When a Minor Mistake Becomes the End of the World

I have Borderline Personality DisorderI feel emotions to a level that is off the scale, and I react intensely to those experiences. One of my biggest triggers is feeling like I have hurt someone inadvertently. When I let someone down or evoke even the tiniest amount of negative affect in someone I care about, I fall into a spiral of guilt and self-hatred that totally consumes me.

This means that I am hard on myself to the point that one mistake can lead me to feel as extreme as suicidal. If I accidentally hurt someone even just for a fleeting moment, I can become so self-hating and fearful that I truly believe the world would be better off without me.

Even though I never intend to upset anyone, and even when the person I upset forgives me or even forgets about the situation completely, I find it near impossible to forgive myself. I cannot seem to return to an emotional baseline for far longer than is reasonable. I just cannot let myself off the hook; it feels like too much of a threat to let go.

When I do anything that is the opposite of pleasing others, it feels like the end of the world. It feels like the walls around me come crashing down with such force that nothing can keep things upright. No matter how seemingly small or insignificant the incident, the only thing that helps soothe my distress is the constant reassurance of the person I have ‘wronged’. And even then, often that isn’t good enough to bring me back down.


The other day I sent a funny photo of my sister with food spilled down her top to her boyfriend. He had been staying with us during the previous days – and this was not the first time my sister had spilled food on herself, nor the first time we had laughed about it together! I was trying to be playful and develop our friendship further, by joking around and acting like I would with any other friend or family member. Because they are at a stage in their relationship where they are totally comfortable in each other’s company, and have seen one another in every state, I didn’t think it would be a problem. (It’s not like they have just starting dating or anything – I am not that clueless!) I wanted my sister to think I was putting effort in, to show her that I care about that part of her life. I thought we would all have a giggle. My intentions were only positive.

However, she responded in a way that was totally the opposite to what I had intended. She was angry with me and started speaking to me in a tone and manner pierced with disdain and disgust towards me. I felt like what I had done was the worst thing in the world for the fact I had caused a negative reaction in her, however big or small. As a result, she was acting cold and bitter towards me, and the light, jokey dynamic of the past hour had disappeared completely. Although when I apologised she said that she forgave me, I could feel that she did not.

I was officially The Worst Person In The World for causing her the negative emotions she was feeling. My own distress was heightened by the fact that my only positives intentions had entirely backfired. The “I can’t do anything right even when I try my utmost” core-belief was activated at top strength.

I went into my bedroom feeling totally and utterly defeated. I (literally) burst into the tears that I had been trying to hide from my sister, and spent a good half hour crying into my teddy bear, feeling like I deserved only to die. Every time I started calming down, the reality of just how Awful A Person I was hit me yet again, and I would collapse back into the old self-hatred and pit of desperation.

After about an hour I texted my sister (who was in her bedroom 10 metres away) telling her how sorry I was. She said it was fine and asked me not to do it again, but that she had forgiven me and that it really was not a ‘thing’ any more. I wasn’t convinced so texted her back asking for reassurance (surprise surprise!). Eventually I went into her bedroom – still sobbing, eyes bloodshot, face red and puffy – and started apologising profusely.

She started laughing at me (in an endearing way) and telling me to “stop being such a cry-baby” because she was “totally over” the situation and it was “all fine”. I climbed into bed next to her and begged her for her forgiveness, over-justifying and explaining and apologising all the more. She let me sob into her shoulder whilst she reassured me that it was okay, that I wasn’t so awful after all and that I had her permission to move on 100%. The reassurance continued for a good while until I had calmed down enough to start taking back a little control.

I felt guilty not just because I had initially upset her, but also because from that point on the entire situation became about my distress and inability to regulate my guilt. Something so ‘small’ had become such a palaver in my head, which meant it all became about me when my intentions were totally the opposite to that. It really highlighted just how extreme my relationship with making mistakes is – and how hard I am on myself.

I am understanding more and more that these reactions come from my early interactions as a child, where one step out of line really was a threat. As a kid it made sense that any mistakes I made should feel like the end of the world. That was adaptive back then and it’s what moulded me to become the perfectionistic people-pleaser I am today. But it often goes too far, and when that happens it just causes havoc to my life and is more of a nuisance than anything else.

My therapist says trauma therapy is about equipping me with a choice. I hope that one day I am able to have more of a choice around these things. I hope to have more of a choice about the extent to which my past continues to dictate my present.

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18 thoughts on “When a Minor Mistake Becomes the End of the World

  1. Thank you for sharing this, it makes sense to me. I’ve been consumed by overwhelming guilt for the past few days for something I don’t even really know happened.. it’s comforting to know why I feel that way.

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  2. Hi there. I don’t think I could have seen this post at a better time! I’ve been reading your blog for a while; this is the first time I have commented as I get a bit anxious about commenting, but I can relate so many of the things you’ve written. I was diagnosed with EUPD earlier on this year, and with regards to this posts, it feels like my minor mistakes become the end of the world! For example, I’m feeling kind of out of sorts today as I have just started a Christmas temp job in a shop, and yesterday I had a very slight issue with a customer. She made a snippy comment about not arguing with the customer when I hadn’t been arguing, I’d just tried to fit something in the wrong sized bag and when she told me it wouldn’t fit, I went on trying because I was on the spot and didn’t know what else to do; it was my second shift ever and, due to my MH problems and not being very good at anything, I’ve never had a job before this one, so the only experience I had before yesterday was a couple of hours’ training and my first shift, which was very quiet…here I go, justifying! :/ Even though I look back and see that it was a tiny thing with a snobby, petty woman, I feel so overwhelmed with anger and disgust towards myself, and guilty, in case I irritated the woman and ruined her day, and that she’ll never come back to the shop now because she had such dreadful customer service from me, and that I’ve let everyone down because I can’t do anything right. When it happened, I had all kinds of urges and wanted to break down and cry – I’m pleased to say that I didn’t act on these urges or cry on the shop floor (not that I have anything against a good cry when I’m at home) but I did start going on about it to my new colleagues to try and get their reassurance and validation; they were all lovely about it and said it didn’t REALLY sound like I’d done anything wrong at all and that every so often you have to deal with someone who thinks they’re better than you just because you work in a shop where they’re the customer, but it didn’t make me feel any better and I know I annoyed them, which made me feel worse. Later on when I got home with my poor family, I broke down screaming that I hated myself and I never wanted to go back to work and this woman clearly thought I was all that’s bad about the world etc etc etc and ended up having to take some PRN medication to calm down – I’m not quite into behavioural skills training yet; I hope to be one day soon! Whilst I feel sorry that my family always see this side of me when I’m stressed or unhappy, nobody has been very sympathetic; they’ve just said that in retail you have to deal with all kinds of people, some of whom aren’t particularly nice, and you can’t let it get to you or take it personally, but of course, I can never help doing just that! Sometimes I wonder how I’ll ever get anywhere in life being as easily hurt as I am. I’m not a psychologist or anything, but sometimes I think that borderlines worry so much about hurting other people because we are susceptible to being hurt so terribly by other people’s behaviour, and we don’t want to make anyone feel like we do when we’ve been hurt as we know it’s horrendously painful. 😦 Anyway, thank you so much for your posts…you really have helped me feel less alone. You seem like a great person and I will keep reading. I know I don’t know you but I’m here for you. Hugs. ❤

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    • Oh my goodness I literally could have written all the above! I would react exactly the same in a situation like the one you were in at work in the shop, and everything you felt I know I would have too. I really relate and am grateful to hear and know that I am not alone in my experiences. I know you said you feel anxious commenting and I’m really glad that you did and want to thank you, I appreciate it and also think challenging yourself in all these ways is really positive and hopeful. It’s also really hard when people don’t get it, family or anyone, and I too seek constant reassurance to make it even a tiny bit better, which people often don’t understand because it’s so much more of a big deal to me than to them. They don’t understand how life or death it feels. I’m sorry that you have to experience it too. And also I think you are INCREDIBLY insightful as the last point you made – about how as people with BPD we don’t want anyone to feel even a percent of the hurt we have felt/ feel – is absolutely spot on and something I TOTALLY agree with. Thank you lovely, please take care and remember to validate the fact that these things are difficult for you/ us for a reason, whatever unresolved past stuff it stems from, everything has cause and effect and it isn’t our fault that we have been through what we have, and that we feel the way we do. And you didn’t act on it, in terms of the self destructive urges, and that’s a huge thing. Hugs back to you!!!!

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      • Thank you so much for your lovely response. ❤ I'm really glad you found my sharing my experience helpful – there are plenty more experiences involving me getting very upset over little everyday mistakes I've made, and the people around me becoming frustrated when they watch me unable to deal with it; if it's any consolation, you are not alone in it, especially as far as I'm concerned. As for making mistakes within the home, I'm forever unintentionally upsetting my family, and then it becomes a vicious circle: I behave in a careless or self-destructive way, naturally my family get upset, I get guilty for making them upset…and round we go again. I feel awful writing this now! But at the end of the day, my family are my family…I have sisters too, and we often have a rocky relationship because I can be difficult to say the least…but we love each other to bits, whatever problems I come with, and that's never going to change, which is something I count myself incredibly blessed for (though I do only feel like this at this exact moment, and this good feeling is subject to change at any moment!). It sounds like it's the same with you and your sister; of course I don't know the ins and outs of your relationship, but it sounds like you're close, even if you have your moments! 😉 And the reassurance thing…this has been a huge issue in my life ever since I can remember. I remember a CAMHS psychiatric nurse saying to my mum on the phone (I know because my mum told me) that she was "worried" by my "neediness" – I didn't appreciate that choice of words, but she was referring to my need to be reassured. It's tough because people do often discuss it in an unflattering way, even professionals, using terms like "needy," which is in itself invalidating…they have no idea what it's like to live with it! And I'm sorry you have to live with it too…it's horrible and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, even if I do think that some people could do with the insight into how people like us live. :/ I wish I had more borderline friends (I have one, who I met in hospital) to talk to about this stuff! More hugs…I don't think I've ever been called insightful before! ❤ xxx

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      • YES yes yes to literally all the above. Honestly you seem very insightful and I wouldn’t say that for no reason! Oh the days of CAMHS ‘ey…? Do you live in london? Ps I had a situation yesterday where I accidentally banged my suitcase into someone when I was running for a bus, I apologised so much but she was one of those “Oi, can’t you watch where you’re going?!” type people and it impacted me for hours after and partially ruined my sight seeing experience 😦 it’s good to know I’m not alone in this. Take care!

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      • By “you have your moments,” I meant “the two of you have your moments as sisters,” BTW – I wasn’t suggesting that you were the problem, just that as sisters, we all have our ups and downs! xxx

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  3. Hi i found your post very interesting. My husband has BPD and the way he deals with minor mistakes or even sniffs of mistakes is by throwing the whole thing back at the other person with a vengeance. Now I see from reading this that perhaps the overwhelming guilt is so so strong and impossible for him to carry that he goes on the defensive immediately.

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    • That makes a lot of sense. I certainly have done so in the past, but I think maybe it’s more about shame than guilt for me. Maybe it could be worth talking it over with him, in the calmer moments (if that’s something you’re both able to do). That sounds like it could be fitting though. Take care, both of you…

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    • I do that. This post resonated with me, because I have felt exactly like that. I’ve even done similar things, thinking these elaborate thoughts (like I will further my friendship with someone) and then it horribly backfiring. And sometimes I cannot deal with the guilt and shame, so I turn it around.

      OP, I do feel that your sister should learn to talk to you more kindly. There are ways to discuss anger and a problem that do not include disdain and disgust and no one should ever call anyone a cry baby, let alone a person with BPD. It’s invalidating in the extreme. I know that isn’t the focus of the post, and I got much more out of it than that for myself, but since you gave me this tidbit v(ia the internets, haha) I want to make you aware of that. Perhaps you could talk to her about helpful ways to conversate. BPD is very very hard without totally willing and accommodating support.

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