Self-validation is very hard for people with Borderline Personality Disorder

My mother grew up in the mountains of Appalachia where people were hard working, poorly fed, poorly educated but God-fearing and fiercely loving of each other. Still, her mother was a harsh woman. When my mom was “bad” her mother would send her outside with a pen knife to cut a switch from the tree and bring it back in so her mother could beat her with it. Welts. She said she always had welts on her back. She didn’t get much validation in her childhood home. Sadly, neither did I. I remember being told to “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”

My mother had a long list of invalidating things she shrieked at me when frustrated

Another favorite from my mother’s lips was, “I’m going to black your eye!” or my personal favorite, ‘I’m going to knock your teeth down your throat!” I heard these kinds of things when I was upset or asking for too much or “talking back” to her. She once slapped me so hard across my cheek and the ring on her finger cut into my skin. I still have the scar. So, what did all this teach me? That my feelings didn’t matter. That I didn’t have a voice. That I wasn’t allowed to ask for what I either needed or wanted. I grew up with those words in my head and they scarred me terribly. I felt worthless and ignored. That what I wanted and/or needed didn’t matter to anyone. Eventually I did what most people who grow up in an environment like that do. I took over my mother’s job. Whenever I would have a feeling, I would say to myself, “Stop that. You are being ridiculous!” Or I would say, “Why are you so fat? You look awful!” and then I would help myself to another slice of pizza. Eventually, I learned how to speak differently to myself. So what do you need to learn so you can validate yourself?

There are four crucial things to know and internalize

1. Feelings are feelings, they are not you, nor do they represent who you are.

They are like waves on the sand and they ebb and flow with the tide, they come and go. When you have a negative thought or feeling, acknowledge it but try not to make a judgment about it. That’s the hard part because we are ALL always judging ourselves but it in that alone that we invalidate ourselves. So, if you are feeling sad, let yourself feel sad. Don’t tell yourself (in your head) “You have nothing to feel sad about!” That’s irrelevant to the moment.So feel sad and don’t tell yourself not to. You are entitled to your feelings. Always.

2. It is very easy to change our feelings of frustration into shame.

If you are having trouble doing a task, you do that by automatically telling yourself, “I’m a failure!” or “I can’t do anything right!” When in fact, there are many things that you undoubtedly succeed at very well. Don’t allow your frustration spiral into what is known as a “shame spiral.” Feelings of shame are part of learned behavior. They are imposed on us by external sources. Tell yourself that you don’t have to carry that burden and let it drop away from you like a cloak.

3. Figure out your strengths and concentrate on them.

.So often, we fail to acknowledge the things we really do know and are good at. This is strongly tied to a lack of self-esteem. So, if you have one or two things that you really, really enjoy, concentrate on those. Figure out a way how to get really good at it. Study it, take a course on it, join a club where other people share the same hobby and learn from them. Write about it. Read books about it. The skill will come as you improve your knowledge base. But, and this is very important, don’t be afraid to fail. Thomas Edison said about his light bulb, “I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work!” That’s the spirit. 

4. Practice and get into the habit of saying validating things to yourself.

When you do something well, tell yourself. Many people think doing something like this is silly but if you grew up never hearing praise for a job well done then you have not learned how to communicate that type of thing to yourself. So, when you get a good mark on your history exam, tell yourself, “Good going! I’m proud of you!” Over time, this kind of self-talk will become easier and not feel so strange. It is a good thing to do because it keeps you from searching externally outside yourself for validation from others.