In part one I talked about the experience of having a new dog. Someone quite rightly asked “So what has this got to do with mental health?” That’s a fair question-although I thought my last paragraph made some links. Maybe not clearly enough. In part two I want to look at sibling rivalry in terms of the inner world. Previously I wrote “… with our dogs it was also about power…. It seems to be at the heart of the battles in Ukraine as well as in the tube strikes coming up again. Power and resources. The same conflict also underpins many of our psychic / emotional conflicts. Which part of me is going to get the most resources? (Be warned. This conflict is every bit as deadly as any international one. Death, maiming, homelessness, desperation, hatred, revenge. All of this occurs on the internal battlefield. I shall look at these battles in part two.)”
The internal battle for survival is seen most clearly in people with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder-that most troublesome of diagnostic labels. Here the movement is between two parts of the personality The psychotic and the neurotic. Between very primitive aspects of Self (psychotic) and more acceptable aspects (neurotic). One difficulty is that neither place feels fully comfortable for very long. (As we found with our dogs, conflict sprang from nowhere. Or nowhere that we could understand.) So with Borderline states. Conflict seems to come from nowhere. Except that the “nowhere” is a permanent state of Being. A wasteland of the soul. A place where only dead and dying things live. (A psychic Zombie Apocalypse.) Sometimes a survivor emerges from this wasteland to tell their story. If they are heard well they can make sense of their experience.Take on nourishment. Settle down and live normally for a time. Then something will happen and they find themselves back in their own Zombie apocalypse. The skill of the therapist is to find a way to hold them through these times-albeit that may only be to stand still and allow the patent to see them in the distance. An emotional lighthouse.
The hope is that, in time, the healthy part will persuade its needy sibling that it, too, is cared about in equal measure. That both can share resources. Both protect and care for each other.
I have described the extreme end of emotional need. It is writ large in patients with a Borderline Personality Disorder for the simple reason that they are extremely needy. Abuse of many kinds is often at the root of their turmoil. Their world is not one of nursery rhymes, picnics, fairy tales and the like. Their experience has been of physical, emotional, sexual abuse from an early age. Of pain, punishment, blackmail and impotence. (One of my patients told me of the reason her father stopped sexually abusing her. He came to her room one day-when her mother was out. His normal pattern was to rape his daughter. On one occasion he got into her bed and she produced a carving knife and told him exactly what she would do if he carried on. He believed her and never touched her again. With this history it was hardly surprising that she struggled with close relationships, particularly with men.)
But we who are healthy know about our damaged parts. Or we should do. Our capacity for near murderous rage. For despair. For impotence and depression. We too, will fight for survival if necessary. the answer is the same for us. To allow all our parts to give and receive care and nurture.
So easy to write. So hard, at times, to practice…