Borderline Personality Disorder and the Question Who am I?

Closeup of a gold and white plaster Mardi Gras mask

A look at what one must do in order to reclaim one’s true self and to answer the central core question those with Borderline Personality Disorder face – Who am I? Answering this question is the way to reclaim the lost a self that one needs to know in order to have any stable sense of identity. It is a cornerstone in healing from BPD.

Central to the healing or recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder is the reclamation of identity. A major part of having this personality disorder is not having a stable sense of identity. This is, in and of itself, alone, a very painful place to be – a painful way to live. Until a certain degree of emotional maturation and growth takes place borderlines are, to varying degrees, dissociated from “true self”.

This dissociation from your “true-self” took place when you were (or when you perceived that were) hurt, abandoned, rejected and/or neglected. It was your way of coping. Borderlines, somewhere in those formative years of personality development, have their developmental processes interrupted by their experiences. If you have BPD, you literally somewhere along the line decided to place the pain, the rage, the anger, and the hurt beside yourself — outside of yourself. That was the time or the day that you lost yourself. You can reclaim yourself — find yourself and build a strong stable sense of identity now. Lacking a stable sense of identity leaves people feeling very lost. It also severely affects one’s ability to trust him/herself. When you can’t trust yourself you cannot really trust anyone else either. When you don’t know who you are how can you possibly know what you want or what you need? Not knowing who you are also makes it next to impossible to know who you’d like to know and what you’d like to do in and with your life.

When I was borderline I was, for all intents and purposes, whoever I was with. I was, for the most part, whoever would let me project onto them — as I shifted my personal responsibility for myself, my safety, and my emotions onto them. I was then expecting others to meet my needs for me. As if others could somehow better identify what I needed that I could not identify for myself? I did not have a stable or well-developed sense of who I was. I was dissociated from the anger that this lack of self creates. Looking back, however, I was profoundly angry and profoundly sad at this loss of myself. It seems that I knew myself to some extent when I was younger. Though, the person I was then was all about trying to please my father. Somewhere around the age of 8 or 9 it’s like I just got lost. I took a free-fall. I abdicated to “other”. I, in effect, hurt too much to be who I was. (The first “other” was my father and for years to come everyone else I tried to relate to was “my father”.)Other kids were learning how to relate more and more to each other and defining the activities that they wanted to participate in and I was feeling less like “I” everyday. I was more and more unsure about what I liked and what I wanted to do, everyday. This progressively got worse and as I went through my adolescent years I was totally lost. I tried my best to skip school, to isolate, to push people away. I did not know who I was, what I liked, what I wanted or what I needed. This would persist and in fact get worse over time for the next 15 years of my life. (Until I did the work to let go of my father and to re-define myself without him and to accept the loss that I was never able to please him or to be close with him. We did not ever have a healthy relationship. I had to decide to let it go — grieve and move on.)

I spent a lot of time watching television and eating. I spent a lot of time watching life literally pass me by out the window. Without a clear sense of myself — of who I was — I was just drifting through life like a log in a river — aimlessly floating. The pain grew with each passing day. For many years I wasn’t aware of the source of this pain. I tried to attach it to whatever I thought was wrong in my life or to whomever displeased me in my life. And when I had no stable sense of identity everyone who I came into contact with, in one way or another, sooner or later would displease me. I was so displeased with my lack of self that I projected onto to the world in ways that left me between the rock and a hard place of BPD.

I was lost to self. I was unsure of who I was. I was lost in terms of what I “should” be or what I “should” do with my life. Grandiose dreams alternated with my defeated sense of incompetence. Years went by and I still did not know who I was.

How does one with BPD answer the question: Who I am?

The way to finding yourself is through your emotions. Much to the dismay of Descartes, who said, “I think, therefore I am.” who one is, when one has been diagnosed with BPD has far more to do with what one feels than it does with what one thinks.

Thinking is very important but in the throes of BPD much of one’s thinking is cognitively distorted. Borderline thinking is also often so intellectual as to totally block out one’s emotions. There is a polarized split between what is thought about and what is felt. For those with borderline personality disorder, there is a lack of conscious awareness of what is actually thought before what is actually felt. Being more aware of what is felt leaves those with BPD misperceiving their experience as being the result of feelings versus thoughts that create feelings. In order to find yourself and a stable sense of identity you must find a balance between your thinking and your feeling. You must learn to think and to feel in between the black and the white of borderline reality – a reality that is often steeped in negativity. A negativity that can block any sense of hope. Those with BPD, in the quest of the lost self need to actively and consciously seek to find hope from the polarized negativity of BPD

Who you are is so tied to what you have experienced and to how what you experienced left you feeling (thinking) about yourself. Who you are is also very tied (until you unwind it and heal it) to what others said to you or about you. If you were constantly criticized or put down then you likely have developed a sense of yourself as an incompetent person who is not “good enough”.

To reclaim our individual identities and to build a strong foundation upon which our personhood and identity is defined and understood we must be able to answer the following consistently:

  1. What do I value? What are my values?
  2. Am I telling and living the truth? Telling lies will only serve to further see you lose yourself. Deceit and manipulation are defense mechanisms but they also make it impossible for you to know who you “really” are. They are the tools of the false self.
  3. If I am lying or misrepresenting the truth why am I doing this?
  4. What do I like about myself? What don’t I like about myself? Why?
  5. Have I cleared my head and my heart of any and all “old tapes”? Am I thinking for myself and trying to define myself based upon my own quest for this understanding of self or am I still seeking to define myself based upon how others have defined me in the past?
  6. How do I feel about myself? Do I like myself? Can I accept myself? If you do not accept and like and learn to love yourself you will not be able to like, accept and love others from any stable sense of self because you will still be looking to them to define you.
  7. Have I felt and dealt with my pain? Have I grieved for my losses and disappointments? Am I willing to work them through and let them go? If you are holding onto past hurts and pains, injustices, abuse, tapes, etc you are keeping yourself invested in being who others wanted or needed you to be. Often this means that you are choosing to remain enmeshed in others as opposed to truly getting to know who you are.
  8. How do I want to represent myself? How do I want others to see me and experience me? Do I need to continue to perpetuate my old hurts and neglect or abuse by turning others against me so that I can continue to hide from myself?
  9. Are you willing to face your pain? Until we do the work, our pain will encompass who we “really” are. You cannot access your true self until you walk through the pain and learn to release it in healthy ways.
  10. Why do I stay invested in hurting myself? Do I not hurt enough? This is the point at which you need to start to listen to that “inner-child” aspect of yourself and integrate his/her hurts into your NOW consciousness. You cannot heal and get to know your self by holding your pain outside of your “self”.
  11. Do you feel that you are worthy of being respected, loved and cared for or about? If you cannot feel this way about yourself than truly neither can anyone else.
  12. Am I ready to take personal responsibility? Am I ready to be held accountable for my actions and my words? Are you ready to live your truth in the here and now and let go of the past?
  13. Am I ready to acknowledge that whether or not I get better will largely be up to me? I have the ability and the responsibility to make choices and decisions. This is part of what being me really means in life.
  14. Am I ready to lay down the maladaptive defenses that only serve to keep me separated from my self? Are you ready to learn new and healthier ways to cope and to relate to self and others?
  15. Do I want to get and be well? Or am I still more invested in the secondary gains of remaining sick. Do I really want to know myself and take responsibility for myself or do I want to continue to live through others and to hurt myself in what is an absence of acknowledging who “I” am.

To find your “self” and to build a stable sense of identity you must act always from a place of integrity. You must make an informed choice to step onto the path of truth and to walk that path no matter how much it hurts. It is very difficult at first. It, like anything else, does get easier over time.

borderline personality disorder has stolen your identity. If you want to reclaim yourself — and to know who you are — then you must make the choice to face your pain and to do the work. It means changing how you think, how you feel, and how you act. It means dedicating yourself to truth, honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, and to learning to cope with being the vulnerable, hurting soul that you are. No more bravado. No more games. To answer the question: Who Am I? — a borderline must give up the games, the lies, the manipulations, the focus on “other”, the giving away personal power and personal responsibility to “other” and the secondary gains of the learned helplessness of BPD and of being needy and must look inside where your true self awaits the arrival of your love, devotion, and support.

Having borderline personality disorder does not have to be a life sentence. It means (among other things) that you have not fully developed your identity. It means that you have been alienated from yourself, most often, by what has happened to you and or how you have perceived and interpreted what has happened to you in your life thus far. You are free, you really are free, to write a new life-script — one that enables you to find the answers the question: Who Am I?

As you answer that question, you will be healing from Borderline Personality Disorder. Refuse to abandon yourself any longer. Instead learn to be there for yourself. You really can and will find you when you want to badly enough.

I recovered from BPD over 14 years ago now. I know who I am. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I take care of myself. I meet my own needs. I do not look to “others” to do this for me or to define me anymore. Yes, in all truth, the journey to my own identity was been very painful. It has also been equally, if not more so, rewarding. You can take this journey that is the journey From False Self To Authentic Self on the journey that is your living your way to answering the question: Who Am I?

Dare to define yourself. Be courageous. Your life, happiness and a such a wonderful sense of peace await your self-discovery. It is a most worthwhile journey. Make the choice or the decision today, if you haven’t already to walk the path to the discovery and awareness of your true identity — keep walking down the road to the YOU that you WANT to be.

© Ms. A.J. Mahari – April 2, 2000 – with additions February 16, 2009

A.J. Mahari lives in Ontario, Canada. She is an Author, Speaker, Counselor, Life Coach, BPD/Loved Ones Coach, NPD/Loved Ones Coach, Mental Health Coach, and Self-Improvement Coach. She has been described by many as an insightful and astute student of life’s ups and downs. A.J. is a Mental Health Professional. A.J. writes from her own life experience, education and over 20 years of experience working with clients with Personality Disorders or the Loved Ones of those with them. You can purchase any of A.J.'s 35+ Ebooks or Written and Narrated 45+ Audio Programs or work with her as a your Counselor or Life Coach. She is a sexual abuse survivor and recovered from Borderline Personality Disorder many years ago. She is also an adult living with (“high functioning”) Asperger's Syndrome.

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