Lessons I Must Have Missed

Do you ever get the feeling that perhaps you missed some of life’s essential lessons?  Somehow you just weren’t there for that lesson, or maybe you had something distracting you, so you just weren’t paying attention?  I’m not talking about school lessons but rather lessons in the things we needed to know to be able to function adequately as a human being.  Lessons in things that would substantially help us get through life.

I’m coming to the conclusion that I very definitely missed some lessons which could have made life a whole heap easier and maybe even less traumatic for both myself and those close to me.  The missing lessons for me centre around emotions.  I seriously don’t think I ever learnt anything useful until I was very sick and depending on a very good therapist to get me through.  It’s more than a little sad really, and it goes along way to perhaps explaining where my relationship with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) came from.

BPD is a hard disorder to get your head around simply because there are so many variations. We are certainly not all the same, as many websites suggest.   There are usually many things going wrong to warrant a diagnosis, but in my mind it all centres around emotions and the ability to express and manage those emotions.

So here are a few of the lessons that I may have missed, and which may have contributed to the existence of BPD in my life.  They may seem a little disjointed, but bear with me.  There is very definitely a pattern.

Lesson Missed #1
It’s okay to feel hurt

Remember that awful little rhyme that has wrecked havoc on the minds of so many girls with curly hair?

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
When she was good, she was very, very good.
But when she was bad she was horrid.

Who quotes that at their daughters?  Who tells their little daughter that they are horrid?  It’s horrid that anyone should even write such a rhyme let alone quote it at small girls.  And yes, it was quoted at me.  Apparently it was written for me.  My guess is that I was around four or five.

It’s difficult to remember an emotion back that long ago but my guess is that there was no expressed emotion.  I just knew that I was bad. It was a fact, indisputable by the presence of that word ‘horrid’ being applied to me by people I loved and trusted.  Did they think it was funny?  There is nothing funny in name-calling.

If I was that five-year old again, I hope that I would feel hurt, even betrayed.  It seems only appropriate, but then appropriate emotions were something I didn’t know about for a long way to come.

Lesson Missed #2
It’s okay to feel angry

By the time I got to around 15 I was struggling for a number of reasons. Not that anyone outside my immediate family would have known.  To the outside world I was a good teen who seemed to be doing all the right things.  I turned up at school (and anywhere else I was supposed to be), I passed my grades, I had friends, there was nothing I was doing wrong.  But my family knew differently.

I was a bomb waiting to explode but I had little idea of what was going on.  I guess now that I was mostly angry and frustrated but I had no idea how to express that.  I didn’t even recognise what that meant.  I would simply explode and physically lash out.  That was the only means I knew of getting what was inside out.  It would literally be an exploding bomb with no words.  No words because I didn’t have a clue how to attach words to what I was feeling.

Eventually I didn’t trust myself.  I didn’t understand what was happening, so why would I?  Being unable to temper that lashing out I made some big decisions at that point which have significantly impacted the rest of my life.  I was simply doing the only thing I knew how.  I was holding myself in.  Protecting myself, and more importantly, others.  Too scared to express anything.   Only my family know who bore the brunt of that, aside from me.

Lesson Missed #3
Feelings are NOT thoughts

Fast forward to 30.  I’m in residential treatment for a variety of mental illnesses (although not BPD).  Sitting in my therapist’s office, he has asked me how I felt about something that had happened in my life.  I tell him what I think about it.  He asks me again, and this time points out to me that how I feel about something is quite different to what I am thinking about it.

Bingo!  It might seem obvious to you, but at 30 I had no idea.  I was so shut off to my feelings that I didn’t even know they existed.  I literally thought ‘feelings‘ was another word for ‘thoughts‘.  I am an intelligent person.  But I simply hadn’t had that lesson.

That was a very big day of learning.  Life didn’t get easier because now that I was feeling, I felt every one of those emotions eventually.  It hurt like hell, but at least I was on the right road.  There was some hope.

There were more lessons to come.  I was completely closed off to experiencing what I felt.  It seems I had been right from childhood.  Why?

There are lots of possible answers to that ‘why?‘  I’m not going to get into blaming anyone, including myself.  Right now that just wouldn’t be of any help to me or anyone else.  It just was.  What I can do with having worked through this is to understand better where the BPD diagnosis eventually came from, and continue to work from there toward recovery of some sort.  I think too, that some of the other attributes of BPD which I also have perhaps came about as a means to coping.  If I went into that now, this post would become book length.  But maybe it’s time to explore those in future posts.

“Your perspective on life comes from the cage
you were held captive in.”

— Shannon L. Alder



20 thoughts on “Lessons I Must Have Missed

  1. it is not just you. I think most people struggle with all those things too. And you’d be surprised to know how many people still think that feelings and thoughts are the same thing. Another thing I learned (was taught) is that feelings come to you spontaneously and therefore one cannot be held accountable for one’s feelings. What you do with those feelings is conscious and that is part of your thought process. It is how we react to our feelings, what we say, to others and to ourselves, what can be curbed, or restrained or something.

    Great post!

  2. I was only just thinking that somehow I must have missed parts of the growing up lessons. Certain things just didn’t click, leaving me somewhat naïve, maybe even gullible.

    I agree BPD is certainly not all the same…. I identify with a little of every variation!

    I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that nasty rhyme. It’s easy to see how you would take it to heart. Perhaps you did feel hurt and betrayed at the time, but just weren’t grown up enough to recognise those emotions. I remember things from childhood when I must have been humiliated, but I’m unsure if I could comprehend it at the time.

    I totally understand growing up believing thoughts were feelings. I believed my feelings were signs of selfishness and of being inconsiderate. This was the making of a mother who believes everything revolves around how she’s feeling.

    Lastly, until now, I had never really thought about where the BPD came from. Was I naïve enough to believe I was maybe born with it? *blushes*

    1. Count yourself lucky you were never a little girl with that rhyme put on her conscience. It’s a pretty well known one but I was lazy and didn’t look up to see who wrote it. I suspect it was a popular one in the 60’s and 70’s (which is how I came to have it quoted at me.

      I admit my knowledge of child development is pretty much zilch. I’m not sure at what age we would be aware of feelings. The only thing I know is that I was around four or five when it was quoted at me and I took from that point that I was a bad child.

      As for where BPD comes from, it probably is something we’re born with if it is a disorder of the personality. But then I can see many events in my life that may have contributed to it. Maybe it’s a bit of both. But meantime no need to blush. 🙂

      1. I also grew up in the 60’s & 70’s but never heard it. It’s up there with that other ridiculous..”sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you”…tut

        I imagine life events can contribute to a PD. I tend to think many people have a PD to one degree or another…. perhaps life circumstances tip the scales

  3. Feelings and thoughts – wow. Such a simple concept, but I’m not sure I’ve learned that lesson yet, even at (insert age here). Our SSG explained it really well up there, though, so she and you have given me lots to think about. Or to feel about. Or… whatever.

    And that quote is perfect for me. ‘Cage’ is particularly appropriate.

    Thanks for a great post, Cate.

    1. It’s confusing isn’t it? We go through our lives without learning what really are basics. No wonder we get into trouble. And yes, SSG explained it brilliantly. I think I needed that spelt for me because I would never have worked it through in my head. I’m glad you like my choice of quote but I’m sorry that it is so perfect.

  4. johnrichardson2014

    Good post Cate! Two lessons I’ve learned are that people, all people, at times are easily confused. I think this has something to do with running a highly complex brain that is trying to handle an immense amount of data on only about 15 watts of power. The second is that as Cervantes put it, ” When attempting the impossible you must attempt the absurd.” Sometimes, the absurd is the only rational way forward. Like for instance stopping the habit of smoking cigarets by switching to cigars and not inhaling. The emotional side of a human being must be even more complex because I’m not sure any of us really understand it all, ever. But, your writing about it is probably the best single thing you can do to understand it and deal with the issues involved. I’m sure you’re making progress and I always look forward to reading your posts.

  5. I could relate to so much of your ‘missed lessons’ Cate. As a child I felt I was never allowed to show any emotions or to feel any emotions. I thought about everything and like you spent many years confusing thoughts with feelings. Separating the two can be hard. Sending you love and hugs as you work things through. Take care.

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