Archive for February, 2007

BPD (psycho babble)

Borderlines are unable to congruently bond or attach to a partner in healthy ways because they were unable to successfully master the separation-individuation phase of development in early childhood.

Borderlines wreak so much chaos, drama, havoc, and often abuse, in relationships. When they try to relate to someone intimately the stress creates the rise of a myriad of false self defences that push other away. Most with BPD have not learned how to regulate or modulate the emotions associated with the flux of distance and closeness that is part of healthier relationships.

According to N. Gregory Hamilton, M.D., in his book, Self and Others – Object Relations Theory In Practice, “Struggles between closeness and autonomy gradually subside as rapprochement resolves. The child finds an optimal distance. The intensity and duration of temper tantrums decrease. Emotions become more modulated, and a new emotional repertoire emerges.”

Closeness, for the borderline, brings with it the terror of annihilation or engulfment – the re-experiencing of the loss of authentic self. Whereas distance is experienced as either pending re-abandonment or threatened abandonment.

Often this propels the borderline to punish and seek revenge or to wish to annihilate the significant other in his or her life, as a means of defending against the loss of self through other.

Borderlines need to find their way to the kind of therapy that will make it possible for them to learn how to relate in ways that aren’t abusive, self-defeating, and sometimes even criminal. They need to be helped to heal their abandonment trauma so they can emotionally and psychologically mature.

Some borderlines can do some terrible things and cause untold pain and chaos in their own lives and the lives of those who care about them. Though everyone with BPD is responsible for his or her own behaviour, most deeply regret not only their own pain, but the pain they cause others.

It is not correct to assume that due to the way in which many with BPD treat others, that they have no conscience or remorse or compassion. They can act in ways that are totally opposite to this when triggered to regressed wounded and dissociative past experience, however. This often creates confusion for those in relationship with borderlines.

Self-forgiveness is important for those with BPD so that they can psychologically unhook from the self-sabotaging and self-hating cycle.

If we, as non borderlines, are capable of compassion we have an ethical and moral responsibility to understand the person with BPD without sanctioning abusive behaviour.

If intimacy is a re-play of your borderline’s childhood in your life, detach emotionally. If necessary, end the relationship. Many non borderlines, however, can get off the rollercoaster of borderline emotional dysfunction by unhooking from the things that pull them into it.

Intimacy with most people who have Borderline Personality Disorder (until and unless they have significant successful therapeutic intervention) is not possible in healthy adult mutual and reciprocal ways.

Borderlines struggle with abandonment fear that causes them to often regress to the role of the child in intimate relationships.

The result of this triggered and dissociative regression is that they experience their partners as bad mother or not-good-enough mother. Borderlines are not able to stay in the present when stressed by the re-surfacing of their abandonment trauma. They are not able to regulate their needs or emotions in congruent ways that allow for the necessary moving in and moving out that healthy intimacy requires.

Lacking object constancy borderlines’ attempts at adult emotional intimacy, more often than not, result in intense and unstable push-pull and “I-hate-you-don’t-leave me” behaviour.

Age-appropriate adult intimacy with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is not possible until and unless they learn to unhook from all of the loaded inter-relational triggers of their arrested emotional development and learn to attach and bond in the here and now congruently with object contancy.

Borderlines do not know how to regulate their emotions in ways that prevent them from re-experiencing the cycling control struggle between dependence and independence – the separation – individuation struggle that they were unable to master as young children.


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Self-flagellation is a characteristic of those who choose to live with a narcissist (for a choice it is). Constant feelings of guilt, self-reproach, self-recrimination and, thus, self-punishment characterize the relationships formed between the sadist-narcissist and the masochistic-dependent mate or partner.

The narcissist is sadistic because, her Superego is unpredictable, capricious, arbitrary, judgemental, cruel, and self-annihilating (suicidal).
Externalising these internal traits is a way of alleviating internal conflicts and fears generated by the narcissist’s inner turmoil.

The narcissist projects this “civil war” and drags everyone around her into a swirl of bitterness, suspiciousness, meanness, aggression and pettiness.
Her life is a reflection of her psychological landscape: barren, paranoiac, tormented, guilt ridden.

This would come at a great personal psychological price, though. Avoidance or suppression of a compulsive act results in increased anxiety.
Even when confronted with the great misery that she fosters, she hardly feels responsible (for instance, she rarely attends psychotherapy).


The narcissist’s partner is is often a willing participant in this shared psychosis. Such folie a deux can never take place without the full collaboration of a voluntarily subordinated victim. Such partners have a wish to be punished, to be eroded through constant, biting criticisms, unfavourable comparisons, veiled and not so veiled threats, acting out, betrayals and humiliations. It makes them feel cleansed, “holy”, whole, and sacrificial.

Many of these partners, abandon the narcissist and dismantle the relationship. Others prefer to believe in the healing power of love or some such other nonsense.
It is nonsense not because love has no therapeutic power.
It is nonsense because it is wasted on a human shell, incapable of feeling anything but negative emotions, which vaguely filter through his dreamlike existence.
The victim is unable to love, his emotional apparatus ruined by years of deprivation, abuse, misuse and disuse.

Granted, the narcissist is a consummate manipulator of human emotions and their attendant behaviours. She is convincing, she uses anything and anyone to secure her dose of Narcissistic Supply and discards, without hesitation those she deems “useless”.

The narcissist-victim dyad is a conspiracy, a collaboration of two needy people who find solace and supply in each other’s deviations. Only by breaking loose, by aborting the game, by ignoring the rules – can the victim be transformed (and by the way, acquire the newly found appreciation of the narcissist).

But both the narcissist and her partner do not really think about each other. Gripped in the arms of an all-consuming dance macabre, they follow the motions morbidly, semiconscious, desensitised, exhausted, concerned only with survival.
Living with a narcissist is very much like being in a maximum security prison.

The narcissist’s partner should not feel guilty or responsible and should not seek to change what only time (not even therapy) and (difficult) circumstances may change.
He should not strive to please and to appease, to be and not to be, to barely survive as a superposition of pain and fear.
Releasing himself from the chains of guilt and from the throes of a debilitating relationship is the best help that a loving mate can provide to his ailing narcissistic partner.

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The first stage is steeped in the symbolism of fire.
It involves the frustration of desire until the emotions exhaust themselves.
Fire cleanses, the imagery here is almost always that of a wolf and lion.
The lion personifies the lordly passions of “I want” and the wolf is perpetually hungry.
These animals have been connected over centuries with passions, with hunger and pride and arrogance and desire.

In alchemy there is an imagery of cutting off the lions paws, if looked at in another way it is an extremely sophisticated model of the frustration of our desire.
A lion cannot claw or pursue its prey if it has no front paws.
What is reflected in the calcinatio is not repression or moral condemnation; it is a voluntary sacrifice so that something else can emerge.

Frustrated love is one area in life where a calcinatio occurs most often. Frustrated ambition in our life too brings on the same issues. This desire burns away a great deal of dross, if it is entered into with consciousness.
Normally if the person cannot have the object of his or her desire there is great deal of frustration of desire; there is a great deal of anger; the other person or an outer circumstance is blamed; or there is some kind of sodden self-pity and self-denigration.
But if the response to such a situation contains some recognition of its potential creativity, and the person can contain the anger and frustration and rage without blame falling on either the beloved or oneself; or on circumstances that frustrate the ambition; until something begins to transform from within, then this kind of experience can become one of the greatest shapers of a solid sense of personal identity.
The individual who has experienced such frustration but has interpreted it solely as one’s own or someone else’s fault can never grow beyond the lion or the wolf— there is a basic uncompromising greed and destructiveness which festers in the unconscious, often quite out of reach of the person’s awareness. This in turn can trigger all kinds of external situations, to the horror of the individual involved.
Very often dreams will arise during such periods which reflect the problem of frustrated desire. The only alternative for this state of affairs is for the wolf or lion to be burned in the fire of the calcinatio, or have the paws amputated.
The lion can be viewed as the primitive form of the renewed king; for true individuality and potential for kingship the primitive passions must be burned first.

Jung focuses on the Mars aspect which is the hot male principle and when viewed with the metaphors of the astrological horoscope we can examine progressions and transits involving mars.
There is always a risk with element of passion, even if one gets one’s desire the reality is almost always somehow short of the fantasy.
You can see why the calcinatio stage of the alchemical opus is important for the individual; it provides an opportunity for the primitive infantile passions to be experienced for the first time; and such an experience is necessary as a component in the opus; without it there is no possibility of alchemical gold!

Powerful Saturn transits and progression hitting a birth chart also suggest calcinations experiences.
There are emotional manifestations as well as physical manifestations of the calcinatio like infections and fevers which are bound up with the image of frustrated desire.
The fire in the calcinations burns as well as purifies and enlightens.
Passion is a great catalyst, perhaps the greatest we have, and frustration of passion is the essence of this stage of the opus.
As we go through these transits and progression; they are cyclical; a little stone is formed; each time they come back around, a little bit more stone is formed. Once there is even a tiny piece of stone formed one does not suffer in the same way.
Perhaps one does not need to suffer at all if one has conscious cooperation with what is happening. These are our deepest experiences and our greatest spur to individual growth.

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These are deep and difficult concepts. If we reflect for a while then the key issues are transforming nature through individual effort which is the same perspective held by modern psychotherapy.

The underlying theme of alchemy is not really making gold. It concerns transforming the raw substance of human nature and releasing its potential for inner divinity, not through repression or transcendence but through inner confrontation and integration. Alchemy was not directed at getting rid of the “baser aspects” of human nature but directed towards unification and wholeness.

The Alchemical Opus…

In alchemical language the “prima material” which is the basis of the opus is the primal substance, in astrological terms it could mean Saturn or lead or both.

We can understand prima material as the raw primitive instincts that erupt from the unconscious, the emotional compulsions and conflicts and fears and passions which drive us all at one time or another in life.
It is really Freud’s concept of the id.
The prima material is in a state of conflict all the time, blind, potent, undirected but full of raw power and constantly embattled.
There is a very beautiful engraving of the “prima materia’ reproduced in “Psychology and Alchemy’ which portrays the universe in its natural state before the Alchemical opus.
It is an image of great clashing rocks, huge cosmic boulders blundering into each other and mixed in are the different animals of the zodiacal signs fighting with each other.

On one rock a bull and a scorpion battle, and that rock is colliding with one on which a ram is trying to butt a pair of scales.
The whole picture contains a picture of furious confusion, aggression and conflict.
This is what Alchemy envisioned as “prima materia”

We don’t have to look very far to see where it is inside us, because it is our natural unreflective state of being.
Whenever we are beset by affects, compulsions, irrational eruption of any kind, there is Prima material.

The Alchemical Opus…

The Moment a person begins to reflect on his or her own inner nature, the ego begins to ask different questions;
Who am I? How have my parents shaped my values? How much am I connected with my own feelings, my own motives, my own needs? How much do my actions reflect my secret need to please, my fear of rejection, my terror of being alone? And so on.
These are psychological questions but in an older metaphor they are the work of an alchemist.
Any attempt we make at improving ourselves and our lives through the dynamics of the birth chart is a piece of alchemical work, particularly if it starts approaching the realm of psychotherapy, because this is taking the raw materials of the psyche as portrayed in the horoscope and transforming them through the intervention of consciousness.
A horoscope is an opus, a life’s work.

Alchemy has its metaphors of overinvolvement as well as underinvolvement. There must be a constant commitment yet sensible distance from it.
Here we can understand the “Alembic”
In alchemy they are glass, round bottom vessels with a long neck resting on iron racks.
The alembic is suggestive of a womb.
The idea is that the work on ourselves is like a gestation of a new life. On no account must the seal be broken or the work will be spoiled. And the alembic must be strong enough not to crack under pressure as difficulties will generate huge pressure and heat.

An alembic represents a middle place between repression, which disowns powerful unconscious eruptions, and possession which drags the individual down and overwhelms the capacity of the ego to make responsible choices.
If the alembic, cracks then it is a very vivid image of a very psychotic state.

The symbol of the alembic is very relevant to psychotherapy. When unconscious conflicts begin to come to the surface, we are compelled to act them out. We want to do something and break this seal, as we cannot cope with life as it is. We blame others, we want to quit, and we want to just run away from the intense heat.
In alchemy the images are very hideous, wolves eating kings, wolves being burnt, lions getting their paws cut off, etc.
These are very exotic raw portrayals of the psyche when conflicts are contained within rather than projected outside.

The stuff going on inside the alembic, as also inside our psyche needs constant observation.
In quantum physics too the development and outcome of the experiment depends entirely on the involvement of the observer.
Experiencing feelings, gaining insights and making connections is absolutely necessary.

Why would it be different when we choose our psyche as the experiment where we want to release the alchemical gold?

Imagery in Alchemy: suffering the pain of the wolf, being scorched by the fire and finally being fertilized by the heavenly dew. That of lead turning into gold!

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