You’ve Gone Away, So Where Am I? | Identity Disturbance in Borderline Personality Disorder

One of the most terrifying aspects of having Borderline Personality Disorder – at least for me – is identity disturbance.  I am experiencing an anxious episode right now in a very strange way.

Because I have been underdoing Dialectical Behavior Therapy, I have a reassuring sense of awareness about the reality of what I am experiencing (perhaps “reasonable” or “wise” mind?), and then I have the intense emotional responses of the illness at the very same time.

In fact , I am able to identify three of the criteria from BPD, according to the Diagnostical Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Criteria for diagnosing BPD:
  • Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self:

    I don’t have a close circle of friends right now. I have pushed them all away. I have reached out to try to reconnect, and one person has responded. I’ll see her in a week.  I also have my workgroup, who I connect with part time during the week. Other than that, I only have a strong relationship with a couple of relatives long distance by phone, and my significant other.

    My significant other has taken off to visit his family abroad. I will be without him for 24 days. Every time he leaves, I mark my calendar so I can watch his return date getting closer – a countdown of sorts.
BPD Identity Disturbance Calendar

I miss him so much, it’s hard to bear. I know who I am when he is around – his bubbly, friendly, sometimes sarcastic girlfriend who cooks him a nice piece of steak or chicken with dinner even though I despise it as a vegetarian.

If I’m honest, throughout the day, I seek his approval and reassurance. I look to him for cues to figure out if things are “normal” – if they smell, look, and feel “right.”  I have a hard time figuring out things like that on my own and search outwardly. When he “disappears,” I feel rather lost and frightened and strange.

I just put my feet in his slippers to try to feel connected to him. (Sometimes people with BPD will sleep with an article of clothing from the missed person, spray their cologne on their pillow, or snuggle up with a stuffed animal given to them by the person). It doesn’t work.

Instead, I look at the clock and notice it’s been exactly 4 hours since I last kissed him and had him close by. It’ll be 24 nights before I’ll get to do that again.  I cry. I pull myself back together and have glass of ice cold water.

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

    Like many people who have Borderline Personality Disorder, I do have what has been clichéd as “abandonment issues.” Most specifically, I have an incident when I was around 8 years old when I became very ill, and no one checked on me or knew that I was ill for days. I don’t want to trigger myself further by getting into the details (though I’m sure I wrote about the incident in more detail in other posts when I was feeling a bit stronger, if you’re curious to look), but this wound seems to open up each time he goes away.

    I used to really “act up” like a little girl and even make myself sick, all in a desperate attempt to convince him that he simply must not leave. This time, I noticed all of the impulses to do this but made an active choice not to spoil his trip and to use this very challenging situation as an opportunity for continued growth and application of my DBT skills.

    I have to purposefully remind myself of the simplest things, like:
    • I am 35 years old – a grown person who can take care of herself, and I will be ok.
    • Even if I am anxious, I will make sure that I eat enough, sleep enough, drink enough, etc.  When I feel as if I’ve regressed to a younger state where I remember looking for an adult to help me meet those needs, but there were none around, I have to remind myself that this incident was long ago, and that I am now the adult who can and will be sure that I am ok. I literally talk my inner child through it in order to self-soothe.
    • Most importantly, I reassure myself that: This too, shall pass!
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

    I’ve noticed moments where it has gotten to be too much to feel today, and I’ve disconnected and spaced out. I’ve grounded by bringing myself back to my senses, including by running my hands under cold water, petting my cats, and noticing what I see and hear around me.
Here is how I plan to get through this situation:
  1. Writing. I will write about my experience, paying close attention to the facts of the matter (shifting to “Wise Mind” as often as possible), and focusing on solutions to feeling well using DBT Skills.
  2. Attend my DBT groups on Tuesday afternoons to check in and get support around implementing skills.
  3. I have an appointment with my hypnotherapist tomorrow to address the issues around lack of appetite and muscle tension. This treatment is consistently helpful for me, and I usually visit my hypnotherapist whenever my boyfriend goes away.
  4. Focus on things outside of myself. For example, I will give extra attention to my cats, especially the one that just had surgery last week. I will also be as helpful as I can to others during the week at work and will continue to support my readers via Twitter and Facebook.
  5. I will take care of my body. Each day, I will eat even if I don’t feel like it, drink plenty of water, natural soda, and decaffeinated coffee and tea, get a good amount of rest each night. I will make time to walk or do something else active at least 3 times during the week.
  6. I will focus on my online class.
  7. I will keep my plans with my one friend and will continue to reach out to at least one or two others for something mellow – tea, a walk.
  8. I will ask for support when needed, including from my circle on Twitter.
  9. Practice, practice, practice my DBT skills.
Having just written this – especially the last section on my plan for coping – and looking forward to my hypnosis appointment tomorrow, I am feeling a little bit better. My reaction today is quite typical of the first 1-3 days that my boyfriend or other close person goes away for a while. 

I suspect that by Tuesday, I’ll be telling you how I’m starting to come into a place of feeling more relaxed about the whole thing. That’s the typical pattern. The hypnosis, I think, really helps to jumpstart things.
Does any of this ring true for you? Can you relate to reacting intensely to a loved one going away?
What do you do to self-soothe, distract, or otherwise cope?
Thank you for reading.
More Soon.


  1. Nice "cope ahead"! :-) I have a hard time with cope-aheads, like I'm afraid if I do one, I'll overwhelm/trigger myself.

    I didn't realize this until now, but can relate to what you said about looking to your SO for confirmation things are "normal" or "right". I have a difficult time making simple decisions (where/what to eat, what to do, etc.) and I think it's for this exact reason.

    Anyway, thanks for writing this blog. I found it a couple weeks ago and have been reading bits and pieces since then. I am graduating DBT in three weeks (then going on to a second-year DBT program). Every post I read I think how you are a model DBT student! :-)

    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I have the same fear around cope ahead sometimes, but I find that if I do it, it's like "exposure therapy," so each time, it gets easier. I probably should have started to do that while my bf was still here. I can try that next time. :)

      Isn't it interesting how listening to each others' stories helps us to learn more about ourselves and to realize how less alone we are than we may have thought?

      Thanks for being a new reader of my blog, and CONGRATULATIONS for graduating DBT level one and going one to the second year of the program!

  2. This is a very insightful, well-organized blog and I certainly admire your persistence in getting through. Your wise-mind is very clear to me reading this and I see that you're making the most of using your sensitivity to an advantage. Good for you :) your bf is gone for a pretty long time so I hope you'll be okay! Being away from a partner for that long will be hard on anybody, and you're approaching the situation with a great attitude, but just remember to let yourself miss him sometimes, its normal and it shows you care :) thank you for writing this! I especially like the self-care plan you made toward the end. You're setting realistic goals and appreciating every moment. I could learn a lot from you. Thanks again :)

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Mary. I appreciate everything you said - very encouraging. Thanks for also acknowledging the normality of missing someone who's away for a while and how it's important to acknowledge and accept that. xo

  3. Loving your blog as always: both for the tips and ideas as well as learning more about myself by reading about you. It's a wonderful thing that you do by having this blog. Thank you :)

    I have noticed myself talking my inner child through situations as well. Mostly I start doing it without even noticing. I especially do it when everything seems overwhelming, as though the upset and emotional version of myself that's in the driver's seat goes limp at the wheel and I have this adult voice in the backseat talking the driver through the situation. This might be weird?

    I also think your care plan is great!

    1. Thank you for the kind comments, Rabbit. :)
      I am so glad that my blog not only serves a therapeutic purpose for me through writing, but that people like you let me know that it makes a difference in your journey as well. Thank you.

      I don't think your dialogue with your inner child is weird at all!

      Hope you're doing well xo

  4. I am new to DBT and have only been diagnosed with BPD two years ago (I'm 33 years old) I've been trying to cope with being positive and any little physical self-soothing tool i can get my hands on but this is very useful, insightful and has informative skills that i would like to have. thank you so much for posting it. I have lived all my life with a deep feeling of shame about my BPD and it certainly helps to know I am not alone.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, and hope you're doing well! ♥ Debbie

  5. This will may sound a bit bitter but I have to say... at least you have a boyfriend hehehe. Good strategies, specially taking care of the cats and peting them... is the best for me... they are the greatest representation of calm in my life.

    1. Awww. I know what you mean. And, I'm glad you have kitties to help you self-soothe, too! ♥ Debbie

  6. i'm 38 (turning 39 this year). i've just broken up with my boyfriend of 2-3 months for the umpteenth time, and this time he won't take me back anymore, but we still see each other almost daily, mainly coz i invite him for coffee, walks, etc. he's been accommodating, which i appreciate a lot...and i've been trying hard to "live in the present" when we're together so as not to drift off into the past or future or somewhere irrational (haha). yesterday (valentine's day here...i'm from the philippines/asia), i invited him for some coffee at a garden cafe we'd frequent. i had a very pleasant and peaceful (no conflict, no assuming or ideating threatening scenarios, no jealousy, no lying) time with him and we even skyped in the evening (again, i initiated contact). right now i just thank him for accommodating my invitations. i know that i'd acted-out in the past with him (and with several other lovers before him) and i feel deeply sad/ashamed about it, so i don't wanna keep thinking of my past. i'm trying to focus on LIVING IN THE MOMENT, something that allows me to be GRATEFUL for EVERYTHING, not just for him, but for everything including the LIFE i'm given to live another day, the CHANCE i'm given to try again...i just wanna stay focused on all that's good HERE AND NOW and be GRATEFUL. thanks for blogging about your life with bpd. i don't feel so alone anymore and i feel HOPEFUL, too, that people like us DO GET BETTER at COPING with our challenging "GIFT" (haha). GOD BLESS YOU and i hope to keep reading your blogs :)

    1. Very happy for you that you are choosing to cope effectively and get skillful. Thank you for always leaving such nice, thoughtful comments. Hope you are well. ♥ Debbie



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