Tag Archives: Understanding

Mental Maps, Attitude, and Diligence

200It is Saturday afternoon and after a little time in the pool killing wasps that wanted to share the pool, I had some time to think about the frustrating obstacles we face along the way.  For instance, as much as I tried to avoid the wasps, I thought maybe my attitude and diligence to avoid the wasps would get some mileage at overcoming the flying source of frustration.

However, I soon discovered that, the source of the frustration was not the lack of the right attitude about peaceful co-existence about the wasps, but how I had mapped out the idea that I could share a pool with a swarm of wasps.  I thought, if I leave them alone, they would do the same.  As I soon learned, sometimes the little maps created in our thinking are encoded with the wrong information.  Earlier I was reading in Covey (2004) who indicated that everyone tends to think about obstacles in two ways, “the way things are, or realities, [or] the way things should be, values” (p. 24).  There are times when we give in to circumstances because we cannot see past the obvious. 

As I discovered, one of the problems with looking at things as they appear, or how they should be, is that we usually believe that the way we see things is the way things really are or should be. Unfortunately, a people believe many things passionately that simply are not true.  Consequently, beliefs that people hold about what they see as, “realities or what should be” in life can be misleading.

Therefore, when we face obstacles, our assumptions about life events, like swimming with wasps, generally muster up an attitude to embolden a response to manage frustrating obstacles without ever getting out of the pool because that is our comfort zone.  In addition, if perception impairment sidetracks thinking in effective ways; then, we run the risk of an unpleasant engagement with the wasps we will have to face.

What I discovered is that an anxiety driven response could not change the momentary crisis created by aggravating wasps.  As long as the impending sense of concern about the wasps polarized the moment, the feeling of aggravation only made the experience more frustrating.  As I soon understood, there are times when we just need to change not only what we see about obstacles, we need to change what we think and do about frustrating obstacles.  Then, just get out of the pool and spray them with hornet spray because it did not matter how positive that I was and no matter how much I believed that this should not be, I had to change my thinking and get out of the pool to remove the frustrating obstacles.

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Emotional Abuse–Invalidation, Scars Left Behind

I have heard it said that the greatest fear that a child has while growing up is the fear of abandonment and rejection—that they will be left alone.  Abandonment alone is a subject that there is a plethora of research written about and its association with mental health disorders, as well as, social and identity issues.  If it is true that a developing child has an identity crisis occurring already– questioning how he/she fits into a social construct or asking how and where he/she fits into family—the world; then how does emotional, psychological, and physical abuse effect a child developing social identity?

The impact of abandonment, isolation, invalidation, and rejection brings a feeling that surfaces unexplainable and perplexing behaviors and contributes to an attachment pattern that is secure or insecure—reactive or maladaptive.  Quite often, when we see children or adults that demonstrate perplexing behaviors — that we may not understand, there is something not seen. Unseen forces are at work creating a ricocheting pattern of emotional responses– events in life that bring a wave of peculiar behaviors that affect every area of life now and everything happening in the future. While some people may believe that their actions are independent and well thought out, the truth is that what is happening in life is inextricably connected to the experience of attachment and the concurrent developmental process.

Attachment and development are important to understand in how children develop, but when a child is subjected to factors that negatively affect normal progression, such as emotional abuse, healthy and normal development is altered.  The impact of the environment upon a child are well noted in studies, but when there are multiple themes of abandonment, rejection, and invalidation; it is an unnatural occurrence that changes the outcome of development.  A problem that many people are faced with is a lack of understanding about how episodes or solitary events are related to behaviors and events in life.  A simplistic way this can be illustrated is that life is an organic event where everything has an effect in a systemic way upon development.  As a result, the emotional quotient of all of the things that happen throughout life have an unrealized connection to how the lived experience of a child unfolds into adult life.

What happens to children when adults do not take time to think about how their behavior affects children?  One week in the life of a child can have an effect for the rest of life.   I listened to the story about a father who goes out of town and a family friend coming to visit and  taking the unattended mother and the kids for a ride, it seemed innocent enough at the time.  However, what seemed like an innocent event from child’s perspective, quickly turned into adults behaving badly. In addition to children being caught in the middle of an event beyond their capacity to understand clearly.  It seemed an innocent event until the father came back after being away and the child shares the latest news. However, what happened afterward the conversation was not innocent.  What followed was a anger, a mother being abused in an angry and violent dispute over what happened.  Unfortunately, there are many times like this when the bad behavior of adults places children in a situation that they are not capable of understanding.  The result is a child whose innocence is scarred by witnessing abusive behavior and a feeling of responsibility that arrests and inhibits normal development and social identity that can echo down through life experience.  When a child is forced to take responsibility for the bad behavior of adults, the child does not know what to do or how to rationalize the experience, which results in fear.  What adults do not understand is that when children are exposed to experiences like this, they are faced with another adult crisis: the child feels guilt, has to live in secrecy, and is forced to cover up for the parents acting out their problems. Obviously,  events have an effect upon everyone involved, but what message is conveyed to the child and how does this affect relationships and the child’s development of future behaviors?

The answer is very complicated, but what happens throughout life and connects to everything else in life.  Individuals always have a reason for acting as they do, behaving as they do and while it may not be clear to us at the movement, all behaviors are a product of systems at work..  One of the problems with behavioral issues is that a casual examination of what a person does—just seeing behavior– does not provide clear answers to why something is happening.  For most people, unless they are in a crisis or unless it serves a personal need,  time will not be taken to ask why,  the behavior is judged on the merit of what is seen and branded with a label like “good ‘or “bad” behavior.

What seemed like a fun day for a child turned into a lifetime of problems in relationships?  After, telling what happened and  seeing the mother’s pain, the father’s anger, and trying to avoid and manawillge conflict—the interpretation of the child is that somehow this is his fault.  For a child who is not mature enough to make sense of what happened, the result is emotionally damaging be cause the event is internalized with guilt, fear, and a feeling of responsibility for things that adults are doing without considering what effect is being placed upon the child.  The child sees this a a personal failure and interprets the event and interprets this from “if should” reasoning.  If I had done this, it would not have happened—I should have kept this a secret.  Children think in terms of “black and white” concrete operational thinking (Jean Piaget).  In simple terms, it means the child felt responsibility for what happened in the family on that day and accepted ownership for the emotional consequences of what happened.  What a horrible thing for a child to have to own—responsibility, guilt, inferiority, shame, and rejection because adults did not think beyond their immediate needs and chose not to act responsibly.  For a child, events like this are emotionally damaging and leave scars of the developing child which lead to a reflection of self and others that continues throughout life until they are understood.

While adults may not understand the effect of what they do or why act in certain ways, everything that happens in life is related to perception in the lived-experience of a developing child.  Adult issues with depression, self-esteem, identity issues, relationships, perfectionism, as well as numerous other issues are related to attachment, socialization, and development as a child.  A problem is that many people do not figure these things out until life is turned upside down and life falls apart.  The importance of this cannot be understated for the developing child.  A child is faced with enormous pressures upon life and when something goes wrong and development is scarred by emotional abuse, the child gets a life sentence.   Erick Erickson said that developing children faces a social identity crisis in every period of growth that will have an impact upon how a child feels about self, acceptance in social settings, and the ways the child will interact with his world.  Consequently, the developing child needs a clear sense of who they are and how they fit in the world, where they belong, as well as, being equipped to develop the necessary skills to engaged with life in a healthy way.

When children witness traumatic events, how will abnormal events affect development and impact the child’s ability to manage a complex adult issue of sex, marital fidelity, and emotional or physical abuse?  The answer is clear, there is nothing that could prepare a child to understand or r manage these conditions: because it is an unnatural development.  The scars created by intentional or unintentional emotional abuse predicts what will come in the future —a lifetime of guilt, perfectionism, feeling rejected, and emotionally abandoned.

What Can Be Learned From The Aftermath?

This story calls attention to the importance of what happens in childhood development, the cognitive map that is formed, and behavioral cues that indicate that something has happened that needs to be understood.  In addition, when some people look at life diagnostically, they are looking for someone to blame for their pain, behaviors, or life experience.  Blame, unforgiveness, and anger are not an effective approach, they only deepen the effect of abuse and does not bring solutions contribute to an effective life.  For those desiring an healthy life, what will be of importance is not someone to blame, but understanding why behaviors occur as they do.

Obviously, many individuals cannot find the destination to healthy living, i.e., taking the appropriate steps toward changing life without an understanding of the core problems of childhood experiences.  Thinking about the past is painful at times and you may not want to air all of your dirty laundry in public, but the fact remains that connecting events from childhood events, pain rejection, or abandonment, draws a picture that puts events, feelings, and behavior in a context to be understood.

Be Careful About Casting Your Pearls Before The Swine.

One of the problems with adult behavior is that when we share with others, not capable of understanding, a common experience is that invalidation, criticism, and more misunderstanding occurs.  As a result, because we do not like that feeling, then we hide, deny, and cover up what is felt and deepen the pain in the act of denial. Unfortunately, you cannot hide from yourself for long and when you shove your feelings down for so long, they come out in health, relationship, and life problems.  The problem creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that will predict how relationships will occur.  Many times the problems of the past will perpetuate the very thing that is hated the most and we desire to change.  When you are willing to accept responsibility for yourself and understand where the negative programming from abuse originates, change is possible.  When the days of awakening comes the abused can realize that today is good day to start acting instead of reacting to life.  Life will never be perfect, but life will be what you make it today, so enjoy the opportunity that you have in your hand today. “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning” (Albert Einstein).

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Borderline Personality Disorder: the Relationship Disorder

The image illustrates some theory of famous ps...Family life that includes relationship  with a borderline personality contains  the potential for creating a domino effect  of relationship problems characterized by toxic  behaviors and interpersonal problems that have the potential to disrupt, shatter, or even destroy social and family relationships.  While it is common for most people to overlook what is occurring in the midst of a family interactions, it does not change the cycle of pain and disruption experienced by everyone involved.  In fact, because others are not often exposed to the extreme relationship dynamics that work beneath the surface, they simple do not understand the deep emotional pain and difficulty in managing life. Quite often friends, who do not understand, mysteriously ignore happenings and the behavior goes unrecognized for years.  Strangely enough other people never question or really understand the difficulty faced by what is happening in daily interaction because it is not affecting them every day.  As a result, one difficulty with this type of behavioral disorder is the lack of realization that “Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental disorder with a characteristic pervasive pattern of instability in affect regulation, impulse control, interpersonal relationships, and self-image effect” (Lieb K., 2004, p. 453).  Consequently, many people who have the disorder, as well as, the people surrounding them rarely understand many of the things that are happening or why they are happening.

Furthermore, misunderstanding  is magnified by the absence of sensitivity to the significance of behaviors experienced daily.  It is because expectations of normality are set very subtly within a social context of family systems and relationships. When anomalies are the daily experience and at the center of the way families interact desensitization prevents family members from understanding and paying attention to things taken for granite or ignored.  Therefore, without a distinguishable way to dissect behavior from a borderline personality the majority of people do not understand how to connect the dots between behavior and pathology in personality disorders. Unfortunately, families that have borderline personalities as a part daily relationship patterns, often are confused about  the relationship disorder characterized by others as extreme.  Often, family members find themselves the target of abusive outburst of anger, which triggers more misunderstanding, confusion, and results in enabling behavior or rescuing actions.  The result is that functionality in relationships disable healthy responses with the individual, as well as, with the extended family.  Therefore, when families do not  recognize what (BPD) behaviors and patterns of relating indicate, the result is personal confusion in the experience of life  and a tendency to develop a reactionary lifestyle to emotional events.  Consequently, in many cases families develop natural mechanisms to adapt and manage things  misunderstood with strategies that may not be beneficial or healthy.

The problem, (BPD) that is not understood, contains a fundamental potential for failure and feelings of frustration about life.  The result is an inability to construct healthy ways of living and relating effectively resulting from a fundamental misunderstanding of borderline behavior.  Consequently, a relational mythology constructed by families paints a picture of perceived functionality; thereby establishing a group expectation that seems normal for the family, but what is normal?

The adaptive behavioral effects are cloaked by denial of the existing reality that something is wrong.  As a result, the outcome demonstrates an inability to experience functional intimacy; thereby hiding the problem that is beneath the unusual behavior occurring.  As a result, there is a life where secrecy, emotional abuse, codependency, and bullying behaviors are major themes accompanying the daily interaction within family life.  Consequently, confusion is the rule attached to a distorted self-concept.  What results is a feeling of disempowerment fueled by belief that this can never change resulting in relating through acquiescing to dysfunctional patterns erroneously felt to represent a safety zone to experience life.

Family Systems

All families develop coping strategies for managing relationships, but often times those ways are not the best approach to address the central issues within a family system.  It is a plausible reality that the family members inside the system do not understand clearly what is happening and are confused or in denial. Therefore, not being able to see the problem clearly results in a distorted sense of reality and skewed expectations of life.  As a result, family rituals, expectations, phenomenology and internalized mores’ create demands for participating in family life, which contribute to social reinforcement of problematic behaviors.  Therefore, enabling acceptance of anomalies that otherwise would be considered unacceptable.  Indeed, everyone likes to believe that they are objective and that they are not contributing to destructive patterns of relating, that in effect are damaging, and many times destroying relationships. However, the question that participants in the system need to ask is what role is going to be played; will it be the enabler, the excuser, or the examiner? The person  who decides to be a rescuer participates in the destructive behaviors excusing and then enabling by refusing to acknowledge there is something that is not right. Unfortunately, it is thinking and believing that helping means fighting to keep everything  the same.

Motivators and Influences

One essential problem that is fundamental to misunderstanding BPD is that most people do not know any more about personality disorders than we do about cancer.  When I think back upon my own experience with cancer and my wife who died from cancer; I often wonder why this went undiagnosed and untreated, while we were seeing doctors who should have understood.  Also, knowing what I know now, why did we not pay closer attention to clear indications that there was a problem and do something about the cancer.  The problem was that it was diagnosed too late for her to recover and the end result was that the cancer that was hidden destroyed her life. What might have been avoided, if we had taken time to think, brought an unimaginable reality and destruction of everything that was loved and hoped for in life.  Borderline personality, for some people, is eating away at things that create and sustain healthy relationships.  Also, because BPD  is not recognized or easily diagnosed as a result, it is often misunderstood. Unfortunately, the unimaginable destruction is becoming a reality the longer the disease is ignored.

Genetic Influence

A problem existing  within  mental disorders is establishing what the relationship is between symptoms and the etiology of biological problems.  Historically, an  ongoing debate focuses upon the question of origin or cause.  Can mental illnesses be inherited or is personality disorder caused by a negative impact of life events, trauma, stress, or other related symptoms?  A source providing clarity is medical history connected to of the family of origin. Research performed about genetic factors of mental health indicates that, “There are several lines of evidence from family studies supporting a possible genetic association of borderline personality and affective disorders” (MacKinnon, 2006, p. 6). As a result, family medical history, mental health histories , and relationship history create a link to what is happening.

When anomalies in behavior occurs what can be made of the connection between biology and behavior?  An assumption might be made that the borderline is angry or acting out. This  is a  behavior cue that something is seriously wrong and very puzzling–especially when family and acquaintances treat behavior as unimportant.  One response to what happened is in understanding how genetic-biological history of the person is organized. In general, science connects the conditions in the family history and suggests a link between the behavior that causes someone, who gives every indication that they are apparently honest and intelligent in other ways to engage in impulsive and reckless behavior without thought of consequences.

What causes emotional dysregulation to occur when there is a perceived, intense feeling of abandonment, rejection, or loss of control?  It may be that what is hidden by a casual look at circumstances may be better understood through looking at genetic predisposition indicating what motivates a person who looks like an upright individual to suddenly rationalize extreme behavior, while totally disregarding the autonomy of other  family members.  It is perplexing, at the very least, to understand why BPD individuals act as they do.  Consequently to sum it up, when there is a strong history that suggests mental health disease demonstrates significant patterns through family history, genetics, and systemic behaviors; there may be sound reasons to conclude that there is an identifiable systemic pattern for the behavior being elicited by the ongoing emotional dysregulation.

Unfortunately, denial and a fundamental lack of understanding creates a state of denial that promotes a false sense of security that life is under control.  However, the great danger is that when behaviors suggest BPD and it is ignored, families convince themselves that it is not happening and live with constant confusion and disillusionment. A good question to ask is whether creating a mythology and magical thinking can negate the serious effect of what is really happening?  A philosophers question about perception says: ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound”?   The moral is the quote reminds us to think about what may be happening around us that is actually happening, but we just are not aware of what is happening because we are not attentive to things that are happening.  The fact is that things that are not heard or understood often reveals something hidden in the secrecy of a  family system where denial provides a false sense of security that creates a artificial safe zone.  It is a place where the noise of behavior is not being heard by those around the Borderline, but that does not mean BPD behaviors are not happening in the context of life.


Lieb K., Z. M. (2004). Borderline personality disorder. The Lancet , 364, 453-61, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)16770-6.

MacKinnon, D. F. (2006). Affective instability as rapid cycling: Theoretical and clinical implications for borderline personality and bipolar spectrum disorders. Bipolar Disorders , 8 (1), 1-14. doi:10.1111/j.1399-5618.2006.00283.x.

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