Today we are talking about personality disorders in class. Pervasive, lifelong patterns of relating and living in the world that are destructive, dysphoric, debilitating, or demoralizing. The thing is, the personality characteristics that organize a personality disorder are, for the most part, invisible to the person who has them. They are so much a part of that person’s experience of themselves and the world that they feel normal.

What happens is, relationships don’t work or are nonexistent. Jobs are unmanageable. Self caretaking is interrupted by impulsivity, strong emotions, and disorganized thinking. There are circumstances that seem to account for these problems. We don’t see that our stance toward the world is setting us up to experience life and other people in ways that isolate us and feel unfair.

Sometimes the people in our lives, our families, our friends, or our co-workers, try to tell us we are not understanding ourselves clearly. But we just feel criticized and rejected. Our lens through which we see the world is so habitual, so long-standing, and so entrenched that we cannot imagine any other possibility.

The difficult thing is that while we need to feel we can trust our own minds, and we need to feel that we are in charge of our lives, we also need to have some place, some relationship that we trust enough to be able to imagine that we might be missing something. We might be misunderstanding what we think is real. We might be misattributing motives to other people that they just don’t have.

We can’t just accept what other people reflect to us about ourselves, because they have their own distortions. At the same time, we have to have a way of checking whether what we think is true about ourselves and each other is accurate or not. The only way to get out of the endless loop of perception-interpretation error-reaction is to have some kind of mirror, some kind of external system, some at least semi-objective mind to reflect to us a different view, a different interpretation, or at least a different possibility.

Those reliable, committed, long-term relationships are rare and precious. It is not easy to find people who are sufficiently healthy and stable to hold still when we are flailing around. People who will stick with us when we are off track or difficult or confused. Who don’t need to be right or powerful or better. Just present. Therapists, friends, significant others. Not easy. When you find them, try to recognize them and do your part to keep the engine of the relationship going.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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