Triggers When You Have BPD or PTSD | Polarized Thinking

A number of things come to mind that I could write about today.  I think I will talk about triggers.

I have a personal trigger where I have a very difficult time accepting criticism. It's not because I believe I am perfect and don't deserve it, but as someone living with Borderline Personality Disorder, I want everyone to THINK that I am perfect and don't deserve it.

I somehow get so caught up in the game that I, at least briefly, experience the delusion that I am convincing others that I am perfect. I can do no wrong. I am perfect. As a child, I was always the teacher's pet. Come to think of it, I was in high school and college as well. Didn't make me very popular, as you might imagine.

As an adult, I have been frustrated over the past few years in the work force. Why? Because I don't know it all. I am not perfect, and I make mistakes.  I suppose this is true of EVERYONE, but they say that how you interpret something is what matters. So, I decided to look deeper.

Why is making a mistake such a big deal for me? Why does it terrorize me?

For me, making a mistake means that my boss will see I am flawed. Rather than looking at the one small mistake, acknowledging it, learning, and moving on, I become immediately defensive. Not because I want to be rude. Not because I don't think I am in the wrong.

I just feel so immediately naked and vulnerable once she sees that I have messed up. Years worth of childhood rejection and abandonment pop up and mock me in that moment.  I become afraid that she is now beginning her plot to fire me. "We can't have imperfect people here making mistakes. All of the good things you have done, your potential, and all the ways you have contributed - none of it matters. You made a mistake. You are worthless. Goodbye."

While I realize that it is highly unlikely that this thought goes through my boss' mind, in the moment that I am caught making a mistake and/or criticized, something inside me on a visceral level believes that she is thinking this. And, I become paralyzed with fear. I say something to defend myself or explain why other peoples' miscommunication is to blame. Then I realize how obvious it is that I am doing this and feel as if I've dug an even deeper hole. It's pure madness.

With Borderline Personality disorder, in my case and with many others living with BPD, black-or-white, all-or-nothing thinking is a major issue.  We see in extremes. We tend to see people as either Good or Bad. It's difficult to see shades of gray or colors. I am working on this, but as of the moment, I don't usually catch myself in the act and only realize that I have been thinking this way in retrospect.

In this particular situation that I have been describing, my thinkings is that I am either a perfect employee or a worthless one.

I am now looking through my binder from DBT group for the section on black-or-white thinking. According to this handout that I am looking at, this type of thinking is also called "Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect or you're a failure. There is no middle ground."

I can totally relate to this.

The worksheet goes on to give a "Rational Comeback" to "Polarized Thinking." I am not really sure where the worksheet was sourced from, but the pages on top are 26 and 40-41 (no copyright infringement intended:)

"Listed below [is a] rational correlative to the ....distorted thinking style...Use it as a reference when you are having problems with a particular distortion...

Polarized Thinking: No black and white judgments. Think in percentages.

The key to overcoming polarized thinking is to stop making black or white judgments.  People are not either happy or sad, loving or rejecting, brave or cowardly, smart or stupid. They fall somewhere along the continuum. They are a little bit of each. Human beings are just too complex to be reduced to dichotomous judgments. If you have to make these kinds of ratings, think in terms of percentages: "About 30% of me is scared to death, and 70% is holding on and coping...60% of the time he seems terribly preoccupied with himself, but there's the 40% when he can be really generous...5% of the time I'm an ignoramus, the rest of the time I do all right."

Tonight I will practice being more compassionate with myself and thinking about integrating more shades of gray and color in my thinking. 


  1. I just tonight came to the realization that this is why my husband and I are fighting so much. When he makes valid complaints about my housekeeping skills (I really suck at keeping house)I always think he is telling me I am not good enough, that he and the kids would be better off without me. I am so convinced he is thinking of leaving, I am surprised when he refuses to leave me. This is hard, but at least I can know I am not alone. There are others with these same struggles.

  2. I am the 2nd of 3 kids. My older brother was constantly punished for his "inadequacies". He actually is autistic, but that was not well understood then, and my dad attempted to beat the autism out of him, in effect. It did not work obviously, but it certainly set a tone of terror in our house. I would look over my brother's shoulder and learn his higher grade level studies so that I too would not be beaten or punished. I was terrified constantly, and always did well in school as a defense mechanism. It did keep me safer than my brother. I think when I am criticized now, it sends me back to that childhood moment when I realized if I could avoid my brother's mistakes, I would avoid his beatings too. It really makes a huge difference to read your posts and know I am not the only one who suffers in this way.

  3. I do the exact same thing at my job...In fact the only negative thing my supervisor had to say in my yearly evaluation is that my other co-workers felt I was too sensitive when they criticized me even though they were being critically constructive and that they were afraid to say anything because they didn't want to upset me. What??? I was floored. I knew I got defensive if anyone pointed out something I was doing wrong but not to that point! I also felt that anything pointed out to me that I had done wrong was added to an imaginary "list" that would be used to fire me. I'm so thankful that I now see it as a fault in my thinking and know that there is hope to fix it!



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