By Ashley Nestler, MSW
Having my heart broken is one of the worst experiences I’ve had as a person living with borderline personality disorder (BPD). When my heart is broken, I can’t describe it as “feeling sad.” I honestly don’t know if I have ever just felt “sad.” Rather, I feel like the pain is tearing me apart from my core and my only reprieve from the pain are suicidal thoughts.
Heartbreak, in short, makes me feel like I am dying.
I have experienced various instances of suicidal ideation in my life, most of which have followed the demise of relationships. I can’t describe how painful the feelings of abandonment and loneliness are, and how painful it is for me to see the other person move on without such a strong reaction. Knowing that my pain was tearing me apart and seeing the other person able to function remarkably better only adds to my torment.
While time has gone by since my last heartbreak, and those that came before, they still affect me on a deep level. I can feel them in my core when something triggers memories of that person. Living with borderline personality disorder makes me feel like my heart never fully heals — that my pain remains no matter how much time has gone by.
Surviving heartbreak is one of the hardest things that I have experienced, but I have found that it is possible. While I still feel the pain from my past heartbreaks and brace myself through the pain as new ones appear, I have learned techniques that have helped me handle the pain.
1. Remember this emotion is temporary.
One of the issues I have experienced with BPD is that when I am in an emotion, it feels as though the emotion is permanent, and I can’t remember how I felt before. But one of the good things with my BPD is that, most times, the emotion passes quickly, only to be replaced by another, and understanding that temporary state has helped me to accept my emotions with more ease. Just keep reminding yourself that what you are feeling will pass, despite how strongly you may feel, and that truth alone can help.
2. Ride the emotions like a wave.
When I am heartbroken, I will feel intense emotions one after another, which I refer to as an “emotional storm.” Before I was diagnosed, I would act on each emotion because I felt that my actions were justified by how I was feeling. But now that I have gone through treatment, I understand that I feel things so much deeper than those who don’t live with BPD and that I should not act on each emotion.
I visualize myself riding a wave with each new emotion that surfaces, and I allow myself to fully feel each one knowing that I don’t have to act on them. I have a lot of regret for how I have acted before I was diagnosed, especially during previous heartbreaks. It helps me to know that I have grown and that I can experience my own emotions without inflicting pain on others, or compromising my self-worth with feelings of regret and a loss of dignity.
3. Don’t expect others to feel as strongly as you feel.
This one has been the hardest for me to learn, accept and wrap my mind around. I am still working on learning and living this truth. We cannot expect the other person in a breakup or heartbreak to feel as strongly as we feel, because they most likely don’t live with BPD.
However, just because they don’t feel their emotions as strongly as we do, doesn’t mean that the relationship didn’t mean anything to them. They are just processing the breakup or heartbreak in their own way, and that is okay. Just work on surfing your own emotions and don’t assume anything about what the other person is feeling.
4. Take a step back before reacting.
This is also one of the hardest truths I am still working on through trial and error. One thing about my experience with BPD is that it makes me want to react immediately without a second thought as to what the repercussions may be (which, most of the time, leads me to feel self-hatred when I recall my actions). However, it is possible to experience your emotional urges and then mentally take a step back to see the bigger picture and determine whether your actions are just impulses or if they will actually serve you in the long run. Also, consider how they will affect the other person. In the moment, I have hurt many people with my impulsive reactions, and I still regret the pain I have caused the people I love.
5. Be kind to yourself.
This can be something as small as taking deep breaths to help you ride your emotions, or if you struggle with self-harm, ensuring that your environment is safe by putting away dangerous items (whatever that may mean for you). Just take some time to understand that you are feeling intense pain and that your emotions are valid, even though they are stronger than what others might be experiencing. Practice self-care by attending to yourself with self-love and keep reminding yourself that the pain you feel now will pass and become less frequent with time.
One thing that has helped me is to create a safety plan for when I am in an emotional state. My safety plan has instructions for items I need to put away and specific actions I can take to feel better. Having this resource has helped me when my emotions have been so strong that I have a tough time processing my thoughts on my own.
Affirmations have also been a huge help for me, such as:
Heartbreak is one of the most painful things I have experienced, but over time I have learned how to cope with my emotions and come through stronger and better able to handle whatever comes my way. I have found that there is hope even when I have felt hopeless.
Ashley Nestler, MSW, is a survivor of Schizoaffective Disorder, Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder, Fibromyalgia, Bulimia Nervosa, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Complex PTSD. Ashley is an educator on Borderline Personality Disorder and the creator of Releasing the Phoenix and The Ignite and Rise Academy. Website: www.releasingthephoenix.com
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