Exploring emptiness and borderline personality disorder

When facing danger, there are three responses: fight, flight and freeze. With situations such as childhood abuse, trauma or grief, it’s natural for our psyche to go into ‘numbing mode’ as a freezing response. Sometimes this reflex remains long after the actual danger has passed and becomes a way of life. A person can become emotionally detached, experiencing life in a ‘dissociated’ or ‘depersonalised’ way. Amongst other conditions, this may be a symptom of borderline personality disorder.

What began as a response to protect you from others can morph into denying your own needs altogether. It can be experienced differently in everyone, from a lingering sense of boredom or emptiness, to being unable to display or feel emotion, or feeling like you’re watching life go by without being ‘in it’. You may feel as though the painful things in life are muted, but you also miss out on positive emotions.

This protective shield can seem effective initially, feeling as though the pain has left temporarily. The problem with over-using the shield is that when emotions aren’t digested, they remain suppressed and can accumulate until you reach boiling point. Often minor events can catch you off guard and cause you to ‘blow up’, resulting in a shock to the system at the reality of having to feel.

Imi Lo

When the underlying needs for comfort and safety aren’t met, you may resort to self-soothing by over-eating, over-spending, and engaging in impulsive behaviours without knowing why.

Many people operating in shield-mode are worried they’ll enter a depressed state or will be hurt by others again if they allow themselves to feel. A skilled therapist can work with you to build up your emotional skills and resilience, so you feel safe enough to dip your toe back into the pool of feelings. Once you feel that you have some degree of capacity, the ‘thawing’ process often naturally follows.

Read the full article on Counselling Directory.
Written by Imi Lo MMH UKCP HCPC MBPsS.