Updated: May 19, 2021
You've read many conflicting things, now here's the truth.
Imagine you are two, or three, years old. And imagine that every time you express your feelings, your parents subtly invalidate that emotion.
For example, the air hand dryers in restaurant bathrooms scare you to death. They’re loud and terrifying, and they cause you to cling like a tick to your mother for help. But instead of comforting you, your mom laughs at the ridiculousness of it and tells you to stop being scared. It’s so amusing to her, in fact, that maybe she keeps turning it on because she just can’t get over how scared you are, and to show you why you shouldn’t be scared.
Or, let’s say that at two years old, you’re playing with a bottle of honey you managed to snatch off a table. (Or your mother’s makeup, or a tube of toothpaste — you get the idea.) The honey, or makeup, or toothpaste, is now all over the floor, and all over you. As your father comes into the room, you look up at him, laughing gleefully. Horrified and angry, he barks, “What are you doing!” and snatches the bottle from your hand.
Your emotions just went from the heights of joy to zero in a split second.
You can’t find your baby doll’s shoe. You have one, but can’t find the other. This makes you frustrated and sad. “Oh stop crying, that’s no reason to get upset,” your parents tell you. And if you’re still crying five minutes later they say, “Keep that up and we’ll give you something to cry about!”
A few isolated instances of this sort of invalidating behavior would probably not cause any damage. However, what we have just described in these examples reveal so much more than simple parenting ‘missteps’. They reveal the actual underlying attitudes that these sorts of parents live with towards the very nature of feelings.
Since these behaviors are merely reflections of underlying unhealthy attitudes that these parents live with, they are not one-time offenders. During the relatively brief window of development when children are themselves setting down certainties about the nature of fundamental realities involving things like feelings, self, and life, this constant exposure to the unhealthy attitudes of their emotional teachers (their parents) has two disastrous results:
First Disastrous Result
The child unconsciously arrives at the conclusion that his or her feelings do not have inherent value.
Inherent means an inseparable aspect of a thing. For example, ice is cold. Cold is an inherent quality of ice. Nothing external has to make it be cold. If it’s ice, it just is cold. Cold is an inseparable aspect of what makes ice, ice.
When a person lives with the perception that their feelings, and they themselves, do not have inherent value, what this means is that any sense of worth they do perceive in their feelings or in themselves must come from some externalinfluence or authority. See, the unhealthy perception is that some external thing or person has to first grant value to the feelings or the person by agreeing that the feelings are the ‘right’ feelings, or that the individual has ‘earned’ value by some accomplishment, possession, or acknowledgment. But just on their own, absent all of these external factors, the person and their feelings are literally devoid of value.
In other words, absent all external factors, if you were to take the person’s feelings, or the person himself or herself, and weigh them on their own merits, they would naturally be devoid of worth. In other words, completely worthless. And all of this begins with an education based on observing unhealthy parents’ attitudes toward feelings, and the natural way these underlying attitudes manifest in behaviors.
The conclusion such children arrive at regarding inherent worth is a completely logical conclusion, based on the attitude his or her caregivers consistently display in regards to feelings. This rational, yet unconscious conclusion that the child arrives at is what is referred to as a distorted core belief. It is distorted because, although it is a relative truth, given the child’s current environment (in his family, his feelings really are viewed and treated as devoid of inherent value), it is not the broader reality.
Such fundamental, underlying conclusions are arrived at relatively quickly for use in getting started at navigating life. They get filed away and never questioned again. Future beliefs, or knowledge, will be layered over this and directly influenced by it — which means all of those conclusions have the potential to end up distorted as well.
Second Disastrous Result
The child stops volunteering emotional intimacy (emotional honesty) to his or her caregivers, as well as to others.
This will continue throughout the child’s entire life. The child will live his or her whole life in total solitude with his or her authentic emotions. He or she will keep them safely private and out of reach from family, best friends, girlfriends, spouses, lovers, and children. This will translate into severe intimacy deficiency, cold marriages, inability to feel empathy, lies, secrets, double lives, a fierce unwillingness to even consider seeking out help from others (his parents’ attitudes taught him this only leads to rejection of feelings, embarrassment, humiliation, and shame).
This is also where the personality-disorder part of the disorder comes in. Instead of feeling comfortable enough to allow their true personalities to show (which is really just another way of saying that you are open and comfortable with your feelings), and therefore mature, those with Borderline Personality Disorder keep them hidden, and instead try to give everybody a superficial version of themselves, which they believe will be more readily embraced. (This is in fact the explanation for the ‘mirroring’, or ‘chameleon’, feature of the disorder sometimes talked about. Because they perceive feelings as shameful, which is something inseparable from one’s identity, folks with the disorder instead observe the personality traits of other people who they consider to be well-liked and accepted. They then ‘borrow’ aspects of these persons’ personalities in an attempt to improve their own odds of greater acceptance and admiration.)
All of the naturally-occurring effects which sprout directly from the unhealthy, underlying misperceptions about the very nature of feelings and whether their value is an inherent quality or not, are what is known as Borderline Personality Disorder.