Lashing Out in Anger When We're Hurting (Anger and BPD)

The next time you're feeling sad, guilty, remorseful, or even angry at yourself for lashing out a loved one, consider this:
1.) We all have those moments when anger gets the best of us.  It's important to remember to try our best next time to be more skillful. What we say and do matters.  That is because WE matter. And so do other people. Words can be so powerful and have a long and lasting impact. Let's choose them wisely and carefully.
2.) Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) says that "everything has cause." The fact that you lashed out was not random. There were circumstances, vulnerabilities, interpretations, and so many other variables that happened before that moment.

If you recently had an incident like this, take a look at Emotion Regulation Worksheet 1a.  This form helps walk you through your reaction and helps you to understand the contributing factors to how you reacted.  It also gives you the opportunity to extend compassion to yourself and to reflect on how you plan to cope the next time you are faced with a potentially angering situation.

Emotion Regulation Worksheet 1a
from Skills Training Manual for
 Treating Borderline Personality Disorder

Click to enlarge

3.) Anger is a common emotion to all humans. It's how we handle it that matters. Emotion Regulation Handout 4 lists some prompting events for feeling the emotion of anger:

  • "Having an important goal blocked or prevented
  • Having an important or pleasurable activity interrupted, postponed, or stopped
  • You or someone you care about being attacked or hurt physically or emotionally by others
  • You or someone you care about being threatened with physical or emotional pain by someone or something
  • You or someone you care about being insulted
  • Losing power
  • Losing status
  • Losing respect
  • Not having things turn out the way you expected
  • Experiencing physical pain
  • Experiencing Emotional Pain
  • Not obtaining something you want (which another person has)"
    (The above list is from page 29 of Dr. Marsha Linehan's Skills Training for Disordered Emotion Regulation, in press).  Dr. Linehan also wrote Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder.)
4.) If your anger is "justified," meaning that any of the first four, bold bullet points above are the reason for your anger, Dr. Marsha Linehan suggests using problem solving to deal with the situation.  And whether or not the anger is justified, you can practice Opposite Action by:

  • Gently avoid the person you are angry with (as opposed to attacking them)
  • Take a time out and breath in and out slowly
  • Do the OPPOSITE of other angry urges
    (above modified from page 50 of  Dr. Marsha Linehan's Skills Training for Disordered Emotion Regulation, in press).
She also recommends doing the Opposite Action to anger wholeheartedly by:

  • Trying to understand or empathize with the other person, seeing the ordeal from his or her perspective
  • Change your posture so that you are more relaxed. Try half-smiling. 
  • Change body chemistry by breathing slowly, running or doing something else that is high energy and non-violent

Which of these skills do you think will be most helpful to you the next time you feel the onset of anger?
What do you currently do when you get angry?
What do you do that helps you from making the situation worse?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.


  1. Hi Debbie, thanks for your post. I have problems knowing what to do with anger, so as not to be destructive / negative with it. At the moment I mainly avoid people / situations and try to take time out, calm myself with mindful breathing. I also tried self-soothing walks at the beach. Recently when I was really angry with a group of people I did opposite action by staying away from them and writing a positive, kind letter to someone else instead. That did help me as I realised that at least on that occasion even though I was seethingly angry I could still act in a positive way to myself (by not making it worse) and someone else, (by doing something to cheer them up.)

  2. Good Lord Debbie, were you at work with me today, or did one of my coworkers call you.!?!?



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