Trauma and The Insight Fallacy

The Insight Fallacy refers to the belief that merely understanding a problem will enable you to solve the problem. As lovely as this would be, it is obviously rarely that simple…

I feel like the Insight Fallacy can be applied to the often unwarranted emotional reactions that people with Borderline Personality Disorder experience.

Much of the time I am hyper aware of a situation, including how irrational I may be being within it, but knowing that on a cognitive level often means fuck all. Equally, knowing that my problem has a cause, or even knowing what that cause is, doesn’t get me much further towards solving it either.

For example, I may be struggling with a perceived rejection, even though there is little evidence supporting my claim. I explain the situation to a friend who tells me I am being ridiculous and tries to get me to think about it in a more reasonable way. She says “you just need to rationalise” as though this is something I have not thought of or tried already.

The problem is, even if I am fully aware that I am being irrational and that my emotional response is totally out of proportion to the perceived threat, it does not calm the emotions. Even when I know why I have reacted the way I have, even when I know it is a pattern for me, and even if I know on one level that it is not even based on hard facts, none of this *knowing* is ample to shift how I feel on a deep and inner level. 

Despite being able to think cognitively about a situation, my emotions often remain out of control and no amount of rationalising can calm them. In fact, knowing that I am reacting in a way that doesn’t fit the situation makes me feel even worse, because irregardless of the awareness, I still cannot seem to shift my gut response and the emotional dysregulation.

People often tell me to “change the way you are thinking”, or “just get some perspective” or “calm yourself down, it’s not the end of the world”.

But the problem is: I KNOW! I know I ‘need’ to do these things, but doing them does not help one bit! I know it is “not the end of the world”, but it still feels like it is so acutely inside of me. I know I know I know. But knowing does fuck all.

This is something I hear people with BPD talk about all too often. Being trapped in a place of adequate (often greater than average) insight, yet remaining suffocated by the strength of the emotional reaction, and not being able to do much about it. 

It is frustrating, it is ironic, and it is exhausting. To be intellectually smart means very little when you have the emotional maturity and skill of a baby, or when your body houses the traumatic emotional memories that remain unresolved to this day. 

It is like my brain is a separate entity from my body; knowing something cognitively and feeling it viscerally are totally different things. It reminds me of a quote by Bessel Van Der Kolk on trauma:

“Trauma has nothing whatsoever to do with cognition. It has to do with your body being reset to interpret the world as a dangerous place. That reset begins in the deep recesses of the brain with its most primitive structures, regions that no cognitive therapy can access. It’s not something you can talk yourself out of.”


11 thoughts on “Trauma and The Insight Fallacy

  1. This hits home for me as well, as usual. The hardest thing I find is knowing that I possibly can never have the kind of relationship I want. I know rationally what is happening, but that doesn’t change my visceral reactions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great post, and describes exactly the way I have felt so many times. Your emotions are doing one thing, and your brain something entirely different, and they can’t seem to even find a middle ground. It’s like always being at war with yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ps; I look back on some of the emails I wrote in these ‘frenzied states’ and I honestly feel like I was blimmin psychotic……in the clear light of day I realise my thoughts were outrageous….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, As I loved this post so much last night when I read it (as I relate so much!) I’d like to nominate you for the three day quote challenge 🙂 Check out my page, I hope you’ll accept 🙂 B.E x

    Liked by 1 person

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