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  • Writer's pictureSonia Neale

Paranoia and Borderline Personality Disorder

Paranoia is a symptom of BPD. This is an experience where when relating to other people, something is said that is triggering for you. Immediately you can feel threatened, persecuted or feel that the other person or people are conspiring against you. Contrary to what most articles on BPD tell you, you actually don’t need to be under stress for this to happen. But when it does, it feels like a life-threatening experience.

This is not a pleasant experience, but is largely out of our control, because this is the point where our BPD brain takes over and tells us what to think, feel and how to behave and from that we are activated into a situation where there can be a distrust of the person or people you are with, with accompanying relationship difficulties, feeling exploited, isolated, feeling like a victim; why is this happening to me again?

Interpreting what people are saying, the furtive look they seem to be giving, sensing danger in their body language, wrongly interpreting facial expressions, especially neutral ones as hostile, and feeling that you are being watched or spied upon, something where there is a real or perceived betrayal, or that people can read your mind or are saying something nice but you believe they mean the opposite. There is a lot of questioning of other people’s motives. Abandonment and rejection issues can kick in at this point. You can feel as though you are not quite in touch with reality. The code-switching can happen in an instant, there is no warming up to a certain level of paranoia, it just arrives instantaneously. However, the good news is, that this is transient and much different to paranoia of a psychotic disorder which can last for weeks.

It is believed that this condition occurs under stress, because parts of the BPD brain, the neurocircuitry within the brain structures are not well connected, so the message sent is not the message received. For the receiver, the message is interpreted through the lens of every negative life experience ever. In short, there is a disconnect between the amygdala, involved in emotional interpretation and the pre-frontal cortex involved in decision making, problem-solving, impulse control and flexibility. The amygdala says “Danger, Will Robinson,” and can’t navigate the pathway to the rational brain because the suspension bridge between has many rungs missing and has fallen into the water. When this happens the ability to reason and interpret the world around is highly compromised. So, in layman’s terms it means “Go to Bunnings, get some wood, build a bridge and get over it.”

I spend a lot of time at Bunnings. A while ago, a friend cancelled having dinner with me, saying she had a cold. My happy brain switched to paranoid in the blink of an eye. She was lying because she didn’t like me anymore, couldn’t be bothered, was abandoning me and rejecting me like everyone else in my life. However, I do have a lot of insight into this now (born out of many painful situations in my life). I do recall at the time my paranoid brain shifting seismically, like tectonic plates in an earthquake, and the disconnected parts grating and grinding together trying to make sense of this perceived betrayal. There was a sense of disorientation and the ground heaving and rolling beneath my feet just like an actual earthquake event. I forced myself to reply, “sorry you’re feeling unwell, look after yourself and we can reschedule.” For someone with BPD this is a life-threatening experience.

Then I went into voluntary lockdown – no Facebook, no emails, phone calls, text messages. I isolated and did a lot of self-care, such as reading, watching Netflix and cuddling my cats. Twenty-four hours is my usual “paranoid phase” length of time. Then the next evening I felt my brain shift seismologically and grind back into its place, and the paranoia disappeared. But the lesson I learned was that I felt more connected to myself having been through that rough patch. Every time I get a chance to experience an adverse event, and then repair the subsequent brain damage, a few more neuron/dendrite connections grow between my amygdala and pre-frontal cortex. The suspension bridge has partly repaired itself somewhat and is mostly out of the water. This is called neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change itself and it carries on over a lifetime.

Understanding how your BPD plays out in your life is crucial to understanding how to manage all those negative emotions and symptoms and other stuff. Have curiosity towards what you are experiencing: curiosity, self-compassion and self-care. I’ve documented and journaled my experiences for clarity and understanding. It doesn’t stop me from getting bent out of shape every few months but I do know that this is not forever.


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