Defensiveness & BPD

(Group week 15, individual therapist still away.)

Group this week was largely on the topic of defensiveness. The way a lot of us react in group is described as defensive and the therapists want us to question this response. To be open to the idea that someone is not trying to hurt us, or that the hurt caused would be bearable.

I’m definitely defensive, in group and in my every day life. I think this is a way of surviving; a lot of my BPD is the response of a traumatised person attempting to protect themselves from further pain.

I think this is encouraged in part by how strongly those of us with BPD feel emotions, we know that pain and we know how devastating and overwhelming it can get for us. It makes sense for us to become hypervigilant about avoiding it.

How much does your defensiveness, in its various forms, protect you? How much does it hold you back or even cause you more pain? Is it possible to hold on to what works and work to eliminate what doesn’t?

I’d like to become more nuanced and careful about how and when I use defensive strategies:
-Find out for sure if I need to defend myself before I go into attack mode on someone who is not really a threat.
-Don’t push everyone away when I am feeling awful, it seems like I’m protecting myself but really I’m isolating myself and making my life more difficult.
-Continue building my assertiveness and confidence in conversation so that I have better skills to simply say if something is making me feel uncomfortable or uncertain before it leads to a meltdown.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. Do you have the same difficulties? Perhaps you’ve found what works for you?

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14 thoughts on “Defensiveness & BPD

  1. I think so many people have problems with defensiveness – it’s not at all limited to BPD. I suspect that the more wounded we are, the more defensive we also are. I found it was a problem for me in group. The most I learned to do was to not counter attack when I felt hurt by someone. Even just that was a big step for me.

    • Oh gosh, definitely it’s not just a problem for people with BPD. It’s part of the issues I and the other people in my group have though so it made sense for me to talk about it here in the context of BPD.

      I tend to go quiet, get angry, feel scared that people don’t like me. This is my defensiveness. It is something I am only at the stage of recognising at the moment. I’m glad you managed to make progress with your defensiveness in group therapy and I hope I can too. x

  2. I’m mr paranoid and always ready to jump to conclusions. I’m learning not to take myself too seriously. It doesn’t always work, but it is better than throwing INNER BPD drama’s. I imagine our vulnerability makes us more defensive. This is probably something that changes as we heal

    • Thanks Cat, I hope you’re right. I am always jumping to conclusions and thinking people are manipulating me/hurting me on purpose when they don’t intend me harm. I am trying to slow down my thinking when this happens so my emotions don’t rush in before I’ve thought things through.

  3. I’m not very defensive. I actually tend to assume people aren’t intending to hurt me in most situations, that they have good intentions–almost to the point of absurdity. It’s just hard for me to imagine people who really want to hurt others. It’s possible, but difficult, and so I’m very often reluctant to go there, just because trying to imagine it is so hard. But I do think questioning defensiveness is really brilliant somehow. I think a further question is, “Does your defensiveness actually help?” Because I suspect that there are better, more effective strategies, and that defensiveness sometimes makes things worse. It can seem to help, because it makes you feel in control again–and feeling powerless is one of the feelings that is so hard to deal with.

  4. I felt like I was the only person in my DBT group who put up a stone wall of No Feelings. We talked about it at the time – the swinging between emotion mind and logic mind, and that many people lean to one side or the other. I think they all thought I wasn’t really borderline, since I had fewer emotional outbreaks than they tended to report. (Don’t get me wrong, they were lovely people, and we all learned a lot from each other).
    But that was thanks to the defensiveness. It wasn’t a question of bottling up emotion, it was a question of whacking them back to the other side of the tennis court. It wasn’t until I had completely lost contact with all of my close friends that I realized defensiveness was a bad strategy.
    I am not sure that I have any particularly good strategies. The best I can say is trying to occasionally face a situation that brings on high emotions. For example, I had unintentionally stopped watching any and all movies that might stir a sense of sadness, righteousness, anger, or worry. I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel fairly recently, and I cried. Shockingly (to me, at least), the emotion did not co-opt my body into an electric current of uncontrollable passion. So exposure therapy 1, BPD 0?
    Thank you for writing about this. I haven’t thought about it in a long time.

    • Thanks for reading! I can really relate to the idea of having a logical mind and an emotional one that don’t communicate well with each other. I often feel unable to access my emotions in the group, feel cold and logical instead but then not getting or giving much in terms of the group therapy.

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