What Identity Disturbance Feels Like as Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a very serious and painful mental illness.  Having borderline personality disorder has deeply impacted my life, and even though I’ve been diagnosed with it and in treatment for it for three years now, I still must work each day to manage my symptoms.  However, there is one symptom of borderline personality disorder that I struggle with the most that is not often discussed, and it is called identity disturbance.  The presentation of this symptom varies from person to person, but in my experience, I have found that I struggle with feelings of emptiness, unstable and changing values, and role absorption. 

              Role absorption is a particularly difficult aspect of identity disturbance, because it causes me to feel like I am playing a role that is not unique to who I am.  I often feel like I am playing a role to please others, and since I have a hard time with unstable self-image, I tend to try and become someone who I feel will be approved of by others.  Having unstable self-image makes it difficult for me to feel connected to who I really am.  It makes me feel like I am always changing to become whoever I feel like I am expected to be, and I often feel confused as to who I really am.  This confusion leads to deep feelings of emptiness that I am often trying to fill, and I feel like I am constantly changing my interests to try and feel accepted by others. 

              Unfortunately, my unstable sense of self causes me to have difficulties with relationships, because I am often trying to become whoever I feel like the other person expects me to be.  I often lose myself in relationships, because I am trying to please the other person and I don’t have a strong sense of my values or passions.  This leads to strong feelings of emptiness that I am frequently trying to fill. 

              Fortunately, dialectical behavior therapy has been effective in helping me to combat my struggles with identity disturbance by helping me to identify my values and feel more secure in who I am.  However, I still find myself trying to be accepted by others by conforming to what I think they expect me to be. 

              I have found that experiencing such strong emotions also plays a big part in my identity disturbance.  When I am experiencing such strong emotions, I feel like I spend a lot of my time trying to manage them, and this disrupts my ability to focus on my values and passions.  I find myself getting lost in my emotions and losing my sense of self, which leads to much distress.  Losing my sense of self creates a lot of turmoil in my relationships, because I find myself becoming attached to who I believe the other person wants me to be.  But when the relationship ends, I find myself losing my sense of identity all over again. 

              Having identity disturbance feels like I never really know who I am.  My sense of self is always changing and evolving, and I find that I have to remind myself of my values and passions to find some sense of grounding.  Pursuing treatment in dialectical behavior therapy has helped me to work more on my identity disturbance, but it is something that I frequently must work on.  I find that keeping a journal where I document my values and passions helps me to remind myself of my authentic self when I am feeling unstable.  It has taken me a long time to get to where I am with feeling more secure in who I am, but I still find that it can be painful when I struggle with relationships and begin to lose my sense of self.  However, it is a learning process.  The more I work on reminding myself of my values and connecting with my authentic self, the more I feel secure in who I am. 

Published by Ashley Nestler, MSW

Ashley Nestler, MSW is a survivor of Schizoaffective Disorder, Quiet Borderline Personality, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, multiple eating disorders, and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ashley has dedicated her life to educating others on mental health and illness, as well as providing online resources for those who may experience barriers when seeking help for their mental health. Ashley is also the author of "Beautiful Nightmare", "Into The Fog", and "Behind Broken Glass Walls". Her short stories and horror poems have been published in various anthologies. She is an educator on writing and loves to help authors through her book critiques and reviews.

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