Seniors & Aging

Real Life | Nasty? Nuts? Hateful? Stupid? No, Painfully Afflicted!

“Marcy finds fault with everything I say and do. She’s hateful.”

“Chuck hibernates in his room. He’s both retarded and anti-social.”

“Jay throws tantrums in school and at home. He’s a bully.”

“Jessica just doesn’t listen or try to understand. She’s stubborn.”

“Mom thinks everything we say and do for her is an attack on her.”

“Just leave me alone, I don’t feel like doing anything.”

“Tim feels disdained by everything I do around him. He’s crabby!”

“Darlene’s vacillating extremes between joy and gloom: Insanity!”

“Jose picks people and makes up reasons to hate them. He’s mean.”

“Dad doesn’t remember whether he took his medicine. Dementia.”

“I can’t believe anything she says. She’s such a liar.”

“Jeff turns real life events into childish fantasies. Grow up, Jeff.”

Sound familiar? Sound like someone in your life? We endure many such negative behaviors, and we often criticize and blame the people that are doing them.

Guess what! That’s dead wrong!

Those behaviors come from, the emotional pain and suffering, generated by mental disorders that we aren’t aware of, we have no control over, we are controlled by, and we are absolutely not at fault for. Those horrible invasive disorders, not the sufferers, are to blame.

If we can recognize, learn about, be compassionate about, and develop the right techniques for dealing with them, things can get a whole lot better. There will be less suffering and bizarre behavior for the sufferers, less stress and hardship for their loved ones, and more harmonious interaction for everyone.

Behavioral scientists call the disorders and the psychological mechanizations that they invoke “Borderline Personality Disorders.” The American Psychological Association says: “In the past, some believed that people with personality disorders were just lazy, or even evil.” But now we know that they come from inherited genetic distortions, from being victimized by both childhood and adult emotional and physical abuse and trauma, from personality damage done to us by lousy parenting, from self-image-damaging harsh schooling and peer relationships, and from long and severe stress and anxiety. Love deprivation, insecurity, yelling and critical parents, and sexual trauma, especially afflicting children, grievously are widespread major causes in today’s society.

When the disorders become severe enough to cause sufficient major disruption of the victim’s daily life to get recognized and hopefully treated, then we recognize them to be mental illnesses.

You know of those: Schizophrenia, paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, eating disorders, bipolar syndrome, attention deficit disorder (ADD), Asperger’s, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and so on. But millions of the folks around us and whom we interact with every day suffer afflictions that aren’t that clinically severe and therefore usually aren’t recognized or diagnosed. Their significantly distorted behaviors come from the same causes — That’s BPD.

To make things worse, BPD sufferers also are especially vulnerable to trickery from our minds’ psychological defense mechanisms. They distort our thinking and our judgment, to protect us from negative emotions, almost always involuntarily and unknowingly. You know: Denial, repression, compensation, aggressive reaction, confabulation, suppression, rationalization, and more.

So, now that we’re aware of BPD, what to do about it?

HelpGuide.org’s recent article “Helping Someone With BPD While Taking Care Of Yourself” observes: “The destructive and harmful behaviors are a reaction to deep emotional pain. They’re not about you. The behavior is motivated by the desire to stop the pain; It’s rarely deliberate. Learning about BPD won’t automatically solve your relationship problems, but it will help you understand what you’re dealing with and handle difficulties in more constructive ways.”

With knowledge, we can detect symptoms. Among them, M.J. Clausen, in his 2014 article, “How to Spot Someone With BPD”, offers nine tips:

1. Sufferers often see the world in black and white, with everything, including you, being either all good or all bad.

2. They’re unclear about their identity, frequently changing their physical appearance, interests, careers.

3. Handling abandonment, real or imagined, is difficult or impossible.

4. They engage in masochistic or suicidal thoughts and actions.

5. They react to situations in extremes with intense emotions, often raging over things that normally would be regarded as mundane.

6. There can be constant feelings of emptiness or unimportance.

7. Anger is the dominant outwardly-expressed emotion.

8. Their dominant and enduring perception of other people is that the others are being hostile in their thinking, talking, and actions toward them.

9. They embrace impulsive, dangerous, potentially self-harmful actions and habits.

OK, now that we’re alerted to the signs and symptoms of BPD, such as the many cited above plus more, the common-sense next step is to become good at handling it, by learning about it.

Fortunately, The Internet offers a wealth of knowledge; just Google various combinations of the key words.

Then, the next question, of course, is “How can we deal with it?”

HelpGuide.Org and other resources advise approaches that go something like this:

First, take care of yourself. A sick, depressed, BPD-afflicted you can’t help the sufferer very much. Besides the obvious medical, nutrition, and exercise routines, give yourself a life. Get around, participate, inter-act with friends, be your own person fully. Learn to manage stress, including how to keep your cool when Sufferer is having “an incident” — far from easy, but at least partially do-able.

Second, get smart about communicating and inter-acting with sufferer. Remember, no matter what sufferer says or does, it’s not your fault, Sufferers are reacting to their own emotional pain and defending against perceived abandonment and assaults on their egos. Arguing, rebutting, criticizing, doubting, raising abrasive issues, finding fault, all detonate explosions. Try to steer the focus to calmer, gentler subjects, or wait until things calm down. Then:

▪ Listen actively and be sympathetic.

▪ Focus on the emotions, not the words.

▪ Help Sufferer to feel understood and is being listened to.

▪ Keep your cool, and change the direction of the conversation when Sufferer begins to lose his or hers.

Concurrently, set healthy boundaries — rules of behavior — navigation beacons. For example:

▪ No smoking in the house.

▪ When the insults and nasty language begin to fly, the conversation’s automatically suspended.

▪ Insist on maintaining your friendships and interests, regardless of Sufferer’s insistence that you spurn them.

The boundaries must be enforced, to prevent sufferer from steamrolling over them — and over you. As in “tough love,” it’ll be tough and things can get worse for a while, before the comfort zones that the boundaries create begin to help. But when they do, you’ll both do better.

Of course, be vigilant for signs of self-destructive activities, including suicidal ones. And be emotionally and logistically prepared for emergencies that might result.

Community and professional help of many kinds awaits Sufferer’s willingness to embrace them. Maybe we can -- oh, so gently -- encourage that.

Whatever we can do can make things better, even if only a little bit. But it’s critical to do it right, and to be infinitely patient, right?

Oh! By the way, have we yet realized that we, ourselves, can be unaware and involuntarily-afflicted BPD victims? And our loved ones can be the impacted ones?

Contact Gary Newman at gary@gnewman.org. Your ideas and comments are always welcome.

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