This was also published on The Mighty: Why Borderline Personality Disorder Makes Me Emotionally ‘Cold-Blooded’
Having borderline-personality disorder (BPD) is like being cold-blooded but with regulating emotions rather than body temperature.
Humans are warm-blooded animals meaning they can generally regulate their internal body temperature regardless of the environment. Of course, extremes can surpass these limits, but for the most part we can keep ourselves at just the right temperature without having to think much about it. Our bodies and metabolism just do it. This is different from cold-blooded animals who are susceptible to and rely on their environment for regulating body temperature.
Most people are also “warm-blooded” in their abilities to regulate their emotions. They can regulate them fairly easily and irregardless of the environment. Their brains just do it. Of course, there are extremes where their emotions might feel more out of control, but generally they have automatic skills to handle emotions.
I, on the other hand, have “cold-blooded” emotional regulation. Just like a lizard that increases its temperature by sitting in the sun and cools down by going in the shade, my emotions are incredibly sensitive to the environment around me. They shift rapidly, sometimes making multiple distinct changes within an hour, and my emotions are very sensitive to even the slightest stimulus. What most people are able to brush off as just, for example, an unimportant comment, could send me into despair. While most might feel sad if someone they love is hurting, I am despondent. But then I walk outside in the sunshine, and suddenly I am overjoyed.
I also have limited, intrinsic abilities to regulate my emotions. It’s just something that doesn’t come instinctively to me. I had to be taught these skills through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and have to consciously choose to use these skills when I’m feeling emotionally dysregulated.
Often, with BPD, it feels like my emotions are completely out of my control. They go up and down and left and right between extremes super fast, and honestly, it can be kind of scary to experience at times. It feels like the weather is changing rapidly and I just can’t get to the right, stable temperature.
This metaphor of being “cold-blooded” helps though. Rather than feeling so out of control, I am just wired differently. Sure, I need to put more energy and thought into using skills to regulate and handle emotions than the average person, but a lizard doesn’t feel bad for needing the sun to stay warm.