Recently, I saw an ad that seemingly contradicted itself. “Strawberry lemonade forever” was proudly displayed above a picture of the product, with the notice that it was available “for a limited time only”. So which is it? Strawberry lemonade forever? Or for a limited time only?
This is “black and white” thinking, or as philosophers like to say, the either-or fallacy. The belief that there are only two options, when, in reality, there are more than two options, is a symptom of borderline personality disorder.
Rigid Thinking A Source of Great Distress for People with BPD
People with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) often cannot integrate more than one side of a situation. One week’s perfect therapy may be next week’s torture, rather than therapy being a helpful yet difficult process.
Why is this? An annoyed psychiatric nurse/Army lieutenant once told me: “With you, it’s either feast or famine.” I knew better than to share the answer that popped into my head: “That’s what my life has been.”
Evidence suggests that BPD may be a type of post-traumatic stress disorder caused by traumatic childhood events. PTSD is best described as “I jumped out of my skin and kept on jumping.” While re-integrating body and mind is possible, the disconnection between them causes a major problem for a person with BPD.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) creator, Marsha Linehan, told Time Magazine: “Borderline individuals are the psychological equivalent of third-degree-burn patients. They simply have, so to speak, no emotional skin. Even the slightest touch of movement can create immense suffering.”
Why do people with BPD experience such pain? When a person with BPD first jumps out of his/her skin, time stops emotionally. She is trapped in the moment and no longer growing or developing. Meanwhile, time moves on for every other aspect of existence, and she never develops the emotional maturity needed to respond to what’s happening elsewhere. She is not failing to use appropriate coping skills–said skills were never developed. She is often left with a child’s view of the world—it’s either all good or all bad.
Part of healing begins by learning to see all sides of the situation. For example, both of the lemonade ad’s statements could be right. The name of the product could be “Strawberry Lemonade Forever”, while the product could be available “for a limited time only”. Or the promotion for a temporary product may be a poor reference to the Beatles (maybe “nothing is real” didn’t test too well in the focus groups). Realizing there are multiple options allows a person with BPD to understand the world around him/her, and respond accordingly.