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Section 3
Emotional Switching in Borderline Personality Disorder

Questions 3 & 4 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed how schemas affect everyday lives: as a way to view the world; and a stored response to an emotional trauma. Also, we addressed various maladaptive schemas that characterize many clients diagnosed with BPD: selective perception; overgeneralization; and jumping to conclusions.

In this section, we will address pattern schemas, how they form, and particular pattern schemas that are found in borderline personalities: subjugation; mistrust; and unlovability.

♦ Pattern Schemas
The first step in addressing a BPD diagnosed client's maladaptive schema is to detect the pattern for that particular schema. For example, Linda, age 35, described this incident between her mother and her. She stated, "I had just gotten back from a vacation and was feeling very relaxed, so I called my mother. She asked me about my trip, and I started to tell her. But she cut me off and immediately started talking about herself. That set something off in me. God I hate her. I thought, 'She couldn't care less about me' and I got sad, and then very pissed off. Within minutes, we were arguing again, shouting at each other. I got so furious that I hung up on her. I don't know why this keeps happening to us."

As you can see, Linda was experiencing the schema of "No one really cares about me." When her mother had interrupted her, Linda immediately jumped to the conclusion that her mother did not care for her at all. This recurring scene is an example of the way a schema can destroy a client's view of themselves. Does your client diagnosed with BPD have the "No one really cares about me" schema?

♦ 3 Wishes at the Core of Conflict
According to Dr. Luborsky of the University of Pennsylvania, at the core of every conflict, a person has three wishes:
-- 1. to be respected;
-- 2. to be understood; and
-- 3. to feel confident.
When a client has preconceived notions of how their wishes will be recognized or not recognized at all and these notions are reinforced by other people, it leaves the BPD diagnosed client feeling hopeless and anxious about their surroundings.

Forty-two year old Christine, diagnosed with BPD, was suffering from preconceived notions about her husband. She recalled, "I came home from work and I was so exhausted. I just wanted to slump on the couch and rest, you know? But when I got there, Carl had all his shit all over the living room that I couldn't find anywhere to lie down. Well, of course I got pissed. I knew he was going to ruin my day even more, somehow. Carl does not give a damn about how I feel or whether I'm so tired I can hardly stand. He always does that to me. And you know the worst part? He didn't even know why I was so mad."

Christine's preconceived idea that Carl didn't really care for her was enforced by his behavior, even though his actions really had no reflection on his feelings for her.

3 Schema Patterns

♦ Schema Pattern 1: Subjugation
Now let's discuss several pattern of schemas that many BPD diagnosed clients portray. The first of these is known as subjugation. The client diagnosed with BPD suffering from a subjugation schema has been taught from an early age to give in to what others want. While these clients easily give in, the constant repressing of their true feelings erupts in a deluge of anger, which, as you know, is a characteristic of a client diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Twenty-four year old Thad, a client I treated for BPD, related this story about his childhood to me, "My mother was extremely domineering. She decided everything for me, even when I was a teenager. I had no voice. She would shop for my shoes, for my clothes, never asking what I liked. Everything was always her way. Now, in my relationships, I can never speak up for what I want. I just go along with what the other person wants until I explode. Then we have this huge fight, and I eventually give up."

While Thad reacted to his overbearing parents by means of resignation, Courtney, age 17 and diagnosed with Borderline Personality, took the opposite road and rebelled against her parents. She said, "I do crack, and I screw any guy I feel like. My parents don't know what to do with me. It's hilarious. Now they know they can't control me anymore."

♦ Schema Pattern 2: Mistrust
Mistrust, as you know, is another characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder. This pattern of mistrust stems from early childhood abandonment and betrayal and is common in clients suffering from sexual abuse.

Ashley, age 19, and her sisters had been molested by a close relative and when she had finally reported the abuse to her alcoholic mother, the reply was, "He probably didn't mean nothing like that." Because of her mother's dismissive and unsupportive attitude to a traumatic event, Ashley remained mistrustful. Although at times she could be charming and vivacious, she became hostile and mistrustful at the least sign of betrayal.

As Ashley described it, "I'm just as paranoid as I-don't-know-what! Whenever I hear my boyfriend walking around at night, I immediately go to where my daughter sleeps to reassure myself that she hasn't been touched." As you can see, Ashley's mistrust schema has affected her social life and now threatens her relationship.

♦ Schema Pattern 3: Unlovability
A third pattern schema prevalent in Borderline Personality diagnosed clients is unlovability. This occurs when the client believes that they are unworthy or incapable of being loved by any other person. Usually, like the mistrust schema, this stems from early childhood abandonment.

Thirty year old Samantha, another client I treated for BPD, was abandoned by her father when she was eight. Samantha stated, "I know I can't be loved. My own father doesn't love me. No guy thinks I'm good enough for him. I'm just so messed up, who could love me? They'd have to be messed up themselves." Samantha's firm belief that she is unworthy of any affection restrains her from a loving relationship that could be beneficial to her.

♦ Technique: "Changing the Emotion"
To help Christine, Linda, Thad, Courtney, Ashley, and Samantha address their negative feelings in their everyday life, I found the "Changing the Emotion" exercise beneficial. I told them that when they begin to feel negative emotions such as anger, mistrust, or despair taking hold to stop and analyze other emotions that are also at the core of that specific feeling. These other negative emotions include:
1. Anger

Thad related his analysis of his emotions as such, "At first, I was so mad that she hadn't shown up for our dinner. Then, when the anger died away, I analyzed my feelings." I asked him, "What did you feel?" Thad stated, "I knew that at the root of my anger, I felt sad, because something had not turned out as I planned." I asked, "Why do you think you were sad about this?" He responded, "I guess the loss of a sociable dinner made me feel this way. I felt a little abandoned and taken advantage of, I guess."

By analyzing his feelings after his initial anger, Thad could better understand why his emotions took hold of him so quickly and better understood how his feelings of abandonment and vulnerability affected his reaction.

In this section, we discussed address pattern schemas, how they form, and particular pattern schemas that are found in borderline personalities: subjugation; mistrust; and unlovability.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Regulation:
Insights from the Polyvagal Theory

- Austin, M. A., Riniolo, T. C., and Porges, S. W. (2007). Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Regulation: Insights from the Polyvagal Theory. Brain Cogn. 65(1). p. 69-76.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
DeShong, H. L., Grant, D. M., & Mullins-Sweatt, S. N. (2019). Precursors of the emotional cascade model of borderline personality disorder: The role of neuroticism, childhood emotional vulnerability, and parental invalidation. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 10(4), 317–329.

Dixon-Gordon, K. L., Peters, J. R., Fertuck, E. A., & Yen, S. (2017). Emotional processes in borderline personality disorder: An update for clinical practice. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 27(4), 425–438. 

Houben, M., Vansteelandt, K., Claes, L., Sienaert, P., Berens, A., Sleuwaegen, E., & Kuppens, P. (2016). Emotional switching in borderline personality disorder: A daily life study.Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 7(1), 50–60.

Liebke, L., Koppe, G., Bungert, M., Thome, J., Hauschild, S., Defiebre, N., Izurieta Hidalgo, N. A., Schmahl, C., Bohus, M., & Lis, S. (2018). Difficulties with being socially accepted: An experimental study in borderline personality disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(7), 670–682. 

Rosenstein, L. K., Ellison, W. D., Walsh, E., Chelminski, I., Dalrymple, K., & Zimmerman, M. (2018). The role of emotion regulation difficulties in the connection between childhood emotional abuse and borderline personality features. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 9(6), 590–594.

What are three pattern schemas that characterize a Borderline Personality? To select and enter your answer go to the Test.

What are the three wishes at the core of every conflict? To select and enter your answer go to the Test.

Section 4
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