When The Pain Won't Go Away (Tolerating Distress & Not Making Things Worse)

Sometimes when we are in great emotional pain or distress, it seems as if the way we are feeling will never end.  We may feel like we can't tolerate the pain, stress, anxiety, loneliness, or other difficult emotion for much longer and don't know what to do. 
In a desperate attempt to "feel better now," we may do impulsive things that, in the long run, make our situation worse and push the very people we want to be close to us further away.
We desperately want to do "the right thing," but tolerating the distress feels unbearable.
If we react in ways that support our thoughts that our current, negative mood or feeling will be endless, we can end up making matters worse and doing things we will almost for sure regret.  
Some of the impulsive ways I've reacted when feeling this desperation throughout the years are:

*May Be Triggering for Some*
  • Had sex with someone who didn't really care about me - just to feel loved, wanted, and cared about (often only to feel discarded afterward)
  • Spending money - I have gone on spending sprees, once spending almost $400 on makeup at MAC only to have to, with my tail between my legs, return it the very next day
  • Cause or allow physical pain or harm to myself
  • Threaten to kill myself in a desperate attempt to get people to take me seriously
  • Overeat, especially sugary, fatty foods
  • Said or did very hurtful things to people I care about, only to (usually) immediately feel remorseful - but it was too late - the damage was done
  • Sent impulsive emails, and like the item above, only to (usually) immediately feel remorseful - but it was too late - the damage was done
  • Put my pressing need to feel better ahead of my short and long term goals while offering not paying attention to how my behaviors could also impact others I care about
*End Trigger Warning*
With the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills of Distress Tolerance, we practice ways of coping with the emotional crisis without making the situation worse.

We practice skills that help us slow down and put space between our initial emotional reaction to something and actually taking action.
I have been experiencing an incredible amount of distress lately, and I've noticed that many of my Facebook and Twitter followers have as well.  Just this morning, one of my Twitter connections was reaching out because her distress was so high, she felt that it was unbearable. (If you haven't joined me on Facebook or Twitter yet, I invite you. We are a caring, safe, respectful community of people that support positive personal growth.)
After trying many other skills, I told her that when I feel incredible distress and have tried many DBT skills and still feel the same, the best thing I can do for myself is this:
  • While it is difficult for those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder to truly be comforted by remembering other times when we felt differently, this is what I push myself to do.
  • I remind myself that "this too shall pass," just as every other mood, feeling, or circumstance has in my life.  No mood or feeling can last forever, even if it feels like it has or that it has the potential to do so. Circumstances, feelings, and moods, are transient, not permanent.
  • In the meantime, it also sometimes help to "Radically Accept" the situation.  Radical Acceptance is a skill from the Mindfulness module of DBT. Remember, "acceptance" is not the same as "approval."  While you might accept that this crumby feeling is running its course, it doesn't mean you've succumbed to giving up or somehow saying that you like feeling this way. It just means that you're using your Wise Mind to ride it out.  You're just accepting that things are the way that they are for right now. That's all. 
  • Remember that you are NOT your emotion.  You are the one noticing and experiencing your emotion, and this, too, will surely pass.
  • One other thing that I do in this type of situation is engage in Distraction and Self-Soothing skills.  You can use the search box in the upper right of this blog to search for these and other words relevant to how you're feeling right now to find more posts that may bring you understanding and comfort at this time.
What have you personally found helpful when it seemed like nothing could help you shake an unpleasant mood or emotion?
Thank you for reading.
More Soon.

UPDATE: The author of this blog is now in RECOVERY from borderline personality disorder. What does this mean, how is she doing, and how might her work help you?  Visit DBT Path for more information!


  1. Great post Debbie =]

    When I have felt despairing, I have found it helpful to write out how I am firstly from my emotional mind and then trying to reply to myself in a non-judgemental, compassionate manner.

    1. Thank you Loopy. :) I think that your skill of writing out how you feel, first from emotional mind and then responding with the wiser part of you is an excellent idea! Thanks for sharing this technique! ♥

  2. As always, great post!

    You always seem to post about just what I need to hear. I have been doing mostly good, but had a really rough day today and fought off all of the things you mentioned in your post. In the end, I came home at the end of my work day (thankfully I was able to get off a little early...) When I got home I let myself cry (and shake) but just for a bit. I loved on the cats and then put something on the TV for comfort and distraction. I haven't been sleeping good, so I let myself take a nap also. I feel much better now, though not completely through it. I know that during this, it felt like nothing was working and that I would be stuck like this forever. Pretty much all you said in your post I could have typed myself today... seems like that every day I read your blog!

    I think what helps people will differ for each individual, but I know I like to have a list of ideas to try. I used to keep a notebook with ideas to try during these times. I am not sure where it has gotten to now, but it helped get me through some really rough times.

    Thanks so much for this blog. It reminds me to use the skills I have learned through DBT.


    1. Hi Katie,

      Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you figured out what you needed to feel well: a good cry, a little nap, loving on the cats, and tv. Excellent ways of implementing the skills. I'm glad you're feeling better as a result. This stuff works!!!

      Thank you for your kind words and feedback about my blog, too! ♥

  3. This post could not have come at a better time (or rather I couldn't have discovered it at a better time). I tried to take my own life last night. I failed and have been in severe distress ever since...

    1. Dear Melanie,

      I am so, so very sorry that things got this bad for you. I am VERY glad that you are safe and okay. Please PLEASE get professional attention immediately. This is imminently and severely important.

      Debbie ♥

    2. I am desperately trying to find help but I've had no luck so far due to either they don't accept my insurance, don't handle my diagnoses, etc. I'm still trying, though. I'm waiting on one more place to get back to me, and at that point I may start just paying out of pocket for services somewhere. *sigh*



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