Any individual with BPD will instantly know what I’m talking about when I talk about ‘impulsive behaviour.’ Some psychologists seem to think that impulsive behavior in an individual with BPD is a bad or negative thing, but I have found to the contrary; that impulsivity even in BPD cases, can be liberating. At its most liberating, acting upon impulse can be an ability to break a pattern, to respond in a different way by using gut instinct and risk. But, to some psychologists, it’s merely a tendency to act on a whim, displaying behaviour characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences.
Psychology today online refers to different types of impulsivity. In an article published in 2015, they speak about functional impulsivity:
There are benefits of what is called functional impulsivity. The functional (that is good) impulsive can quickly take advantage of unexpected opportunities. They can rapidly put their thoughts into words. They can think on their feet. They are mentally agile. The bright functional impulsive is an asset; the dim one much less so. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201505/impulsivity-good-or-bad)*
The article then goes on to shed light on a different kind of impulsivity; dysfunctional impulsivity, a kind of impulsivity that I can more easily attribute to myself:
The dysfunctional impulsive can be an accident waiting to happen. These people say whatever comes into their heads without thinking first. They make appointments without checking they can honour them. They buy things before considering whether they can afford them. They jump in, just do it before considering difficulties, implications, pros and cons. They don’t like careful reasoning. *
Whatever our type of impulsivity (could be one of the above or a mix) I often find that a common factor in my situation is that my impulsivity passionately derives from an emotionally charged situation. The impulsive behaviour is strongly triggered by a personal and emotional perception of a situation. The difficult task for me is figure out in good time whether my emotional response to the situation is proportionate and measured or exaggerated and dysregulated as my impulsive response will likely be a direct consequence of my emotional response to a situation.
As a creative leftie, I think we should celebrate certain types of impulsivity– accepting that it is fuelled by a raw response and that impulsive risk taking behaviour can at times be beneficial (functional impulsivity). Upon reflection, I think the real challenge in dealing with my impulsivity at least, is to be able to recognise when it can be used effectively and not to my detriment. Of course, recognising such a thing is likely to take time, time that impulsivity in all its complex glory, more often than not, does not offer.
When impulsivity works well, it’s a real treat! when it doesn’t (especially in mental health) its effect can be disastrous. Impulsivity (or dysfunctional impulsivity) can lead a struggling individual to a disastrous point in life. I have been that very person. I have acted upon impulse during a very low emotional/ psychological episode and landed up on a bridge. Unfortunately, too often, impulsivity can be one of the main dimensions of suicidality. If we could just find a way to use impulsivity in a self-compassionate way and in a way that serves us well, it would be a pure blessing. This is a long-term goal of mine; I’ll let you know how it pans out! In the meantime, if you have any tips and tricks, drop me a line!