The Looking Glass – Identity on the Borderline

The Looking Glass - By Charlotte Farhan
The Looking Glass – By Charlotte Farhan

When identity is unstable life can feel as if you are staring through a mirror wondering what the “other side” means ?

Like Alice who questions the world on the other side of the mirror’s reflection – before stepping through and entering an alternative world; our concept of self is greatly developed from infancy through our interpersonal interactions and mirrored back through society.  Suggesting that we have a tendency to understand ourselves through our understanding of how others see and judge us; this is thought to be how we develop and understand our own identity.

As a child we learn how our crying, smiling and silence elicits a response from our caregivers, this forms our first mirroring and understanding of how we are perceived and responded to. This continues throughout our interactions and learning.

“The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another’s mind.”

(Cooley 1964)

(The looking-glass self is a social psychological concept introduced by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 (McIntyre 2006). The term “looking glass self” was coined by Cooley in his work, Human Nature and the Social Order in 1902.)

There are three main components that comprise the looking-glass self

(Yeung, et al. 2003).

  • We imagine how we must appear to others.
  • We imagine and react to what we feel their judgement of that appearance must be.
  • We develop our self through the judgements of others.

As a person who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – identity is something which has always been an issue for me and so many other sufferers. My entire life seems to have been an identity crisis and it is one of the 9 traits you have to have in order to be diagnosed with BPD.

The specific issues which concern the stability of self in BPD sufferers is exhibited in:

  • Fragmentation – Which is in no way as dominating or persistent in BPD as it is in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), however it still causes many issues. BPD can make it so you have adaptive personalities depending on who you are with and what scenario you are in – which to some extent most people do. BPD however causes this to be such separate fragmentations of the self that it is disturbing for us – the sufferers, to a degree it damages our personal relationships, careers, idea of self, family life and integration into society. It also affects our memories and association to people and places as our identities can separate what is dear to one “personality/self” over the other.
  • Boundary confusion – Also known as boundary dissolution is the failure to recognise the psychological distinctiveness of individuals or a confusion of their interpersonal roles. Boundaries are believed to be established in childhood within the family setting, when roles are clarified such as who is the parent and who is the child, with a flexibility to create close bonds and also have a separateness allowing you to build your “self”.

Kenji Kameguchi (1996) likens boundaries to a

“membrane” that surrounds each individual and subsystem in the family. Like the membrane around a cell, boundaries need to be firm enough to ensure the integrity of the cell and yet permeable enough to allow communication between cells. Overly rigid boundaries might constrict family relationships and limit family members’ access to one another (e.g., “children should be seen and not heard”), whereas overly permeable or blurred boundaries might lead to confusion between the generations (e.g., “who is the parent and who is the child?”

[Hiester 1995]).

  • Lack of cohesion and continuity of the self across situations and life history – Most individuals who have secure identities do so because they remember themselves as the same individual they have always been. Noticing the changes one experiences with age, experience and gained knowledge, developing their core identity through life’s stages. BPD doesn’t allow for this due to the fragmented self which has been present throughout our lives, causing perceived gaps of identity knowledge and incompatible memories. Timelines become confusing when remembering what past events mean in regards to identity.

“I don’t know who I am”

“I don’t know what I want”

“I don’t know how I should handle this situation”

These questions seem harmless to most – however when you have BPD these questions are so confusing that emotional stability is compromised and becomes dangerous if we are not supported or receiving some kind of treatment. These questions are second nature and the answers come to mind with a certain amount of ease when you do not suffer from psychological identity issues – something taken for granted by most.

When you have BPD you are seen by different people as polar opposites at different points in your life or even at the same time, such as myself; I am seen by many in my life as a self righteous, egocentric, judgemental, scary, aggressive, rude person. However I am also seen by many as an inspiration, kind, loving, empathetic, polite, selfless person. Many people without BPD may encounter this kind of reaction from certain people, contradicting what makes you, you. This doesn’t phase well adjusted stable personalities as they know who they are and realise they are probably a combination of things to different people due to differing interactions and other peoples personalities. With BPD this causes self annihilation, an instability of emotions and further fragmentation and less awareness of the self.

“who do I believe – me or me or you”

In truth – at times I feel as if my identity is a game of guess who; or that this confused dissociated state is in fact a malevolent monster controlling and interchanging me – to torture me.

Friends, family and people who have crossed my path along the way will have no idea to a certain extent that these different identities exist within me or at different times in my life. The ones who remember are those who I have split, those who got to meet the protective identity, the no empathy, unforgiving, hateful identity – who has kept me alive in times of pure distress. These people have gone from being idealised to then being devalued and thrown away. The hardest part is being aware of this, of others being more aware of this – knowing I can rip you off the pedestal in which I created for you at any time just because you reveal to me that you are in fact human and fallible.

Sometimes the mirror reflects back that no one really knows me, so in turn I can’t know myself – which then brings about the depersonalisation and not feeling as if I exist at all.

The looking glass is the perfect metaphor for how this feels – knowing one reflection is in one world and another in the next. Feeling unreal or full of identities fighting to be seen or wanting to hide. Not knowing when in front of the mirror – who will reflect back.

 


References 

Hiester, M.”Who’s the parent and who’s the child: generational boundary dissolution between mothers and their children.” paper presented at the biennial meeting of the society for research in child development, Indianapolis,1995.

Yeung, King-To, and Martin, John Levi. “The Looking Glass Self: An Empirical Test and Elaboration.” Social Forces 81, no. 3 (2003): 843–879.


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“I am Fine” the mantra of unseen illness – By Charlotte Farhan


I am fine….

I AM FINE!

I. AM. FINE. picsart_02-16-06.14.31.jpg

However which way I say these three words they are always a lie. Not a vicious deceitful lie, but a lie which serves me well whilst simultaneously crushing me emotionally; with each utterance. This little sentence has become a habitual response to the question:

How are you?

Which is a very common occurrence, most people do not divulge their entire life story when asked how they are, it is just an extension to how we greet one another, a politeness (especially in England) to reply:

I am fine, thank you. And how are you?

However when you are really asked this question by a close member of your family, your partner, a close friend or even your therapist and you still only ever say:

I am fine. picsart_02-16-06.02.22.jpg

Well this kind of situation is what I am talking about and is what this art piece represents. This is about how self preservation means losing part of your identity, emotionally but more importantly the denial of your present state. Never allowing your armour to be compromised, focusing on other peoples problems and absorbing them, when asked about yourself you divert conversations as if they were on-coming traffic; as if your life depends on it – because it does.

The majority of the time I do not look “sick”, I have mainly unseen illnesses and my most debilitating of ailments is completely invisible to the eye. As well as this many people do not “believe” in mental illness or recognise certain neurological conditions, saying things such as:

It’s all in your head!

It’s mind over matter.

You don’t look sick. picsart_02-16-06.05.19.jpg

These statements are very unhelpful and also redundant in this context. Saying it is all in ones head is a correct statement, mental illness is in our encasement’s which we call heads, in our brains – our minds. It is not in our legs, nor our arms, it is very much a head thing. However saying it to someone as a dismissive statement is not a logical statement as it suggests that your mental illness or neurological condition should not be “in your head”. Suggesting that it maybe make believe or a lie to gain sympathy (which if you are a person who suffers from mental illness you will know this is an insult as there is no sympathy granted to the mentally ill, instead it is stigmatised). As for “you don’t look sick” this one is nothing more than an ignorant judgement, looking at someone with just ones eyes and not a full body CT scanner (which also can not see everything) there is no way to determine someones health or disability status.

Due to all this added conjecture to this particular scenario , it is not hard to understand why the “I am fine” mantra is a fail safe for so many. You get tired of explaining yourself, defending your diagnosis and dealing with people saying things like:

I don’t really believe in mental illness.

Mental illness is a conspiracy to control and label us.

Mental illness is just mental weakness.

i-am-fine-2-by-charlotte-farhan

So the simple solution is to pretend that you are fine, that you do not need help, that you are not “weak” or “dangerous”, for every mental illness denier there is another person who believes we should all be locked up and not trusted due to the stigmatisation and misinformation on both the mentally ill and those with criminal intent.

This may be the simplest of solutions but it comes at a cost to most. You see there is only a finite amount of space in ones emotional storage unit and the continuous throwing anything and everything that you wish to hide in there can mean that you reach a time you can’t shut the door anymore, let alone lock it. This can lead to you bursting and spilling out onto everything around you or it can mean you just implode – self detonate.

Truthfully for me it is a constant battle inside my head, of not wanting to alienate people or scare people with my overwhelming emotional instability and behavioural abnormalities – having to remain stoic by being the person who people come to, the provider, the rescuer. Against letting it all out, a completely “no shits given” attitude, a liberating freedom of being able to just be me, all parts of me at all levels of intensity. This of course is very black and white and a thought process due to my borderline personality disorder, the middle ground does not tend to exist in my world, it sometimes appears but rarely when experiencing high emotions. To pass off the “strong” persona I have to use the “I am fine” line a lot, which is a kind of middle ground, at least it is when one is trying to manage social boundaries and interpersonal relationships – which to me are like alien concepts that cause feelings of being an outsider.

Charlotte Farhan

There have been times in my past when “I am fine” was a defence mechanism as I was in denial about my illnesses and wished to hide the entire idea from myself, blaming my emotions and behaviours on alcohol, drugs and being a “bitch”, that crazy girl thing was easy to flip and present myself to the world as a “bad” person in my twenties – so I stuck to it. People even liked this persona, some celebrated it by telling me they loved my “fuck you attitude” and loved to see me being abusive to others or violent. If the other side, the vulnerable side – was presented (which was me during my teens, from 11 yrs to 20 yrs old) people looked at me as an emotional drain, a liability, dangerous, scary, I became an undesirable human. At these times of no control self harm, suicide attempts, eating disorders, psychosis, machiavellianism, disinhibition and an emotional sensitivity that was never-ending was my way of life. I learnt valuable lessons on survival and how to mimic other humans as a visiting entity from the planet “strange”, using manipulation to gain friends and taking on other identities which were visible to me as ideals, I could be the most popular person in the room or the most disliked, this was not up to my audience or friends, this was up to me and my chameleon like personality. The important thing is I have forgiven myself for being this way, knowing now this was and still is a neurological condition and a perfectly OK way to survive when you have only ever known trauma.

picsart_02-06-06-17-09

Now that I am in my thirties things have got to a point that my life is more introspective and having the perspective of an “adult” allows me to look at my teens and twenties more objectively and see how and why I had to survive this way when there were no adults parenting me and keeping me safe. Being an adult in this way means that when I look back I ask different questions than I did before, such as:

Where were your parents?

How long were you left on your own?

How was it looking after yourself at such a young age?

Did you have to grow up quickly?

There is a draw back to being older however, my emotions get buried deeper, I detach more and say “I am fine” even more than ever. Wanting to be liked for me, not wanting to buy friends or manipulate them to like me, not wanting to be the extreme me who needs someone to safeguard them at all times, not wanting to be the rescuer and the “strong” one all the time. Wanting people to understand my pain more, I want and need actual medical support for my disabilities but am not at a vulnerable age anymore, so am taken less seriously. Hiding in medication and being likeable and not too intense feels like a life sentence:

But still all I can say is:

I am fine!

 


i-am-fine-by-charlotte-farhan


 

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Outsider Art – Unlocked by Charlotte Farhan

Unlocked - By Charlotte Farhan
Unlocked – By Charlotte Farhan

Unlocked – By Charlotte Farhan

A pressure builds inside my head like a boiling liquid,
spilling out of me, the security lock has been breached.
The fear that anything could escape – this is unscripted,
witnessing my life – my credibility is impeached.


This illustration is of my inner turmoil spilling from my mind, when experiencing a locked in state from flash backs and psychosis as a result of having complex post traumatic stress disorder and psychotic depression.

As I get older the locked safe where my darkest thoughts and memories have been kept, since being very young; has started to erode with time. Rusty and old, the hinges are no longer able to hold it all in.

Since starting reliving therapy in 2014 there have been many disturbances to my treatment, such as the NHS only being able to offer 6 weeks and then leaving me worse than before, opened up and dumped.

Then last year I found a therapist which was able to offer a reduced fee (as we are on such a low income) all was going well, even though it was soul-destroying and painful and made me cry in those 6 sessions more than I ever had. Still it was a process and felt as if maybe I would be able to deal with the trauma of my rape and sexual abuse as well as all the other issues which had developed as a consequence. However this was not to be the case, due to my borderline personality disorder I ended up splitting my therapist in my mind and however much I tried, this could not be changed. From thinking “she is my saviour” to “she is trying to kill me”, which then led me to become dangerously suicidal. So having no real choice, the therapeutic relationship had to be terminated.

So I am left unlocked and wide open…


 

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Losing my Identity – Art by Charlotte Farhan

 

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan

Losing My Identity is a depiction of the identity disturbance which people such as myself endure due to having Borderline Personality Disorder.

So imagine living your life with no sense of self, not knowing yourself from your past, present and future, how would this affect your day to day life?

Having a sense of self is something which as a species sets us apart from other animals and is a complicated subject within philosophy and psychology. Your identity is generally made up of your beliefs, attitudes, behaviour, personality, knowledge and what social roles you see yourself in.

Identity is formed in early childhood and then continues to progress and adapt until early adulthood, and by your mid-twenties a secure sense of self is common in most.

BPD QUOTE

We learn primarily from our parents who we are, such as are we “good” or “bad”. This also inturn makes us aware of others and how we relate to them.  With borderline personality disorder, however, the distinction between “good” and “bad” seems to remain as the only two variables in which to see themselves and others. This causes splitting which is the extreme shifting of black and white thinking, from idealisation and devaluation of the self and others.

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan

Here are my accompanying poems which describe each identity which I have felt I am, at different times, never really knowing who is who, or if who I am is real.

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan - The Survivor
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan – The Survivor

 

The Survivor

She looks in control and some call her inspirational,

cold and frank, aggressive in her nature,

always confrontational.

She doesnt need you,

from love to hate she swings,

people have tried, she simply withdrew.

She is a survivor you see,

no need to gasp or stare,

her only goal is to be set free.

Some try and disarm her, given half the chance,

but some know her well,

even at first glance.

She will protect you till the end,

resilient and fierce,

in this girl you can depend.

 

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan - The Fragile One
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan – The Fragile One

 

The Fragile One

She has no skin and could break at the slightest touch,

you rarely see her,

for being in public is simply too much.

Hiding behind her older sister The Survivor,

never allowing the vulnerability to be seen,

in her life she is not the designated driver.

For she is so vulnerable and sick,

infirm and weak,

if you want to offer her help, best be quick.

 

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan - The Benevolent one
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan – The Benevolent One

 

The Benevolent One

She believes in a higher purpose,

knowing we are here for a short time,

negativity is worthless.

Giving of herself always, never saying no,

truly altruistic,

wanting to save you and never let go.

A mother earth without a brood of her own,

offering wise words,

treating you as a precious stone.

She wants to save the world, and is certain she can,

waking up everyday with a mission,

wanting to prevent the fall of man.

 

Losing my Identity - By Charlotte Farhan - The Child
Losing my Identity – By Charlotte Farhan – The Child

 

The Child

She never grew up, she couldn’t you see,

trapped in time, searching for love,

she will give her love away for free.

Crying and screaming is how she speaks,

listen carefully and you may understand,

the tears say more, running down her cheeks.

She loves you, she hates you,

extremes are all she knows,

giving you a lot to live up to.

Building fantasies in her mind,

dreaming of a family who could never exist,

always filled with worry and fear of being left behind.

 

BPD QUOTE

 

For further information on BPD please click here

Thank you for your time…

Artist Charlotte Farhan
Artist Charlotte Farhan

 

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Borderline Thinking for more support and information about Borderline Personality Disorder.

BORDERLINE THINKING

 

 

 

Fair-weather Friend – A Poem by Charlotte Farhan

 

Fair-weather Friend – A Poem by Charlotte Farhan

So you want something from me?
So you take something from me!
You fill my heart with hope and friendship,
then you find some other focus and take it away!
I was once your number one, your right hand chum,
but now I am just that dumb.
I give everything,
that is me.

You promised me you would stand by my side and be my security,
I felt so special I added you to my family tree!
Friendships like these break my heart,
I have always been searching for brothers and sisters,
but have realised I am but a spare part.

You cried for years,
filled my bedroom with tears,
I scooped you up in my arms and helped you swim the sea you had created,
knowing full well how this story was fated!

You see I have a poorly brain and my mind is heavy with nightmares,
which keep me from being free,
always longing to be an escapee.
With this mindset I am open to being used like a forever giving fountain of youth!
But I can’t hurt you by bringing up this truth.
I love you too much to see you hurt,
but instead I sink further, as if you were weighing me down before throwing me to sea
Friendship can be tricky when you are me,
not knowing what to be?

                      Just remember I am not able to carry us alone, you must tend to our garden,                           or our roses will never grow!
I can not be your fair-weather friend,
this path is long and tiresome,
but I know if continued we will reach our dead end.

DON'T LEAVE ME - By Charlotte Farhan
Don’t Leave Me – By Charlotte Farhan

This poem is dedicated to all the friendships I have had which have ended after my Borderline Personality Disorder came between us. Either because I have a tendency to give everything in a friendship, I want to be the best of the rest, I want to be family and be the closest we can be, so I shall do everything for my friends, to my own detriment. Also I have tended to make friends with fickle people or users. Those who saw a chance to get what they could from me and my weakness.

I also recognise that I have had unrealistic expectations in these relationships, I want perfection! Which is unachievable, I have been working on this behaviour a lot and have managed to find ways to stop this from happening so much, stopping myself from projecting this on to my friends and partner. However I still get hurt when perfection is not reached as I would put everything into being perfect and my brain can not understand why others do not do the same? But when I tackle this splitting of the mind I reach the conclusion, (sometimes after hours of tears and anger) that I do not need to be perfect and nor does anyone else.

Borderlines can have very difficult relationships with people, I know for me my most difficult of relationships has been friendships since I was very young. Here are some reasons why:

“Typically individuals with BPD have difficulty trusting others. Irritability and inappropriate anger with temper tantrums may occur. The symptoms of BPD may resemble love addiction. While love addiction is not medically diagnosable, addictive behaviour is difficult to live with. Relationships build quickly and intensely. They are unable to see the faults of their partner (friends and family), and cannot tolerate changes in intimacy. Because people will eventually disappoint them, the person with BPD must reconcile their black and white conceptualization. Splitting shields those with the disorder from the anxiety of conflicting emotions.

One study found that those with BPD have a distorted sense of social norms, which impacts their ability to trust or cooperate. When something goes wrong in their relationships, they do not respond in a manner that would repair the damage. By doing so, they limit others from being able to fully cooperate in return.

Individuals with BPD may feel that their emotional needs are not met in a relationship, but they do not have the capacity to assert their emotional needs in a productive and healthy manner. When they do not get what they want or need from the relationship, frustrations arise. Because of the intense fear of loneliness and abandonment, when the relationship is viewed as at risk these individuals may feel extreme anger.”

From borderline-personality-disorder.com

I would like to add that now at 31 years of age I have some amazing friends who not only are aware of my BPD and other illnesses but they are supportive of my on-going treatment and recovery. I have a group of female friends (some I have known since childhood and adolescents) who are such amazing women and so open that I can explain myself to them with ease. I also have a wonderful group of male friends who I feel safe with and one who is like a brother (who I have known since being babies together) I am very fortunate and even though I fear sometimes I shall be abandoned and hated by all, I remember that these people are good people! They ground me and most importantly they allow me to be myself and have fun.

Please visit my BPD – Borderline Thinking Facebook page for more information and support.

 

Friendship Quote