Do You Never Learn From Your Mistakes? – You May Have a Behavioural or Brain Disorder.
A famous person – It could have been Albert Einstein, Rita Mae Brown, Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain (they have all been cited as contenders) defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Whoever it was that said it was rather advanced for their time. Until fairly recently there was no way to check what was occurring in the neurons of the brain and that is where the thinking anomaly lies.
There are individuals who seem to have no ability to learn from their mistakes. They will continue to repeat the same behaviour over and over again and never learn from the disastrous outcome.
The brain is a mass of electrical activity. In particular there is a region of the brain called the cingulate cortex which lies beneath the frontal lobe. It was discovered in the early 1990’s that the anterior part of this area of the brain produced a stronger electrical signal when a person without the thinking anomaly tackled a complicated mental chore. When a mistake was made this area also sent out an electrical pulse known in psychological and neurological circles as ‘error related negativity’ or ERN, almost immediately. This process is what leads a person to spot, correct and learn from their mistakes.
People who repeatedly make the same mistake over and over again produce a barely perceptible electrical pulse after making an error. Surely, habitual criminals, drug addicts, alcoholics and bullies know they are doing wrong and hurting themselves and others you must be asking? Undoubtedly they do but they seem to be incapable of doing anything about it. Because the brain is not working correctly, the people with this anomaly keep repeating the destructive behaviour over and over again.
The individuals who continue to mess up by doing the same things over again with painful and disastrous consequences may be suffering from BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). There is a connection between weak ERN and this disorder in many cases.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder is a serious mental illness. In the past BPD was thought to affect mainly females but it has now been determined that the disorder affects both sexes equally. Borderline Personality Disorder is predictably, a personality disorder characterised by a certain set of signs and symptoms. Some of these are listed below:
Signs and Symptoms
- Acting on impulse
- *Addicted to Love
- Behavioural problems and issues
- *Commitment Phobia
- Difficulty maintaining lasting relationships
- Early or immediate attachment to romantic partner
- Eating disorders
- Fear of being abandoned
- Having unprotected sex with no regard to consequences
- Lack of money management skills
- **Low Self Esteem
- Mood swings
- Rejection fears
- Risky Behaviour
- **Self Confident
- Self destructive tendencies
- Substance Abuse (including alcohol)
- Suicidal thoughts
- Unable to accept criticism
- Unstable Relationships
*To be addicted to love and a commitment-phobe does not seem to fit together. People with borderline personality disorder tend to be very charming at first and pull out all the stops to woo and effectively ensnare the object of their affections. Once they have done this they will then find ways to withdraw from the situation.
**It may seem odd that someone could be self confident and have low self esteem at the same time. This is one of the effects of this disorder. It is rather like being on an emotional roller coaster ride. At 9am you may be feeling full of supreme self-confidence and in the next hour you could be insecure, unsure of yourself and suffering from low self esteem and self doubt.
The Roller Coaster ride of Borderline Personality Disorder
In addition to the love addiction/commitment-phobic and self confidence/low self esteem paradoxes there are other features of this disorder that make life turbulent and unsettled. Some of them are listed below:
Mood swings are frequent and short-lived. One moment the sufferer may be happy and confident then a few moments or hours later be feeling down, depressed and lacking in self-confidence. This is similar to the characteristics of bipolar disorder but more transient. In bipolar individuals the mood swings last for days or even weeks. Substance abuse, which is common in people with BPD adds to the instability of mood. Sufferers are unable to manage emotional pain and turmoil by normal coping mechanisms and so turn to drugs and alcohol.
Jealousy - Because borderline people are intensely jealous and have feelings of unworthiness, couple with the pathological fear of abandonment they are almost incapable of trusting anyone. They will become angry and aggressive if they suspect their partner of some real or imagined infidelity. They may go to great lengths to invent tests for their partner to prove themselves.
Anger and aggression
People with borderline personality disorder are often inappropriately angry and/or aggressive. Things that other people would not react to the BPD person over-reacts to. They are unable to control their temper and it is not unusual for them to smash things and become verbally abusive and physically violent.
There will be at least two examples of potentially self-harming behaviour in someone who has the disorder. i.e. Participation in the taking of illegal drugs with the full knowledge of the damage they do. They may engage in risky, unprotected sex with people of dubious moral character or people with whom they would not wish to have a child, without thought for any consequences even though they are fully aware of those consequences. There is also the problem of impulse spending on things they cannot afford, do not need or want when they know there are bills piling up and they are in danger of eviction for unpaid rent.
Borderline people need lots of stimulation. In this they are similar to ADHD people. If either of these groups do not get the stimulation they crave they will create it by acting out. They will repeatedly push away those close to them and then shortly afterwards make up with them. They will pick fights for next to no reason and often draw in a third person to their arguments to act as rescuer. This is called triangulation and is quite common in relationships involving BPD or ADHD people. When they are not in a relationship they feel worthless and empty; they do not really care whether the relationship is compatible or not as long as it takes away the feeling of emptiness. They yearn for love but are unable to trust it. Even if the chosen relationship is disastrous and painful it is better than no relationship at all. BPD people are addicted to conflict and drama no matter how much they may protest they are not. The chaos they create and become involved in serves a purpose. It stops them from having to confront the void inside.
How is BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) diagnosed?
A mental health professional diagnoses this disorder by looking into your medical history and confirming the signs and symptoms listed above. People are normally referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist by a GP after presenting with symptoms they are not equipped to deal with.
Many Borderline individuals do not seek medical help until they reach crisis point. It can take many years before they even accept that they have a problem at all.
Self help for Borderline Personality Disorder
- Research all you can and become fully informed about the disorder
- Go and see your GP and arrange for a treatment schedule to begin
- Even if it seems difficult, stay with any treatment and therapy put in place by health professionals
- Take small steps; set realistic timescales and do not try to do it all at once. This will take time
- Get some routine in your life. Get up and go to bed at the same time each day and keep to mealtimes
- Do not keep everything to yourself. Tell someone you trust what is happening
- Explain to those you come into regular contact with what your triggers are
- Do not spend long periods of time alone; instead spend time with people who help you feel relaxed and calm without drugs or alcohol
What to do for a relative or friend with BPD
- Because your relative or friend will have difficulty trusting anyone you may find it quite a task to help them to admit they have a problem and seek treatment. If you can do that you may need to work hard to keep them in therapy or treatment especially if they were reluctant to start in the first place.
- Research the disorder as much as you can; it always helps to know what they are going through
- Always be mindful of any comments from your friend or relative threatening suicide or self-harm. You will need to report these to their therapist along with any threats to harm other people.
- Liaise with the therapist if you have permission from your family member or friend to see if there any group therapy sessions on offer that you can attend with them.
- Be there for them whenever you can. Be supportive and understanding and do not tell them “I told you so” when they mess up again – as they surely will do. You will need to be very patient because they will run out of steam and want to give up the treatment. No-one likes change but the BPD person finds it particularly unsettling.
Can a person with BPD recover?
Unfortunately there is no cure for Borderline Personality Disorder. It can be treated with psychotherapy and psychiatry and some of the symptoms can be managed with medication for depression and anxiety. Some of the symptoms may wax and wane but others are regularly present. The disorder is probably at its peak in early adulthood and will lessen in its intensity as time goes on. Normally by middle age the most problematic symptoms will rarely be evident although symptoms such as anxiety and depression may endure. Full relapse is very rare.
What treatments are available?
Medication can be given for the reduction and management of anxiety, depression and aggression.
Some pre-menopausal women respond well to Omega 3 fatty acids when used to treat aggression and depression.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy helps BPD sufferers discover skills to keep angry outbursts and violent episodes under control. It can help to improve relationships with others. It is similar to CBT and in fact was developed from CBT and adapted for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. It has a balanced approach to changing core beliefsand includes the acceptance of certain behaviours and beliefs.
Schema Focused Cognitive Therapy. This is a form of psychotherapy that utilizes parts of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and other disciplines such as experiential, psychoanalytic and interpersonal therapies which focus on the way people see themselves.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be helpful for reducing and improving the frequency of mood swings and anxiety attacks. It can help to change the core belief system and reduce the incidence of suicidal thoughts and episodes of self harming.
STEPPS - Systems Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem Solving is a group therapy which can help to control problem behaviours and some of the symptoms of BPD when used in combination with medication and/or one to one psychotherapy.
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