Identity Formation (and Disturbance) with Borderline Personality Disorder

Once again during DBT group this week, our therapist brought up how it's a healthy practice to pick someone on television (or in real life) who handles emotional situations the way we'd like to, and then use that inspiration as a model for our own behavior.

I recently blogged about how the character Jane Bingum of Drop Dead Diva is someone that fits the bill for me.  Since I am running dry on episodes and will soon be caught up to watch the current season, I went in search on Netflix of other shows I might like for evening self-soothing time. 

I came across a show from the 90s called Ally McBeal.  I never got into the show during the time it originally aired, but 6 minutes into the pilot episode last night, and I was hooked.
When it occurred to me that I enjoy watching two shows with quirky female leads that happen to be lawyers.  I joked with my Twitter followers in this tweet:

Many of you with Borderline Personality Disorder who suffer from the criteria relating to Identity Disturbance will get what I mean by this.

This past spring, I wrote a post called "Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker: Career issues with BPD Identity Disturbance,"about the many times I've changed jobs, professions, and school majors because I would latch on to what someone else is doing, feeling aimless in terms of having any sense of direction or desire of my own. If someone looked happy, I thought I could emulate them and be happy too.

When I realized that a decade had passed and I hadn't yet finished my bachelor's degree or committed to a profession (or stayed very long with any job), I was hard on myself.

I mentioned this in group today, and our therapist pointed out that admiring someone else and following in their career footsteps is a natural part of development. Many of us with BPD have had that process interrupted or stunted, especially if we grew up in invalidating environments

So while it may take us much longer to connect with something that feels right to us, and even if it takes years of trial and error (as it has for me), we need not judge ourselves.  For many of us, our paths have looked nothing like that of others who grew up in relatively healthy home environments where they were validated.  

So, wherever you are in the developmental process of identity formation, there is hope that one day, you, too, can watch videos about makeup artistry on YouTube without flying down to L.A. to become a certified makeup artist (which I did), or enjoy the character of Phoebe on friends without becoming a certified massage therapist (which I did), etc.

How do you discover who you are and built the life you want? One step and one breath at a time.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.


  1. As i grew up i had a million things i wanted to do but i couldn't ever imagine myself actually doing any of them, well not for a long time anyway.
    I think my Dad had a lot to do with it. He did have a stable job for a long time but that was when i was quite young. From the age of about 8 i can remember him not working. He would start differnt projects of one kind or another. He got quite into glass casting, making all sorts of things from bowls to letterboxes. But after a few months he would always give up on the idea and himself. I always had a sense that he felt he wasn't good enough at whatever he was doing so why bother. I think he also was afraid of success.
    I didn't grow up with any kind of work ethic. My Mum worked but that was only when i was 13.
    Having been through treatment i now see and understand how i came to be this way.
    Because of the BPD i have only had 2 jobs, one when i was 15 and one when i was 18. So i am nearly 30 years old and have only worked 3 years of my life.
    It's so hard not being able to support myself. I find that when i try and work or study, as i have done over the last few years i become suicidal within about 3 weeks so i have to stop whatever it is i'm doing. I just cannot handle any kind of stress at all.
    It really sucks basically. Even more so beacuse i did nothing to create this illness i have. None of it was my fault but i am the one that has to live with it.

  2. Hi Debbie,

    I commend you for being so brave and sincere... I have just found your blog and will continue to follow it.

    I just found out I have BPD after a severe psychological crisis, which was a blessing in disguise. Because of that I have finally stopped the morbid habit of being too hard on myself for not being able to figure myself out at my age (28). Surely, realizing that identity issues are a symptom of BPD it easy to accept why I cannot be "ok" like other people seem to be, and it was very reassuring for me to discover the cause of this "emptiness" I have been feeling when alone for as long as I can remember.

    I am not doing DBT but I am seeing a psychiatrist who helps a lot. And on the side I have creating my own techniques for coping that I find to be of tremendous help, and which I want to share over here hoping that someone will find these as helpful as I have. I also carry a little notebook to write them down and I refer to it whenever I feel overwhelmed and lost about what to do to save myself. So here goes:

    1- The feeling of emptiness is just a face of the identity crisis. If you dont know who you are, it means that you dont FEEL who you are, or you dont FEEL a SELF or PRESENCE that is natural for most people to feel.
    Whener I felt htis way, I tried to remind myself of my likes and dislikes or what I wanted to do. But I soon realized that didn't help, because likes and preferences are NOT your identity they are just your taste. I realized that identity is the FEELING OF YOUR OWN PRESENCE, and it is from THAT that your likes and dislikes emerge.
    So to tell you about my technique, it involves sarcastic exaggeration and I love it. Whenever I feel emptiness or confusion (which means that I am just not in touch with my own presence), I sarcastically say to myself, "that's right, Rina, unlike other people your were not given a "self" so you don't have one. I am sorry but you don't exist and you will just have to come to terms with that... Poor you... ". Instantly I feel the humor about the situation and I snap out of it like a Fairy Godmother hit me with a wand, realizing that it is logically impossible for me to be empty and I MUST have a self in order to feel the emptiness, or feel anything for that matter! Immediately I start sensing myself and my love for life comes back with it.

    Another thing I tell myself is, "you are 28, and you are a girl and that's enough identity for now", and this takes the pressure off of having to sense an identity beyond those simple facts, and eventually my SELF emerges again when it feel the lack of pressure and the SAFETY for it to come back out.

    2- Another very helpful technique (plz pardon the obscenity here): When I feel confused or unable to make a choice that rises from my own SELF, or I feel unsure or insecure about a feeling, I ask my p***** (my female genitals) and immedialtely I will feel a strong emotion or preference that comes right out of my CORE, my FEMININE CORE to be exact. A woman wrote about this once and I found it to be very grounding and empowering. It also affirms your feminine identity and goddess nature which is so empowering!!! It also makes you feel very confident and un-shy about making any decision.

    Hope this has been helpful to whomever is reading it.

    Love, luck and take it JUST one day at a time,



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...