Bisexuality and Shame

We continue to look at the psychology of bisexuality and its link to borderline personality disorder.

Pathological personality traits in negative affectivity – Depressivity: Pervasive shame (DSM5).

            Over the years in writing this blog, I keep coming back to the role of shame in borderline personality disorder, and each time I get a deeper understanding of the role shame has played in my life. Even though I have learned to survive and even thrive with BPD, there are still moments when my mind recreates a moment of shame from my past and the full emotional load of that shame expresses itself throughout my body.  Unfortunately, most of my shame involves my same-sex tendencies and experiences preventing me from enjoying by beautiful mind and body. So let’s take another look at what science is now saying about shame.

            First of all let’s look at the neuropathways involved in shame. Michl and others (1) employed functional magnetic resonance imaging with 14 healthy subjects while using shame-related and neutral stimuli. They found that shame involved activations in the frontal lobe in the medial and inferior frontal gyrus. During the imagination of shame, frontal and temporal lobes were responsive regardless of gender. They concluded that frontal, temporal, and limbic areas play a prominent role in the generation of moral feelings. So why is this important? My take is that the human brain is designed to help us stay within the protection of our family and in line with our group norms. In other words, shame is part of the normal physical make-up of our human brain that helps us grow and take our place in society. Unfortunately our bisexuality can be a major source of shame if we let society’s biased norms affect our sense of shame. But we are no longer children; we are adults, and we can take control of our shame mechanisms.

            The question is then – what goes wrong with the normal shame mechanism in those of us bisexuals with BPD that results in a pathological trait? An overactive shame mechanism can take two paths – self-loathing and/or anger. Brown and others (2) looked at the relationship of shame with self-inflicted injury (SII) among 77 women with borderline personality disorder. They used self-reported shame and nonverbal shame behaviors involving recent episodes of SII. They found that self-reported state shame and assessor ratings of shame were associated with prospective SII, but not after controlling for other emotions. The last part of that is interesting. This suggests that shame by itself is manageable for those of us bisexuals with BPD as long as we do not allow it to activate the amygdala and other emotional responses. This suggest that shame that involves emotional episodes may be responsible for self-injury and suicidal behavior.  On the other hand, there is hope if we take steps to deal with the emotional overload.

            The other side of the shame-coin is uncontrolled anger where the person with BPD directs the shame outward instead of inward. Scot and others (3) focused on associations between BPD symptoms, shame, and anger-related behaviors (hostile irritability) in adolescent girls using ecological momentary assessment. They discovered that greater BPD symptoms of shame were associated with more hostile irritability but only in the case of girls of average socioeconomic status (not receiving public assistance). Again this suggests an interesting side-bar to this study. We can surmise that adolescents who receive public assistance may be getting support and counselling to help them deal with the emotional issues surrounding outbursts of anger. They concluded that shame may be a key clinical target in the treatment of anger-related difficulties among adolescent girls with BPD symptoms. When it comes us bisexuals, we often turn that anger inward.

            Fortunately, all is not lost. Recent studies have shown it is possible to reduce shame about a specific event over a short period of time. Through constructive psychology practices, we can bring attention to the event causing the shame and learn to dissect and cope with the event before it is emotionally loaded and locked into long term memory.

My five suggestions for bisexuals with BPD:

1. Embrace the shame. When shame occurs, instead of trying to fight it, let it flow. This will take you out of the sympathetic mode and give you time to process the circumstances involved with the shame.

2. In processing the shame, involve the body as well as the brain. Vocalize it with a mantra. I like to use the words, “There is no blame; there is no shame. There is only love for myself and for….” If you are having difficulty doing that, find a friend, someone you trust, who will listen without judgement and who will let you process the situation and the thought patterns without interrupting.

3. In cases of habitual shame, journal it. This adds another constructive body and brain modality. Enter a state of relaxation and let that flow into a state of mindfulness. Record your thoughts on paper as they are formulated in your mind. Be sure to continue the process until you come to the resolution where there is no blame; there is no shame.

4. If your shame leads to anger, first of all, let me say that anger is better than self-loathing. But it still needs to be addressed. Do not let your mind turn shame into anger at yourself. Again, get control of the feelings. Practice deep breathing until you feel calm. Then process the situation. If it involves anger because you have given in to your impulses, give yourself room to explore and enjoy your sexual impulses for what they are. Try to figure out where the shame is coming from. Remember you are an adult and you are free to make your own decisions.

5. If you find that you cannot control your shame mechanisms and that you are thinking of harming yourself, get professional help. Find a psychologist or psychiatrist that employs constructive psychology practices.

(1) Michl, Petra; Meindl, Thomas; Meister, Franziska; Born, Christine; Engel, Rolf R.; Reiser, Maxililian; and Hennif-Fast, Kristina. Neurobiological underpinnings of shame and guilt: a pilot fMRI study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience; Vol 9. 2014. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss114

(2) Brown, Milton Z.; Linehan, Marsha M.; Comtois, Kathryn Anne; Murray, Angela; and Chapman, Alexander L.. Shame as a prospective predictor of self-inflicted injury in borderline personality disorder: A multi-modal analysis. Elsevier, Behavior Research and Therapy, Vol 47. 2009.

(3) Scott, L. N., Stepp, S. D.; Hallquist, M. N.; Whalen, H. J.; Wright, A. G. C.; and Pilkonis, P, A. . Daily shame and hostile irritability in adolescent girls with borderline personality disorder symptoms. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. 2015. https://doi.org/10.1037/per0000107

 

Bisexuality, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Pessimism

We continue to look at the psychology of bisexuality and its link to borderline ersonality disorder. Pathological personality traits in negative affectivity – Depressivity: Pessimism about the future (DSM5)

            There is a phenomena called the Law of Attraction. If we think positive thoughts, good things happen. If we think negative thoughts, we invite bad things into our lives. As bisexuals with BPD traits, our feelings are often based on a poor self-image and the belief that we are unworthy of attracting good things into out lives. Our feelings create our thoughts; our thoughts create our actions; and our actions create the pessimistic lives we inadvertently choose to live.

             Korn and others[1] designed a research study in which 21 BPD patients and 79 controls predicted the outcomes in 45 adverse life events. The BPD patients first demonstrated more pessimism, but like the controls, became more positive after receiving further information about the life events.

            Let’s break this down into the two aspects of the trait of pessimism for those of us with BPD. First of all it shows once again our tendency to view life negatively. This creates negative energy which places us automatically in a defensive fight or flight mental framework. This in turn causes us to see life as a threat filled with negative consequences for most of our actions. This can lead to a tendency to slip into the helplessness and hopelessness of depression. The good part of this study is that this is merely a trait, we can overcome our pessimistic outlook by learning as much as we can about ourselves, our traits, and the possible positive outcomes of future events in our lives. We begin to focus on the positive. We change the Law of Attraction so that it begins to work for us instead of against us.

            I recently read an article by Emily Esfahani[2] in which she refers to a series of studies by psychological researcher Shelly Gable and her colleagues where they brought young adult couples into a lab to discuss recent positive events from their lives (unfortunately I was unable to find the original articles). They found that couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they labelled as: passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive, and active constructive. They noticed that people who were focused on criticizing their partners missed approximately 50 percent of positive things their partners were doing and they saw negativity when it was not there. By interviewing these same people two months later, they discovered that people who deliberately ignored their partner or responded passively damaged the relationship by making their partner feel minimized and unheard. People who treated their partners with contempt and criticism destroyed the love in their relationship, but they also hampered their partners’ ability to fight off viruses and cancers. They concluded that being mean is the death knell of relationships. However, they also discovered that the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to a mentally and physically healthier relationship. I think we can conclude that when we employ active constructive responding it frees us to change our outlook from pessimistic to positive which in turn lets us savor our partner’s joy and gives us an opportunity to grow positive bonds.

                I know it is difficult for those of us bisexuals with BPD to break these pessimistic outlook patterns, but by simply practicing Active Constructive Thinking, specifically generosity and kindness, we can begin to change and pour new life into our relationships. If we truly love the person we are with, we need to stop focussing on the probable loss of our life-partners and begin to appreciate them for who they are in the present. In reality we do not live in the past or the future; we live in the present. We need to keep our focus on what is happening around us and in our relationship in the now and begin to see, appreciate, and communicate our joy in their successes and our sorrow in their losses. Secondly we can stop beating ourselves up because of our same sex attractions. Our bisexuality is a tremendous gift that lets us see the complexity and beauty of sexuality and the role it plays in our sense of self and well-being.

Here are my five suggestions for Borderliners:

1. Embrace your pessimism. It is a part of your genetic makeup and your early life experiences. It is part of you. Recognize it for what it is. It is merely the tendency to see the possible negative outcomes of an action. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing that can keep you from doing things that could have disastrous consequences. In other words, think positively about your pessimism.

2. Think positively about your bisexuality. It is what it is. Begin to look at it as a gift instead of a burden. Begin to notice your feelings, your desires, and why you have those desires. This is mainly a desire to connect with another human beings and to share the joys of sexual union.

3. Avoid the one night stand, the rushed hook-ups, and the anonymous encounters. Have sex with a person with a face and a heart instead of just a genital organ. Seek out people with whom you can have regular heart to heart relationships. Do not be afraid of these relationships. They are probably having the same hopes and fears that you have.

4. Make a conscious positive decision on how you want to live your life. Focus on the potential joys rather than the possible fears and losses.

5. If you have a secret second life, do not let the one destroy the other. Enjoy each relationship for what it is. If you have a life partner, begin to listen to what they say and try to recognize the feelings behind their words. Just the fact that you are truly listening will begin the healing process. Pay special attention to their positive feelings and actions. Celebrate their victories. Invite them into celebrating the joy of the positive things in your life.


[1] Korn, Christopher w.; Rosee, Liobala; Heekeren, Hauk R.; and Roepke, Stefan. Processing of information about future life events in borderline personality disorder. Psychiatry Research. 2016, Pages 719-724

[2] Esfahani, Emiily. Sciencesays lasting relationships come down to – you guessed it – kindness and generosity. The Atlantic. 2014.