This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Books and Methods Review - Stop Walking on Eggshells

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul Mason MSRandi Kreger

This is an excellent book written for the family members of people with Borderline Personality Disorder , but I feel it can also help parents of children with any type of attachment disorders, particularly teens. I also found it extremely helpful with my neurotypical(ish) teenage biokids! 
The first half of the book gives a good explanation of how the person with BPD feels. This helped me better understand why my kids acted this way, which helped me be more empathetic - which helped me be a better parent. 
 The second half of the book provides practical applications for how to live with a person with BPD.  It is assumed that everyone with BPD is an adult, and that we cannot change the person with BPD - treatment is their choice.  
Obviously, for our kids not yet adults, we're still hoping that we can help them make changes in their life.  For those with children under 18, I feel that the help this book provides is more about helping us as parents. The book not only helped me understand why the kids were acting the way they were, it helped me with setting healthy boundaries for all of my children. To feel less "Mama Guilt" for prioritizing my life in a way that met the needs of myself and the rest of my family - which helped me be a saner/better parent. 
This book is NOT written to help the person with BPD.  It is how to cope as a sympathetic family member.  I plan to review some of the concepts from the second half of the book at a later date. 
I should warn you that while this book is a fairly easy read, personally, I had to set it down many times (especially in the first half of the book) because it hit a little too close to home. I'm glad I always came back though because the second half of the book was super helpful with parenting my kids.
Amazon Review:
Do you feel manipulated, controlled, or lied to? Are you the focus of intense, violent, and irrational rages? Do you feel you are 'walking on eggshells' to avoid the next confrontation?

If the answer is 'yes,' someone you care about may have borderline personality disorder (BPD). Stop Walking on Eggshells has already helped nearly half a million people with friends and family members suffering from BPD understand this destructive disorder, set boundaries, and help their loved ones stop relying on dangerous BPD behaviors. This fully revised edition has been updated with the very latest BPD research and includes coping and communication skills you can use to stabilize your relationship with the BPD sufferer in your life. This compassionate guide will enable you to:

  • Make sense out of the chaos
  • Stand up for yourself and assert your needs
  • Defuse arguments and conflicts
  • Protect yourself and others from violent behavior
There is a part on using coping strategies for self-care, how to seek support and validation, how to seek out Internet help and community groups and above all how to keep a good sense of humor.  Taking care of yourself, detaching with love, taking your life back, not allowing yourself to be abused, taking the heat out of the situation by gently paraphrasing and reflexive listening, creating a safety plan for imminent self-mutilation, how to bolster your own self-identity and self-esteem, taking responsibility for your own behaviour and remembering that sometimes, “… splitting and other BPD behaviour can be catching.” ~PsychCentral Review

Most of the following information is paraphrased from the first half of the book Stop Walking on Eggshells:

1.  Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Imagine you are a 7yo lost in the middle of Times Square, your mom was there a second ago, but now you're surrounded by menacing strangers glaring at you.  People with BPD feel isolated, anxious, terrified at the thought of being alone.  Caring, supportive people are like smiling, friendly faces in the crowd, offering smiles, help, and warm hugs.  But the moment they do something that suggests an imminent departure (often the trigger is just something the person with BPD interprets that way), the person with BPD panics and reacts - in a variety of ways, from raging to begging the person to stay.  If the person was neglected or abandoned as a child then they may have learned to suppress this terror to the extent that they no longer feel or recognize the original emotion.

2.  A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. This is called "splitting."  People with BPD look to others to provide things they find difficult to supply for themselves, such as self-esteem, approval, and a sense of identity.  Most of all they are searching for a nurturing caregiver whose never-ending love and compassion will fill the black hole of emptiness and despair inside them.  Losing a relationship feels like life or death to them.  At the same time, their self-esteem is so low that they can't believe anyone would want to be with them so they are hypervigilant looking for cues that the person doesn't love them or is about to desert them.  

CENTRAL IRONY OF BPD:  People who suffer from it desperately want closeness and intimacy, but the things they do to get it often drive people away from them.
Splitting - fluctuating between extremes of idealization and devaluation, angel on a pedestal or wicked demon.  Often they base these opinions on the last interaction.  Add in major trust issues from childhood abuse...
Marythemom:  We call this "black and white thinking."  For example, Bear loves someone almost instantly - she's "the one" and she "gets me," but the moment they have a slight disagreement, or she has to study, or wants to spend time with her family or friends instead of him... it's over.  He's never had a disagreement that didn't almost immediately end the relationship.  That's why we call them "Kleenex Girls," because he goes through them like Kleenex.  The same is true of jobs, friends, enemies...
 We also see a lot of the opinion changes based on their last interaction. During one phone call with Bear, he spoke of coming home, getting back on his meds, going back to church... The next call started with us confronting him on a lie... and instantly he's talking about not needing anyone, moving to a place where he knows no one...

3.  Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self. 

Chronic feelings of emptiness.
By the time people reach their 20s and 30s their self-image is usually fairly consistent - our likes, our dislikes, our religious beliefs, our position on important issues, and our career preferences.  But the person with BPD has no sense of self, just like they lack a consistent sense of others. 

 They feel empty and chaotic inside and are dependent on others for cues about how to behave, what to think, and how to be.  Being alone leaves them without a sense of who they are, maybe that they don't exist (which is one reason they desperately avoid being alone). 

 The one consistent thing?  They know they're not enough.  They judge themselves as harshly as they judge others.  They are actors, chameleons, victims of others (even when their own behavior affected the outcome of a particular situation).  Some people with BPD may play the role of victim because it draws sympathetic attention, supplies an identity, and gives them the illusion that they are not responsible for their own actions.  

It's important to realize this chameleon-like ability to change personas is very real in the moment.  It is not Machiavellian manipulation, it's not even conscious, and there is no real identity to revert back to... how terrifying to not know who you really are?!

Those with abusive backgrounds may be replaying scripts from the past.  They may feel continually victimized because they've been conditioned to expect cruel behavior from people they trust.  They may have come to believe that something about them causes people to act in a heartless or abandoning way.  They interpret normal behavior as cruel or abandoning and react with intense rage, despair, or shame (which confuses those around them who see no triggers for the behavior!).

4.  Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).  Some people with BPD find it very hard to resist or control impulses and delay immediate gratification and may be trying to fill the emptiness and create an identity through impulsive behaviors.  About 23% (Links et al. 1988) of people with BPD had a dual diagnosis of substance abuse.  Borderline Substance Abusers are likely to abuse more than one drug (often alcohol), are more likely to be depressed, have more frequent suicide attempts and accidents, have less impulse control, and seem to have more antisocial tendencies (Nance et al. 1983).

5.  Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.  About 8-10% of all people with BPD commit suicide.  This does not include those who engage in risky behavior that results in death.  

Suicide (and other impulsive, dysfunctional behaviors) are seen as solutions to overwhelming, uncontrollable emotional pain.  Self-injury is a coping mechanism that may release chemicals that lead to a general feeling of well-being.  There are many reasons for self-injury, and it may be done intentionally or unconsciously (unaware and in a haze).  An intellectual understanding of why they do it doesn't make it any easier to stop.  There is a misperception that all people with BPD harm themselves or are suicidal.  Many high functioning people with BPD do not, but those that do, however, may seek professional help more often than those who don't.

6.  Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).  When most people feel bad they can take steps to feel better, and control how much their moods affect their relationships with others.  People with BPD have a hard time doing this.

Inappropriate, intense anger, or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).  Borderline rage is usually intense, unpredictable, and unaffected by logical argument.  It can disappear as quickly as it appears.  Some people with BPD have the opposite problem and feel unable to express their anger at all for fear of losing control or that the target of even minor anger expression will retaliate.  Some specialists believe that people with BPD feel ALL emotions intensely, but that anger is highlighted by the DSM criteria because anger is typically the feeling that causes the most problems for people close to them.  "People with BPD are like people with third-degree burns over 90% of their body.  Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement." ~Marsha M. Linehan (1993).

8. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.  People who are severely dissociating feel unreal, strange, numb, or detached. They may or may not remember exactly what happened while they were "gone."  This can be mild or severe (like Dissociative Identity Disorder - formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.)  The more stressful or painful the feelings or situations, the more likely that the person will dissociate.

Additional Traits Common to BPD

  • Pervasive Shame - Toxic shame is the all-pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being.  A shame-based person will guard against exposing his inner self to others, but more significantly, he will guard against exposing himself to himself.  John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame That Binds You, sees shame as the root of issues such as rage, criticism and blame, caretaking and helping, codependency, addictive behavior, excessive people-pleasing, and eating disorders.  In their typical all-or-nothing way, people with BPD may either become consumed by their shame or deny to themselves and others that it even exists.  
  • Undefined Boundaries - People with BPD may need to feel in control of other people because they feel so out of control with themselves.  They may be trying to make their own world more predictable and manageable.  They may unconsciously try to control others by putting them in no-win situations, creating chaos that no one else can figure out, or accusing others of trying to control them.  Conversely, some people with BPD may cope with feeling out of control by giving up their own power, possibly by choosing a lifestyle where all choices are made for them (military, cult, abusive people who control through fear...).  Control is the ultimate villain in destroying intimacy.  We cannot share freely unless we are equal.
  • Lack of Object Constancy - Some people with BPD find it difficult to evoke an image of an absent loved one to soothe them when they feel upset or anxious.  If that person is not physically present, they don't exist on an emotional level.  The person with BPD may call their significant other frequently just to make sure they're still there and still care about them.  Letters, pictures, scents that remind them of the person they care about, may reduce their anxieties or fears and clinginess.
  • Interpersonal Sensitivity - Some people with BPD have an amazing ability to read people and uncover their triggers and vulnerabilities, like a social and emotional antenna.  Many adults who were repeatedly physically and/or sexually abused as children developed these skills to help them predict and therefore protect themselves (usually by dissociating).
  • Situational Competence - The ability to have competence in difficult situations while being incompetent in seemingly equal or easier tasks.  Possible explanation - they know deep within that they are defective so they try hard to act "normal" because they want so much to please everybody and keep the people in their lives from abandoning them.
  • Narcissistic Demands - Frequently bringing the focus of attention on themselves (can include complaints of illness and acting up in public) and reacting to most things based solely on how it affects them.  Limited to no understanding of how these actions affect others.

Manipulation or desperation?  
In most cases the person with BPD's behaviors are not intentionally manipulative.  Rather this behavior can be seen as impulsive, desperate attempts to cope with painful feelings or to get their needs met.

People with BPD vary a great deal in their functionality and ability to live a normal lifestyle, coping with everyday problems, interactions with others... 

Low-functioning people with BPD often find themselves living from crisis to crisis.  

High-functioning people with BPD act normal on the outside, but it's important to remember that they feel the same way inside as their lower functioning counterparts. 

 People in relationships with high-functioning people with BPD frequently need more validation - their perceptions and feelings confirmed - as most outsiders don't see the rages and verbal abuse.

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