Borderline Personality Disorder can be a nightmare. If you’re someone who experiences it yourself, you know exactly what I mean. If you love someone who has it, you might be baffled at the way they see the world and experience emotions. We don’t even have a sleeve on which to wear our emotions–we’re that emotionally thin-skinned. To put it bluntly, it sucks. The smallest offense can hurt us. A perceived threat will send us into a meltdown. We have volatile relationships. Intense friendships. Skewed perspectives of the world.
At the same time, we love deeply. We are passionate people. We are empathetic, by nature, and compassionate to a fault. We will go to the ends of the earth for you. We are not unfeeling monsters–it’s quite the opposite. We feel too much. We feel everything.
BPD is believed to be borne out of childhood trauma or neglect, though there is a hereditary component as well. Though it isn’t our fault that we see the world this way and have strong reactions to it, it is our responsibility to try to find better coping mechanisms and create a safe world for ourselves. But how do we do that?
As a long-time sufferer of Borderline Personality Disorder, I’ve searched for answers and treatments that work, especially for those of us who are financially indisposed or maybe need extra help outside of therapy. These quick-start tips are what’s been proven to help. I have science on my side for these techniques.
Here’s a quick and dirty guide of five things you can do right now to help with BPD.
Recognize Cognitive Distortions (AKa Thinking Traps)
Thinking traps are unbalanced, skewed, or fallacious ways in which we see the world. They’re so pervasive and ingrained in our thought process that they’ve become automatic. They can be tricky to identify, much less fix. But the first step is to notice them. This excellent PDF shows some of the most common thinking traps. Peruse them for yourself and see if you can identify where you fall into thinking traps. You don’t necessarily have to do anything with them yet. Just noticing the thinking traps is the first step to challenging them.
Learn Basic Mindfulness Skills
DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) was originally developed for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s considered the most comprehensive and overall most effective treatment for BPD. It can be intensive and lengthy though and is best done with a therapist. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get started on your own.
The number one best skill to learn from DBT is mindfulness. It’s arguably the easiest to practice and integrate into everyday life! It’s essentially the practice of being in the moment. It’s not meditation. Mindfulness can be practiced while you wash dishes or fold clothes or take a shower. It teaches you to be present, so when difficult situations arise, you can feel and acknowledge your emotions without judgment.
Mindfulness enables you to make better decisions, because you are more aware of your mental state and able to remain in control. It’s an ongoing practice though. You don’t have to master it to get the benefits.
This is a great start-up guide for practicing mindfulness.
Practice thinking about the worst case scenario *
This one is purely anecdotal, but it’s based in exposure therapy. People with Borderline Personality Disorder often face intrusive thoughts and massive anxiety about perceived threats of abandonment or not being good enough. These thoughts manifest as the absolute worst-case scenario and are rarely based in any fact. Distraction is generally the first step, but when it doesn’t work? I say to just embrace the chaos. Why not? Exposing your mind to all the negative possibilities, instead of pushing them away, can help you realize that your thoughts and feelings will not kill you. They may be very uncomfortable, unpleasant, or overwhelming, but feelings are not forever. They cannot hurt you on their own.
Think about the worst case scenario. Let yourself picture it all, every terrible possibility. Use the mindfulness skills you’ve learned to guide you to acknowledge the feelings that are coming up. How is your body responding? React internally. Feel the feelings that you’d feel if it really happened. You can experience the negative scenario without any repercussions this way. I’ve found that these scenarios are never based in any sort of reality, and “feeling” the worst case scenario seems to re-calibrate my brain. I’m able to acknowledge it in this way and can let it go much easier.
*If you’re in danger of lashing out against someone or yourself, I would not advise using this practice.
Practice describing your emotions and identifying how your body responds to them
The first step in regulating your emotions with BPD is to recognize what you’re feeling. After all, when we have a blow up, whether hurting someone else or ourselves, we do it for a reason. The reason may not make much sense to us, nor is it a justification of the behavior, but it’s there. We do it because of intense emotions that we do not know how to cope with properly.
Identify what you’re feeling and notice how it makes your body feel. Tense? Knot in your stomach? Clenched jaw? Racing heart? Those are some examples of what to look for. Use your mindfulness skills to observe your body’s reactions. Don’t make any judgments (“I shouldn’t feel this way”) or take any action. Just observe. Try to find the root of your emotion and what’s causing it. Name it. Don’t avoid it, or tell yourself that you should be happy or that it’s not a big deal. You’re feeling it and it’s manifesting viscerally, so it’s a big deal.
Here is a great page for tips and exercises on describing emotions.
Here is an awesome beginner’s guide to a Body Scan Meditation, which can help you identify how your body is responding.
Make a list of things that comfort you and things that give you pleasure
Comfort and pleasure may overlap in some ways, but they’re fundamentally different. One is to soothe and calm, the way a warm blanket or a warm cup of coffee can. Things that give you pleasure or joy may be more stimulating or actively enjoyable, like your favorite hobby or going out to do something fun with friends. Of course, there is that overlap I mentioned. Reading a book might fall into both categories, for example. A list like this is handy when you need to distract or soothe yourself from intense emotions or difficult situations. If you make this list in a neutral state of mind, it will be much easier than trying to figure out what to do when you’re paralyzed by a Borderline episode.
The Road ahead for borderline personality disorder
These five tips have been integral to my success in coping with my BPD symptoms. I’ve been to therapy, I’ve done workbooks, and I know I have several root issues, like low self-esteem and lack of self-compassion, that I am also addressing. These techniques have been lifesavers though. They’re the core to my every day BPD treatment, along with journaling and workbooking.
Do you have a quick and easy tip for emotional regulation?