Having a sales career for over 20 years with Mary Kay Cosmetics, they taught me much about the aspect of positive vs. negative self-talk. I learned to use visualization of positive outcomes, in addition to positive affirmations in order to achieve more sales to increase my customer base. They gave us the best of the best in positive thinking, such as the teachings of Norman Vincent Peale, Tony Robbins, Bill Cantrell and other great motivational speakers. We were encouraged to devour every book on self-talk/positive motivation that we could. There was even a thing we would do called “trashing our house with post it notes”. We would write positive quotes on the post it notes and post them throughout our home, even in our vehicles, to remind us to think “up”. I have to admit that this training was probably a huge help for me in retrospect. It might have served as one of the catalyst that kept me from taking my own life. Being that I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), we are not known for thinking or feeling positive emotions. Everyone knows of our behavior of being predictably unpredictable. We are prone to erratic and unstable emotions, splitting (thinking in terms of ALL Black or ALL White Brain), so trying to grab hold of a positive thought from a post it note doesn’t necessarily work in our world. For me, having the exposure to this type of environment was a help in many regards.
Borderlines don’t just seek out affirmation from others. We thrive on it. We are desperate for it. We need it to live. The problem ensues from when we are “thinking Black Brain” and we have no ability to see the “Grey”, let alone the “White” or good in a situation. This is the Achilles’ heel of the life of a person with BPD. I remember many of my mentors telling me that I was responsible to motivate myself. I had to find my own way for positive thinking. Today, not being in Mary Kay any longer and living to advocate for those with mental illness like me; I see how much of an impact the training I received helped me in this area. I work with others with Borderline and find some that are totally incapable of seeing anything, including themselves, in a positive light.
Most of those for whom I work with BPD through NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and other venues, sound a bit like this on a daily basis: “I don’t deserve to live. I am a burden to everyone around me. I don’t want to face anything in my life. I can’t handle anything; life is too overwhelming. I am not strong enough to overcome things. Being positive and happy or optimistic is ridiculous. Dying/Suicide seems to be my only choice. Others will be relieved to see me die. Things will never get better. I am hopeless.” I too, personally relate having these same thought processes throughout my lifetime.
This may sound like depression to the uneducated reader, yet it is the daily self-talk of a person with BPD who has not learned how to master the skills of FORCING themselves to think their way out of “Black Brain” to try to find “Grey”. The title of my book to be released in 2019 is “Searching for Grey”. It is, and always will be the battle of the Borderline brain. How does someone with BPD find the Grey when we know the very disorder causes our brains to be missing that synapse, or bridge, from Black to White, due to a traumatic childhood?
I remember a skin care appointment when I was with Mary Kay that totally shocked me. I was working with a woman well into her forties. She was absolutely abhorrent of lipstick and refused to even try it or put it to her lips! The way she recoiled, it was as if I was telling her to put acid on her lips! When I asked why such a dramatic reaction to a little tube of lipstick, she proceeded to tell me how growing up her father would tell her she had big fat ugly lips and that wearing lipstick made her look like a whore. I realized at that moment the absolute power words have over us. Here was a beautiful woman in her forties that had never worn lipstick because of a ridiculous and hurtful comment her father planted in her mind as a child. I remember wondering if she had BPD yet, the truth is anyone can fall prey to negative statements that carve their way into our very psyche. Needless to say, there were no lipstick sales for me that day!
Although we can attribute BPD to a traumatic childhood and problematic parenting for most, new research now shows that BPD develops from what the Mayo Clinic calls a neuro-biological flaw. The flaw in the brain for those with BPD exhibits as a highly reactive limbic system. The limbic system is a system of nerves or networks in the brain that involves areas near the edge of the cortex that deals with instinct and mood. It also controls basic emotions like fear, pleasure, anger and our human drives such as hunger, sex, dominance or care of offspring. The brain may inherit this tendency or proclivity to develop BPD. Add in a traumatic or abusive childhood and the child never learns to achieve self-regulation or self-soothing.
The BPD child never really learns to acquire a stable sense of self or the ability to tolerate distress. Borderline may not manifest until adolescence, but it begins long before that. BPD children are very hard to parent due to their lack of emotional regulation and impulsivity. Those of us with Borderline can mood shift from sublime happiness to fury in a matter of minutes. The display of our emotions is also very disproportionate to the “trigger” (the person, place or thing that makes the person with BPD react). We live on a constant roller coaster ride of highly intense emotions that never seem to end. My father has long passed away, but my mother vividly recalls emotional outbursts, temper tantrums and displays of “over the top behavior” I would exhibit as a child since the age of two or three years. She often tells me I was inconsolable when disrupted (triggered) and she had no idea how to parent me. Albeit, her penchant for drinking, being an alcoholic and my father's abusive ways sexually and physically didn’t help, and add in a lack of care or concern by both parents when I was young, manifested in me the very tormented child that neither of them knew what to do with.
They say that Borderlines can display like an interpersonal tornado. It is an open secret that psychiatrists dislike “dealing with” Borderline patients. Much of their dislike is due from their own frustration. Often a person with BPD will display hostility toward their Therapist or Psychiatrist, in addition to having a propensity and failure to follow through on their scheduled appointments or taking their psychiatric medication properly. The good news is, with the availability of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), created by the renowned Dr. Marsha Linehan, herself a sufferer of BPD, a new awakening to helping the person with BPD has happened. A new understanding of the complexity of the Borderline Brain, the disorder itself and the behaviors that accompany it has come about through DBT. It has helped greatly in disentangling many of the negative behaviors and characteristics displayed by those with Borderline.
In laying this foundation, I want to return to our topic of “positive self-talk”. For the Non-Borderline reading this, it is imperative that you realize the places those of us with BPD go to in our minds on a daily basis. It does not take much to derail us off a good track in our mind and send us careening into “Black Brain” thinking that seeks to destroy us. When I say destroy, I mean destroy. It is a known fact that Borderline has the highest rate of suicide of all mental disorders. The very reason being, when we are in “Black Brain”, we are incapable at times of finding our way out. It is not an exaggeration when I share with you that the feelings of despair and hopelessness we have are akin to the death of a loved one, or living with terminal cancer. It is like being in a depressive state, but 1,000 times worse. I could substantiate this topic more, but I will just have you talk to someone with BPD or Google search for yourself to believe what I’ve just said. When we are in “Black Brain”, it is an actual physical, emotional and psychological pain that is so intense I find it hard to define or describe. The ONLY people I know who understand that pain are those of us who live with this disorder. Especially when a Non-Borderline may view our “triggers” as trivial, easily disposed matters that would not even disrupt the day of a “normal” person.
For many years, I knew that I was to share my story as a way to help those who live with BPD and their loved ones find some clues on how to cope with this insidious disorder. It was a very radical step for me to leave a 20 plus year career with Mary Kay Cosmetics, as a Sr. Director with a Free Car Driver and selling makeup everyday to “come out” with my story and start sharing my very soul with anyone who cared to read my Blogs, or, in the future, my book. I was terrified of the stigma I knew I would face defining myself with the “MENTALLY ILL” title. I was ashamed of my symptoms and worried constantly about “what others would think”.
My own self-talk with regard to this journey has always been tentative at best, destructive at worst. I would say to myself things like “people aren’t interested in buying/reading about someone else’s tough life when they have all they can do to deal with their own. Or, I would obsess that “perhaps if I were famous, I might attract an audience, a small one at that”. I would tell myself that as bad as my circumstances were in my childhood, many others have had it so much worse than I have. I was certain I would alienate people if my story weren’t as horrific as others who have suffered and managed to come out the other side WITHOUT displaying as mentally ill. This self-talk kept me silent for years, living behind a firmly entrenched facade that I would put on daily. I would swear my family to a “cone of silence” as to my disorder and never allow them to speak to others about it. Of course, throughout the years, my symptoms would leak out here and there. Who was I kidding but myself that others didn’t notice I had “something going on”?
Therefore, I did not come out, share, advocate or write for the good the majority of my life. Once I made the decision to start this new project and become an advocate, much of what I feared happened. “Friends” disappeared, the eyebrows raised and the looks from others seemed to burn a hole in my soul. Yet, I knew I had to take my place in this Journey and so, I did. Many family and true friends were supportive and feedback started to trickle in that I WAS of help to others like me.
Then, my worst fear occurred. The very thoughts I had over the years, that caused my silence for so long, were said to my husband, almost verbatim by someone I held trust in. He shared the very essence of the unspoken fears I held deep inside, out loud, verbalizing them and making them “real”, paralyzing me. My “Black brain” took in those words gleefully and proceeded to convict and replay them repeatedly on a daily basis.
When this transpired, I became frozen in my tracks, unable to write for some time. I discussed it in many a therapy session, badgered my poor husband at length as to their viability, questioning myself again and again. How would I ever get beyond this? All that I thought as to the very reasons not to do this project were now “out in the air”; they were “made alive”.
I share this with the person reading with Borderline now. You may have or will experience this at a point in your life. Even a trusted friend may speak your uttermost inner fears out loud to you. You will face, at that moment, the need to force yourself to try to find the Grey. You will wrestle with “WHAT is TRUTH” and you may have the incapacity to know.
What I want you to do, when this happens...and it will….is FIGHT for all your worth against what your “Black Brain” wants to confirm. You have to feel the very emotions and let them sink in. So what if it is true? So what if it is not? What position are you going to take against the fears that have held you back for so long? Have you stagnated yourself due to a similar situation? If so, it’s time to get out of it!
I did, I finally got beyond those words and rose above the very foundation of my “Black Brain” that muted me for so long. I allowed positive self-talk back in. So WHAT if my story is not as horrific as others is? So WHAT if I am not famous? So WHAT if I alienate a few people along the way in this Journey? It is MY Journey and I have something to bring to the table. It may or may not help you…but it may help someone else. Get those post-it notes out and go “trash” your house, your bathroom mirror, the refrigerator, your computer screen, with the reasons WHY you have a right, as someone with a mental disorder to do what YOU are called to do.
I’m with YOU on this Journey,