Coping With Distressing Thoughts (i.e. Disordered Thinking, OCD, BPD)



Many of us can relate to finding ourselves on the hamster wheel, with repeated, intrusive, even disturbing thoughts that distress us.  Here are some common thoughts that many people with Borderline Personality Disorder (as well as those with eating disorders/disordered eating, OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and anxiety experience.)

*Trigger Warning: You may want to skip this list if you are feeling particularly emotionally vulnerable right now.*
  • Distorted thoughts about food, eating, and body image
  • Frightening thoughts about self-harm
  • Worries about being abandoned or rejected, even when there is no "evidence" that this is or will happen
  • Fears of being alone
I've personally been dealing with distressing, distorted disordered eating thoughts. It's been an issue for  most of my life. When the thoughts aren't present, I am so much more content and functional, but when they show up, I have choices around how I am going to cope, and these choices tend to affect the intensity that the episode reaches and how quickly I recover.

*End Trigger Warning: You may want to skip this list if you are feeling particularly emotionally vulnerable right now.*


If you're experiencing distressing thoughts that just don't seem to want to go away, you may be tempted to ignore them and deny your experience. Dr. Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), urges us otherwise. She says that trying to deny thoughts only makes them strong.  So, what are you to do to help feel less distressed?

Here are some skills that can help:

  • Radical Acceptance: Radically accepting is saying "I accept that I am having these thoughts right now. There is cause. I'm having them for a reason, even if I don't understand that reason." This is probably (at least for me) the most DIFFICULT skill to practice when I'm feeling anxious and distressed over unwanted, troubling thoughts. What? You want me to ACCEPT this is happening?  Well, to be honest, not accepting them doesn't help much. And, accepting does NOT mean that you're saying, "I enjoy these thoughts. I feel just swell that I'm experiencing these thoughts." No. Accepting does not mean you approve, enjoy, or appreciate the experience. Accepting is just the first step of recovering. We must accept "what is" before we can change it if we want or need to. We must be honest and acknowledge the reality of our experience first.
  • Opposite Action: Every emotion has an associated action. For example, when we are sad, the action is often to retreat. When we are afraid, the reaction is often to run or avoid. With Opposite Action, we identify the action associated with the current emotion and then do the OPPOSITE. This, in turn, helps to change the emotion, if that is what we are seeking.
  • Self-Soothing: Sometimes we cannot change the issue at hand that is causing the distress. During this time, think of yourself as a child who needs your loving care, attention, and soothing. Soothe through activities that please your senses, such as a warm fleece blanket (touch), scented lotion (smell), looking at art or nature (sight), listening to soothing music (sound), eating a piece of  your favorite hard candy (taste).
  • Put it on the shelf:  This is where you get to push away the thoughts if they get to be too much. You've already accepted that they are present, but if they are relentless, you might imagine giving yourself a conscious break by imagining placing the thought on a shelf to be tended to later. In the meantime, you can distract by watching a good television program, reading a book, going for a walk, or something else that gets your mind off of the issue.

How do you cope with distressing, unwanted thoughts?
How might these skills help next time?


Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

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