Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Borderline Benefits

We react to a provocative interpersonal encounter with an affective response, which we experience in our bodies. We then try to make sense of this experience by creating a verbal/symbolic description. We also need to be able to sequence the experience, i.e. to connect our response to the initial provocation. As we begin to make these links, we can make reasonable attributions about ourselves and others, while relying on our memory of similar encounters, and finally come to a decision as to how best to respond. For example, when someone makes a demeaning comment, most people will respond by creating an internal dialogue, acknowledging to themselves how that person is making them feel. They may then perhaps question whether the demeaning comment is accurate or whether the person was making an unjustified attack and respond accordingly. 
A key hypothesized functional deficit of BPD is the ability to label and sequence emotional experiences. Persons with BPD often have a rich ability to employ abstract metaphors and visual symbols through poetry and art, but have much difficulty consciously linking language and other abstract symbols to their experiences. They often have difficulty interpreting their poetry or art, pinpointing a particular emotion, or even acknowledging words that they just employed.
I was with a person discussing their experience of reading Crucial Conversations, a book about how to handle emotionally charged conversations by a team of authors. A key piece of advice in the book relates to understanding the stories that you tell yourself. They remind you that if you think someone else made you angry, really you made yourself angry by telling yourself a story about that person and their motivations.

So one thing to do to reshape a conversation is to question these stories you are telling yourself. Recognize that you might have things wrong, think about whether there is a different way to think about or interpret what someone else did. The person talking about the book said how hard this seemed. It was as if the book was asking them to have an out of body experience and look at a conversation from a perspective that was not their own.

Now, obviously this is a skill that takes practice, and it probably is hard for a lot of people starting out. But it isn't hard for me. It's incredibly natural. That's because I have a functional deficit in forming those stories in the first place.

Actually considering that I might be wrong about nearly everything and anything comes pretty naturally. My explanations, to myself, of what is going on around me are provisional and intellectual, they are not about emotions or attributing praiseworthiness and blameworthiness. To the extent that I am willing to admit any emotion, I require a justification. I don't get angry merely because someone did something cruel to me, I get angry because I can explain why it make sense for a person in my position to get angry. Or at least that's how I experience anger. I'm sure I get angry at other times, but I might not be aware of that at the time,.

This was interesting to me because it hints at an actual function for the difference in my way of thinking. If Borderline Personality Disorder makes it easier to observe conversations objectively then maybe there is some actual benefit to thinking the way I think.

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