Celebrate Every Bit of Progress – Success with DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy)

Those of us with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), and those who know and love us, are all too familiar with how we are quick to notice, point out, and dwell upon the things we do “wrong.”  As we explore in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), we learn to be less judgmental and more understanding of ourselves and others. Along the way, we make progress and we backtrack.

Let’s not just notice the backtracking. Let’s celebrate each and every accomplishment along the way, too!

There is a small group of us on Twitter who correspond with each other, sometimes using the hashtag #BPDFriends.  Today, this group supported me in my joy over some recent accomplishments, both big and small. It felt really good, and I thank each of you – you know who you are.

Today I shared the following tweet:

Last night, I used my #DBT skills immensely. I prevented myself from self-sabotaging and from hurting others with my words. Proud today.

Here’s the scenario in a nutshell:

I woke up feeling terrible. I had my period, and oddly, I sometimes get aches and pains all over when it arrives. Yesterday was one of those days. I also had a headache and TMJ pain. It was my second day working from home for a brand new client for my brand new business. (Lots of changes! I decided to go out on a limb and try to start my own little company. So far, so good.)

I had to pull myself together to get some essential work done and submitted to the client, and I had a Starbucks date with a dear friend. I couldn’t blow her off (even though I felt like crap). I’d done that too many times and made an agreement with myself that if I could show up. I would show up. I’d canceled on her too many times and didn’t want to upset her.

So, I stretched a bit in bed. I let myself sleep in a little bit longer, knowing that I could afford to do so as long as I really focused when I got up.  I gave myself a little “You can do it” pep talk and got out of bed. I started to complain to myself about all the aches and pains, my period, how I didn’t feel like doing anything.

Then, DBT skills kicked in – particularly, radical acceptance. All at once, my wise mind kicked into gear, and the mature, rational adult inside spoke up. “What would you tell a friend who was describing this situation to you?”

I’ve been using this question a lot lately. Somehow, thinking about how I would respond to someone I care about if they came to me with the type of thoughts, feelings, and conclusions I come up with, leads me to treat myself with compassion and a higher wisdom. It’s quite neat.

On this occasion, I monitored my thoughts, and then I asked myself: “How would you respond to a friend if she called you up and said, ‘I don’t feel like doing anything. I’m not sick, but I’m all achy. I have my friggin’ period and ALLLL this work to do. I hate everything and just want to go back to sleep.”

My response: “I can understand why you would feel SO overwhelmed right now. So much has changed. You’ve gone from unemployment to job hopping to unemployment again. You’d gotten used to being able to stay at home or roam around without any real structure, expectations, or responsibility, so naturally you are a little bit frazzled right now. Remember what one of the doctors in IOP (Intensive Outpatient Hospitalization program) said: ‘Stress is the body’s adaptation to change.’ You are going through SO many changes right now. Just take some deep breaths, and take everything step-by-step. You’ll get through this. This job assignment is a blessing, and you need to use your skills to stay focused, balanced, and to refrain from self-sabotaging. You can do this.”

And, I did! 🙂

I worked all morning and left some time to do my makeup and have a light lunch. I then went to meet with my friend. I was honest and upfront with her about how I was feeling icky and asked her not to take it personally. We had our Starbucks, and I decided to take a couple of Tylenol to help with the pain (which it did, a lot). We went for a little walk and even had time to squeeze in a department store before I had to go to DBT group.  I am so glad that I’ve matured enough to be able to be an adult, in wise mind, thinking before I act and therefore preserving and growing current relationships (rather than sabotaging them.)  I won’t make it sounds like I haven’t backtracked or made mistakes. Just the other day I threw a complete fit in a department store because I felt my significant other “wasn’t being affectionate enough,” but I will not let that incident damper the light of this accomplishment.

Photo Credit

Right after this, I went to group and very actively participated. I enjoyed the guided mindfulness practice on the Marsha Linehan CD for pretty much the first time since I’ve started DBT.  I refrained from answering every question that the doctor asked, allowing others a chance to speak…and I learned from what they had to say.

By the end of group, the physical pain was gone. The Tylenol had kicked in.  I no longer felt nauseous. (I don’t think I’d mentioned before that I had been, but I am one of those people where if the pain is bad enough – including a headache – it turns my stomach.)  I went to the grocery store and picked up a few needed items. Then, I got home, made dinner, and straightened up — even though I still didn’t feel 100%.

That friendly, wise-mind spoke up whenever I wanted to just throw a fit and “not do anything.” I can still hear it now: “If we did things based on whether we felt like it or not, most things wouldn’t get done.” It’s not that I am advocating that we don’t take care of ourselves. If we are actually sick and need rest, by all means, I think we should lay down. But, I know my body and knew what this was all about.

I took a prescribed muscle relaxer for the TMJ and related/radiated pain. It helped.  I worked some more, completely messed up my computer and printer by tinkering around trying to fix something else, and voilà. I had another opportunity to practice DBT.

I know how terrible this is going to sound, and of course I would never act on it literally, but I became so frustrated (infuriated) about my situation, that I felt like tearing out my eyeballs and yelling at my significant other (who was patiently trying to help, by the way).

I began by “just noticing.” I started to deep breathe. I then did an opposite action. Instead of screaming, I spoke softly. Instead of lashing out at my significant other, I thanked him for being so patient and trying to help. I told myself I’d work on the issue for 20 more minutes, and if it wasn’t resolved, I’d take a break and watch some TV to cool down.

The problem was resolved in 20 minutes. During those 20 minutes, when I would feel myself escalate, I identified the emotion and accompanying thoughts I was having:


“This thing is broken forever.
I’m an idiot because I f*cked it up.
I’m never going to fix this.
I’m not going to be able to get the project done for the client.
I hate myself.
I hate everything.”

Accompanying Emotions:



Mind, you I went from calmly working to having all of those emotions and thoughts…literally in minutes. But, I noticed it and took hold of my mind.  The DBT groups are working!!! 🙂

I noticed how quickly I went from 0-100.  I noticed that my thoughts were exaggerated and a bit irrational. I was able to identify, from my wise mind, that I was operating primarily in emotional mind. That’s when I was able to begin practicing the skills and preventing self-sabotage, self-harm, and hurting my significant other with my words.

This was a long one. I hope it has helped you in some way to understand something about yourself or someone else.

More soon.

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