” that I perceived induced a paralyzing anxiety. And I do mean panic attack, hyperventilating, dissolving into a puddle of self loathing kind of social anxiety. I could make myself go to work and school, but I would bundle myself up in shapeless clothes, avoid any kind of social contact, and steal myself away as soon as it was done.

BDD can occur to a degree that causes severe emotional depression and anxiety, and even may lead to the development of other anxiety disorders, social withdrawal, or social isolation. It sucks.

I remember having plans for events that I’d been looking forward to for months. For weeks I’d be even more strict about my diet and exercise so I would feel in control enough of my body to go out and enjoy myself. I would get all dolled up and decked out. Then an  hour before I was suppose to leave I would freeze. Literally on the threshold of my house, incapable of moving another foot out of the door because the thought of going out in public where people could see me felt like the world would come crashing down around me. I’d cancel my plans at the last minute, disappoint my friends, disappoint myself, strip off all the pomp and fancy and hide in bed for the rest of the night.

Like many mental disorders it’s caused by a variety of different things and is different for each person; biological, psychological, and environmental factors can all contribute. Maybe you’re predisposed to this kind of mentality, have suffered mental or physical abuse, or emotional neglect can be the cause. As you’d probably suspect, dysmorphic symptoms usually begin in adolescence or early adulthood when it’s common for self-criticism of a persons appearance to begin. From here it goes further than just criticism to an atypical aesthetic standard created from some internal perception of beauty or perfection between the persons ‘actual self’ and the ‘idea self’. What a person actually sees versus what you want to see.

However, what a person actually sees may be entirely different from what actually is.

According to the DSM patients are so overly concerned, or convinced, that they are misshapen or deformed in some way, despite all evidence to the contrary. Patients are generally concerned about some aspect of their appearance or with the possibility that they have some deformity. The specific “deformity” depends completely on the person. Maybe their facial or scalp hair is not right, maybe their nose is too big, their breasts are uneven, or their eyes are too far apart. Seeking help is actually common, but not by a psychiatrist. Because the person is so convinced that this is a legitimate problem they’ll go to their primary physician, dermatologist or even eventually to a cosmetic plastic surgeon. After being examined the physician usually finds no abnormality at all, or if one is present, it’s so trivial that no one would ever notice it. Reassurance does nothing though.

“Only a small minority recognize the groundlessness of their concerns; the vast majority are more or less convinced, and in a significant proportion the conviction becomes a delusion. Patients are often in torment over their “defect,” and the majority repeatedly check themselves in mirrors: in some cases such “mirror-checkers” may be so distressed by what they see that they may avoid mirrors, or cover them up. Most patients avoid contact with others, and a minority become housebound; ideas or delusions of reference may appear.”

I’m a mirror checker. Oddly I often avoid looking at my face, but I constantly check other aspects of my body that I perceive as out of proportion or that need to be hid. Constantly. It’s a compulsion. With me it’s my upper arms, thighs, and jaw. I have a very specific idea of what I need to look like and any deviation from this is a monstrosity.

Therapist has commented on more than one occasion that I have a beautiful figure and that my clothes are very professional and flattering (I go to session straight from work). I’m a master of disguise. A chameleon. I know exactly what I need to do to hide my flaws, create the illusion that they aren’t there, and appear in a way that is acceptable to the environment that I am forced to interact in. I wear a very specific cut of pant, I wear tailored jackets that emphasize other features and draw the eye to other areas like my tiny waist. It’s all a matter of tricking the eye of the beholder into seeing what I want them to see. This is often how I manage my Borderline issues as well. I draw the eye to positive attributes that I want people to focus on and gloss over the areas that I need to keep in shadow.

When I was younger my dad used to accuse me of vanity. He would see me looking in the mirror and say something like ‘you’re beautiful, quit checking yourself out’. Sort of a compliment I suppose, but he never understood. It’s not vanity. It has nothing to do with being vain. I hated how I looked. I NEED to see what other people see though. I need to be prepared for how others will look at me. What they will see with their own eyes. I needed to make sure that I was taking care to only show them what I wanted them to see. I needed to make sure I was perfect so there would be nothing to criticize.

“People with BDD say that they wish that they could change or improve some aspect of their physical appearance even though they may generally be of normal or even highly attractive appearance. Body dysmorphic disorder causes sufferers to believe that they are so unspeakably hideous that they are unable to interact with others or function normally for fear of ridicule and humiliation about their appearance. This can cause those with this disorder to begin to seclude themselves or have trouble in social situations. More extreme cases may cause a person to develop love-shyness, a chronic avoidance of all intimate relationships. They can become secretive and reluctant to seek help because they fear that seeking help will force them to confront their insecurity. They feel too embarrassed and unwilling to accept hat others will tell the sufferer that he or she is suffering from a disorder. The sufferer believes that fixing the “deformity” is the only goal, and that if there is a disorder, it was caused by the deformity.” (Thanks, Wiki.)

This is certainly how I think. If I could just fix these 3 things, everything would be perfect. If this was just a little more streamlined, if that was just a little more toned, if that was just a little more concave, I could be the marble statue I’ve always wanted to be. Roommate doesn’t believe this. She thinks that even if these things were “fixed” then my focus would just shift to something else.

Last session Therapist asked me to name 5 words that described how I view myself. 1) Ugly, 2) fat, 3) uncomfortable. I couldn’t’ actually think of two other words. I’m 30 years old, though I look like I’m 22. I’m 5’3”. I have a 24.5” waist. I’m athletic. In college I would be stopped on the streets by modeling recruiters. Professional photographers routinely seek me out at the many costuming events I attend to post for them. No, I’m not bragging. But since I’m maintaining a relative anonymity and won’t post my pictures on this blog I’m relaying my experiences to give you an idea of the massive discrepancy of what I see and what others do. Therapist looked like I broke her heart when I told her those words. I just don’t understand how others can see me and see someone that is attractive.

Another important thing to note is my weight obsession. Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Eating Disorders are not interchangeable. In fact, a preoccupation with weight and the development of eating disorders is something that is specifically taken into consideration in diagnosis. If a persons symptoms are better accounted for by another disorder: weight concerns are usually more accurately attributed to eating disorders: then BDD may not be the problem.

My eating disorder is incredibly psychologically complicated. In regards to BDD it’s almost opposite. I developed this disorder as part of my attempt to control my flaws. But there are many other facets to it as well; like my need for structure and control, as an attempt to fill the void of loneliness that I can’t otherwise fill at the moment, etc. So I’m one of those with both.

In fact, co-morbidity is common with BDD.

         76% will experience major depressive disorder at some point
         36% may develop agoraphobia
         32% are affected by obsessive-compulsive disorder
         But the most common disorders found are Avoidant Personality Disorder, Social Phobia, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Dependent Personality Disorder
         Eating disorders are also sometimes found in people with BDD.
I’m curious about the Avoidant and Dependent Personality Disorders. It makes me wonder if there isn’t a higher ratio of Borderline Personality Disorder with Body Dysmorphic Disorder as well.
Here’s the part where I list the symptoms and expressions and see just how neurotic I am!


Common symptoms of BDD include:

         Obsessive thoughts about (a) perceived appearance defect(s). <~~~~ And how.
         Obsessive and compulsive behaviors related to (a) perceived appearance defect(s) (see section below). <~~~~ I can  hardly wait
         Major depressive disorder symptoms. <~~~~ Gee, let’s think…. Yeeeaaah.
         Delusional thoughts and beliefs related to (a) perceived appearance defect(s). <~~~~ So I’m told, of course it could just be that everyone else is wrong.
         Social and family withdrawal, social phobia, loneliness and self-imposed social isolation. <~~~ Years, and years of this. Though admittedly I’m working hard despite my ridiculous anxiety to push through this, it is still always in the background of my mind bullying the happy thoughts off the playground.
         Suicidal ideation. <~~~~ Been there, done that.
         Anxiety; possible panic attacks. <~~~~ Possible? Can you say understatement?
         Chronic low self-esteem. <~~~~ Not that I’d let anyone see this.
         Feeling self-conscious in social environments; thinking that others notice and mock their perceived defect(s). <~~~~ I wish I could be social without people looking at me.
         Strong feelings of shame. <~~~~ I just want to be perfect.
         Avoidant personality: avoiding leaving the home, or only leaving the home at certain times, for example, at night. <~~~~ When it’s harder to see me.
         Dependent personality: dependence on others, such as a partner, friend or family.
         Inability to work or an inability to focus at work due to preoccupation with appearance.
         Problems initiating and maintaining relationships (both intimate relationships and friendships). <~~~~ It’s hard to be close to someone when you don’t want them to look at you.
         Alcohol and/or drug abuse (often an attempt to self-medicate). <~~~~ You can’t worry when you’re passed out.
         Repetitive behavior (such as constantly (and heavily) applying make-up; regularly checking appearance in mirrors; see section below for more associated behavior). <~~~~ Mirror mirror on the wall ::SMASH::
         Seeing slightly varying image of self upon each instance of observing a mirror or reflective surface. <~~~~ This is maddening.
         Perfectionism (undergoing cosmetic surgery and behaviors such as excessive moisturizing and exercising with the aim to achieve an ideal body type and reduce anxiety). <~~~~ I just want to be perfect, and redundant.
Note: any kind of body modification may change one’s appearance. There are many types of body modification that do not include surgery/cosmetic surgery. Body modification (or related behavior) may seem compulsive, repetitive, or focused on one or more areas or features that the individual perceives to be defective.

Compulsive behaviors

Common compulsive behaviors associated with BDD include:
         Compulsive mirror checking, glancing in reflective doors, windows and other reflective surfaces. <~~~~ Vanity is its own problem, but has nothing to do with this.
         Alternatively, an inability to look at one’s own reflection or photographs of oneself; also, the removal of mirrors from the home. <~~~~ We literally have a hall of mirrors.
         Attempting to camouflage the imagined defect: for example, using cosmetic camouflage, wearing baggy clothing, maintaining specific body posture or wearing hats. <~~~~ It’s really not that hard.
         Use of distraction techniques: an attempt to divert attention away from the person’s perceived defect, e.g. wearing extravagant clothing or excessive jewelry. <~~~~ You can see what I want you to see.
         Excessive grooming behaviors: skin-picking, combing hair, plucking eyebrows, shaving, etc.
         Compulsive skin-touching, especially to measure or feel the perceived defect. <~~~~ Hey, maybe I just like how my jaw feels.
         Becoming hostile toward people for no known reason, especially those of the opposite sex, or same sex if homosexual. <~~~~ In my defense, my hostility towards other people is usually because they’re dicks. And I’m irrationally angry.
         Seeking reassurance from loved ones. <~~~~ If I sought reassurance they’d know there was something wrong.
         Excessive dieting or exercising, working on outside appearance. <~~~~ 6 days a week, 15 hours in the gym, constantly monitoring everything I eat… Excessive? Nah.
         Self-harm <~~~~ I like to think of it as keeping myself on track.
         Comparing appearance/body parts with that/those of others, or obsessive viewing of favorite celebrities or models whom the person suffering from BDD wishes to resemble. <~~~~ Who doesn’t compare themselves to others.
         Compulsive information-seeking: reading books, newspaper articles and websites that relate to the person’s perceived defect, e.g. hair lossor being overweight. <~~~~ Maybe I just like to be in the know.
         Obsession with plastic surgery or dermatological procedures, often with little satisfactory results (in the perception of the patient).
         In extreme cases, patients have attempted to perform plastic surgery on themselves, including liposuction and various implants with disastrous results. <~~~~ Holy crap, if I ever get this bad I’ll just have myself locked up.
         Excessive enema use (if obesity is the concern). <~~~~ Um, Ew. Just, ew.

Now I certainly recognize a lot of these symptoms in myself but I don’t know if I attribute them all to BDD. Some of clearly a byproduct of my Borderline Personality Disorder or aspects of other problems I have. Where’s the line though? Often these things overlap and collide like a maelstrom of emotional turmoil.

Surprisingly in my research I found that this actually affects men and women equally. It sounds like it would be another ‘female problem’, but apparently not. As many as 1-2% of the world’s population might even meet the diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis of BDD.

My final thought: Not just in physical appearance but in every aspect, I’m obsessed with how people perceive me. Not because I have some need to be complimented or anything like that. But I need to know how others see me, what they think, so I can gauge how different it is from how I think of myself. 

The Sky is Falling! – Vulnerability to Harm or Illness

Holy $h!t such a busy day. Non stop non stop rush rush rush. Met a cute guy though. And he’s from my alma mater. I actually found myself appreciating a nicely constructed male backside today. This is so not my style. Girls, yes. Guys? Not so much. But lemme tell you, he had a nice booty. So you’re probably wondering what this has to do with today’s schema. Absolutely nothing.
On that note. Today I’m talking about the Vulnerability to Harm or Illness Schema.
Vulnerability to Harm or Illness
Typical Presentation of the Schema
These people live their lives believing that catastrophe is about to strike at any moment. They are convinced that something terrible is going to happen to them that is beyond their control. They will suddenly be struck with a medical illness; there will be a natural disaster; they will become victims of crime; they will get into a terrible accident; they will lose all their money; or they will have a nervous breakdown and go crazy. The predominant emotion is anxiety, ranging from low-level dread to full blown panic attacks. These patients are not afraid of handling everyday situations, like patients who have Dependence schemas’ rather, they are afraid of catastrophic events.
            Most of these patients rely on avoidance or overcompensation to cope with the schema. They become phobic, restrict their lives, take tranquilizers, engage in magical thinking, perform compulsive rituals, or rely on “safety signals,” such as a person they trust, a bottle of water, or tranquilizers. All of these behaviors have the goal of stopping the bad thing from happening.
This strikes me as very OCD and Paranoid PD, not that it can’t present in other personality disorders or even those without. Again, this is not a schema I relate to very well. While yes, I do have massive panic and anxiety attacks, it’s usually triggered by a real situation or perceived threat (which ok, may not be strictly real). Meh, even that isn’t strictly true because I have an anxiety disorder and I’m very familiar with that constant low level of dread, but this is due to other schema triggers I believe. And I do have the fear that I’ll just have a nervous breakdown and go crazy, but let’s face it, that isn’t exactly irrational. I think my point here is, there’s a difference between having panic/anxiety attacks for different reasons, and having panic/anxiety attacks because you think a meteor is going to spontaneously crash through the atmosphere and land on your house. One is not necessarily this schema, the other is.  
Heh, in fact, I have a tendency to live like the world IS about to end and I want to do everything I can. Or if the world is going to end then there’s nothing I can do about it, I’m going to go out with my own kind of bang.
Goals of Treatment
The goals of treatment are to get patients to lower their estimations of the likelihood of catastrophic events and to raise their evaluations of their ability to cope. Ideally, patients come to recognize that their fears are greatly exaggerated and, even if a catastrophe did occur, they would be able to deal with it adequately. The ultimate goal of treatment is to convince patients to stop avoiding and overcompensating for the schema, and to face most of the situations they fear.
Strategies Emphasized in Treatment
            Patients explore the childhood origins of the schema and trace its pattern through their lives. They count the costs of the schema. Patients explore the changes they would make in their current lives if they were not overly afraid. It is important to spend time building motivation to change. The patient should stay focused on the long-term negative consequences of living a phobic lifestyle, such as lost opportunities for fun and self-exploration; and on the positive benefits of moving more freely in the world, such as a richer, fuller life.
            It’s important to do both cognitive and behavioral work to overcome this schema.
            Patients counter their exaggerated perceptions of danger. Challenging catastrophic thoughts – or ‘decatastrophizing” – helps them manage panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms. Cognitive strategies also build motivation by highlighting the advantages of changing.
            Behaviorally it’s important to face the situations that are feared by undergoing gradual and graduated exposure to phobic situations in homework (try to face it on paper before you face it in real life): Picture entering specific phobic situations and, with the assistance of the “healthy Adult” coping well. Anxiety management techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, and flash cards help patients cope with the exposure as they go through them.
            Reassurance is important. It’s necessary for a person to know that they will be able to cope in a healthy way.
This sounds easier than it is. It’s been my experience that when you have an irrational fear, you pretty much know it’s irrational. However that doesn’t change how you feel or think or act. So just having someone tell you that what you’re doing is irrational is not going to change anything. And the longer you’ve done a particular coping strategy, the harder it’s going to be to undo all that habit and reform new, healthier, habits. However, that’s what time is for. You take the time. You work on it little by little with someone you can trust.
I think this is a problem that a lot of nuero-typical people have with the personality disordered. They think that since we’ve been told a better way, have had our problems pointed out, that it’s easy for us to change. Because their brains work in a fundamentally different way they just do not understand that we cannot always follow the path from point A to point B. We have monsters hiding down some paths that they can’t see.  
Special Problems with This Schema
            The greatest problem is that people with this schema are too afraid to stop avoiding and overcompensating. They resist giving up their protections against the anxiety of the schema. As we mentioned earlier, mode work can help patients strengthen the healthy part of them that yearns for a fuller life.
I can relate to this. I’ve mentioned before how I’m afraid to ‘lose’ my Borderline Personality Disorder, my depression, my anxiety…. It’s such an ingrained part of me that the prospect of living without something that I’ve had my entire life is just, foreign. I can’t wrap my head around it, and it’s scary. However I’m also not the kind of person that’s afraid to try new things. So I keep doing what I’m doing to get healthier, despite these irrational fears that I’ll lose a part of myself by healing. Being who I’ve always been is comfortable in it’s own dysfunctional kind of way. I don’t want to lose who I am. However, I think this is a faulty way of looking at it. I won’t be losing myself. I will always be me. I’ll just be me in a different stage of growth. Maybe it would help to look at all these coping mechanisms and faulty habits as skills or tools. You grow up learning how to use a certain tool a certain way. It’s not until years later that you realize you’ve been using it wrong, or there are better ways of utilizing that skill. It can be impossible to recognize the problem if it’s what you’ve always known. It’s not until you have someone that knows how to properly use the tool and can show you that there really is a better way of going about doing the work, that you finally can see a different way. It’s upgrading your toolbox. Toss out the broken screwdriver and trade up for the power drill.
Something like that.
*Schema Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide – Young, Klosko, Weishaar

Lucid Anlaysis – Trials in Therapy : Healthy Seperation?

Therapy was neither good nor bad yesterday. Mostly we talked about how distraught I am that my co-worker is leaving. He’s seriously like THE PERFECT PERSON to work with and have as a mentor. I’ve never really had a mentor like that before and the experience is invaluable. Therapist thinks I’m in shock right now from the suddenness of the announcement. It’s clearly triggered my rejection and abandonment issues. Ultimately she does think this will be a good opportunity for me to grow in healthy way. I’m angry at myself for allowing myself to rely on someone. I’m angry at him for up and leaving. My gut reaction is to pull back and put as much emotional distance between myself and the entire situation as I possibly can. Therapist thinks I should do the opposite.
She thinks that instead of pushing away I should take the time I have left with him and get to know him better on a personal level. Get closer. I told her that sounded scary. Why would I want to invest MORE emotionally when I know for a FACT that they’re going to leave?  Isn’t that like emotional masochism?
She says ‘no’. This is a normal process in life. Jobs change, people move, and since there is no aspect of this that is my fault it’s unlikely that I will internalize it as something to punish myself with. Plus, he’s a mentor. He’s been a positively influential role model in my life and that is precisely the kind of healthy relationship I should continue to cultivate. I know him, his wife, his kids, even on a social level. Just because he is moving physically does not mean the personal/professional aspect and bond that we have created will disappear. This will be an excellent opportunity for me to experience a healthy a separation and work to maintain a connection throughout the process of changing locations, not abandonment. Therapist actually believes that this is affecting me is also a good thing. It means that I’ve begun to internalize someone. It’s something that’s extremely important for someone like me that has a complete lack of object constancy. I don’t believe that he’ll remember me once he’s gone, and I don’t understand how I can still be a part of his life if I’m not around, but if there’s anyone that I think will welcome remaining in contact, it would be him. We’ll just have to see. I’m taking it one day at a time, and frankly, trying to avoid thinking about it.
My goal is to learn as much from him as possible so that I gain even more confidence in the job that I have so that I do not feel so lost when I no longer have a mentor and role model to rely on. Therapist thinks this is actually a very good plan.
We talked about this more than I wanted to.
She asked me about Tech Boy and Friend. How things were going with them? Things with Tech Boy are going really well. He’s going out of state this weekend so I won’t be able to see him, and I have something I’m doing with Roommate next weekend so I don’t think I’ll be able to see him then. This is creating a massive amount of anxiety in me. I told him I hope he has a lot of fun at his event this weekend though I kind of wish I could see him. His reply, “It’ll be a blast, but we’ll hang out soon, I promise.” So that’s at least a little reassuring. I’m just afraid that two weekends in a row is going to be too much. I can’t shake this mentality that if I’m not giving myself in some way sexually than he won’t maintain an interest in me. On the one hand, if that’s true than he’s just another jerk and I shouldn’t bother, but I also know that I need to feel like I’m doing something, providing something, taking care of something, for other people in order for them to need me. I need to know there’s a reason they stay, otherwise I don’t understand how there will be anything to hold them to me. Like me for me? Just for my personality? And because I’m apparently a good, loving person? Psh. Whatever. I don’t believe it’s enough. I need to DO something to make someone stay.
I know he likes me though. It’s really not hard to make me feel good or reassured. I see him at work quite a bit, but as a group we all have breaks at the same time and spend them down in the shop together. I was really busy yesterday afternoon (and honestly feeling really self-conscious to the point where I couldn’t stand the thought of being where people could look at me) so I skipped break. Right afterwards he texted asking me why I didn’t show up. Aws, he missed me. He texts me randomly so I know he’s thinking about me. And lately it’s become a habit to text each other right up until we’re falling asleep and tell each other good night. It’s adorable.  
Things with Friend have been improving too. I still have a lot of anger and resentment, BUT, it’s definitely diminishing. There are times I actually feel fully engaged in the ridiculous conversations we have. Romantically my focus has almost fully shifted to Tech Boy, so I don’t have the same kind of obsessive ruminations that I used to. His wife still makes me sick to my stomach but I expect that will always be the case. She’s an ugly person. And it’s still a thorn in my side that he would prefer to be with someone so hideous over someone like me. Whatever buddy, his loss.
Did I mention Lady Friend got ahold of me? On Halloween she was travelling and texted me around midnight saying that, “There are so many things here that remind me of you. I just wanted to see how you were doing and try to reconnect…” I was really surprised. I ended things with her very abruptly and just stopped talking to her. I was a complete mix of guilt and relief for weeks, but I felt paralyzed to even read the e-mails she sent me. I still haven’t read them. But she got ahold of me anyways and I would like to see her and catch up. Here’s something that I think is a Borderline issue. I actually don’t think we ended badly. We didn’t have any big fights or anything, I just couldn’t do it anymore and kind of, disappeared. ::hugs:: ::kisses:: “I missed you”. Gone.  The chemistry wasn’t there for me at all, but she really is a wonderful person. Some part of me knows this wasn’t an appropriate way to end things, but it doesn’t seem terrible to me either. I drop off the face of the earth with people all the time. I wonder how this will go.
My body dysmophia is killing me though. I want to see everyone. I want to be with everyone. I want to go out and do things. But I can’t stand the thought of people looking at me right now. It makes my skin crawl. I quit smoking, for real this time. It’s been a few weeks and unfortunately I have gained like 5lbs. I’m absolutely disgusted with myself. I’m kicking up my workouts and reinstating the food diary to keep track of everything I consume. Surprisingly, I’ve been in much better control of my bulimia. I don’t even remember the last time I threw up! ::pats myself on the back:: I also gave up one more major addiction (one that I haven’t mentioned before) but that’ll be a post for another time.
Therapist completely forgot to ask me about the Homework she set for me last week but I’ll share my answers with you anyways.
Homework: What positive things have I taken from my relationship with Friend?
         I’ve seen that it’s possible to find someone that I share so much in common with.
         I realized that even after having so many devastating relationships it’s still possible to open up and connect with someone.
         I have someone to watch endless amounts of bad horror with.
         There is someone out there that understands and appreciates my wacky brain.
         For all the emotional ups and down, pushing and pulling away, he never left, never threatened to leave. Shows me that it is possible for someone to stay regardless of how much I lash out or am hurting. For all the emotional turmoil he has been a stable presence.
Homework: What do I envision for a healthy relationship?
         Mutual respect.
         Someone I am comfortable being with and sharing with.
         Not being afraid to be myself.
         Not being afraid the other person will leave if I go out with or make new friends.
         Someone that wants to be with me, not other people also. < —— This is a change.
For the Healthy Relationships question I feel like there should be more. I just don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like though. I keep wanting to list things I want in a partner or am most attracted to in a partner, but even thinking about some of the things makes me wonder if what I look for is healthy at all so I don’t put that stuff down.
Relationships are hard.
Therapist thinks I’m making amazing progress though. It’s not like I’m all recovered or anything  but my responses and reactions are steadily becoming more appropriate/less extreme and I’m beginning to think about things differently. And she continually reassures me that I’m a joy to work with. No joke, therapy is not easy. Some days I can be in a great mood, and leave therapy feeling very heavy hearted. Some days I can be in a terrible mood and leave therapy feeling worse. I always leave therapy feeling more aware though, and like some part of my burden has been lifted. Less confused. It’s not easy confronting your issues on a weekly basis. It takes effort but I really think it’s worth it.
Sometimes writing this blog is hard. So many people, Borderline or not, are not very self-aware and do not often analyze themselves or their motivations. Every day I write this blog I’m forced to face some aspects of my history and my disorder. I’m hyperaware of my problems. On the one hand this is good because it reminds me daily how I need to tailor my mask and my actions to fit into my environment in an appropriate manner. It forces me to look at my life, consider where I’ve been and where I want to go. On the other hand sustaining such a heightened sense of Self is exhausting. I over analyze everything. It does seem to be paying off though.  

Unintentional Abandonment. Never even saw it coming.

I am officially on information overload. And trying to stifle the sheer panic I feel. One of my coworkers just told me he is leaving to take a better position in California. I’m devastated. He’s the guy that was really able to pull me out of my shell and is always dragging me off to this and that. He has an incredibly wonderful way of making you feel included and is always interested in everything you have to say. His constant good mood is contagious, and not in an obnoxious way. He’s also one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing (and I’ve know a lot of brilliant people). He has the exceedingly rare quality of being both a genius and incredibly personable. I don’t know about you, but I deal with a lot of genius types and they tend to run the gamut of anti-social, socially clueless, or condescendingly asshole-ish. He’s definitely one of my anchors here who’s helped inspire my confidence and make me feel like I am contributing as an integral part of the team.
He’s leaving.
I’m crushed. And panicking. I’m terrified by the thought of him no longer being here. Somewhere over the past few months without me even realizing it he became something of my anchor here. A steady rock solid source that I could rely on if I came up against something that I hadn’t encountered before. Which is a lot. This is actually not me second guessing my own wealth of knowledge. I changed engineering fields with this job so there’s a vast array of new information, skills, and techniques to take in. I’m learning, growing, and expanding my own abilities at an astounding rate, in large part because of the guidance I’ve received form this guy. He’s definitely my mentor here. He already said that any time I had questions I can call him or e-mail him and he will be happy to help out, but it’s not going to be nearly the same as being able to walk across the hall and sit down and figure things out in a hands on way.
My mind is reeling from the thought of not having his support.
And then I want to kick myself for letting myself rely on him or anyone else at all! Everybody leaves! But I never even saw this coming! Never suspected! Everything seemed so nice and stable and everything was working out so well! Out of nowhere. If I had just stayed more to myself I wouldn’t be so devastated at his departure. At least this doesn’t feel personal to me. I’m not internalizing it as my fault. Of course, it won’t actually happen for 3-4 months so I may just not be processing it fully yet.
In the mean time I’m spending as much time as I can just listening to him. The amount of knowledge he imparts in only 5 minutes of conversation is enormous and my brain feels like it’s ready to burst, but I have to soak it up to prepare myself as best as possible for when he actually goes. For my job and for myself. I’m hoping that the more I can learn and understand, the more confidence I will have so that I will reach a point where I do not feel the loss so deeply.
If I can push myself to learn more, be better, than I won’t need him. ß—- As I write this I’m looking at it and my schematherapy is smacking me in the forehead. See, I do learn.
::sigh:: I’m just so sad. And angry. And lost.
My mind just runs down these paths of destruction creating worst case scenerios where I get fired for not knowing everything that he knew. I feel like I should somehow already know the 20 years of experience he’s had dealing with this specific field and because I don’t I’m in danger. I know this is irrational, I was hired knowing that I’d never done quite this kind of thing before and that it would be a learning experience. The FEELING is still there. That I should know everything already. Where’s my matrix hook up? Jack me in. Upload. Bam. Done. I should know everything. Fuck.  

How do you prepare yourself for something you don’t even see coming? My crazy relationships I can at least mentally prepare for usually. Not this. This was so normal! If even the normal things can change and leave so suddenly, how can I have hope that anyone will ever remain solid and in place?  I know this is life, and things like this happen all the time, but it doesn’t make it any easier to process.

Lucid Analysis – Trials in Therapy

The Relationship Issue.
Right away Therapist said I looked centered and happy. She asked how things are with Tech Boy and all that. Good. Cute. We’re texting and talking all the time. I feel silly and cute (read: euphoric and high).  She asked me if I think this is on track to being a healthy relationship.
How would I know?
I’ve never had a healthy relationship. Surprise! Don’t look at me like that. That’s not saying they’ve all been bad, just not healthy. I dated a couple guys in college that were really great guys, but I felt no emotional attachment to them. For all intents and purposes the relationships were ‘normal’ but emotionally void b/c I was cut off from feeling (Boring-Ex can basically fall into this category as well except of course, that ended with me in the Psych ER). Unhealthy. My relationships with women were often more affectionately intense, but shorter lived as I would freak out at the speed of closeness. And then, there were the notable abusive messes that have hallmarked my existence. I fail at relationships. I think people are crazy for wanting to be involved with me. I actually TELL PEOPLE that I’m a terrible girlfriend and that they shouldn’t want to date me. I come with a disclaimer ß——– This is a common phrase.
Or like this morning when Tech Boy and I were going out to my project site he was like… “You carry my equipment, drive me around, you’re just a generally good person ::insert cute smile::” To which my immediate response was to laugh that off and say “Clearly, you don’t know me that well”. I’ve tailored responses like that to sound joking, even though I mean it whole heartedly.
Therapist doesn’t see a bad person in me. She sees someone that has had a lot of bad things happen to them, but that doesn’t mean I am bad. I still feel bad. I feel like I’m going to destroy everything I touch. Which is awful because I want to touch things. I want to be touched.
Not literally. Don’t get too dirty on me there. Ok, maybe a little bit literal. Ok, a lot.
I mean I want to be with someone in a meaningful way. Therapist asked if I felt Tech Boy was someone that I felt I could share with? I want to be the kind of person that can be open and share myself with someone in a healthy way. But I have so much unhealthiness in my past. I told Therapist I’m not sure I can be open with Tech Boy (not just him, anyone). What right do I have to dump all that trauma on someone? How can I expect someone else to be ok with the things that have happened to me? That I’ve done to me? How can I expect someone to see all of this and not judge me and think I’m a terrible person? A damaged person?
I have to hide it all. It’s what I’ve always done. Eventually though, when people push to get closer and the walls begin to come down it all eventually comes out. Once my walls start to slip it’s hard for me to maintain that mask that I’ve kept in place for so long. It’s never quite the same.
The first thing people usually ask me is about my arms. For the first time I’m starting to dread this explanation. Therapist was like, well, maybe he won’t think they’re unusual. What? I don’t think she’s ever really taken a good look at my arms. I showed her and she had to admit it was pretty obvious. It’s not like Tech Boy hasn’t seen {some of} them. I don’t hide my scars, but it’s not the kind of thing people ask about in a professional setting so no one has ever brought it up. Then again, maybe I can assume that he’s noticed, and decided that it doesn’t matter, as he clearly has a thing for me.
Aside: When I say ‘clearly’, this didn’t stop me from freaking out about him not being able to see me last weekend because he broke his freaking ankle. I was actually paranoid that this was just an excuse to not see me at first. Yeah, I know. Don’t start.
Also, I don’t assume. And even if I did, I would ignore the assumption and think the worst anyways. I’m just going with it.
Coming back around to my point, I don’t need to unload all of my past at once. That should come slowly over time. I feel like I’m hiding who I am though and thereby not being honest. Bleh. I’ll figure it out.
So of course we ended up talking about Friend. I’m having a bizarre sort of mashup between Splitting and Abandonment here. I can’t let go of my friendship with Friend. I don’t want to. I can’t. I can’t even think about it. But he’s like a disembodied character to me. Every time I see him it’s like I’m seeing someone new that has all the characteristics of the last Friend I talked with. As soon as Tech Boy and I started getting close, my feelings snapped off for Friend (unless his wife is doing something to rub things in my face, then I just want nothing to do with them at all). I split from the love and hurt I felt to utterly neutral and not needing to be around him, or even talk to him anymore. I’m cancelling plans, changing dates, breaking my structures I built with him… in favor of something new. I still have a lot of anxiety about this, but it’s not for fear of his disapproval so much as for fear of breaking what’s familiar and fearing that I won’t be able to maintain that familiarity.
Therapist thinks I’ve done a remarkable job holding onto this friendship. What I went through with Friend and his wife was incredibly hurtful. She still thinks it was healing in many ways though. She asked me what kinds of things I want to remember from my relationship with Friend.
I couldn’t think of a single thing. I am completely blocked and dissociated from the feelings that I had. I only remember the bad, the hurt. I don’t even want to think about writing my letter to him. I don’t want to think about him like that. Split. I’m thinking about someone else now, I don’t want to think about what I felt before. What did I love about him? About us?
Homework: What positive things have I taken from my relationship with Friend?
She thinks this would be good for me to remember because I have such a hard time holding onto people. My lack of object permanency. I feel like I’m not a part of people’s lives if I am not in their immediate presence. If I can write down the things I valued about him, that I believe he valued about me, and relate that to how it is still displayed in our current friendship, maybe it will help me hold onto the idea of fluidity through time. It will also help me recognize the things that I want in a future relationship, that I should hold onto, and not allow myself to settle for things that don’t meet a healthier standard.
We’re really trying to work on forming new, healthy, relationships now. She’s very proud of me for taking all the safe risks I’ve been taking lately. She’s trying to caution me to think further into what it is that I want exactly, instead of just throwing myself into the moments.
Homework: What do I envision for a healthy relationship? (I remembered this week!)
I don’t even know. What do you think is part of a healthy relationship?

Running Late – Time for anxiety

Well, it’s Monday again. I am beyond frazzled this morning. Ever have one of those mornings when your alarm clock doesn’t go off and you wake up when you’re supposed to be walking out the door? Yep, that was my morning. Do you want to know what I hate more than a good many things in this world? Being late. I am never late. Not ever. “Late” for me, is arriving 15 minutes early. I’m compulsive when it comes to being on time.
I can tell I’ve made progress in my anxiety disorder though because I was not completely reduced to a panic attack. Usually if I even think there’s a possibility of being late my heart begins to race, my hands start to shake, my thoughts jump and race. The air feels like it’s constricting in my lungs and all the walls begin to feel like they’re pressing in, the ceiling a little too close. Nothing moves fast enough, everything is in my way, slowing me down. In the past I’d be losing my tempter, swearing up a storm, and trying to wipe the tears from my eyes as I applied my eyeliner. Can you say futile? Now at least, I can take a deep breath, and while I still have a few choice words for my unreliable alarm clock, I can get myself pulled together without dissolving into a puddle of tears and self-deprecation.
In part I think it helps that I have compulsive morning rituals. I do the same things, in the same order, every morning. I don’t have to think about what I need to do, it’s practically automatic. Get up, wash my face, brush my teeth, do my hair, do my make-up, get dressed, get my gym clothes, make my lunch, get out the door. Those are the things I must do, and I can do them without having to put any thought to it.
I managed to only be 15 minutes late, which coincidentally is the time it takes me to get ready in the morning. I missed the most important part of my morning ritual though and I still feel guilty for it. The first thing I do when I wake up is play with and brush my cat in the morning. He wakes up when I do, I can hear him purring when I skritch his ears real quick. When I pull myself out of bed and he goes to his spot, flops over and looks at me waiting for his brush, my heart breaks, and I’m overcome with guilt because this morning I just don’t have the time. I feel like such a bad person when I can’t give him the attention he needs. I’m sure people will think this is silly, but he’s my only family out here, the only one I know won’t leave me, and he deserves all the love I can give him.
Two hours later my heart is just now barely starting to slow down. Driving to work was frantically surreal. I’m out of sorts and still feel like I need to rush and push and get everything done as fast as humanly possible. It would almost be a wonderful efficiency motivator if I didn’t feel like my world was going to spin out control.
I really am much better than I used to be. Social situations barely produce panic for me if I think I’m going to be a few minutes late. My eyes rivet to the clock and I monitor every minute still, but now I know that the world will not end and my earth doesn’t quake with anxiety. Those official things though, getting to work, making appointments, being at meetings; these things I still need to be on time for. My anxiety spikes but I can control how it shows. In fact, I usually manage to stop it from showing at all except in an initial rush of sweeping in through the door. No tears, no swearing, even the dizzying anxiety is a little lessened enough to hide that it’s there at all.
Being late has always made me feel like I’m holding up other peoples lives, like I’m forcing them to stop what is important just for me. Guilt. I’ve interrupted their plans, slowed them down, delayed their needs, just because I couldn’t move a little faster. I’ll have let them down. It’s selfish to make people wait on me.
I’m sure this goes back to when I was little. My family was always late for gatherings. Have you ever tried to wrangle 3 young children, get them dressed and ready and out the door? I haven’t, but I’ve seen other people try, it takes forever. “We’re going to be late! Are you ready! Come on, we have to go! They’re waiting on us! We’ll leave without you. You should have done that sooner.” Ghosts of words I remember hearing so often they’re permanently imprinted on the inside of my mind.
It took a long time for me to get this under control. Day by day, allowing myself to close the gap between arriving early and simply on time. Miraculously, the world didn’t end! In fact, no one even noticed. Hah! It didn’t seem to be such a big deal to anyone else, and over time I’ve allowed myself to relax a little. It’s still sort of a big deal to me, it’s important to be punctual, but it’s not the end of the world if I’m not. Yay progress.

Bordering on Fear… of Success

A few days ago I talked about  Sabotage. I found an interesting article that touches on potential subconscious reasoning behind the fear of success and it immediately struck me as relevant to Borderline Personality Disorder and my experiences with it. I’ll talk about the relevant parts. You can find the full article here.
Fear of Success
The excitement of success can feel close to anxiety for some.
As a psychologist specializing in trauma and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) I’ve had firsthand experience coaching clients whose past experience feeds their current fear of success. For them, the excitement of success feels uncomfortably close to the feeling of arousal they experienced when subjected to a traumatic event or multiple events. (This feeling of arousal can be linked to sexuality, in certain cases where trauma has been experienced in that realm, but that is not always the case.) People who have experienced trauma may associate the excitement of success with the same physiological reactions as trauma. They avoid subjecting themselves to excitement-inducing circumstances, which causes them to be almost phobic about success.
There is another layer to the fear of success. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as “getting one’s hopes up” – which threatens to lead to disappointment. And many of us-especially if we’ve been subject to verbal abuse-have been told we were losers our whole lives, in one way or another. We have internalized that feedback and feel that we don’t deserve success. Even those of us who were not abused or otherwise traumatized often associate success with uncomfortable things such as competition and its evil twin, envy.
In order to have a healthy relationship with success (and it’s flip side, failure, or disappointment), the first step is to learn to differentiate between feelings of excitement and a “trauma reaction.”

“I was looking up how the body responds to fear, and it said that when we sense fear the brain transmits signals and our nervous system kicks, in causing our breathing to quicken, our heart race to increase… we become sweaty, and we run on instinct. When we get excited or enthusiastic, doesn’t our nervous system work the same way?”


{Yes}, the physical reactions to stress and to excitement are very similar. So, when we experience a traumatic event—such as a car accident or a school bullying incident—our body associates the fear we experience with the same physiological feelings we get while excited. Once we have been through enough trauma, we start to avoid those types of situations that trigger memories of fear. For this reason, trauma victims can tend to avoid excitement, and that can lead them to avoid success.
I work with trauma victims to get past their fears and associations and help them embrace and follow the path to success and healthy recovery.
I have a very mixed experience with success. By all outward appearances I appear to have a very ‘successful’ life. I’m independent, well educated, employed in at a renowned laboratory, financially stable… and yet, none of these things feel like a success to me. They seem flat. Like I had a goal, I worked towards the goal, I completed the goal, but I have no excitement, no pride, not satisfaction from my accomplishments. I always find a way to temper my expectations of the outcome so that I never get my hopes up.
Or when I’ve finally come so close to a big goal that will earn me more respect and recognition I pull back.
I will work full throttle until the 10th hour and at the very end slam on my own brakes so that I complete what I need to complete but fall short of something as exceptional as I know I could produce. I self-limit and I don’t really understand why. I am so used to disappointment, being disappointed, that I don’t want to get my hopes up for one more thing only to be disillusioned yet again. If it’s a hope that I’ve had in myself and do not reach: Forbid! That will just point to one more reason I’m not good enough, a failure. If I put everything I have into something and it’s not good enough, than it means I’m not good enough. But if I hold something back, it doesn’t mean I’m not good enough because I haven’t put all of myself into it. There’s a reserve in the back of my mind that can say, well if I just did this other thing it would have been exceptional, and since it’s all hypothetical there’s no fear of failure had I put all my energy into it. Sounds ass backwards to me, but it’s true enough.
The Author even provides an exercise to begin overcoming this fear of failure:
  1. Recall an event where you were successful or excited when you were younger, and notice what you are feeling and sensing in your memory. Stay with the sensation of for 5 minutes. 
  2. Recall an event where you were successful and excited recently in your life, and notice what you are feeling and sensing. Stay with this sensation of for 5 minutes.
  3. Now tap into the sensation of a memory of an overwhelming situation. I suggest not to start with a truly traumatic event, at least not without a therapist’s support. Start with something only moderately disturbing to you. 
  4. Now, go back to visualizing your success story. Do you notice a difference?
I’m going to do this for the very first random things that pop in my head:
1.      My first thought was of complete work while I was in the 4th grade, showing my teacher work that I was proud of because it was extra work and I thought I did a good job. Excitement and anxiety. Anxiety is inextricably bound to this set of  memories. That the next one won’t be good enough. I must have done half a dozen extra things that weren’t asked of me. Each time I completed something I was happy with what I did and showed the teacher. Finally the teacher said she would no longer reward me with a sticker for this work. I didn’t know I would be rewarded when I began this work. I didn’t care about these small rewards. I was proud of my work and wanted to share with someone that I looked up to. I wanted the approval of someone I admired for doing a job that actually was above and beyond what I needed to be doing, but I didn’t want a physical reward. Just acknowledgement. She seemed annoyed so maybe I wasn’t doing such a good job. I stopped showing her more work.
Staying with this memory for 5 minutes is very uncomfortable. It’s such a little thing but I recall the hurt and disappointment that I felt, like I’d been abandoned by the approval I sought.
2.      Two instances:
– I just had a huge design review for a ‘part’ I created. There is some additional testing I need to run in order to verify more ‘worst case scenarios’ that were mentioned, but in general, my design is a complete success and will go into production within the next 6 months. I felt nothing. No anxiety, no pride, no fear, no excitement. Blank. Not only could I not get my hopes up, I completely detached from the experience. Even afterwards when it was clear that the work I’ve been pouring into the project over the last few months has been a success.
– Painting: This I actually have a small spark of pride about. I smile. I am content in my new found hobby despite the fact that I am a novice at this art. I have no expectations of mastery but I look at the work that I’ve done and I like what I see. I am calm and content when I’m painting. Focused. I’m happy in the recollection of this and look forward to the times I will be able to sit down with my brushes again. It’s not an overwhelming feeling. Not a huge welling of pride, but there is definitely satisfaction in this. This is the kind of feeling that I think should be associated with success.  
3.      A few months after I moved to NY I finally made a couple new girlfriends. I told Evil-Ex that I would be out late. We hung out at one of their houses, drinking, dancing, just having a good time. He texted me around 10p asking when I’d be home. I told him I was drinking and couldn’t go home for a while, why? He was very evasive. Panic began to set it. Anxiety began to suffuse through my entire body as my mind ran in directions that could explain why he wouldn’t answer my question. None of them good. I tried to sober up but I couldn’t force this process in order to drive home. I ended up falling asleep on the couch. I woke up at 6a to go home in a panic. As it turned out he had invited a girl over ‘for us’ because ‘he thought I’d be home’.  Just when I thought I had made a very positive, healthy step in establishing some independence and newer healthy relationships, it turns out that there were very negative repercussions.
4. Of course I feel the difference. I can also sense parallels in my anxiety to my 4th grade experience.   Doing something because I enjoyed doing it, only to have it turn out to cause me painful feelings. Painting is utterly separate in feeling. Curiously, when I’m painting it is something that is dependent only on me. There are no other people in this activity or feeling of success. It’s an experience I relish solely as something I do for myself. The others are dependent on other people. Coincidence? Doubtful. I think I have become so accustomed to disappointment that my feelings dissociate completely which is why I feel no anxiety or anticipation in preparation or in conclusion of the major review I had that was by all standards, a success.
The problem is, some anxiety is good. It’s what drives you and pushes you to try harder. I have a lot of anxiety, but it’s out of proportion or directed at the wrong things. I am absolutely confident in my abilities, until I’m not. I know I can accomplish everything I set out to, until I convince myself otherwise. This is a fear of failure. This is not acceptable.

Borderline Panic

Panic attack. attack. attack. No clue why.

Can’t breathe. Haven’t had one of these in a long time. Why, now? I don’t know. I don’t know.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Where the hell’s my towel? 

Attempt to channel my panic attack into something non destructive:

I’m feeling better now. I think my artistic therapy is helping. I freaked out hard, then sat down and started to paint. As soon as I started painting I began to calm down. Miracle of miracles.

Security Blanket

Next up on my look into some more Associated Features of Borderline Personality Disorder:  
(C) Individuals with BPD may feel more secure with transitional objects than in interpersonal relationships:
Ex.  a pet or inanimate possession
I love my cat. He loves me. My cat is the only man that will never leave me. I honestly believe this.
First off, I am not a cat person. I grew up with giant dog breeds. It wasn’t until I rescued my cat while at University that my appreciation began to change. That said, if you come between me and my cat, say a bad word against my cat, attempt to harm my cat, I will come after you and at the very least give you a verbal lashing enough to flay your spirits.
It sounds a little obsessive. Maybe it is. I found him just before I began grad school. I rescued him from boys with a golf club, this starving skin and bones stray. For 3 days he didn’t leave my lap, no matter how hungry he was, he wouldn’t eat unless I was next to him. He’s been with me through grad school, through graduation, moving upstate, out of state, all over NY, through boring relationships and bad… he’s just about the only constant I’ve ever had in my life. And he loves me. Is my attachment to my cat unhealthy? No, I really don’t think it is. It’s not like I’ve given up my life in order to cater to my cat. He’s a cat. He’s pretty self-sufficient in that puppy-like way where he greets me at the door when I come home and sleeps at the foot of my bed. Not even kidding.

He’s a comfortable, familiar, stable presence.

People let you down. People leave. He hasn’t. He doesn’t. He won’t. He depends on me and in a way, I depend on him.

That’s really the heart of it I think. It’s the idea of a security blanket. Mine just happens to be a cat.
A comfort object, transitional object, or security blanket is an item used to provide psychological comfort, especially in unusual or unique situations. This is common with children. However for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, quite often there is a deep seeded abandonment issue rooting back to that crucial period of time when these transitional objects were so necessary. Where a more neuro-typical person eventually develops beyond the need for such stabilizing objects, the person with BPD has not.
Here’s a psychological approach explaining WHY comfort objects are useful.
When the young child begins to separate the ‘me’ from the ‘not-me’ and evolves from complete dependence to a stage of relative independence, it uses transitional objects. 
An infant sees himself and the mother as a whole. In this phase the mother ‘brings the world’ to the infant without delay which gives him a ‘moment of illusion’, a belief that his own wish creates the object of his desire which brings with it a sense of satisfaction. Winnicott calls this subjective omnipotence. Alongside the subjective omnipotence of a child lies an objective reality, which constitutes the child’s awareness of separateness between himself and desired objects. While the subjective omnipotence experience is one in which the child feels that his desires create satisfaction, the objective reality experience is one in which the child independently seeks out objects of desire.
Later on the child comes to realize that the mother is separate from him through which it appears that the child has lost something. The child realizes that he is dependent on others and thus he loses the idea that he is independent, a realization which creates a difficult period and brings frustration and anxiety with it. In the end it is impossible that the mother is always there to ‘bring the world’ to the baby, a realization which has a powerful, somewhat painful, but constructive impact on the child. Through fantasizing about the object of his wishes the child will find comfort. A transitional object can be used in this process.
            (- Or what should be a constructive impact on the child. I suspect for those with BPD this was an experience more traumatic than is typical and from here defense mechanisms begin to form.)
The transitional object is often the first ‘not me’ possession that really belongs to the child. These could be real objects like a blanket or a teddy bear, but other ‘objects’, such as a melody or a word, can fulfill this role as well. This object represents all components of ‘mothering’, and it means that the child himself is able to create what he needs as well. It enables the child to have a fantasized bond with the mother when she gradually separates for increasingly longer periods of time. The transitional object is important at the time of going to sleep and as a defense against anxiety.
In a later stage of the development the child no longer needs the transitional object. He is able to make a distinction between ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, and keeping inside and outside apart and yet interrelated. This development leads to the use of illusion, symbols and objects later on in life.
Now the problem is. Someone with BPD may not have been able to make that full transition to the later stage of development when the transitional object is no longer necessary. I would hypothesize that this is at the core of most abandonment issue explanations.
My security blanket growing up was an actual blanket. A yellow blanket. I loved this thing to death until I think my parents threw it out without telling me.  My mother also, was not around much when I was growing up. My parents believed that one of them should always be home for us at all times so that we wouldn’t be left alone. Sounds perfect right? Maybe. Maybe not. My dad worked days. My mom worked nights. Which meant she was sleeping during the day and awake when we were asleep in order to provide for us.I only ever saw her for an hour or two at dinner. She would have loved to have spent more time with us. THAT I know, but the way my parents decided to do things this was just the nature of our reality. My dad was always the one to get us ready for school and home when we got back. I’m much more connected to my father. Are there psychological implications to this? Probably, but I’m sort of just figuring this out as I type so it’ll be something to bring up in therapy tonight.

Growing up everything I had, was shared. My room, my toys… later my siblings were a constant study in lack of privacy, stealing clothes & my stuff (typical younger sibling antics), and having my journals and diaries violated by my mother. Even my thoughts weren’t my own. I have NEVER recovered trust towards her for this. What this means to me, is that nothing has ever been just mine. I hold to some things very hard because I feel a definite lack of having anything that belongs to me. Or that I belong to. Everything is separate while I have an intense need for something to be connected with.
I buy a lot of things. I spend a lot of money. I, have a lot of things. Now. I wonder if this has anything to do with the psychological reasons behind impulsive spending as well. Surrounding yourself with possessions as a means to create a protective den of stuff that is yours and will not leave. Hm.
Having these objects or pets… they don’t let you down the way that normal relationships always do. They’re comfortable and stable. Something easy to hold on to because they’re not going to suddenly change or decide they want to be different. They provide a reassurance that we need and don’t otherwise feel we have (usually). At least, that’s what I think.
*My thoughts are a little disjointed today. I just had a major design review and presentation at work.

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