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….

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.

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.
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.

Other-directed Empathy

Other-directedness is what empathy is all about. That’s the ability to feel for another person without any selfish or self-centered motivation, without any motivation of personal distress. This is where the subject of empathy and Borderline Personality Disorder gets a little cloudy I think. Often for those of us that are BPD there’s a constant feeling of personal distress. When we’re emotionally turbulent our ability to feel for another person 100% without some influence of our own situation is likely compromised. This is probably why our efforts to provide comfort when we do recognize someone else needs an emotional shoulder to lean on may come across as slightly off, a little less than fully genuine, or even a little hollow. Often we are so wrapped up in the turmoil that is our emotional instability that we can’t see anyone else’s trouble at all. However, if we can see past our own pain and enough to recognize that you need our support, I do think that counts for something. Maybe not the absolute ideal that you hope for, but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t care on some level. And that level is going to be pretty significant most of the time.

Now, contrary to the Borderline hype, we are not ALWAYS in an emotionally traumatic or unstable place. These times of emotional lucidity are the times when I do believe it is possible for someone with BPD to display true empathy for another person. I saw this video the other day. I don’t know how up on current events many of you are but I saw this video of the protests in Egypt. 
The story of The Girl in The Blue Bra is incredibly important for women’s rights all over the world, but especially in Egypt, the Middle Eastern countries, etc. where women have so few rights, if any.

When I saw this, I was beginning to write up this blog series on empathy, and as is usual, looking inward trying to assess my own empathic abilities. As soon as I saw this though, I knew, that absolutely it is possible for us to have spontaneous empathic responses. Sometimes I do forget. I can go very numb and feel quite hollow and it’s difficult for me to remember all the times how I’ve felt for other people. Especially since I have a lack of object constancy which makes all events in the past feel like they’ve happened to someone else. Cognitively I know this is not a foreign experience. It’s one I’ve had many, many times. But as this was so visceral I thought I’d use it as one small example of a personal proof.

When I saw this video I was absolutely outraged. My stomach clenched and I was brought nearly to tears of sadness and fury for this woman that I’ve never met, for this woman that I do not share the same problems. Her experience is a violation of basic human rights. No woman, no person, should ever have to experience this. I wanted to jump through my monitor and defend her with my own hands, even though I have no idea who she is. And I would have too. If I saw this on the streets in front of me, nothing would stop me from throwing caution for my own personal preservation to the wind, and not let her fall alone.

I don’t know, maybe it’s silly to use this as ‘evidence’, but when I saw it I know how I felt, and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. It was all about her. 

How the Brain Sees Empathy in Borderline Personality Disorder – Part 2

So what does this mean?
The cognitive empathic results (discussed yesterday in Part 1) actually seem to be at odds with previous research done on emotion recognition abilities in those with BPD. In other tests it’s been shown that emotional recognition is not impaired and often heightened in individuals with BPD.  However in this study it seems that the combination of integrated facial stimuli with intonation (sound/voice) stimuli resulted in emotion recognition deficits in BPD. It was also suggested that individuals with BPD tend to misread others’ minds when in intense interpersonal encounters, often when emotionally aroused.
This doesn’t surprise me. When I’m in an emotionally neutral state it’s pretty easy to gauge how other people feel. But when I’m emotionally turbulent it’s often difficult for me to accurately gauge how someone else is feelings for a variety of reasons.
The study hypothesizes that this may provide evidence for both (a) the suggestion that the misinterpretation of the mental states of others leads to extreme and dysfunctional emotional responses in social interactions, and (b) that emotional arousal causes impairments in interpreting others’ mental states.
Here’s where I think it gets even more interesting. The STS part of the brain is known for its role in social cognition and is an important part of the brain network that mediates thinking about others. During cognitive empathy there’s a cluster in the STS/STG region the is more activated in the healthy control group than in the BPD group. This article actually provides hypothesis as to why though. BPD research of attachments suggests that maltreatment in childhood leads to the inhibiton of mentalizing abilities in affected individuals., which might reflect this decrease in activity in the STS. Childhood maltreatment by a caregiver such as emotional neglect or sexual abuse is in fact on the most important psychosocial risk and prognostic factors for BPD symptoms.  This could also account for the high comorbid rate of PTSD with BPD.  Childhood maltreatment likely has effects on the developing brain. Interestingly, the STS region matures late in development, which means it is particularly vulnerable to ongoing early psychosocial stressors. That difficulty inferring the mental states of others may be the behavior consequences of those changes in the brain. Recent findings that show impaired emotional recognition in people with BPD and comorbid PTSD further indicate how relevant intrusive memories are for empathic functions.
Lets talk more about the brain. Brain activiation during emotional empathy did not differe in the anterior insula for either group. However there was a cluster in the right mid-insula that was more activated in those with BPD.  The mid-insula has been shown to react streongly to bodily states of arousal. This study those that there are associations between activation of the right mid-insula and skin conductance responses in those with BPD which supports the idea that there is increased arousal during emotional empathy. However, you’ll remember that increased arousal in those with BPD often interferes with the ability to accurately judge another’s emotional response. Emotional empathy requires an other-oriented appropriate emotional response. This can be interpreted as the ability to regular emotions in interpersonal situations. However those with BPD have an inability to regulate their emotions which could be a direct effect of the increased arousal and personal distress function.  Even in healthy subjects the tendency to experience personal distress in response to the suffering of others has been associated with the mid-insular activation. This is important to note because it means this is a consistent measurement across both BPD and healthy individuals. It just seems that in those with BPD this region of the brain is more easily activated, more often. Since personal distress is reported with higher frequency in those with BPD and was also found in the currenty study it could indicate that the results represent the reason for reduced behavioral empathic concern in BPD.  There seems to be a direct relationship between personal distress and empathy.  Low levels of arousal and personal distress  are considered to be important for more mature empathic concern, however they seem to be detrimental  and indicative of reduced emotion regulation when they are at very high levels, like those displayed in people with BPD.
It was also found that  the right anterior STS/STG region was more activated in the BPD group when engaging emotional empathy.  The posterior of the STS is a prime area for mentalizing, and the right STS has been shown to be sensitive to perceived congruency (truth) between a person’s actions and their emotional expression. In those with BPD there is increased activation in the right STS/STG during emotional empathy which could indicate that patients with BPD mistrust the truthfulness of other’s emotional reactions. This is supported by separate research that indicates reduced trust in those affected with BPD and further supports the idea that those with BPD have problems interpreting others’ emotions when emotionally aroused.
This study concludes that deficits in cognitive and emotional empathy are central to BPD. It also indicates that the misinterpretation of the mental states of other people might provide an explanation for dysfunctional emotional responses in interpersonal situations for someone with BPD. BPC can be conceptualized as involving deficits in both inferring mental states and being emotionally attuned to another person.
So there you have it. One highly scientific hypothesis on the effects of brain function in regards to empathy and BPD. Something that I think is important to note: the entire study indicates an impaired function of empathy, not a lack of empathy. People with Borderline Personality Disorder do have and experience empathy. It determined that some empathic responses comes from a different motivational perspective than normally functioning individuals though. This is especially true if the person with BPD is experiencing a heightened emotional reaction already.
Ok. So what does that mean? We do have empathy, but in some regards it is different. I know many, many people with BPD that will disagree with these results. I do agree with what they are presenting. However, I don’t think that it means the empathic response those with BPD do have is any less valuable than those with a more nuerotypical brain. I understand the idea that our empathic responses are often self-directed as opposed to other-directed. I don’t believe this is always true. I’m sure of it in fact. Though, I know when I am very emotionally turbulent, it is definitely harder for me to relate and to care about what others are going through. It’s more difficult for me to recognize that others are going through something at all. And when I do recognize it, the feeling I have is influenced by any threat I perceive to myself, how the situation will affect me. It actually took me a very long time to realize I did this. I don’t consciously think about that reaction. It’s just a feeling of doom and anxiety that threatens my stability depending on the situation and I react based on that feeling. That’s me though. Not necessarily everyone.
What do you think?
Like I said, I’m also positive that our empathic response is not always self-directed. Tomorrow I’ll post a video that I watched recently that absolutely infuriated me.  The situation has no bearing on me or my life, but well, you’ll just have to wait and see! Stay tuned.

How the Brain Sees Empathy in Borderline Personality Disorder – Part 1

This is your brain on empathy. In this scientific journal researchers utilized fMRI technology to map and monitor empathic responses in the brain of those with Borderline Personality Disorder.  The conclusions are illuminating. I’ll attempt to relay the information in a more reader friendly way for you, but the original article can be found by clicking on the article title below. I’m breaking this into two parts.
By: Isabel Dziobek, Sandra PriBler, Zarko Crozdanovic, Isabella Heuser, Hauke R. Heekeren, and Stefan Roepke.
The article begins with a brief but legitimate description of Borderline Personality Disorder. It is a severe psychiatric condition involving profound emotion regulation deficits and interpersonal impairment. People with BPD often have other comorbid psychiatric disorders, such as PTSD. This is often associated with childhood traumatic experiences involving neglect and sexual abuse. BPD is generally regarded as a disorder of emotion regulation, though emotional regulation impairments are found in a variety of other disorders as well, such as anxiety, PTSD, depression or bipolar disorders. In diagnosing BPD, it’s been argued that the unstable relationship style would be one of the best indicators. But what causes this instability?
This article argues that impaired empathy may be the cause for dysfunctional interpersonal style in BPD.
Again, we have a two part definition of empathy. First is the cognitive component, which allows a person to infer the mental states of others. It’s also known as mentalizing, Theory of Mind or social cognition. The second aspect of empathy is the affective component which inspires an appropriate emotional reaction to another person.
Something that needs to be distinguished is that the appropriate response of emotional empathy is different from emotional contagion or personal distress.  Emotional contagion and personal distress are self-oriented responses as opposed to other-oriented responses and are seen as less mature emotional reactions. What this means is that when someone with BPD sees a scenario their response is personal and often influenced by a perceived threat to themselves as well as the others involved creating a reaction based on their own personal distress, as opposed to having an emotional response based solely on relating to the distress of how the Other person is  experiencing the situation. That’s the theory anyways.
This study attempts to quantify cognitive and emotional empathy in BPD patients with a healthy control group of individuals. This is achieved by utilizing the Multifaceted Empathy Test (MET – which I couldn’t find on-line), and a study of brain functioning through the use of brain scans taken by an fMRI machine.  
The MET consists of photographs showing people in emotionally charged situations and is intended to produce strong emotional reactions.  Cognitive empathy is assess when subjects infer the mental states of the individuals show in the pictures. To rate emotional empathy, subjects rate their level of empathic concern for the individuals portrayed. This test was performed on its own, and then again in conjunction with the fMRI machine to get an accurate interpretation of how the brain actually responds to stimuli. Questions like “What is the person feeling” (cognitive empathy; “How much are you feeling for the person?” (emotional empathy); and “How old is the person/Is this person female or male?” (higher-level baseline conditions), were asked.
In the behavioral study patients with BPD showed trends toward lower scores than controls on the emotional scales. On the more objective MET patients with BPD showed significant impairments in both facets of empathy compared to healthy controls. 
fMRI main effects
Cognitive Empathy: Contrasting cognitive empathy with a higher-level baseline, revealed activations in areas that typically respond to social cognition for both groups. (Brain areas such as the superior temporal sulcus and gyrus (STS/STG) extending into the temporal parietal junction bilaterally, the orbito-frontal cortex, temporal pole, and paracinulate gyrus).
Emotional Empathy: The comparison of emotional empathy and higher-level baseline revealed similar activations for the BPD and control groups.
Group Differences
Cognitive empathy: Contrasting brain activity in cognitive empathy between patients with BPD and the healthy control group found greater changes in the left STS/STG from the control group.
Associations with level of intrustions: Correlation analysis revealed contrasting activity between the BPD and the control group during cognitive empathy. Levels of intrusions were measure din the BPD group.
Emotional empathy: There was a greater increase in the BOLD signal in the right insular cortex and the right STS in the patient group. This seems to be specific to emotional empathy. Emotional empathy responses in the right insular cortex were negatively correlated with mean arousal measured by duration of skin conductance reaction during emotional empathy in the BPD group.
Associations with skin conductance response. Changes in the BOLD signal were found in the right insular cortex ROI of contrasting activity between the BPD and control groups during emotional empathy which correlated to levels of arousal.
This is the first study reporting cognitive and emotional empathy functions and their neuronal correlates in individuals with BPD. In both cognitive and emotional empathy patients with BPD were found to have impairments. Individuals with BPD seem to have less activation than controls in the STS/STG region during cognitive empathy. Greater changes in the BOLD signal in the middle unsula region in the patients during emotional empathy were found, where this activation reflected levels of arousal.
So what does this mean? 
(I’ll have the conluding results for you tomorrow in Part 2)

Zero Degrees of Empathy in Borderline Personality Disorder

An argument against empathy in Borderline Personality Disorder.
Author Simon Baron-Cohen in his latest work, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty, he takes a look at empathy and what a deficit of empathy can lead a person to do in terms of evil and cruelty. His work isn’t actually about traditional ideas of “evil”. It’s about redefining what we perceive as evil. He thinks his new idea of evil is explained by an absence of empathy. Empathy itself gets a new definition.  Personally, I think concepts of “good” and “evil” give a very biased and judgmental opinion which automatically creates a negative stigma without providing room for deeper explanation or hope for growth. On the other hand, I do like his definition of empathy.
Most people think of empathy as being able to understand another person’s emotional state. That’s it. Baron-Cohen has a multi-part definition of empathy: Cognitive (“Recognition”), Emotional, and Action (“Response”).
Cognitive: The drive to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings. The cognitive ability to recognize another’s emotions.
Affective: The drive to respond appropriately to another person’s thoughts and feelings. You must care.
Response: There must be an overt reaction to the cognitive and emotional recognition of emotion in another person.
It’s not enough to just see what another person is feeling. You must also feel it, and feel the need to respond to it appropriately. He believes that people with narcissistic, borderline, or psychopathic personalities are lacking in the “affective empathy” area; the ability to feel other’s feelings. They can often cognitively recognize emotions in another person, but the affective drive and emotional response are what is lacking.
Baron-Cohen believes concepts like “evil” are not necessarily accurate and should be replaced with the concept of “empathy erosion”. Disorders that involve zero-empathy, or empathy erosion, include psychopathy, narcissism, borderline personality disorder, and autism/Asperger’s spectrum disorders.
So what is empathy erosion? First, it is necessary to understand that the functioning of the empathy circuit in the brain determines how much empathy a person has. Throughout the population empathy is “normally distributed” from zero degrees at the extreme low end, to six degrees at the extreme high end. Most people are somewhere in the middle. However, for some people the specific circuit in the brain (“the empathy circuit”) can shut down. This can be temporary (like when we are stressed) or more enduring. In some people this circuit never had a chance to develop in the first place, either due to environmental  neglect and abuse and/or for genetic reasons. Attachment is key in the formation of empathy. So those that were raised in an environment that lacked a healthy attachment bond are predisposed to having impaired empathy. But that’s not the whole story. There’s also a series of genes related to empathy: MAO-A gene. There are actually multiple versions of this gene. Baron-Cohen did a study on those who presented a particular version of the gene and determined that those with the eroded gene AND those that had an unhealthy environment were most likely to have the least empathy. The key is that environment is important, because while you can be born with the eroded gene, the presentation of low empathy is supplemented by how healthy or unhealthy the environment was growing up. Whatever the reason, this circuit didn’t develop the way it would in a normal person’s brain.
There are also two kinds of empathy erosion. Zero-Negative and Zero-Positive.
A designation of “zero-negative” is correlated to a lack of affective empathy: like what Baron-Cohen considers narcissists, borderlines, and psychopaths to have. A zero amount of affective empathy being a negative condition, because the ability to self-regulate the way they treat others is significantly compromised. In short, it’s not good for the person or the people around them.
In an interview he says: I simply bring out into the open the implication that stems from the notion that, if someone who is Zero Negative is violent or abusive because of how the empathy circuit in their brain currently functions, or because of the empathy circuit in their brain did not develop in the usual way, then perhaps we should see such behavior not as a product of individual choice or responsibility, but as a product of the person’s neurology.
This is a decently objective look at his assessment. I don’t think it’s an excuse and it’s doesn’t ‘let someone off the hook’ for their behavior, but it at least attempts to understand that someone with zero-negative empathy is hard wired to think different and approaches the world in a fundamentally different way than most would think to consider.
“Zero-positive” , like zero-negatives, lack affective empathy, but in addition they score zero on “cognitive empathy” – so that they also can’t recognize another’s emotions; people with autism or Asperger’s. Baron-Cohen argues that because they also have the ability to systemize since their brain functions in a unique way, they can push human culture forward with their discoveries. In short, it may not be good for the person, but it is good for the people around them.
Frankly I think he has his own bias and is trying to avoid some very negative reactions from the general population by exalting autism spectrum disorders. They can’t feel empathy, but because they have a particular niche they are useful and therefore not negative. Ok, I don’t disagree. However, to say that it doesn’t apply to anyone else with a so called ‘zero-empathy’ is a pretty bold statement. One that does not hold any general truth. I’m not saying that specific people can’t be a pure detriment to themselves and those around them, but I know plenty of people, myself included, that systemize, and are very productive to society in a positive way.  
In an interview with Baron-Cohen one point he makes what I find as a rather astute statement: it is in the nature of empathy that people who are low in empathy are often the last people to be aware of it. This is because empathy goes hand-in-hand with self-awareness, or imagining how others see you, and it is in this very area that people with low autism struggle.
He also states: In my experience whilst even adults with Asperger Syndrome may have difficulties figuring out why someone else’s remark was considered funny, or why their own remark was considered rude, or may judge others as liars when they simply are inconsistent in not doing what they said they would do, they may nevertheless have a highly developed emotional empathy, caring about how someone feels and not wanting to hurt them. If they do hurt them it is often unintentional and they feel mortified when it is pointed out, and want to rectify this. In this respect, they do have some of the components of empathy.
My question is: Why does he not apply this to those of us that process emotions more fully? As I was reading this, I felt this was very much in line with my own experience with Borderline.
If a comment comes to mind when I’m speaking to a friend or someone I care about, something of a personal (nonpolitical) matter, and I know that it will hurt their feelings, I make a conscious effort not to say what has come into my mind. I don’t want to hurt them, I don’t want to drive them away. Sometimes that recognition doesn’t happen fast enough though and I feel bad when I’ve said something that didn’t register as being hurtful quick enough. Of course, I want to make up for it.
Personally, I can usually judge when a comment I have made, or plan to make, will be seen as rude. I know when it’s something people will take offense to. And in some instances it won’t stop me from saying it. I grew up in a very opinionated household and I hold wacky notions of absolute equality in civil rights, pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, feminist ideology, pro-science and technology, that religion has no place in government or education… these are things that I feel quite strongly about, am quite vocal about, that many people take offense to, but that have nothing to do with my physical brain chemistry. Where is the line drawn? In fact, most people would find it difficult to believe that I feel strongly about these issues, especially civil rights issues, if I didn’t have empathy. Why would I bother caring at all if I didn’t feel for the cause?
Maybe this is the problem. I have the cognitive aspect of awareness that they talk about so if I say something hurtful, then it was a choice. Someone on the autism spectrum who does not have the cognitive recognition of another’s emotional state will not even recognize the implications of their words. Someone with autism/Asperger’s may say hurtful things but they don’t know better. I think this is debatable as to whether it makes it ok, since it’s still hurtful, but I understand where he’s coming from. Whereas someone that is Borderline may say something while understanding the hurtful nature of the sentiment. This displays a lack of empathy.
However, I’ve also had plenty of scenarios where I’ve been aware that something I intended to say was hurtful, said it anyways, and still felt bad about it. How does Baron-Cohen rationalize this? As Borderline I can be very reactive, however, I’ve also been in very abusive situations where my words are not only true, but justified, while still being hurtful. I’ve been in love with my abusers before. I’ve said some cruel things when I’ve been hurt by them, in reaction to the things they’ve done. At the same time, I still loved them, still cared for them, did not want them to hurt, but was so overwhelmed by my own pain that I wasn’t going to let them step on me and treat me like a punching bag. Is this a lack of empathy or defending myself?  
I do know plenty of Borderlines that are less self-aware than I am. That blurt out hurtful statements without realizing that what they’ve said is offensive. At least not until it becomes apparent through the actions or expressions of the person that was offended. However, you will often see an immediate response from the Borderline. Borderlines, whether we admit it or not, need to be accepted, need to be loved, need to not be abandoned. We do not intentionally go out of our way to hurt those we care about or drive them away (this often happens, but the reasons are often a reaction to painfully complicated and conflicting emotions, not an intentional desire to be cruel). The thought is often paralyzing and distressing. However, because we can feel SO MUCH sometimes, because our own emotions are so overwhelming, we often cannot put the feelings of others before our own. It’s like seeing a puddle on the other side of an emotional ocean. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. It doesn’t mean we don’t empathize. It just means we have more to overcome in order to recognize what you’re going through.
Point: Emotions are complicated. Empathy is complicated. And situational. Even Baron-Cohen points out that empathy fluxuates in everyone, from situation to situation, due to our emotional states, or the groups we are currently associating with. This is particularly important to remember in regards to Borderline Personality Disorder. The emotional states of someone with BPD are often in flux, our stress responses are often compromised, and therefore our empathy responses will often fluxuate.   
I listened to a video lecture/interview he gave on Youtube. I was floored and a little angry by the stunningly abbreviated and biased summary he gave explaining Borderline Personality Disorder. I think what made me most angry was that nothing he said was untrue, but it only highlighted the most reactive and destructive aspects of the disorder while completely neglecting the complexity and normal functioning aspects. The picture he painted was one that continues to perpetuate the negative stigma and stereotype of BPD without providing any, empathy or understanding, for what the disorder actually is. If he actually believes what he is portraying then I don’t believe he has a very clear understanding of what he is trying to generalize in terms of Borderline Personality Disorder.
I think compassion for borderlines, sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists is going to be a hard case to sell. The havoc they wreak is so great that, as you say, there’s nothing positive to be said for them (the conditions)*. And I suspect few other than potentially the borderlines in rare moments of clarity, would choose to be other than they are.  While I can almost make the reach that borderlines have a disability, I find it very hard to go that far for sociopaths and psychopaths. I confess I may be suffering from empathy erosion when it comes to feeling compassion for these individuals who create such damage to others.”
Statements like this make me wonder if he’s ever even met someone with BPD. I don’t know almost anyone with BPD that is happy about it. Even the most low functioning of us recognize that it’s painful and we’d do just about anything to stop that pain and heal. All. Of. The. Time. Not just some rare moment of clarity. Unfortunately it’s often difficult or impossible to get the treatment we need due to financial restrictions or lack of resources. It’s not that we don’t want to change, or for things to get better, but we don’t know how to go about doing it.
However the interview concludes with….
Baron-Cohen’s work is ultimately an optimistic work: the idea that empathy erosions and deficits can be turned around, that people can be taught to be empathic. He points out the need to seek treatments that will teach empathy to those who lack it, which he believes should reduce cruel behavior in the world. Baron-Cohen’s overarching topic is a serious one: why people are cruel to others, but his ultimate perspective is a hopeful one: that empathy can be learned, that the empathy muscle, so to speak, can be exercised.”
So there’s one dissenting opinion in the argument concerning whether those with BPD can feel empathy. He makes some good points. I also think he holds some rather limited opinions. Ultimately though, even if you are born with zero degrees of empathy he believes there is hope.
*DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read the book. I’ve read reviews, interviews with him, and watched videos where he has discussed his book and theories.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Empathy – Does it Exist?

Do people with Borderline Personality disorder have empathy?  Depending on who you ask you will get answers ranging between “super empath” and “low grade sociopath”.  So which is correct?
Well, it depends.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this. What I’ll do is present some articles, explanations, and dissenting opinions between professionals… and then attempt to interpret my experience for you. I make no claim that how I feel, or don’t feel empathy is true for all Borderlines. Particularly in my case it is relevant to remember that I also have a Dissociative Disorder which many (most?) Borderlines do not have. Often I cannot feel at all because my dissociative defense mechanism has cut me off from my own body, let alone anyone else around me. So for my personal experience I’ll explain how it feels when I am dissociative and when I am ‘normal’ {for me}.  But we’ll get to that in a later post. For now, let’s reiterate.

What is Empathy?  Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being.

Yesterday I posted an ‘Empathy’ test.  For that experiment researchers began with 30 individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and  25 Healthy Control individuals that they put through a personality and mood assessment, and then administered the test. 
The results of this experiment indicated that those with Borderline Personality Disorder performed significantly better than the control group. It did note that depression and mood severity at the time of the test partially mediated the status of the BPD test scores though.
In conclusion, “This study suggests that, when not under elevated emotional stress, individuals with BPD have an enhanced ability to discriminate mental states based on only the eye region of the face, particularly for “neutral” states. This experimental evidence is consistent with the “paradoxical” theory of the appraisal of social communication in BPD. That is, it seems that BPD is characterized by both unstable interpersonal relationships and enhanced sensitivity to the mental states of others.” [source]
However, having an enhanced sensitivity to the mental states of others may be a basis for social impairment. I’ve talked before about Hypersensitivity in Borderline Personality Disorder.  I am often extremely aware of the moods, emotions, and mental states of those around me. In fact, I have been told I can pick up on someone else’s mood and thoughts before they really know what they’re feeling themselves. My hypersensitivity makes me very perceptive. There are even experts that have deemed this quality “Borderline empathy”. The problem with this comes in the interpretation. Someone with BPD is often in an emotionally turbulent place that leaves them in a position of perpetual fear.  Even if it only feels like a constant low grade anxiety, there is abandonment fear lurking in the recesses of the mind at all time. This fear leads to an unintentional self-centeredness. Often it is easy to read the emotions on another person, but the fear interprets those emotions as a response to the Borderline her/hisself. Someone with BPD will personalize and internalize someone else’s feelings and emotions automatically, even when what is going on in the other person head may not have anything to do with them.  This can be a source of much inner turmoil and distress for someone with BPD. When you are constantly aware of how the people around you feel and fear that it is a reaction to you, and potentially a cause for rejection, it can feel traumatic.
For example: if someone is irritable, or angry (from a stressful day, a fight with a coworker, or unresponsive spouse) and a Borderline picks up on it, she/he may interpret the emotion as being directed at them and fear that they did something wrong, that the person believes they did soemthign wrong, is going to reject them, abandon them, hurt them (if they have a history of abuse), which will have a direct effect on their own mental and emotional state. If I’m afraid someone is angry at me, and I don’t understand why, I can begin to panic. You would think this could easily be cleared up with a little communication. Some Borderlines react in a volatile way that does not lend well to rational discussion if their emotional space is too unstable. Others are like me and suppress the need to dissect each and every expression because we’re afraid we’ll ‘look crazy’. Voicing the fear, expressing the concern could make someone think you are being stupid or irrational. Instead of having them actually be mad at you for one thing, now they will think you are crazy for another. It’s a lose-lose situation.
This hypersensitivity coupled with the enhanced ability to accurately judge emotion accounts for what many people see as a paradox in those with Borderline Personality Disorder. We can see, and sense what another person is feeling, but due to an inappropriate projection of fear the response of a Borderline may be in opposition to what the other person really wants or needs. From the perspective of an emotionally ‘normal’ person it would appear that the reaction is coming out of nowhere and very confusing. It might look like an emotional switch just flipped, but to the Borderline there is very real reason. Fear.  The Borderline may not even be aware of this constant fear on a conscious level and could just be reacting, but it’s often there regardless. I think this constant state of hyperawareness is part of a maladaptive coping mechanism that was formed as a response to traumatic environments when it was necessary to be keenly aware of what was happening to the Borderline. The problem with defense mechanisms though, is once they are no longer needed, they don’t necessarily go away.  
Signs seem to be pointing to ‘yes’ in terms of empathy in Borderline Personality Disorder. Not all experts agree though…. Stay Tuned

So what do you think? What has your experience been?

Reading the Mind in the Eyes

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I think this is mostly poetic hyperbole. I do believe that eyes are the windows to the emotions, or lack thereof.
Recently I’ve received a lot of mail inquiring about the capacity for empathy in Borderline Personality Disorder. This is a subject I find fascinating. So what is Empathy? Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being.
Borderlines are often credited with being hypersensitive and with having the ability to be keenly aware of another person’s emotional state. Unfortunately we also have a tendency to personalize the emotions we read in other people and project what they are feeling onto ourselves. So I guess that makes us very perceptive but leaves something to be desired in our interpretation.  
Before I begin though, I’d like you to take this test.
It’s called Reading the Mind in the Eyes’. It measures the capacity to discriminate the mental state of others from expressions in the eye region of the face.
It’s hypothesized that those with Borderline Personality Disorder have an advantage in reading the expressions displayed on a person’s face. The average score for a typically empathic person (Non-BPD) on this test is 26.2.
I scored 31. Not perfect, but above average.
So tell me. How do you Score?