Easily Influenced? A Borderline's Struggle with Identity

I'm not sure if other people with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) feel this way or can relate, but I am pretty easily influenced.  I might hear a strong opinion that radically differs from the one I had been holding until that moment and be swayed completely.  I am not trying to say that I am gullible, an idiot, or totally brainless. I do mean to say that my sense of self and identity is not really strong as it is for most other people.

I also mean to say that many of us with BPD have a tendency to shape-shift, if you will, to become like whoever it is that we are talking to at the moment, trying to impress, or who we like and want to like us back.

When I was in high school, if someone asked me what kind of music I liked, (and my musical taste was and is quite eclectic and varied), I think my mind would do a split second assessment of what I though that person must like (based on their clothes, hair, makeup), and I'd respond with the type of music I thought would impress them or give us something in common.

For example, if I met this girl, I'd say I liked goth music. :)


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Have you ever done anything like that?  I have found that sometimes this trait can have positive results.
 
I've been feeling a bit depressed lately, and I reasoned that if I could get myself around some smart, positive people, perhaps their words and actions would influence me in a positive way.  It worked.
 
Yesterday, I went to get a much overdue hair cut.  Due to my budget at the moment, I go to one of those in-and-out quickie hair cut places.  In the past, it's been hit or miss for me in terms of finding someone who is competent and cares enough to cut my hair the way I request. I recently got lucky. 
 
I found a stylist who not only cuts my hair beautifully for $15, but she also shares her bright, positive, encouraging spirit with me every time I sit in her chair.  And, she takes her time. About a month ago, I was very concerned to see that she had stress written all over her face. Her eyes were puffy and red, as she'd obviously been crying. I asked her what was wrong.  She shared with me that she and her husband were losing their house and needed to find an apartment by Sunday (and it was already Tuesday).  I worried for her. In fact, I let my hair grow out all raggedy and didn't go back for a while because I was so sad to see her that way. 
 
The experience made me realize that she is human.  We all experience a wide range of emotions, and just like I can't expect myself to have a constant baseline of "happy," I can't expect others to either.  I can't expect to be all-or-nothing or "completely happy" or "completely depressed."  It's difficult for me to get it sometimes, but there are shades of gray in-between.
 
I finally went to get my hair cut again yesterday.  My stylist seemed happy again. She told me that a huge weight had been lifted off of her and her husband's shoulders and that, although they now live in a tiny apartment, they are very happy and have stopped arguing. She had a brightness in her eyes again. And, this time, she detected my stress.
 
"You seem SO stressed," she said, "It's written all over your face."  I told her I was, indeed, stressed.  I didn't get into all of the details (I had SOME boundaries, lol), but I did tell her that I was having a difficult time holding down a job.  I was on the verge of tears and felt SO DEPRESSED. I even felt a heaviness in my body.
 
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My stylist encouraged me to DISTRACT myself whenever I wasn't doing anything proactive with regards to my goal of securing and keeping a job.  Wow. (She doesn't know, of course, that I have Borderline Personality Disorder, and my hunch is that she probably doesn't know about DBT. So, I wonder, do people who don't have this disorder naturally tend to do the skills we learn in DBT? Any thoughts on this?)
 
Distraction is one of my favorite DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills.  The idea is to distract yourself with activities and thoughts that make you feel better and that help prevent you from acting impulsively or destructively when there is nothing more you can do in that moment to change your situation.
 
She also suggested being grateful and speaking positive things about myself and my situation. I started doing it, and it began to work.  Her influence on me was positive.
 
After I left, I got into my car and began speaking positively. Out loud. At first, I still felt really crappy and heavy, but the more I did it, the better I felt. I practiced doing the "half smile" DBT skill (are you familiar with this one by Thich Nhat Hanh?), and I said, aloud:
 
I choose joy.
I choose happiness.
My new job is coming within the next couple of weeks. I will love it. They will love me. I will be happy.
I am happy.
 
It felt kind of fake and phoney at first, but I just kept going with the practice. I kept repeating those four lines all the way home, and, I have to tell you, I felt like a different person when I woke up today. I didn't feel heavy.  I didn't feel deeply depressed as I have been for weeks.
 
It took a perspective change. It took an acknowledgment that I could change my mind and state of being by changing my thoughts and choosing to focus on the positive, and it all began by realizing my highly influenced nature and choosing to be around someone who would positively affect this trait.
 
I hope this helps you in some way.
 
More soon.


3 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this. It was really encouraging to read. Sometimes I feel very alone, and it was helpful to realize that I'm not. :-)

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  2. Hey, really enjoyed the post. I'm so suggestible that it does make people who care about me laugh, when it's in ways that aren't harmful. I love detective shows & if I'm watching Morse, I'll do crosswords and eat egg and chips, as the characters do. I'll start knitting or crocheting while I watch Miss Marple, maybe with cake and tea!

    I hadn't thought of whether my suggestibility makes me susceptible to mirroring moods in unhappy people. I'm going to practice being aware to see if that happens. I do agree with the challenging negative thoughts. My online DBT course is tackling this at the moment, although it's not strictly on topic.

    The only thing about the positive phrases you chose, I wouldn't say 'my new job is coming in a couple of weeks'. Although I'm not saying you shouldn't choose that, I thought I'd just say about something that I found helpful. We have a free NHS CBT resource online (www.llttf.com). Their 'challenging negative thoughts' resource gets you to list things that actually exist already. For instance, challenging 'nobody likes me', I've listed 5 people who do like me.

    What I liked about this is that it's quite grounding for my 'too happy' thoughts and I realized that having a 'fact' made it easier to challenge a negative thought. This has just made it easier for the positive thought to 'stick' a bit more than I found using a general positive affirmation.

    Anyway, thanks for the article and the food for thought!

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  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences this way. It has been very helpful for me to just read through your posts because it is a rare and amazing feeling to be able to relate, to say "That's what I do".
    In this post, I could relate particulary well to two things.

    First, I've known for years that I keep changing my interests etc.depending on who I meet and what they like. Your example of taste in music really surprised me because some months ago, I had a situation just like that. I met a girl and while we were talking, she asked me what music I liked. I tried to figure out what she likes but had no idea, so I ended up saying, "I don't know". But I realized I wanted to say not what was true, but, as you explained, what would make her accept and like me more.

    The other thing your post reminded me of was how much I am influenced by the mood of the people I'm around. I've always loved to be around happy, positive people and now I understand why. A few years ago I spent some time in France and met a girl like that. I tried to be around her as much as possible, and when I went back home, I tried to copy her behaviour. For some time everyone called me funny, I was the one telling jokes and laughing at everything. Sadly, that wore off after some time, but what I am saying is I have myself experienced something like that aswell.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you again for sharing. It's incredible how much sharing experiences and knowledge can help people.

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