Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition which affects approximately 1.6% all the way up to 5.9% of the population (see NAMI). A person with BPD is characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.
This difficulty can lead to impulsivity, poor self-image, stormy relationships and intense emotional responses to stressors. Struggling with self-regulation can also result in dangerous behaviors such as self-harm (e.g. cutting). (see NAMI)
BPD is very difficult to treat, let alone live with. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder over 10 years ago (I am now 51), though I know that many of the traits were brewing in the background before I had a terrible turn of life with my mental health in my late 30s, early 40s. I am happy to say that with a lot of hard work and therapy I now am managing my BPD (along with bipolar). For those of you still struggling, know that there is help and there is hope.
For today, I want to write about the Chameleon Effect , BPD and my perception of life at the moment.
Mirroring, or the Chameleon Effect is a challenging aspect of BPD and you may not really be aware it is happening. Your changing colors to adapt to the situation or person may feel natural, but indeed, trying to learn to have your OWN place in YOUR world is so important to positive mental health. In an excellent article by Sarah Myles, she describes this phenomenon:
One of the biggest and most challenging aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is often ‘The Chameleon Effect’ – or ‘mirroring’. This is the constant, unconscious change in the person’s ‘self’, as they struggle to fit in with their environment, or the people around them. It is, essentially, a fluctuating identity. It is the manifestation of a basic inability or difficulty in establishing a stable sense of self.
The presence of The Chameleon is often one of the main obstacles to effective initial treatment and diagnosis of BPD, as it affects the interaction between patient and doctor, and can mask the disorder itself. It also effects and masks the way in which BPD intersects with other disorders that may have developed in connection with it – creating a complex web of behaviours that can be hard to untangle. The irony is that, without diagnosis and treatment, most are unaware of The Chameleon, and it is only through awareness that The Chameleon can be managed.
Have I lived as a chameleon in my life? You bet you!!! I remember having a good coworker and friend when I was young that before I knew it I wanted to dress similar to her and like similar things; I had a boy friend that smoked, and lived a life I many not typically want to live, when sure enough I picked up his lifestyle; I had a husband that I began to mirror more and more in my life including feelings about where we lived, things we did, thoughts on people and their outlooks that was somewhat degrading; I have been friends with a man for almost 8 years (previously romantic, now just friends) who absolutely cannot stand this area, and so lo an behold my view of where I live got worse and worse. These are just a few examples of the mirroring that I know have happened with me….my list could go on and on.
Is this anyone’s fault? Of course not!! And someone with BPD doesn’t just mirror negative, or positive, sometimes mirroring can have a positive effect. What’s going on within us can’t be helped, until we learn to NOTICE! I actually didn’t even understand this symptom fully until the past couple of years. Looking back I saw how my chameleon was ever-present.
Now, I am single woman, my kids are either grown or pretty self-sufficient so I am having more and more time to BE. I went for a drive today with my son (I’m not totally independent yet due to my surgeries so I do need my awesome chauffeur). I was telling my son how much I really do
enjoy where we live. He was a bit confused since he says I have always hated it…but no…I don’t hate it. There is a beauty to where I live, the people I run into are kind, I am so close to the mountains that I hope to be able to walk the trails again. For this moment, my 3 kids live in the same town as I do, and my oldest daughter lives in a larger city less than an hour away that is up and coming, bustling with new life and I would even like to move there at some point. So yes, I am finding my own perceptions of my life, where I live and what I do – for me. I know that chameleon is always around and may come for a visit. And like I said, is it a bad visit? Not necessarily as long as we can NOTICE what we are feeling and if wer are content with our likes and dislikes…for the moment.