What are the Three Steps of Reality Integration Therapy™ (RIT)?

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Authors: Ashley J. Zahabian, Sarah Phillips

Imagine finding out your reality has been distorted for most of your life, and you had no idea – everything looked perfectly real to you.  Surely, if someone told you that what you were seeing and experiencing was not real, it would sound wrong to you.  How can you tell me things I am clearly seeing are not as they seem?  But then, someone puts a pair of glasses on you and suddenly, everything changes!  At first, you probably wouldn’t believe it.  You’d even put the glasses on and take them off successively, wondering how and why this is happening.  You may even think the glasses are the distorted thing, not your eyes.  That is how real fantasy thinking can feel to someone with borderline personality disorder. An individual with borderline personality disorder spends their entire life viewing reality through a distortion, and so many emotions and behaviors experienced by the individual are in reaction to something that was and/or is not real.  

Fantasy dismantling is step 1 of Reality Integration Therapy™ (RIT), and in the phase of fantasy dismantling, individuals are provided the evidence needed – just like the glasses – to demonstrate how they have not been grounded in reality.  Letting go of the life they knew before can be difficult, yet necessary, which is why this phase also supports the individual through the grieving process.  It takes time to grieve and fully move on, which is why the first three modules are dedicated to the process of fantasy dismantling and grieving that fantasy.  Individuals going through fantasy dismantling, and even the other steps of RIT, are encouraged to take their time doing the modules (approximately a month each), as changing disordered psychodynamics is not an overnight process. 

Now that the individual has their reality-glasses on, they will realize they’ve felt like a victim to so many things that were either a shared or their own responsibility – that they have actually been their own abuser, rather than the world always abusing them.  Let’s view a situation with and without these “reality glasses” in order to understand the 2nd step of RIT.

Without: You tell your friend you want to clean your room.  Clearly it is messy and overwhelming and you want someone to help you.  You believe you are making it clear with your tone of voice and body language that you’re asking for help, but instead, your friend decides to go home and leaves your house.  They left when they knew you needed help – do they not care enough? Now you feel abandoned because the one time you asked for help, your friend decided to leave you.  You feel victimized, like nobody is ever going to care about you the way you do for others.  No one cares how much your messy room overwhelms you.  You’re left to handle life alone, as always.  You are so upset and overwhelmed you don’t even want to talk to your friend.  They should notice you’re upset once they see you’re ignoring them. 

Now this situation without the individual’s reality-glasses demonstrates the abusive voice they internalized in childhood, which they continue to be abused by in their own head throughout adulthood.  Even if their friend wasn’t abusing them, abandoning them, or rejecting them, the individual who has borderline personality disorder perceives all three as real, all due to an internalized abusive voice from childhood experiences. While they constantly feel like a victim as a result of others’ actions alone, they fail to see how they were making themself feel victimized through their own assumptions and miscommunications. Once they complete step 1, fantasy dismantling, and can finally see reality for what it is, they need to separate themselves from the inner-abuser that has been abusing them without their permission and conscious awareness. As a result, separation becomes a necessary step, which requires separating from this internal abusive voice and self that constantly distorts and misreads reality (rooted in no actual truth and is a pure fantasy/mislabeling of reality). 

After separating from this internal abusive voice and self, one needs to build back a healthier, more compassionate, and self-loving sense of self (healthy internal objects).  This is called individuation.  In this step, one begins to define themselves as an individual, completely independent of anyone else or their actions (including any abusive individuals from childhood or adulthood, which they may have been carrying in their psyche for years and/or decades). They begin to define their true integrated self and their boundaries more clearly, after giving themselves permission to live as their own loving selves, without the abuser, finally. Let’s view the same situation now with healthy internal objects and reality-glasses on, post separation-individuation. 

With:  You tell your friend you want to clean your room.  Shortly after, they leave your house because they need to get to work.  You realize you never explained to your friend that you actually wanted help cleaning your room, and made it sound like it was something you were going to do on your own.  You also realize they had a very important obligation and needed to leave anyway, so they couldn’t have really helped you regardless.  Your messy room has been overwhelming you, so you decide to text your friend after their shift to explain your feelings and see if they have any free time to help you clean.  In the meantime, you start small by re-organizing one of your drawers.  You decide if your friend doesn’t have any free time, you’ll ask someone else for help while you continue to do smaller tasks working towards your goal.  You feel grateful to yourself for having enough independence to accomplish the goal with or without them, while still respecting your friend and not painting them as the all-bad person who abandoned you, and yourself as the all-good victim. Notice how you no longer identify as a victim of someone else’s actions and have become an individual who takes charge of their own life.

Whole object relations have been fully restored!  Yay!  So, what now?  It’s finally time to reconnect with society and lead a more stable life – to integrate back into the world with a healthier and more integrated lens of reality – including yourself and others.  One will naturally start to notice their interactions with external objects (others) now reflect their realistic and healthy internal objects (self).  Life through reality-glasses becomes so natural, you forget you even had to put them on!  While everyone goes through difficult times in life, newly restored object relations renders one more equipped than ever to handle the ups, downs, and nuances that life brings.

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