To date, this post has been viewed over 11oo times (and counting) since I first published it. Let me just say, I’m glad you found your way to this post. I know you, or someone you love is struggling with moods. I get it. It’s tough, painful, scary. I know. I wrote this post for me…and you. Wherever you are at…you aren’t alone. With or without a label, we’re ALL struggling with something.
Other posts you might find relevant (after you read this one, of course)
I have a tab at the top for Holistic Healing from PTSD, which is useful for Complex PTSD and BPD.
I wanted to add, I’ve started attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA or ACA) meetings, which are also good for other types of family dysfunction, even if alcohol was never present in the home. ACoA/ACA is based on a trauma model which seeks to provide fellowship and support while you learn tools to cope because you weren’t given (m)any when you needed them, in childhood.
I want you to know I wish you or your loved one well on your healing journey. I do not think it’s impossible to heal the deep wounds of childhood. Hard? Yes. Time-consuming? Yes. Impossible? No.
I have to admit, as a person ‘officially’ diagnosed with complex-PTSD, highly intelligent, and the daughter of a narcissist, I’ve been a really poor subject for talk therapy and I’m really just beginning to understand why (but better late than never, no?).
Ever since my teens, I had a fairly insightful mind and an intellectual grasp of the dangers of living in a dysfunctional home and could articulate what I saw the problems were. Most counselors and therapists (the few that I’d seen way back when) were impressed with my level of understanding. Ever obsessed with understanding how I got to be who I am and the problems my dysfunctional family of origin caused each other, I’ve done a lot of personal observation, journal writing and scientific research into what I was experiencing. With my last therapist, I even brought her research articles and books that helped her to understand what I thought was going on with me.
I could probably write a very effective dissertation on all of the knowledge I’ve acquired.
Still, a year and a half later, I wasn’t really much better. In fact, as we talked about things, I became more upset and unstable in between sessions than I had been before, and, as a result, acted out more than ever, and was more suicidal. As long as I was able to intellectualize, I could distance myself from re-experiencing the traumatic incidents I was talking about in her office.
There’s a HUGE difference between intellectually understanding and emotionally processing trauma.
I keep coming back to a memoir I read – called Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder. I found myself really relating to her story. It’s my gut feeling that while my therapist assured me I was not a full-fledged borderline (even assured that because of our increasingly disconnected culture, we are “all a little borderline”) my own recovery from complex PTSD veered precariously close to borderline territory.
Then again, my thyroid was malfunctioning too (my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis was my immune system attacking my thyroid) also causing mood issues that could resemble bipolar symptoms, further complicating my self-diagnosis.
For me, whether or not c-ptsd is the same as borderline, and my intelligence and absorption into my work kept me ‘high functioning’, or merely kissing cousins, it’s irrelevant to me. I’m becoming more comfortable in the idea that maybe they are different names for the same animal, and, like everything else, has a wide spectrum of presentations from the mild to the severe.
Being a mother of three girls in 3.5 years and quitting my medical genetics job to become a stay-at-home mother created a huge identity crisis and I was increasingly depressed and thought it was just the stress of mothering without a map (which didn’t help me any).
More alarmingly, in the book Lost in the Mirror: An Inside Look at Borderline Personality Disorder, sometimes it’s not until adulthood when borderline symptoms first break through.
“Whether it’s an anniversary or a symbolic event, a painful current experience, a loss, a stressful change, or an interruption of routine that first unleashes powerful old feelings and memories, these feelings are not likely to go back into hiding.”
Well, let’s see, I had three daughters in 3.5 years, I had no good role models for mothering, I had no emotional support from trusted women, and I quit my highly routinized laboratory job, lost touch with ALL my friends (some by accident, some quite on purpose as I drew back from toxic people).
Yup, I would say that powerful old feelings and memories were unleashed.
I have to admit (and fortunately I am not afraid to admit anymore), I probably was exhibiting borderline behavior. It used to scare me, but now that I’m moving beyond my acting out behaviors and using more body healing modalities (craniosacral therapy, myofacscial release, and yoga) and researching more compassionate resources for healing emotional regulation problems (including mindfulness and meditation) and art therapy, I can see myself with more kindness. Even if I am a recovering borderline (presenting atypically because generally I have had stable relationships with people, at least until the last four years or so), I’m growing more comfortable with the possibility that I had been dealing with that.
In the past 10 years, I was more depressed, more anxious, had more body aches and pains, was more self-harming (hitting the walls and tables and things with my hands), destructive of property (usually telephones, walls, and my laptop), thinking suicidal thoughts, engaging in high risk behaviors, having trouble relating to my daughters emotional intensity and picking more fights with my husband than ever (though to be honest, my husband had a problem with binge drinking and passive aggressiveness, so that was big reason I fought with him). I didn’t understand why the more I understood, the more problems I encountered. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me because talk therapy is supposed to help resolve problems, not create new ones.
I can see though what some of my problems have been caused by, from reading another book called Trapped In the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists and their Struggle for Self.
The pressure from a narcissist to conform to expectations is like the water in which a fish swims, so relentless and uniform that the child is hardly aware of it. Struggles are infrequent while the process of shaping is going on. Of course, there are moments when the child feels mentally assaulted and may fight or cry, but even then she also feels bad, wrong, and confused. She feels what the parent indicates she should feel, since her shortcomings are a shameful disappointment to the parent. To be included under the parent’s umbrella of grandiosity, the child must exhibit pure excellence in whatever the parent deems important. Otherwise she is pushed out.
Proper teaching involves the concept of improving functioning, something external to the self, not improving the inner person, which must be seen as intrinsically acceptable. Identification of the inner child with the behavior or the product of her behavior damages her self-esteem. She comes to believe that even if she does succeed she is merely gold over shit, the facade of beauty over true ugliness. The “successful” child of a narcissist feels like a fake since the true self is identified with failure.
Children of narcissists emerge from this crucible with a common and most serious problem. They feel that they do not have the right to exist. Their selves have been twisted out of their natural shape since any movement toward independence is treated as a betrayal and something that can cause the parent irreparable harm.
Narcissistic parents can contribute to the creation of borderline children (and well, to future narcissists). I also see how an implanted message of “not having the right to exist” act as a ticking time bomb in the psyches of tender young children who grow up without having any real idea why they struggle with suicidal ideation.
(Yes, yes, sure biochemical imbalances contribute to this too, but what caused the biochemical imbalances in the FIRST place? What if the mind is simply carrying out the implied wishes of the internalized narcissistic inner parent?)
In the spirit of radical acceptance and radical self-forgiveness and real progress in my healing journey, its safe for me now to consider that I was acting borderline. Rather than judging myself harshly for my mid-life/postpartum mood swings, I used them as clear signals telling me that I really, REALLY needed to find healing for the trauma I lived with most of my life.
As trauma is encoded as sensations and not as cohesive memories, most times, talk therapy doesn’t do diddly squat. I’m going to be sharing some research supported resources in the near future that helped me and could possibly help others.
For a list of resources you might find helpful, please see my page: Holistic Healing for PTSD.