Creating a Life Worth Living: 25 Ways To Add DBT To Your Life This Month via My Dialectical Life (MDL)

It's not news to many of you that I subscribe to Amanda Smith's MDL: My Dialectical Life -- a daily email with DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skill reminders and ideas that keep me motivated and on my toes as I continue to build a life worth living -- one of the core goals in DBT. 

With permission from Amanda, I am sharing with you a reproduction of the email I received via MDL today, because I want those of you who are also working to build a life worth living and to learn and practice DBT skills to see the type of quality posts she offers, in case  you've been considering subscribing.

Check it out, including the links she provides to resources.

Being mindfully effective means doing what works.
If you're just learning DBT or are a lifelong learner, you may find some of the ideas for more skillful implementation to be helpful.
You could--
* use bathtub crayons in the morning to write down the skills you'll be using that day
* wear a  Marsha Linehan is my Homegirl t-shirt
* start a cool DBT blog
* create a collage of pictures that remind you of DBT skills
* make a photo book of ways to distract and self-soothe
* put sticky notes with DBT skills on your bathroom mirror 
* find someone to practice DEAR MAN, GIVE, and FAST with 
* make a DBT skill necklace or bracelet using letter beads 
* start keeping a diary card again*
* create your own DBT stickers and put them on your school notebooks 
* challenge a friend to see who can use the most skills in one week 
* make DBT salt dough ornaments to hang in front of a window 
* teach the DBT skills to someone else 
* paint a smiley face on your bedroom wall to remind yourself to half smile 
* record your own mindfulness meditation 
* keep a self-soothe kit in your car or office 
* cross stitch DBT skills onto your pillowcases 
* create a video demonstrating your favorite skill 
* buy or borrow books about DBT and mindfulness 
* write a WRAP and include your DBT skills
* start a Twitter account and follow other people who are interested in DBT 
How will you add a little more DBT into your life today?

If you made a decision to be mindfully effective today, circle or mark this skill on your DBT diary card. This skill is a part of Mindfulness. 
Congratulations on taking a step towards creating a life worth living today!  
About MDL

My Dialectical Life is a daily e-mail created by Amanda Smith.

I hope you can see why I love MDL.  Let me know if, like me,  you end up subscribing to this incredibly affordable self-help tool to support you in your recovery,  and let me know what you think!

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

Facebook: The Emotional Trigger Landmine?

If you have Borderline Personality Disorder or are emotionally sensitive like me, you may have come to find social media sites like Facebook full of emotional triggers.  I sometimes liken it to an "Emotional Landmine."

What do I mean by this?  I have had experiences where I have been having a perfectly good day, only to feel completely and totally "set off" emotionally for any number of reasons while perusing my personal Facebook wall. Let me know if you can relate to any of these situations:

  • someone has expressed a political or other viewpoint in stark contrast to my own and has done so in a demeaning manner to my perspective (the post was not addressed to me, but I saw it.)  It's hard for me to resist saying anything. I may become annoyed, offended, and angry. I then get to make the choice of engaging with this person (which usually only further upsets me) ignoring them (which doesn't feel good either), or "unfriending" them (which may be extreme, but after seeing so many upsetting posts from the same person, I've been known to do it.)
  • someone has posted a rude comment or image that insults people who fall into categories that my loved ones (or I) fit into. This one has been very difficult for me to handle, especially when it is an attack or insult on people in protected (and unprotected) classes and when people show blatant disrespect for animals (and I see this all of the time!).  Yes, I do ask myself "Why are you connected with these people at all, Debbie?" Good question. Sadly, some of them are family!  I've actually disconnected from several family members as a result of Facebook drama. It's sad.
  • someone is (seemingly) constantly complaining and posting negative status updates about how "horrible" their life is.  Sometimes I can just roll my eyes and move on from these posts, other times, I find myself getting angry -- especially if the person is living what I consider to be a fortunate or privileged life. I get judgmental.
  • seeing someone from the past engaging in happy conversations with others when that person really doesn't want anything to do with me any more (example: ex-friend, ex-lover, family member.)  This can really hurt -- and it's one of those situations that I no longer allow myself to be exposed to. No more exes, of any sort, on Facebook for me.
Can you relate to any of these situations initiating an emotional reaction while you've been on Facebook? Perhaps you have some triggers of your own.

In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), there is a practice of peeling off the layers of our reaction so that we can identify just the facts of the situation. For example, if we consider it carefully, Facebook is neither a "good" or "bad" place. It's a place where people and companies from all of the world can connect through words, photos, videos, sharing link, and, as time goes on, more. 

It's up to each individual person to make a choice each time he or she posts.  Most people see their Facebook wall as a personal space to post whatever they'd like, but I challenge that.  Do we not have a responsibility to consider our connections when posting?  We don't always know the intention behind a person's choice to post something - especially something controversial - but in taking care of our own mental health, it is our responses that we need to pay attention to. 

The bottom line is, we only have control over what we share, and we have limited control over what we are exposed to if we choose to view our personal feed.  I have begun to shift to only logging in to participate in viewing and sharing on my Healing From BPD Facebook page and have mostly avoided my personal stream. This seems to help a lot.

I also try to watch my reactions and put some space between them and my actions. I'm not always successful.  Facebook can be a nightmare environment for those who have impulse control issues combined with emotion dysregulation.  It's just too easy to start typing away and posting something we'll later regret.

Avoiding the wall when I am feeling particularly sensitive has been the most helpful to me.  If I am feeling strong enough to roll my eyes at things that may upset me while enjoying other posts, I'll visit that section.

It's all about making sure that we feel safe, and we are responsible for the decisions around creating that safety, including with the information we expose ourselves to and who we allow into our space -- even in internet connections.

As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

Creating Safety: The Boundary Bubble (Boundaries & BPD)

In this brief, no-frills video, I talk about the challenges that emotionally sensitive people, such as those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder, face when it comes to boundaries.  I also introduce more information on creating a boundary bubble as a self-help tool.

Here is the other blog post about the Boundary Bubble that I mention in the video.

Thanks for reading and watching.
More Soon.

What Does "Cause" Mean in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) ?

What is "cause"?  In Dialectical Behavior Therapy, one of the most effective treatments for those with Borderline Personality Disorder and other emotion dysregulation challenges, "cause" means that everything that has happened up until this moment helps explain what is happening in this moment.

In a very simple example, imagine that a plate falls to the ground in the other room. You're alarmed and think, "How the heck did that happen? I'm in the other room, and no one else is home."

You go into the other room to find that your dish rack is askew and other items are a mess on the counter. Upon further inspection it looks like your cat had gotten up on the counter and caused the dish to drop from the counter. There's the cause!

Another example is that a woman on Twitter this morning felt distraught that she sought out consoling from someone who rejected her. She felt devastated.  I can understand this, as I've experienced it before and traced it back to having a history of feeling invalidated and it feeling like the wound has been opened and salt has been poured in it when I experience or even perceive rejection in the now.

It's not always this easy to determine the chain of events that cause something. Even when we cannot readily identify the cause, I've found comfort in simply knowing that everything has cause, and that whatever is happening in this moment is a result of the cumulative moments that came before it.

Here's a more complex example.  Last night I was talking with a friend about how I feel that there must be something "wrong" with me because I don't desire one of the most natural of human experiences for a woman: to be pregnant.  Although I love and have always loved children and enjoy having them in my life, I have never wanted to become pregnant and have children of my own naturally.

I kept saying last night, "I don't understand why this is such a repulsive idea to me. Isn't it weird that I don't want something so natural?!"

Upon further thought, I was able to come up with a number of possible causes as to why I hold this perspective, for example:

*  I find the process of being pregnant -- carrying another human being in my stomach for nine months -- terrifying.  I always worried that it would feel like an alien was growing inside of me and that I'd want it out.  Who knows why I feel this way? I'd have to trace the chain of cause for this thought to try and discover more.

* I am very afraid of the process of being pregnant -- the changes to one's body, the stress on the organs, and in vanity, I suppose, how I would look afterward.

* I don't feel capable of committing to taking care of a child in the way that I believe I would need to commit.  I don't believe I am financially or emotionally capable of providing security to a child at this point in my life.

* Then there's the cognitive dissonance aspect -- my significant other also doesn't want children, and I am going to be 36 in a couple of weeks. My biological clock is ticking, and within a few years, it will no longer be physically feasible for me to have children naturally anyway -- at least not without great risk to a child (though many older women have had perfectly healthy babies, so this is not always the case).

* I have always been very mindful of how mental illness runs in  my family and do not want to be responsible for passing this along to another human being.  I realize that it's a combination of nature versus nurture, but I haven't been willing to take that chance.

So, I was able to discover a number of possible causes, singularly and combined, as to why I do not want to have a child, despite loving children and wanting them in my life (somewhat of a dialectic!).
I noticed lots of fear, a sense of responsibility, and cognitive dissonance. So there are reasons why I would not feel compelled or interested in participating something as natural as common as having a child.

There is always cause for what we are feeling or experiencing. You can try to map it out by honestly reflecting on your experience and coming up with possibilities, or you can just trust that there is cause and cope with any distress you're experiencing in the present moment as a result.

I hope this helps you better understand "cause" in Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

As always, your comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

P.S.  I am in total non-judgment of those who *choose* to have children. Your chain of events of cause may be different from mine and have led you to different choices. It's different for everyone. We each have very individual stories, and many people with mental illness are great parents.

Coping Effectively With Criticism as an Emotionally Sensitive Person

Having Borderline Personality Disorder, for me, often means coping with emotions that show up more intensely than they may for others (especially sadness and anger and feelings that come up with loneliness and perceived rejection or abandonment). This has been a major component of my walk. Specifically, learning to cope with criticism has been a huge challenge for me for many years, as it is for many emotionally sensitive people.

I recently blogged about all of the ways in which I am seeing healing and growth in my own personal journey using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), determination, and trusting in the process.  You can read about those, correlated to the symptoms of BPD, here.

I still, of course, face challenges. This morning I received an upsetting email. It was from someone who was upset with me for a number of reasons, mostly having to do with her self-revelation that she feels she is lacking much in her life, including the support that she desperately feels she needs and deserves.  For that, I felt compassion and empathy.  Her message went on to criticize me in a number of ways, many of which I read as having more to do with her own current problems than really about me, but it rattled me none the less. I felt badly that someone felt this way. I knew I had to put up my boundary bubble and NOT take on this person's reaction as "the truth" of my experience. Just because she felt it and expressed it vividly did NOT mean that it her perception and feelings were true for ME.  This is a huge issue for a lot of us with BPD -- discovering where others end and where we begin -- but it has been an essential part of healing for me and many others. Perhaps you have noticed improvements in your ability to cope as you learn to implement and enforce boundaries in your life.

I've talked before about how it used to be intolerable for me to cope with someone not liking me or what I do. I would bend and twist and morph to try to please everyone, because it meant more to me to please others, retain their admiration, and not "rock the boat," than it did to figure out who I really am, what I want, what my values are, and how I choose to live those out -- not to mention the need for taking care of myself when attacked verbally.  Sound selfish?  It might if we've spent most of our lives focusing on keeping everyone else happy, content, and okay and little attention directing that same love and care toward ourselves.

It isn't selfish. It's part of healing.

If I'd received this critical message even two years ago, I probably would have acted impulsively -- maybe even as extremely as removing my blog.  I'm not that same person.

Can you relate?  Do you feel a need to compensate for others criticisms?  Do you find, as an emotionally sensitive person, that you want to accommodate others and make them happy, because knowing they are unhappy with you causes distress?

Coping Effectively With Criticism 

I'm not going to say that this person's email didn't upset or hurt me, because it did.  But with continued reflection, I brought my Wise Mind online.  You can try this the next time you find yourself reacting to criticism:

  • Sometimes criticism is constructive.  Being emotionally sensitive may mean that our initial reaction is to become alarmed or upset by criticism, seeing it as an attack on who or as rejection. We can usually tell the intention behind the critical remark given the context in which it is delivered. Sometimes we also need to ask for further clarification.
  • Check your sensitivity level.  Might you be reading more into the critique because you are feeling particularly vulnerable for other reasons?  (I personally received some very upsetting, hugely triggering information about a friend of the family yesterday, and I also felt a little bit triggered by a friend's story, though ultimately I found it healing and helpful. I was in a space to receive things from an even more sensitive perspective than usual when I opened that message.)
  • Check intentions when you can. When criticism is clearly given to make you feel bad or judge you, you can often notice other messages in the person's communication that can help you see that the criticism is less about you and more about the other person. They may be hurting, lacking, feeling jealous, or seeking approval or validation.  If you pick up on this, try being a little bit kind, but also set up a boundary that you do not accept being treated badly when someone else is feeling badly about themselves.
  • Use your DBT skills to cope with the distress.  Rather than making matter worse, turn to your Distress Tolerance and Self-Soothing skills to care for yourself until the intensity of your reaction diminishes. The intense emotions and reactions that can come up with receiving criticism WILL pass. No matter how intense they feel right now, I've found it's better to wait a bit before taking any action, as we often regret behaviors that we act out in the heat of the moment and as a reaction to feeling hurt or attacked. 

Is coping effectively with criticism an issue for you?  How do you cope?  How might you use some of the ideas here to cope more effectively in the future?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

Guest Post: How I Coped When my “Innie” Child Became an “Outie”: Relationships, Intimacy, & Age Regression

Please welcome Mary's very first guest post here at Healing From BPD:

I've been asked to write on a very personal topic, and I find myself in a very vulnerable place in sharing my experience will you all.  Many might find this post triggering, upsetting, or unsettling as it encompasses subjects such as childhood sexual abuse, age regression, and how these experiences may manifest in people’s adult sex lives and intimate interactions with those they love.  The post will also touch on aspects of consensual power exchange dynamics, BDSM (or kink), and “age play.” 

If you are feeling in an emotionally vulnerable place, or are offended by such alternative sexualities, I suggest heeding this “Trigger Warning” for the entirety of the post.

Emotional Trauma in Early Childhood and BPD

Many people with borderline personality disorder have also experienced a traumatic childhood.  This could have consisted of some form of childhood abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual), abandonment, neglect, or a generally invalidating environment.  Sadly, many of us with BPD have experienced some combination of these damaging traumas, and for every survivor who has lived through such a tragedy, also lives an adult harboring a wounded inner child.

Debbie, the author and host of this blog, has written quite a bit on how she attends to the very real needs of her inner child.  She has written posts detailing how she cares for, validates, and allows this child to experience joy as well as an opportunity to freely mourn what has been lost or never had in the first place.  Caring for our inner children is not something we are often taught or instructed to do by society.  We must learn this.

Here’s a confession… my inner child tends to be more outie than innie.  In many of my past relationships, I have acted quite a bit younger than I actually was after gaining a certain amount of trust and comfort.  For many years, this was almost a completely subconscious experience.  I would only realize that I had literally been acting like a child with my partner (becoming clingy, dependent, speaking in a “little” voice, and attempting to get my way with adorable cuteness) after realizing that I was suddenly transforming into a competent, serious adult at school.  I felt like I was living a double life at times.  

My Sexuality As an Adult

Following the disintegration of my first marriage with my ex-wife, I came to demonize my inner child who sometimes came out to play in the forefront of my personality around intimate partners.
Life moved on, and I developed new relationships and fell in love with the wonderful, supportive husband I have the privilege of sharing life with now.  Together, we have presented as alternative sexuality educators, been certified as Tantra practitioners, and seen each other through our respective gender transitions (we are a transgender “cross-couple” meaning that I am a male-to-female trans woman while he is a female-to-male trans man).  As we grew and changed as individuals, so did our relationship dynamics begin to morph. 

Now, before I can delve into the heart of this post, I have to point out that my husband and I are involved in the kink/BDSM community.  In that sense, our sexuality and relationship dynamics are alternative.  Now, I don’t want this writing to become a kink or transgender 101 post, but I do feel I must give some frame of reference for those who are either under or misinformed about these terms.  We incorporate things such as bondage, sadomasochism, eroticized role-playing, as well as negotiated and consensual power exchange dynamics into our sexual and romantic lives.  We do what it is that we do with a “risk-aware and consensual kink” framework.  In our relationship with each other, I could be seen as more submissive and he as more dominant.  We structure this in a very conscious and mindful way that we both negotiate from a place of egalitarian love and with our personal needs and health in mind.

Before my husband began his gender transition and was still presenting and identifying as a woman, we were very much in a “Daddy/girl” (non-incest fantasy and non-age related) power exchange dynamic in a sort of butch/femme lesbian sense.  We found this fulfilling both in an affirmation of our gender authenticity and in our seeking a sense of service on my end and dominance and protection on his.  It was during this time in our relationship that I began to simultaneously dig deeper in therapy in regards to my past, coping with growing up in an invalidating environment, and approaching my personal story of “wrongness and worthlessness” I’ve harbored for most of my life.  I was also working with these negative stories in my Tantra work, and part of that process involved conscious age regression in order to identify aspects of ourselves that could benefit from healing.  Much of this was also in healing our sexual selves.  However, I quickly encountered a block.

The Emergence of My Inner Child

Bit by bit, my inner child came to the surface once more, probably in an effort to protect her from more pain as well as attempt to heal the wounds that were present.  I began to act like a little child again, and now that I was in my authentic gender, that child really didn’t want to let go.  She wanted the childhood she never got the chance to have, living as a little girl and receiving the validation and acceptance she yearned for.  As this happened, every time the word, “Daddy,” escaped my mouth it no longer was spoken in the tone of a service-oriented 24 year old woman, but in the voice of a little girl full of admiration and dependence.  I also began to feel “little” when it came to being intimate and engaging in sexual activities.  This had never happened in any of my past relationships, and caught us both off-guard.

My husband, bless his heart, took this in stride and with much cautious concern.  However, I, as my adult self, was overcome with shame and self-demonization.  I don’t experience my little girl (who is 5 by the way J) as an “alter” such as some people do who may be diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID).  I am still very present when my little is in the driver’s seat, and I remember every word and action.  That little girl is my inner child, not someone else with a different name and history.  Still, it concerned us that this little girl also wanted to be sexual.  When I’m little, I experience sex as pure pleasure and love, not as something dirty or to be ashamed of but something that is the ultimate expression of acceptance, love, and validation.  When my little girl discovered how wonderful that felt, after experiencing so much pain and sadness, I, nor her, really wanted to give that up.  I felt like there was real healing that could take place in those moments.  I thought that my husband and I could use this as an opportunity to give my little girl something she deserved all along, a chance to be listened to and validated in a radically accepting and inclusive environment.

I am not recommending that people who experienced childhood trauma use “age play” as a form of therapy.  We went in knowing that the territory we were treading through was potentially rife with landmines, triggers, and emotional meltdowns waiting to be found.  Nevertheless, we both consented, as adults, to explore this.  I’m simply discussing this because I have found that my experience is not quite as much of an anomaly as one might assume.  I’ve been coming across groups dedicated to people who live in the BDSM lifestyle while also living with BPD.  On more than one occasion, I have seen the questions posed, “Does anyone else here have a “little” persona, and do you think this has anything to do with BPD or experience of childhood trauma?  Does this make my little ‘bad?’  Does anybody else use their age play relationship to help you incorporate dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills?”  Then the responses come flooding in with people sharing their similar experiences and questions.  It’s been fascinating to witness.   

Repressed Memories Came to The Surface for Healing

Before this time, I had almost no clear memory of my childhood before age 11.  Things started coming back though.  Many of the memories that came back were happy.  I even remembered my favorite stuffed hippo I had when I was three.  I asked my mom if I really did have that hippo to confirm my memory, and she still had it!  She sent me that hippo as a present for my 25th birthday!  Not every memory was happy though.  I began to remember frightening fights between my other family members that happened at home and were sometimes accompanied by physical altercations and threats.  I remembered hiding, pretending I didn’t hear anything.  I remembered how terrified I was of expressing my emotions and how I learned at a very young age ways to avoid the fights and my father’s anger and verbal onslaught, that my siblings experienced, by staying quiet, out of the way, and passive.  There were still so many gaps though, years lost, things that I had partial memory of but knowing something darker lay hidden there.  We did find landmines and triggers, many were sexual - some were not.  Eventually much later, after months of therapy, I did have emotional meltdowns when I finally began to have flashbacks and re-experience my childhood sexual abuse.  Everything felt overwhelming, too much and like it was unraveling all too fast.  Soon, I wished I had remembered nothing.  This was the risk I took though.

For us, this exploration of my inner child began in the bedroom, an admittedly awkward place for her to show up.  I like to think that she simply felt safe to come out there and wanted to experience the love that was shared in those moments of intimacy between me and my husband.  Slowly, over time, I began to accept my little girl more and more instead of demonizing her, and brought her into my everyday life.  This is where she mostly resides now. 

Accommodating My Inner Child and The Adult Me

My husband can’t be a “Daddy” 24/7, that’s not what either of us signed up for in this relationship.  I've had to learn how to better control myself in terms of “becoming little” a little too often.  We've had to find balance, allowing myself to not depart from the responsibilities and pleasures of adult life, while also creating a space for validating my inner child who wishes to come out and play at times.  If I set aside some time to be “little Aeshe” coloring in a coloring book, watching Tinker Bell movies, or having Daddy tuck me in and read me a bedtime story at the end of the night, I can live my day-to-day adult life largely without unhealthy interference. 

Sometimes she still shows up at unexpected times though, especially when I find myself dealing with distressing emotions.  I have experienced such fear of abandonment that “little Aeshe” would often cry out in protest if Daddy was leaving, or she’d mope around with a pouty lip if she had to go out and do something alone.  As we learned more about BPD, and concepts such as object constancy, we came up with things such as the “Daddy bracelet.”  It’s a bracelet I wear, that Daddy used to wear, that reminds me that he is always with me and loves me.  It really helps.  Sometimes I wear it even when we’re physically together, because I still can experience that overwhelming sense of emptiness (a common BPD trait) and interpret it as being alone even when I’m not.

DBT as Part of My Healing Process

Many DBT skills and especially self-soothing activities are also things that can help our inner children be put at ease.  Gradually, as I've been working on my issues around being overly dependent and confused about boundaries, I've begun to re-parent my inner child.  I know that I can be her “Mommy.”  She needs her Mommy too, and I am coming to terms with the fact that I can’t always expect my husband to fulfill that parent role when I want or need it.  I will often realize that my distressing emotions are more the distress of my inner child, and then I can use compassionate and validating self-talk to reassure the little girl that she is safe, that feelings pass, and that Mommy will do everything she can to protect her from future harm. 

I look forward to witnessing my inner child heal and grow.  I know this is a necessary aspect of my recovery from BPD, and I will stay by her side and validate her.  However, I know that I am now an adult who must take full responsibility for her actions and life.  No one can save me but me.  I don’t want that little girl to think she has to be a victim forever.  I choose to embody the essence of a survivor who has learned to live with and cope healthily despite her challenges.  This is my intention and commitment to my little girl.

-- Mary

Healing From BPD -- One Step at a Time

Healing from Borderline Personality Disorder is not something that happens overnight. And, "healing" will mean something different to each person who reads this post. For me, the healing process has been about not allowing the symptoms of BPD to control my life any longer.  It's not that I am completely symptom-free or that I never react to the symptoms, but I've built up an overall sense of mastery in my capabilities to tolerate the distress they generate and the skills to take care of myself until emotional storms pass.

Here are the symptoms of BPD and how I've seen improvements in my life over the past three years of being engaged and invested in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT):

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

    I used to become so debilitated when my significant other would leave on business or even just when he would go to work.  I'd often end up in the emergency room, exhausted and anxious to the point where I couldn't sleep.  I took every nuance -- a facial expression, a change in a tone of voice, etc. to mean that a person I cared about no longer loved me and would leave me.  (I write about this extensively in my book, Healing From Borderline Personality Disorder: My Journey Out of Hell Through Dialectical Behavior Therapy.) 

    These days -- and I never thought I'd get to this point -- I actually enjoy some alone time. I still get uncomfortable, sad, and sensitive when I must part ways with loved ones, but I estimate that my reaction is only moderately more intense than that of any other person who doesn't want to be away from a person.
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation (also known as "splitting")

    In job after job, I would show up and quickly become the ideal employee. I'd bond with coworkers and bosses and become very attached to them.  Because I didn't have the skills yet to engage in healthy boundaries and to handle the intensity of the emotions that would arise within me, I'd often feel like I "loved" the people I worked with and expected the same from them -- even after only a month's time.

    I quit jobs left and right, and never without a huge scene or crisis of some sort.  I ended up in the hospital after many job quits.   I'd see my coworkers and bosses as so ideal, but if they seemed to not care about me or not respond in ways that I expected or wanted, my perception of them would quickly change, and I'd come up with all kinds of reasons for why they were "no good" and that I "needed" to quit. I justified my actions a lot like this.  I talk about this pedestal phenomenon in my book as well.

    I also did the same in my early to mid-twenties in romantic relationships.  In this area, I would describe myself as having been "out of control," though, I look back on that "young me" with compassion, as she honestly was doing the best she could with the tools she had, and where she was.  I hadn't yet been officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder yet, and I (as well as random health professionals who I would sporadically see over the years) inaccurately presumed I might have been bipolar.

  • Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self

    This was absolutely, positively one of the most distressing symptoms of BPD that I experienced, and it is what ultimately led to my diagnosis.  I talk in detail in the book about the emergency room visit and IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) stay where it was finally determined, through my willingness to openly disclose my struggles around identity (in combination with many other symptoms) that I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

    One of the things that I discovered early on was my inability to conceive of a sense of self when no one else was around. If my significant other was out of town and no one else was home with me, I'd have episodes of sheer terror.  I'd literally cry hysterically and rock myself on the floor. I'd make myself sick sometimes by being so sad and distraught from the intolerable feelings of loneliness and a sense that I didn't exist, that I couldn't sleep or eat.  These episodes often led me to go to the emergency room.  This happened at least a couple of times a year.  I haven't been back to the emergency room for psychiatric issues since June of 2011.

    A huge part of this has been learning who I am through DBT, and it's why I included a huge section on Dialectical Behavior Therapy in the back of my book as a resource for others who are ready to learn and apply these potentially life changing skills.

  • Impulsive behavior in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)

    I had many impulsive behaviors prior to being diagnosed as well as early on in my recovery during treatment.  Most of my impulsive behaviors revolved around not putting time and space between the uncomfortable (and seemingly intolerable) emotion I would experience in reaction to a situation. I'd act right away, often to my own detriment.

    This showed up as hobbies that turned into charges of hundreds (to thousands) of dollars on my credit cards (because I couldn't just explore whether I liked beading -- I had to buy every bead and every accessory they had because "this" was going to the hobby that would stick -- only to have this happen again, and again, and again.)

    Impulsive reactions to emails at work have caused me many problems.  I have learned to put time and space between my initial reactions to upsetting emails, but this still remains a challenge from time to time, as does reckless driving.
  • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-harming behavior

    I often felt distressed from my emotions that I just wanted to escape. I wanted to be locked up in the hospital. There was some part of me that knew I needed to hold on -- that suicidal thoughts were not "normal," and that I had to push through.  I knew somewhere in my heart that I didn't really want to die -- I just desperately wanted to feel my emotions less intensely or to feel something altogether different than what I was experiencing, because it was too much.   Once I learned the skills to help me tolerate such situations, my threats of suicide went away.  I learned ways to express my feelings of desperation in ways that were safe, and I learned how to even tolerate them and reduce them.
  • Emotional instability in reaction to day-to-day events (e.g., intense episodic sadness, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

    The frequency and intensity of my mood swings were rediculous.  My mood was so unpredictable and caused upset for me, my significant other, and others in my life.  I could go from happy to severely depressed with little warning and seemingly for no reason. Through DBT, I've learned that "everything has cause." This means that everything that has led up to this moment was influenced by a chain of events before it. Even if we don't know why our mood has changed, we can rest assured that there is a reason, via memory, subconscious, biological shifts, etc.  Just knowing this has helped me to handle mood swings better. I know longer panic and become immensely dysregulated when I notice a shift in mood.  I just notice it, accept it has cause, use my skills to soothe myself or distract, and remind myself that it will pass. This has been huge in terms of my ability to follow through on commitments even when I "don't feel like it," and to wait out uncomfortable moods rather than acting impulsively to try to feel better.
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness

    For me, this aspect of BPD was hugely tied into a lack of identity and feeling like I didn't exist when others weren't around.  These days, since I've been working on discovering and living by my values (through DBT) and consciously working on building a life worth living, I rarely feel empty.  The space that felt like a void is now being filled with pieces of who I am as well as interests that I am now sticking with.
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)

    For me, the anger outbursts were similar to the suicidal threats. I didn't know how to manage my emotions. I was terrified and tried to convey this, often in unintentionally but very dramatic ways, such as outbursts of anger.

    When I began to apply to concept of "cause" to anger when it would show up, I began taking better care of myself and became better able to de-escalate anger episodes and not take out my emotional discomfort on others.
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

    I still notice these symptoms sometimes, but far less often, and only when feeling extremely overwhelmed, usually by multiple stressors simultaneously.  For the paranoid ideation, I would imagine that my coworkers were "all against me" or talking behind my back and deliberately excluding me.

    I'd think my significant other was cheating, based on no evidence other than my own insecurities and paranoia.

    I'd dissociate often.  It was my brain's way of "checking out" from reality when it became too much.  I'd drift back to a younger age or feel as if I wasn't really in my body. Through mindfulness exercises in DBT, I've learned to ground myself and, amazingly, to even be able to identify the dissociative state and help myself "come back."

As you can see, it is possible to make huge strides when in it comes to the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.   I absolutely love continuing to tell my story, because even if just one person is encouraged or inspired after they read posts like this, I know that my suffering was not in vain, and sharing the overcoming of suffering is where I need to meet a lot of people who are on this journey with BPD.

I hope you feel encouraged and inspired.

Thanks for reading.
More soon.

(PS - Everyone has a different journey. Just a reminder that this post does not intend to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease or ailment. Always consult a licensed professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.)

You may also enjoy reading my post Emerging from the Oppressive Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.

5 Ways to Have a Great Day – Even if Your BPD Symptoms Are Acting Up!

Please welcome blogger Tracy  from The Messy Art of Living with her very first guest post here at Healing From BPD:

First I present to you a scenario that has easily ruined more days then I care to say:

I wake up with the best intentions, bright-eyed and eager to get the morning started. Suddenly an issue smacks me in the face. There I am, feeling triggered and wondering, “now what?”

Here are the top five things I like to do to have a great day, even if my BPD symptoms are acting up:

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1) Freshen Up: 

Pull out an outfit you love, put on some good mood music, take a nice hot shower or bath, put on my favorite perfume and get that day going.


2) Get Out: 

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Have errands to run? Maybe a touch of room in the budget? Add in a trip to that coffee or tea shop, nail salon, or take in a movie. How about 30 minutes or so at the local book store (if you like that sort of thing and won’t be tempted to blow a budget)?

Is your budget a bit tight? Perhaps you could try an impromptu walk through the park with a snack and a drink. Take the dog or kids outside, take a bike ride. Crappy weather and no outside time? Grab a warm blanket run it through the dryer, grab a cup of warm tea or coffee, and read a book, watch some shows, enjoy a movie, cuddle with a loved one.

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3) Get Involved, Be Creative:  

Find some time to do things you love, write, paint, draw you don’t even have to be good at it, just do it for fun! Cook for yourself or others. Sometimes I just love to bake or make a lovely meal and watch others enjoy it. Make a card for yourself or a friend. Paint your nails, paint your kids or friends nails (with permission of course). J Maybe garden, or clean up some indoor plants, give the pet a wash. Take an art class with a friend.

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Improve the Moment &

4) Create A Happy Space: 

Pick up clutter. I cannot feel comfortable or think, let alone be happy surrounded by stuff. It can be around your small space, a room, or you can tidy your house. I find that I feel accomplished and happier after tidying up. This often goes smoother with some positive upbeat music. Spread out a favorite home fragrance, light some candles, refill those reed diffusers or home scents.

Practice "PLEASE" Skills 

5) Get Healthy: 

This one makes so much of a difference for me. I love my omega 3’s, multi-vitamins, and lots of clear liquids. Try your local gym, a fitness class, yoga -- anything to get out there and get going. I can wake up down and out, hit the gym, and feel so energized and ready for my day.

I hope you enjoyed some of my personal favorites and that they can help you, too. No matter what the situation, take a moment big or small, let yourself know you do matter, that it’s ok to feel good, to be happy, and treat yourself special for no reason at all. 

It is possible to have a good day no matter the situation! 



Can you relate to the strategies and skills that Tracy uses to feel better when her BPD symptoms are acting up?  How do you cope and try to have a better day when feeling symptomatic?

Emerging from the Oppressive Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

It can be really frustrating to realize that we are not where we hoped or wished we would be at this point in our lives.  I used to get very jealous and depressed when others my age around me were graduating from college, getting married, starting families, and I seemed desperately stuck in the same drama that I had always been.

Everyone's journey is different, as are their abilities to cope and their resources.  So I didn't go on to college directly after high school.  So I didn't move to the suburbs and have a family with two kids.  There was a time when it really hurt to see others around me having such things and finding success, and it seemed impossible, in my mind, for me to break free.

It wasn't until I started really, really looking at my life: my contributions to situations, the relationships I chose to be in, the circumstances that I experienced growing up over which I had very little control, that I began to take responsibility for what I could  do to change my life.  Piece by piece, the journey continues. The biggest elements have been (and are still in process):

  • Radically and totally accepting that the past is the past. It happened. It can't be re-done. I can't go back and re-do my childhood -- there is no time machine (though we can create healing experiences for ourselves as adults.)
  • Learning why and how I was continually sabotaging my life and how I was the ONE and ONLY person who could put a stop to it and end the drama. (I wrote about this extensively in my books on my experience living with and healing from Borderline Personality Disorder.)

Sometimes we are stuck in our situation so deeply that we aren't even aware that we are in it. Sometime we are aware, but we don't know the first step.  There is hope. If you just know that something is off -- that you're tired of the way things have been going and that you are committed to finding and pursuing a path that will assist you in healing and recovering, it will unfold before you.

Today in my Creative Writing class, I read a poem by a classmate about a woman who was living in the oppression of a domestic violence situation.  It reminded me of this song by Katy Perry, called "Pearl."  The lyrics, ♫♪ Do you know that there's a way out? You don't have to be held down ♫♪ haunt me and give me the chills every time I listen. May you know this truth deep in your bones...deep in your heart, mind, and soul.  Regardless of your gender or what you feel is causing oppression in your life, you may be able to relate to this song in some way.   I hope you'll let me know if it speaks to you.

We are all pearls, but sometimes we reduce ourselves and accept ourselves as just grains of sand.  We can recover from this and grow to the potential that we long to achieve.

There is hope, and if you really want this, you will make it happen.

Thanks for reading.
More soon.

Boundary Bubble for the Emotionally Sensitive Person

We can't end all suffering everywhere. We can't eliminate or even lessen the suffering of some. But, for many of us with Borderline Personality Disorder, and others who are just naturally very emotionally sensitive, we may feel a substantial burden to do so, which inevitably causes US to suffer more.

I'll give you an example. I have two cats who I love as my children.  I recently began volunteering to help manage a feral cat colony.  We provide fresh food, water, and treats to the cats, help socialize them, and clean up their poop.  I feel it's an honor to do this and have already grown very fond of the cats.  I think about them when it's not my day to care for them -- especially when it's raining.  I worry about them. Recently, when getting worked up about it, the thought occurred to me: these cats have been doing well in all types of weather before I came along. They are survivors, and I need to trust that I don't have to be their messiah. They will continue to be okay. I don't have to get worked up about this.

Progress in this area of emotional boundaries, not taking on the intensity of the suffering of others, and trusting that others will carry the baton so that I don't feel that I am somehow (quite unrealistically) responsible for helping all suffering beings, was seen during the recent Nemo blizzard in the north eastern United States.

A thought occurred to me as I followed reports of the storm and got phone calls from family.  I mentioned to my Mom, "Oh my gosh. All the homeless people. What are they going to do?"  My mother told me that measures were taken to open tons of additional spaces as shelters so that the homeless would be protected. I felt calmed. Almost immediately, the next thought came: "Oh my gosh! What about the homeless animals?!?!?!"  My mother didn't have an answer.

I took some deep breaths and realized: there are caring groups and organizations here in California caring for homeless and feral animals. There are certainly similar organizations such as this in the Boston area, and those people would be looking out for the animals in Boston. I didn't have to start calling organizations out there to make sure someone was doing something. I could just calm down and trust that there are many people doing their part, collectively, to help humanity and animals.

Even though I am very sensitive emotionally, often must rein in my emotions, and am working on boundary issues, I can learn to trust that I alone am not singularly responsible for everyone and everything.  It's an important lesson to learn and master.

Recently, in hypnotherapy, we used imagery to imagine that I have a boundary bubble up. I get to decide how much can penetrate it or go out at any given time. I even imagined a plastic, interlocking belt for added protection. :)  I also imagined passing a baton to others when it isn't possible for me to help in the way that I would often like to. I imagine other capable, loving, helpful people taking the baton and performing those acts of kindness and help that must be done. I call upon this imagery when emotions get really intense around boundaries, and it helps! Of course, I hold the baton and do these thing on my own when possible and when not at serious risk of my own health and well-being. 

Can you relate?  When you see suffering or hear of others in need, do you feel compelled to do something to help and then feel helpless or anxious if such helping is beyond your ability or control?  What Wise Mind thoughts do you engage in to help you through such situations?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

Learn more about boundaries and relationships as an emotionally sensitive person in this online Interpersonal Effectiveness DBT class.

Saying "No" For the Sake of Your Own Well-Being

Complicated by the complexities of identity disturbance, fear of rejection and abandonment, and self-esteem issues, I have pretty much always had a desperate need and desire to be liked.  I have found it quite distressing when someone possibly or outright did not like me.  I took it as the end of the world, and if I was feeling good about myself prior to learning of this person's dislike for me, my sense of self would quickly crumble, and any self-worth I perceived to have would crumble along with it.

Because of this, I would pretty much say "yes" to any request for help -- be it at work, school, or even with strangers. The distress that came with the possibility of disappointing someone else and therefore losing their favor was too much for me to bear. It didn't even matter who it was. Even people I quite despised mattered to me in terms of whether they liked me or not.

Perhaps this is because, as a child, I desperately sought the approval and love of those who weren't always kind to me. They were sometimes abusive and neglectful -- yet I desperately wanted them to love, like, and protect me.

Three years into Dialectical Behavior Therapy, I've been coming into my own more and learning and implementing ways to live more authentically and with more self-respect and care.  While I will sometimes still feel pressured by that little voice inside that says it is critical and detrimental if someone becomes disappointed - or, heaven forbid, rejects or abandons me because I say "no" to a request, I've found that it's much more in my interest to take the risk, see that it usually does NOT result in a negative outcome, and that even if it does, I can evaluate the meaning of it through Wise Mind and not let it destroy my day, mood, or sense of self.

I'll give you an example. I am a writer, and in addition to this blog and my two books on BPD and DBT, I have a very part-time small business that involves providing writing services of all sorts. In addition, I started graduate school in January, which is incredibly time consuming and also involves a great deal of writing. To top it off, I will be co-facilitating an online DBT group starting later this month.

In the past week, I've had two requests, one from a friend from high school (who I haven't seen in nearly two decades but am connected to via Facebook) and a family member to do some editing and writing. One was a resume, the other for a personal issue.  Neither offered money for my time and seemed to assume that I would drop everything to take on their requests.  While I often have done just that -- charged nothing and dropped everything to help those I care about -- I realized early on that this was not a smart business model, and I couldn't keep up with it.

I offered to the friend that I would do the resume for a reduced rate and set some boundaries up about how I would need to receive the file information and communicate with her. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with incredibly long emails and pressure to talk by phone, which I had already expressed was not comfortable for me at this time.  

I ended up sending an email letting her know that I realized I was taking on more than I could handle right now and would be unable to help her.  I took a risk that wouldn't have been possible  years ago. I would have been terrified that this friend of the past would hate me and never talk to me again.  Now, I see this boundary setting as a healthy limit that I had to set up in order to take care of myself, which is not a selfish thing!  Spreading ourselves so thin that we can't even get our own needs met by taking on too much helps no one.

By the time the conversation came up with the family member, I didn't have to beat around the bush. I felt a sense of confidence in having practiced being assertive and was able to say, "I totally want to help you, but I just can't right now. "  (Side note: the information that she wanted to share with me was potentially triggering.)  She began to interrupt, "But let me just tell you what it is. So, basically..." I cut her off. In the past, I would feel plagued by guilt and fear that if I didn't let her finish, she would hate me.  This time, I chose to take that risk, my Wise Mind knew it was very low, and choose self-care.

"I'm so sorry," I said. I know this must be hard for you, but I can't take on the project in this moment, and I can't hear this information right now.  She said, "Will you please let me know when you are able to, then?"  I told her yes. "Can I just send you the files now so you can look them over?" she pressed. "No, I'll let you know when I 'm ready, and you can send them then." "Okay."  And, the conversation switched to something else. 

Things may not always go that smoothly. Some people will not be as understanding and may be upset and completely thrown off my your response, especially if they are used to you saying "yes" to everything, even at the cost of self-sacrifice of your own time and health.

As you continue to practice the Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills of Interpersonal Effectiveness, you will grow stronger in your ability to interpret, prioritize, and cope with these situations.

My experience is evidence that it works!

Do you have a difficult time saying "no"?  If so, why? What are the fears around this? What are you afraid will happen?

Talk about a time when you were assertive, how it worked out, and how felt.

Thanks for reading.
More soon.

PS...If you continue to perceive yourself as being walked all over, you may build resentment, as I talk about in this post, "From Doormat to Bitch in 5 Seconds Flat."  It's better to notice and cope with passiveness rather than let it build up.


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