Self Mutilation is the Language of Pain Associated With Borderline Personality Disorder
Self-mutilation, for many who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), is a maladpative and learned primal language of profound pain. It is a primordial scream for help. It is the apex of needing to be heard, validated, and soothed. It is one of the most prolific and anguished expressions of borderline pain, pain that has otherwise been abandoned. It is self-defeating and holds you hostage to the pain of the false self – to the pain that you can’t heal by further wounding and re-wounding your body and your precious soul.
It has been said by many, borderlines and professionals alike, that those with BPD lack emotional skin and are for a myriad of reasons far more sensitive than the general population.
Many with BPD struggle with the intense and unrelenting agony of self-hatred. This self-hatred (false self which has emerged to protect the lost authentic self) and accompanying pain is repressed and dissociated from by those with BPD more often than not. This self-hated is essentially a hated for a self-not-known. Borderlines, lacking a known self, live through others. They live through and project their feelings, thought distortions, and deep intra-psychic pain in very hurtful and/or abusive ways on to those who love or care about them and those who are closet to them. The people who love or care (or have loved and cared) about someone with BPD are commonly known as non borderlines. Non borderlines who are On The Other Side of BPD often find themselves in increasing pain and feeling lost to themselves.
This pain of self-hatred on top of a stockpile of pain generally is way too much pain and is often felt with little to no conscious understanding or awareness of the origin of it. Reasons for the pain may widely vary but clearly most with BPD(until they get sufficient therapy) do not have the skills to apply to the soothing of that pain other than to self-mutilate, act out, or make a whole host of unhealthy and self-destructive choices that while protective are primitive and self-defeating. Choices that keep you stuck and cause people with BPD (and those who love them) more and more pain.
While not all who have BPD cut or burn themselves or harm themselves in physically direct ways, most with BPD do engage in harmful behaviour that doesn’t always mean the immediate physical consequence of pain. A physical pain that, to the borderline, often brings a sense of relief to what is the angst and agony of deep intra-psychic emotionally dysregulating pain.
Other examples of self-harming behaviour include: compulsive overeating, compulsive shopping, drinking, drugs and so forth. All of which can be about self-harm but are not self-mutilation though the impetus to engage in these behaviours is largely driven by the same impulses to be soothed and relieved of what hurts, to distract from what hurts, to avoid one’s feelings and are often the result of distorted black-and-white – all-or-nothing thinking.
Those Borderlines who do self-mutilate, however, in more cases than not, find that the need to hurt themselves is not only very impulsive but that it also continues to grow in frequency and severity. Self-mutilating is the way that your body cries in what are unhealthy and unproductive ways to relieve pain, anger and/or rage.
Self-mutilation is all about externalizing your pain. This externalization of pain likely goes back to a time in childhood when a source of great pain to you (from outside of yourself) left you feeling helpless – annihilated – totally shamed. The pain was so great that you couldn’t process it inside or take it inside of yourself because to do so (even if you could have) would have surely meant death. What overwhelms a child in a painful and negative way can seem like a very real impending threat of death. This impending threat of death has its roots in the unresolved core wound of abandonment.
If you have BPD, you can and do need to learn how to deal with it internally and age-appropriately. Your pain is not some monster that sits outside of you waiting to devour you. Your pain is a part of you. It is a part of you that you may well still be dissociated from and not consciously aware of. You can learn to become aware of it more consciously through the practice of mindfulness nd radical acceptance and then learn to manage it in healthy productive ways.
If you self-mutilate you need to realize that you are doing the best you can. You are responding to what you know feels like an immediate need to rid yourself of any unpleasant to overwhelming or mortally distressful feelings that you do not have the personal skills to cope with or the ability (presently) to tolerate. It is important that you not judge yourself. It is equally important that you seek professional help.
For many (as was the case in my experience years ago) it is important and helpful to figure out in therapy why you have not only the feelings that you do but the matching inability or lack of skills to cope with them. However, in some cases, the reasons why are evasive and not known for whatever reasons. If you self-mutilate and/or feel like you hate yourself and you don’t have any conscious idea why it is more important to find the help you need to intervene in your self-destructive behaviour than it is to figure out why. Why may come later. In the meantime though you need to learn how to tolerate the distress you often feel so that you will still be alive to acquire more understanding over time.
What feels so urgently horrific to you emotionally that it causes you such unresolved and repetitive pain or unrelenting pain and leaves you feeling so helpless in the face of your own often alienated feelings causing you to choose to abuse and mutilate yourself in the experience of most with BPD is not really about the things that you react to in the here and now’s of your life. While this is what you may tie your feelings, distortions, reactions and fears to with regard to your emotions you are likely carrying a stockpile of unresolved feelings from your childhood that get triggered in the here and now by daily things. Thus what you react to has such a profound intensity. This profound intensity has its roots in all of the pain that you have abandoned.
The first step in dealing with self-mutilating behaviour is to find professional help. This is often very difficult depending upon where you live and how much money you have and then also depending upon the degree to which your local mental health delivery system ostracizes and ascribes to the stigma that borderlines can’t be treated or don’t get better anyway and are more trouble than they are worth. This is not true and don’t let encountering that attitude shame you or keep you from continuing to reach out to get help. Borderlines can and do get better.
That attitude is out there and encountered way too frequently by people with BPD who really need help and who can and will benefit from that help when it is delivered justly, timely, with limits and boundaries, effectively, and non-judgmental way with an attitude of empathy and care and a belief that borderlines can and do get better in other words professionally. There are many therapists out there who either specialize in Borderline Personality Disorder, or who know enough about it to be able to effectively treat it. Many work very hard. I personally was very lucky in my therapy travels years ago. I don’t want to lump all therapists together. So, keeping that in mind, search until you find someone and/or the information (books, self-help) that you need to learn the skills necessary to cope with your feelings and to tolerate the distress you will feel as you transition from cutting and burning (etc) to feeling and dealing with your emotions.
Self-mutilation is chosen behaviour. You have chosen it to help you because you don’t feel competent to do anything else emotionally and/or you don’t have the developmental tools that others have that helps them to cope with life in age-appropriate and healthy non-destructive ways. Don’t be hard on yourself about that.
Self Mutilation is a Borderline language of pain. It is choosing to allow your body to cry for you. It may relieve stress and distress and momentarily feel like a high and/or give you the feeling of great relief but the very minute you hurt yourself to help yourself you set yourself back up to repeat the cycle again. You are abusing your body. You may well have taken on the role of your (past) abuser if you were abused in childhood. It is becoming an abuser to yourself if you weren’t abused. Abusing yourself will only perpetuate any self-hatred that you feel. It is a self-defeating cycle that truly only adds to your pain in the long run. Momentary relief is not worth the damage that you continue to do to yourself, not only physically, but emotionally as well. You need to value yourself enough to learn how to tolerate what hurts long enough to heal it.
Self Mutilation is a Borderline language of pain. It is a learned language of pain. It is a vehicle of expression. It is often born out of a deep-seated rage that is the way that the borderline false self seeks to protect you from the pain of the lost authentic self – the self that must be found and reclaimed if recovery is to be realized. It hurts you even more. You can learn to express your pain in a healthier and truly emotional language – tears and words spoken that do not have to hold you hostage to the language of Borderline fear and shame. Your lost authentic self does not require or aspire to the drama of the tortured, long-suffering, and pathologically narcissistic and protective false self.
Self mutilation is the way many with BPD transfer the abandoned pain of BPD from its deep intra-psychic (subconscious) roots to the light of day. Borderlines channel this intolerable emotional pain that they do not know how to cope with into physical pain which is much more understandable. Borderlines understand suffering. The self abuse of self mutilation takes the borderline’s abandonment trauma (Masterson) from the mind to the body. Borderlines use their bodies to express what is too unsafe and what feels annihilating to even begin to absorb in a conscious psychological way. Sadly, however, this transfer of psychological pain into physical pain does nothing to actually begin to get in touch with abandonment trauma in ways that can mean learning, through therapy, to learn the skills necessary to first tolerate the distress of the pain, and then secondly, work at resolving it.
Self mutilation and self abuse while they can provide some relief or a the feeling of being alive or actually existing to those borderlines who otherwise are numb to feeling anything, only keep borderlines stuck in the cycle of building abandoned pain – unhealthy release that then again will see subsequent re-building of abandoned pain. This borderline language that expresses deep intra-psychic pain physically becomes addictive and does not allow for any resolution to the pain that drives it.
© A.J. Mahari
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