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.


  1. THANK YOU!:)For sharing and helping people.

    1. You're very welcome. Thank you for reading and commenting. :)

  2. Thanks for this! Especially the last part. I'm new to this DBT, but the end is really helpful.
    I hope your boyfriend does see it as a step forward :)

    1. I'm glad it was helpful. Thanks for the feedback and for your kind comment. x

  3. Yes, the end part was extremely helpful. I'm sad that the boyfriend of a woman with borderline told her "I could leave you." To me, this seems downright cruel, as if he was intentionally pushing a nerve. Fear of rejection and abandonment is a main component, and I assume he knows this. I shouldn't get hung up on your life, but did you later talk to him about saying this or are you ok that he did that? I have had 2 failed marriages (partly due to bpd probably), and I am scared I will never have a healthy happy relationship.

  4. Wonderful post! Very helpful to someone like me who struggles with BPD.



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