The Empathetic Emotionally Sensitive Person (With Boundary Issues)

Do you ever feel what other people are feeling, even if your own personal circumstances do not match?  Some might say that I am an "empath."  I say that I am someone with Borderline Personality Disorder who has to be careful not to take on others' emotions as my own.

Today was very draining.  Nothing really happened to me, per se, but a number of my coworkers were very stressed out about meeting a deadline this afternoon.  I haven't noticed this happening in a while, but today I felt as if I were taking on their emotions.

As a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, I sometimes have difficulties with boundaries. This shows up in many ways, including becoming so empathetic or sensitive to others' emotions that I begin to experience them as well.

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This happens to ordinary non-bpd individuals as well all the time.  Think about when you watch a movie or a commercial where the character is saddened and starts to cry.  Many people become empathetic and will also cry. For a few moments, they identify with and share the emotion that is being portrayed by the actor.

For me, as an emotionally sensitive individual, when this particular symptom shows up, it can be as if everyone around me represent the actors in a commercial, and I am bombarded and overwhelmed with experiencing their emotions, whether I am actually involved in their situation or not.

Today, for example, I could overhear several of my colleagues in the next room stressing out over the details on something that needed to get completed today. While they were doing their best to engage in teamwork, I could literally feel the tension as they snapped at each other, some swore, others raised their voices.  I felt so tense and in a bad mood, even though my work was only slightly affected by the project. Sure, I could have been adversely affected just by being exposed to their behaviors, but it was more than that. I was feeling the type of stress that I imagined each of them must feel. I made my perception of their experience into my own.

I noticed I was clenching my jaw and that my facial expression was a mix of apprehension and anger. (I keep a mirror at my desk now so that I can be aware and notice, as we are taught in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). Although I started out  my day in a good mood, I was now feeling upset, bitter, sarcastic, and, well, "jerky."

One of my coworkers (not one involved in the project) came through my office and noticed I was stressed. He began to talk to me about his cats.  My whole demeanor changed as I told him what's been happening with mine. I was sitting up, relaxing, smiling, and laughing. I caught the shift.  I actually thanked him for bringing up his cats with me and told him that the conversation turned my whole afternoon around.

When he went on his way, I knew I had to use my DBT skills to get a hold on my emotions.  I practiced Opposite Action by half-smiling. The last thing I felt like doing was smiling, but I did it anyway. It helped.

I also put on upbeat, positive music and sang harmonies to it. This helped as well.  

I took a break and went for a brisk 2 mile walk out in the sunshine.  I had time to think about what had taken place. The good news is, I didn't make things worse, and I had the chance to observe my response.

In that way, it was still a good day.

Do you ever intensely experience others' emotions?

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.
The author wrote this blog post several years ago. She is now in RECOVERY from BPD and thriving as an emotionally sensitive person. She teaches all she learned in her live, weekly, global ONLINE classes. Learn more  and sign up for a class at DBT Path.

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker: Career Issues with BPD Identity Disturbance

Someone made an interesting observation about me the other day, and I have to admit, it's true.  Over the years, I've had a very difficult time sticking with any one job or professional career path.  I have gotten easily bored and, in the past (before learning DBT), would take this as a cue that I needed to change things up again. I would often find myself ending up in a state of emotional crisis and using this as an excuse to break free from my current job. I can now see that I often fed into my own fears and didn't feel confident in my own right to simply make a choice to move on. Instead, I sabotaged my circumstances and destroyed relationships, all to feel safe and start over again. Again and again.

According to the DSM (Diagnostical Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Criteria for diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder, one of the main symptoms is:

"Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self,"
and here is an excerpt from's section on BPD:

"BPs may not have a clearly defined sense of who they are; as a result, it can be difficult to know where their job or career interests really lie. The BP may be looking for an identity in their job: a job gives an identity to the person, instead of the person's identity leading to a job. For instance, Susan cannot figure out what she wants to do, she has started several “careers” including teaching, script writing, retail, and medical technology, but nothing seems to be able to keep her interest. Susan keeps finding herself adding training classes and entry-level jobs to her resume. However, due to her identity issues, it is 10 years later and she is no closer to knowing what she wants to do for a living, nor has she finished any degree or certificate program."

Over the years, to only name some of the jobs/careers I have done, I have been a: preschool teacher, telephone operator, makeup artist, advertising assistant, office manager, social worker, and a cashier. I am only in my mid 30's, mind you.

Ah, the chameleon-like nature of one with BPD. And, what I am about to say about my past behavior, please know that at the time, I meant it with no malice. I didn't do these things in order to be deceptive, sneaky, or manipulative (though I can see how non-BPDs could interpret my/other people with BPD's behavior as such in this particular scenario), but I would study up for my interviews and have all of the right answers.  Most people do this anyway, but when I got to the interview, I studied the person interviewing me and others who worked there and tried to BE like them.  I didn't know how to just be me and never thought that trying to allow myself to do so would ever land me a job. I didn't think I was good enough and, in fact, didn't even know who I was.

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While I never lied about my educational background or credentials and wasn't doing anything illegal, in retrospect, my experience was a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the film "Catch Me if You Can," in that he was able to assimilate into a variety of professional roles and mimic others around him in order to feel competent.

Now, I look toward long term goals of stability, but I still do not have a real clear path laid out. I currently work part-time in an administrative professional role and am taking two post baccalaureate classes, but I am easily distracted.  

An example of this is that I love the show "Dancing With The Stars." I am so moved and amazed by the transformation and progress that these complete and total non-dancers make by the end of the show. Some end up looking as if they've been dancing their entire lives professionally.

Each season, around the times when the show is starting and ending, I start to tell my boyfriend that I want to invest in professional ballroom dance lessons and want to become a dancer. Mind you, I have two left feet, no sense of kinesthetics, and no sense of rhythm. My boyfriend reminds me of how, when I see other people doing something that seems exciting, such as starting a cupcake business or moving to L.A. to do makeup on celebrities, I suddenly think that I, too, must do that same thing in order to be happy.

He's right. For years, I would see someone living out their dreams with passion, and I would follow THEIR dreams, thinking it would make me happy.  Now I know that it isn't the object of THEIR desires that I was really seeking but to have that desire of my very own. It's taken many years to sort that out, but I've discovered that my passions are writing and helping others, hence this blog.

How about you? Do you have a sense of who you are in terms of your career choice or path? Has it always been this way, or have you traveled a similar road as mine?

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

Update to this post on August 16, 2012:

For those of us with #BPD who struggle with finding/sticking with a career, this article may bring hope: Law Professor Gregory Duhl has #Borderline Personality Disorder and says it's helped him in his success:

8 Day DBT Challenge to Feel Better

The mind is quite amazing. I often hear people talk about how they felt so anxious that it made their stomach upset or so stressed that they ended up with a headache. I've experienced these sorts of things myself. The mind is THAT powerful.

But, the good news is that if the mind is powerful enough to make us feel unwell, then it must also be powerful in helping us to feel well.  Sometimes a shift in perspective, a different way of thinking, or actively choosing to change your mood or emotions can cause you to feel better in general.

This will be a fun post. It's an 8 Day DBT Challenge to go out and capture a photo of something that is connected with a DBT skill.  If you don't have a camera, you can always sketch it or just jot down what you saw in a few words.   

You can tweet your photos with hash tag #DBT8 or post them to my Facebook wall if you'd like.  I am including some images purely as examples. Your interpretation of the words/skills can be anything that appeals to you. 

Let's start.

Day 1:  Mindfulness

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Day 2: Self-Soothing

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Day 3: Improving the Moment

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Day 4: Build Mastery

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Day 5: Distract

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Day 6: Just Notice

Day 7: Opposite Action

Day 8: Radical Acceptance

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Let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to your photos. Have fun!

Thanks for reading.
More soon.

Using DBT Skills to Have an Overall Better Day

The great thing about DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills is that they are not only useful in times of crisis, but they can also become a helpful every day part of your life.

I've integrated the skills and am so thankful for them. Before starting DBT, I was very unstable.  My moods shifted from one minute to the next, and everything felt so unpredictable.  I could be set off or triggered by anything and usually immediately or impulsively reacted in order to quell the intense emotions that I felt (and often not thinking of new consequences and making matters worse.)

While I still experience mood swings, they are now more spaced out.
While I still get triggered or set off, I have learned, for the most part, to put space (time) between the incident that triggers me and any action I may feel compelled to take.

Just these two things alone have significantly improved my quality of life, as you might imagine.  

The integration of the skills came naturally. Because I always felt like I was "floating" and never fully anchored, I grasped onto my DBT binder and group like they were my last hope (and they very well might have been!)

I delved into the skills and began deliberately applying them - especially to avoid making situations worse when I was already emotionally distress. With each success, I became more encouraged and confident.  By filling out my diary cards, I became aware of just how often I was naturally working the skills into my life - so much so that DBT became more of a lifestyle than just a group I attend each week and a binder filled with worksheets.

I am so grateful to Dr. Marsha Linehan, the founder of this method. 

I bet the "sandwich artist" behind the counter this morning would be, too. There is a young woman at the sub shop that I visit once a week to pick up some sandwiches on my way to work. She's usually soft spoken, doesn't crack a smile, and sloppily puts together my order. She also seems irritated.

On past visits, I have left feeling slighted, annoyed, and even angry. This time, I decided to apply my skills - at a sandwich shop - to see if this would "improve the moment."

So I used the following skills:

Opposite Action:
  • Was a little bit kinder (Opposite Action to my annoyance/anger.)
Interpersonal Effectiveness:
  • Was little bit kinder (also falls under Relationship Effectiveness Handout 2 in Interpersonal Effectiveness and Building Mastery around Self Respect Effectiveness on the same handout.)
  • Realized it was okay for me to ask for my sandwich to be made the way I want it since I'm paying for it. (Interpersonal Effectiveness Handout 5: Cheerleading Statements for Interpersonal Effectiveness.)
Effectiveness Handout 5: Cheerleading Statements
 for Interpersonal Effectiveness.Click to Enlarge.
(Sorry, mine is marked up a bit)
Worksheet is from
Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder
by Dr. Marsha Linehan

  • I became interested in her and her day. She was playing music loudly in the store, so I playfully danced into the shop and smiled. I said, "Good Morning. How are you?"  I also asked her what time she had to get in each morning to be there and ready so early and that I hoped she got off early so she could enjoy the sun today. (Use an Easy Manner, Be Gentle, Act Interested, and Validate - all from Interpersonal Effectiveness Handout 9).
  • Turns out my favorite ingredient at that shop (I'm vegetarian but eat tuna) - the tuna - was not yet prepared. I noticed she was all alone and had no help. I promptly ordered a veggie sandwich instead. (Be Gentle and Courteous - also from  Interpersonal Effectiveness Handout 9).

The result? The clerk smiled at me, engaged in conversation, and made my sandwich nicely. As I left, she told me to have a nice day.  What a difference a skillful day can make.

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Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

Child-like Aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder

Not too long ago, I asked the therapist who runs the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) group that I attend why it might be that I have acted out in such childish ways when feeling needy or afraid. I asked after hearing a couple of other patients check in about their past week and noticing that several of them also referred to their behavior in ways such as "tantrums" and "being a big baby."

Her answer was simple: human beings adapt. They act in ways that get their needs or desires met.  

Think of a baby. If a baby learns that upon crying, her caretaker will give her attention, she now knows that crying is a way to get her needs met.  

For those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), we may have certain behaviors that are now maladaptive - they either once worked in getting our needs met and now do not, or, we no longer feel that we can keep our self-respect intact while attempting to meet our needs in this way any longer (assuming that preserving one's self-respect is a goal). An example of this is acting out just like a child when our needs are not met or we are in distress.

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Sometimes when I am upset, I notice that I go into more of a childlike persona.  I pout. I cross my arms. I stomp my feet. Even my voice changes to that of a young child.  I don't do this in all sorts of mixed company, mind you.  This persona tends to come up in the context of my relationship with my significant other.  I am realizing that I tend to behave this way almost automatically when I feel vulnerable, insecure, or when I don't get my way. (And, by the way, it used to happen so often that I wasn't always cognizant of the "switch." It happens far less frequently now, but it still does occur from time to time.)

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While my significant other often thinks it's "cute," but at times, he gets annoyed. A couple of times he has even asked me, with a concerned look on his face, "How old are you right now?"  This behavior (among other issues I am coping with) has also stood in the way of having a normal physical bond.  My significant other has confessed that he feels "guilty" going there with me because he feels like he is taking advantage - since my mind seems so much younger during these times. I have also struggled with being intimate, in part because the child part of me has so often been in the driver's seat. I've tried to "overlook it," but it just felt too weird to even consider. 

With all this in mind, I am working on staying in adult mode most of the time and allowing for child mode when it is more appropriate, such as when playing or interacting with children or when I am being silly for the sake of being silly. It isn't something that I plan, but as time goes on, I become more and more aware and able to redirect myself.

The "child part" of me has been a very significant and driving force in my life, and the last thing I want to do is abandon her the way she's been abandoned by others in the past.  Instead, I will love her through it and show myself compassion whenever she shows up.  I will bring online the strong, compassionate, loving adult within to cope with whatever situation has caused her to emerge. 

And, I'll remember that we humans are adaptive, and if such coping mechanisms are coming up, it's time to look at which needs are asking to be met.

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

This blog relates to another post I've written, called "Sometimes I Act Like a Little Girl."

The author wrote this blog post several years ago. She is now in RECOVERY from BPD and thriving as an emotionally sensitive person. She teaches all she learned in her live, weekly, global ONLINE classes. Learn more  and sign up for a class at DBT Path.

DBT for Severe Anxiety and Panic Attacks

You think you've made progress. You've been doing well, and anxiety and panic attacks almost seem like some surreal experience from long ago. Then, in response to a particular situation (or perhaps for no apparent reason at all), you find yourself overcome and overwhelmed with anxiety and/or panic.

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This was me over the past couple of days. I can't say that I wasn't very disappointed and that I didn't worry that it would "taint" the progress I've made in others eyes who see me on a day-to-day basis, but
I've mentioned before that I'd be doing a disservice to my readers if I didn't also share with you the struggles and difficulties that come up. 

Everyone experiences ups and downs. The more we learn to effectively cope with the downs, the more we get to experience the ups. And, the more we share our experiences - especially tools that work - we are helping each other and ourselves.

So, rather than get into the specifics of my particular recent triggers, I am going to focus this post on the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills I used to cope with the distress.

Having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) means that I tend to experience my emotions - all of them - much more intensely than someone who doesn't have the disorder. Dr. Marsha Linehan (the founder of DBT) once likened a person with BPD to that of someone with 3rd degree "emotional burns." 

When you think about it this way, it's easy to understand why the more unpleasant emotions and feelings, such as fear, anxiety, and shame can cause some of us to spiral to places that confuse others. They might not understand how we could possibly get so upset and distraught over something that others may be able to handle more easily.

While we can't always satisfy these questions, we can find ways to take care of ourselves and hopefully shorten the duration of our period of suffering. In doing this, we also improve our ability to deal effectively with others.

Here are some of the ways I have coped with severe anxiety/panic over the past few days:

DBT Skill: Distress Tolerance (also known as "Crisis Survival Strategies"):

According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, these skills come in handy "for tolerating painful events and emotions when you cannot make things better right away" (Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder):

  • Distract with "Wise Mind Accepts"
    • Activities:  I STAYED IN MY ROUTINE (got up on time, went to work, ran errands) despite how I felt. I think this is hugely helpful. In the past, I've stayed at home and stayed in bed a lot. I've found that this makes me feel worse instead of better and often prolongs the episode.
    • Other Wise Mind Accepts skills are: Contributing, Comparisons, Emotions, Pushing Away, Thoughts, Sensations.
  • Self-Soothing the Five Senses
    • Guided Meditations (hearing):

      I have several favorites, but one that I go back to again and again is Time for Healing: Relaxation for Mind and Body . The CD includes 2 tracks - one is a muscle tension and relaxation exercise, and the other is a guided meditation through a country scene. I did this one last night, in fact.

      There are also some excellent, relaxing, self-hypnosis tracks offered by San Francisco Bay Area hypno-therapist, Susan Gold on her website.  Susan's voice is very soothing, and I find her work to be very helpful.
    • Other ways to self-soothe are through vision, smell, taste, and touch
  • Improve the Moment
    • Prayer: While I am not any particular religion, I find it comforting to believe there is a power greater than myself, or "God."  I used prayer to improve the moment.
    • Relaxation:  
      • I certainly did not feel up to anything strenuous, but I did do a couple of 2 mile, brisk walks. I think that this particular coping strategy was very effective, as I had so much adrenaline and energy, and this a healthy way to channel it.
      • Took a relaxing, hot shower
    • Used the "Half Smile" skill
    • Other Improve The Moment skills are: Imagery, Meaning, One thing at a time, Vacation, Encouragement

DBT Skill: Mindfulness:
  • Wise Mind: 
    • Caught my "what if" thinking and brought myself back to the present moment
    • Observed my emotions and experiences
    • Described my emotions and experiences
    • Other Mindfulness skills are: Thinking Dialectically, Non-Judgmental Stance, Effectiveness, and Mindfully in The Moment

DBT Skill: Emotion Regulation:
  • "PLEASE" skills (taking care of your mind by taking care of your body): 
    • Ate (even when I didn't feel like it). I don't know about you, but anxiety/panic affects my appetite adversely and also gives me an upset stomach.  I didn't feel up to eating as much as usual, but I made sure that I ate something nutritious at meal times and drank water.
    • Slept
    • Took Ativan (anxiety medication that I take as needed -very infrequently- and at bedtime) as prescribed
    • Got exercise (the 2 brisk walks)
    • Other Emotion Regulation skills are: Build Mastery, Build Positive Experiences, and Opposite to Emotion Action

I asked my twitter followers their favorite ways to cope or self-soothe during times of intense anxiety, and I really enjoyed these replies (re-posted with permission):

How do you cope when unpleasant emotions such as anxiety and panic show up?

Thank you for reading.
More soon.

How To Handle When Others Can't Handle Your Changes or Progress (Mental Health)

What happens when you start to get better and those around you are hesitant to believe it or are uncomfortable with the changes you are undergoing?

Most of us with Borderline Personality Disorder readily acknowledge that prior to learning effective skills for regulating and coping with our emotions, we often in engaged in destructive behaviors. We may have jumped from one crisis to the next, often being dubbed a "drama queen" or king.

When we begin to make authentic, genuine changes due to shifts in our thinking and the implementation of newly learned skills such as those taught in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), we may experience a variety of responses from those in our lives.

While we would hope that everyone in our lives would acknowledge, get excited about, and believe in the progress we are making, this is not always the case.  How do we use our DBT skills to then cope with the emotions and reactions that arise in the face of our hopes and expectations around others not being met?

I have an example for you.

I can tell you lots of great things about my boyfriend, and this post is in no way intended to make him out to be the bad guy.  This example involves my former response to being afraid that he would abandon, reject, or leave me. I would become terrified and like a child. I would beg for reassurance and would literally become physically ill -- all in a desperate attempt to avoid him abandoning me, whether this situation was truly imminent or a figment of my imagination due to insecurities.  

Tonight at dinner, he was discussing his work stress. I became a bit irritated and snapped that I did not want to talk about it anymore. He then said, "I could just leave you know."

I looked him straight in the eyes and said, "Yes, you could," and I then calmly went back to eating my dinner.

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I think he was stunned.  The evening has gone on, and we've both been puttering around the house doing our own thing and giving each other space. My hope is that he will see tonight's incident as a moment of growth in my walk with BPD, but I am not guaranteed this.

So how will I cope with any distress that may arise from this situation?

A few things:
  • It was in no way my intention to appear aloof or be rude.  I truly had a radical acceptance moment where I simply repeated what he said (non-judgmentally.) I repeated his truth, and I did not experience the fear and terror that I have in the past. In addition to radical acceptance, I acknowledge that I have also been working very hard through DBT over the past year, and I feel more secure and confident in my ability to tolerate something that was previously just intolerable, such as him leaving, if he should choose to do so.

  • While I cannot read his mind, my interpretation of him saying these particular words is that, in the past, doing so has clearly caught my attention and caused me to act in ways that showed that what he said and did greatly mattered to me. It may have reassured him that I was taking what he was saying seriously and that it mattered to me.
  • When we change, even for the better, it can make others uneasy at first. The dynamics in the relationship begin to change, and the other person or people may experience a sense that their own identity in the context of the relationship no longer makes sense. They may feel insecure, not knowing how they will be "useful" to you if they are no longer needed in the same way that they have been for so many years. An example of this is when a long-time drunk becomes sober.  The family members who have gotten used to adjusting their lifestyles for the alcoholic have to now live their lives in a different way because the person is no longer drinking.

As you can see, I've just started with Wise Mind.  I've also considered how my boyfriend might feel and extended compassion to him.  

I practiced some of the "Basic Principles of Accepting Reality" as outlined in Marsha Linehan's "Distress Tolerance Handout 5" from her Skills Training Manual:

  • "You have to make an inner COMMITMENT to accept.
  •  ACCEPTANCE is the only way out of hell.
  •  Deciding to tolerate the moment is ACCEPTANCE.
  •  ACCEPTANCE is acknowledging what is.
  •  To ACCEPT something is not the same as judging it good."

What about you?  Have you noticed some resistance or interesting reactions to your changing and growing? How do you cope?

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

Free Help With DBT Homework - Just Ask!


As many of my readers know - I don't just attend DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), but I have adopted the principles and concepts and integrated them into my life on a regular, daily basis.  This happened pretty naturally, as I saw success after success and improvements in my life in so many areas, including my ability to regulate my emotions and to be able to handle stressors that in the past would have triggered me into crisis.

While I still have lots of room for growth in all areas (especially in creating and keeping relationships with others), I am often touched by how my peers in group look to me for examples and for help in further understanding our DBT homework assignments.

This has extended to my BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) twitter family, where we talk about our challenges and support each other.

I am here for you, too! If you have difficulty with a particular DBT homework assignment, please feel free to ask for my support.  I am a peer, not a doctor or therapist, so my ideas are coming from a co-patient perspective and should never be construed as medical advice or as diagnosing or treating any type of ailment or disorder.  It would be as if I were sitting next to you in group/class, and you asked how I would go about a particular assignment. Ask your therapist if they think my peer support would be helpful to you at this time.

Every Wednesday night (Pacific Time), I will go through any emails that I receive that are specific to DBT assignments, and I will get back to as many people as possible.

Please include in your email (just copy and paste this list into your email to me and answer each item):

  • What module you are studying (Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, or Mindfulness)?
  • How long have you been in DBT?
  • Your question, as specifically as possible
  • The specific handout name/number that you are working on, for example: Emotion Regulation Handout 1a
  • Not required, but if you can scan and attach the worksheet, that would be very helpful.
  • IMPORTANT: Please let me know if I may use your situation/homework as an example while keeping your identity confidential!!! This is a way for you to "pay it forward," allowing others to learn from what you learn during this assignment.

My email address is info[at]  
Just replace [at] with @

I hope that you will find this to be a valuable resource, and I look forward to supporting you.  Again, please remember that I am on this journey with you. I have my good days and my not so good days. I make progress, and I backslide. I am enlightened in some areas and still searching in many others. My intention is to build mastery by using my strengths to support others in escaping the hell of Borderline Personality Disorder. I look forward to being of service.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

Invalidating Environments & Borderline Personality Disorder

During DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) group today, one of my peers mentioned that out of all of the hell she experienced growing up as a child who was abused and in a very invalidating environment, the one thing she learned from her parents was that she can do ANYTHING on her own.  Our therapist said that this is an example of thriving. Even though this woman did not get what she needed from her parents, she found a way to survive.  I thought that was pretty neat, and it got me thinking.

The one thing I learned from my parents amidst all of the abuse and neglect that I experienced is that what we say to children MATTERS.  What we allow them to see and hear - it ALL MATTERS.  Some parents will think or say "Oh, she's so young/little - she'll never remember any of this."

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I have news for you - I still vividly remember specific words and situations from decades ago. We do remember. And, when we wake up one day and realize that not all families live this way and that we, indeed, were part of a dysfunctional or abusive household, the memories will come back from the times you thought what you said and did didn't matter.  Same with the times that you didn't say or do what would have been the healthy choice for a child. Those times mattered, too.

I am very sensitive to situations where I see a child exposed to certain language, fighting, and worse. I took a social worker job for a year and a half. While the job was very rewarding, this was before my DBT days, and I literally had a nervous breakdown from the work. The reasons? Essentially boundaries and the fact that I had so much inner work to do.

I was triggered by so many of my cases, and I wanted to save and rescue every child out there, which I obviously could not do. But, one thing is for sure. With all of the parents I worked with, I let them know the importance of their words and actions, especially those done in the presence of their children.  I also did my best to speak encouraging, validating words to the children for as long I could possibly work with each of them.

PsychCentral has this to say about Dr. Marsha Linehan's DBT and invalidating environments:

"Dialectical Behavior Therapy is based on a bio-social theory of borderline personality disorder. Linehan hypothesizes that the disorder is a consequence of an emotionally vulnerable individual growing up within a particular set of environmental circumstances which she refers to as the Invalidating Environment."

Here is an excellent example (blog post) of a time when a child felt invalidated and the effect it left, some 31 years later.

It ends with a very powerful thought: "When you have the enormous responsibility and honor of spending time with a child, behave as if everything you say and do matters...because it does." - Sulilo

Thank you for reading.
More soon.

Make Your Own Self Soothing Kit (DBT - Self Soothe)

If you were to make a self-soothing kit that you could easily take with you wherever you go, what would be inside?  The goal would be to bring at least one item that soothes each of your senses.  I am considering putting together such a kit, and here is what I imagine I will include:

Smell:  A stick of cinnamon or some powdered cinnamon in a little jar, some Good Earth tea bags

Photo by Dennis Wilkinson

Touch: A really soft small stuffed animal or a piece of very soft, fluffy fabric.

Photo by WinterSoul1

Taste: Some butterscotch hard candies and some chocolate

Photo by Candy Warehouse

Sight: A picture of a something that makes me smile

Photo by Susan402

Hearing: An app on my phone (which I always have with me) that plays soothing sounds

What might YOU include in your self-soothing kit?  Do you already have one? What do you have inside?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

P.S.  It's also nice to find a special container to put everything in.  I like this:

Photo by Style Hive

Spotting Black or White Thinking & Finding Shades of Grey (DBT)

In DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) class, we often hear about the concept of "Black or White," "All or Nothing," or "Extreme" thinking.

This seems to be a pretty classic symptom among those of us with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder).  In order to support us in becoming more emotionally stable and less extreme in our thoughts and reactions, Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT, has some suggestions for noticing the red flags of extreme thinking and how to find shades of grey.  I will share some of these ideas as I interpret them and in ways that they have helped me in my own personal experiences.

On the "15 Styles of Distorted Thinking" page in my DBT binder, number 2 on the list is:

"Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect, or you're a failure. There is no middle ground."

(From Thoughts and Feelings: The Art of Cognitive Stress Intervention by Matthew McKay and Martha Davis, New Harbinger Publications, 1981.)

I can really relate to this. The example that comes to mind is my work life. When I am doing well and receiving praise from my employer, I feel that I am perceived as "perfect" and "good." If I make a single mistake and/or detect the least bit of disappointment from my employer in me or my work (whether real or "imagined,") I flip to the other extreme that I am a failure, useless, and fear that I will be fired. I imagine that I've lost all of his "love" and admiration.  I am no longer worthy in his eyes. As you can imagine, the extreme, quick switch is distressing to experience.

Since investing deeply in my DBT classes, I am able to at least now recognize that I am experiencing polarized thinking. I can then use the skill of "Self-Soothing" by speaking to myself kindly from the Wise Mind. For example, I might say to myself:

"It's not all or nothing. No one is perfect. No one believed I was perfect. Just because I made a mistake or my boss seems disappointed doesn't mean that all is lost and that I am useless. It's not one extreme or the other. I don't have to catastrophize."

Other Red Flags of "Black or White," "All or Nothing," or "Extreme Thinking":
  • Never
  • Always
  • Hate
Whenever I notice myself expressing or thinking one or more of these words, it's a red flag for me that I am in extreme thinking.  


  • Sometimes I catch myself saying to my significant other things like: "You NEVER pay attention to me anymore." More realistically, I could rephrase this emotionally triggered extreme thought and expression as:  "I am really needing you right now. I've noticed that you've been really pre-occupied lately, and I am really needing your support and attention. Please sit down with me and talk."

    (A note about expressing "never" and "always" to another person: I've noticed that this tends to put the other person on the defensive. He or she may be less able to engage with you and understand what you are expressing if you use these words. They may respond with, "Oh, I NEVER support you?!?" or "Oh, I ALWAYS ignore you?!?" followed by a list of examples that prove you are wrong.

    You can avoid this by either being more mindful before you speak so as to avoid communicating extreme language, or by immediately retracting what you said. For example, "I'm sorry - you know what? It's not fair to say that you NEVER pay attention to me. You often do. I'm just really feeling like I need some of your attention now and I said something really extreme. Can we talk?"  This can go a LONG way.)
  • I've noticed that quite often when I feel very bored or distressed, this thought will cross my mind: "I HATE EVERYTHING!!!!"  Since learning these skills in DBT, I can now recognize when this is happening and even have a little laugh. Of course I don't "hate everything." I love chocolate. I love my cats. I like to sing. It's quite extreme to say I hate "everything."  This is where Wise Mind and Self Soothing come into play.

Shades of Grey in Borderline Personality Disorder. Notice
How many different shades/possibilities exist between the extremes
of Black and White. Image Credit.

What are some of YOUR extreme thinking red flags?  How do you cope?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

Here is a LINK to the full list of "15 Style of Distorted Thinking."

Coping Ahead With Emotional Situations (DBT Skill)

This week in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), we went over Emotion Regulation Handout 13 - specifically, the bottom section "Cope Ahead of Time with Emotional Situations."

Emotion Regulation Handout 13 from Skills Training Manual for Disordered Emotion Regulation
by Marsha Linehan (c) in press Guilford

Here is my own personal example for numbers 1 and 2:

1. Situation:  Perceiving our sales director's comments as snide and undercutting toward me.
    Emotions that I want to decrease: anxiety, fear, and anger.

2. DBT Coping or Problem Solving Skills I want to use in the situation:
  • Build Mastery: I would like to practice responding to such situations in a professional way or not responding at all if not necessary
  • Radical Acceptance:
    • that the comment was made
    • that he is who he is and behaves how he behaves (and I have no control over it)
    • that my perception may not be accurate. I have biases and would like to look at his comments less judgmentally - not like a wounded animal who is ready to attack.
  • Be Effective:
    • by focusing on what works
    • by acting skillfully
    • by keeping in mind my long-term goals and objectives
    • by "let[ting] go of vengeance, useless anger, and righteousness that hurts [me] and doesn't work" (from Mindfulness Handout 3,  Skills Training Manual for Disordered Emotion Regulation by Marsha Linehan (c) in press Guilford.)
  • Self Respect:
    • by "act[ing] in ways that make me feel capable and effective" (from Mindfulness Handout 3,  Skills Training Manual for Disordered Emotion Regulation by Marsha Linehan (c) in press Guilford.)

I am putting this strategy into place immediately and will keep you posted on how it goes.  How might you use "coping ahead" to help with emotionally intense situations before they come up?  I used it once to help me get through a pap smear (a procedure that unfortunately triggers me and causes great distress.) You can read that post here.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month!

It's May 1st: Mental Health Awareness month is here. My goal is to continue to write posts in which I share how I live with Borderline Personality Disorder and my very personal journey with DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). It is my continued hope that readers will identify with and find comfort in my posts. Perhaps they can relate or have a family member they love or a patient that they treat, and they leave my blog better understanding and compassion for that person. Whatever reason you are here, I am glad to have you as a visitor and hope you come back again soon.

Image Credit

As far as my experience with mental health issues, to begin with, I struggle from time to time with debilitating symptoms from several diagnosis, including Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and at times depression, so while I have become quite fluent in DBT and CBT find myself applying it to my life on a daily basis multiple times a day, I find it ironic that, just last night, I was reminded quite vividly that my walk is ongoing.

Last night, I nearly had a crisis episode - something that has not happened in quite some time.  I reacted intensely with fear and anxiety to a work related incident. I took to Twitter and received supportive replies and suggestions that I very much appreciated.  It really helps to at least have social network connections, even if "real" in-person friendships feel too difficult right now. I also grounded in my breathing and self-talk directed toward a Wise Mind state. Crisis averted. Oh, and naturally - when I got to work and talked to my boss, he wasn't anywhere near as concerned as I was and found the incident not to be a big deal.

In general, I have become stable enough in my walk with BPD that I am able to reach out and support others via this blog's community on Twitter and Facebook, but I will continue to express that I am not completely well. I am also on this journey of healing, a road paved with discovery, experiences, and highs and lows.  I would be doing my readers and connections a disservice if I did not remind them and disclose that I am one of you.  I am still learning, too.

As Mental Health Awareness month continues, do you have any plans to partake in it? Will you wear a bracelet, ribbon, or t-shirt to spread awareness?  Will you be "coming out" to anyone?  I am curious as to how others will participate.

Thank you for reading.
More Soon.


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