BPD: There is Strength in Vulnerability
I had an interesting experience this week. Most of you know that I co-facilitate a weekly 90-minute worldwide, online DBT class with licensed social worker Amanda Smith, LMSW over at DBT Path. Because I am in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and very infrequently have symptoms/criteria that show up in my life anymore, I tend to teach as someone who has “been there and done that.”
This is not to say that I do not sometimes have my moments, because I do. Sometimes my emotions get really intense, and I am not always skillful and effective in how I manage them. Most of the time, yes. All of the time, no.
I’ve tended to stay away from sharing any recent struggles with my students, putting the focus on them, emphasizing the skills, and allowing them to talk about how their personal situations affect their own ability to be skillful or not. It had been a while since I filled out a DBT worksheet and shared it with the class as a demonstration and personal example, but this past week, with the agreement of my co-facilitator Amanda, we did just that.
I filled out an Emotion Regulation 1a worksheet (now the 4A) from Dr. Marsha Linehan’s new DBT Handouts and Worksheets book. I talked about frustration and anger that I recently experienced when I felt embarrassed about a typo at work and after a slew of technological nightmares, including having a work report that I worked on for an hour “disappear.” I remember deliberately “saving as” in the same folder I save my report in each week, and I even pressed the little “save” icon every few changes that I made to the document. I went back to add something to it, and it was GONE. Even Microsoft’s remote access tech couldn’t restore it. There was no trace of it. I cried. I swore. I got VERY upset. As a chill pill, moment of pause, I filled out the Emotion Regulation 1a worksheet because it felt to me as if my emotional response/reaction was a bit disproportionate to the incidents that happened.
Is it perfectly understandable that I’d feel embarrassed over a mistake that others saw?
Of course, that’s human — and if you have a sensitivity about that, even more so. I am thankful that a kind colleague pointed it out to me privately in an email rather than publicly. I know I need to slow down in this respect, as this is one of my flaws. I get so excited, and sometimes my fingers move faster than my brain.., click…click…click. I refer to myself sometimes as the Typo Queen, and when in treatment for OCD, the CBT doc actually had me do an exposure of purposefully sending out an email with a typo to see that it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It took me WEEKS to work up to agreeing to do that. I do know that no one is perfect, including me. I know that my FEARS were connected to my interpretations around the tiny mistake (Ha! They see you’re not perfect! You messed up! You suck!), and this is what fueled my anxiety about this.
Is it understandable that I might have a mini freak out over losing a lengthy, detailed document that I needed to submit for an upcoming meeting? You bet your bippy.
But I was REALLY, REALLY feeling upset. On the worksheet, I wrote about my anger, and what ended up being the most helpful was reflecting later on the Emotional Vulnerabilities section. This is where you fill in what circumstances in your life might be influencing your ability to be emotionally resilient in this moment in time.
For me, the items included (skillfully and healthfully) reducing caloric intake to lose some weight, which makes me a bit grumpy, other technical issues that happened with my tablet the night before, and a medical appointment coming up later this week that is very scary for me.
Looking at the causes of my emotional vulnerability gave me compassion for myself. I began experiencing anxiety attacks after feeling vulnerable for having shared in class, so I quickly shifted into self-care mode. I did a progressive muscle relaxation mp3. I stayed on schedule and focused on work tasks. I went to yoga. I made sure to get enough sleep and to stay hydrated and eat balanced meals.
I emailed my students for feedback on my sharing as part of a reality check. Their responses were overwhelmingly positive. They thanked me for being vulnerable. Three of them said that hearing me share authentically, to the point where they could hear the emotion in my voice, meant something to them. They felt more connected with me and less alone in their walk. They appreciated seeing that I am human too. Some said it was their favorite class to date. Even though I am in recovery from BPD, I still need to keep practicing the skills and be accountable to others on my own personal journey.
I found this so encouraging. I worried that they may have been judging me negatively, thinking I was weak, or thinking “Who is she to teach DBT?”, but instead I got “you walk the talk, Debbie.”
There is beauty and strength in vulnerability. Being willing to share our difficulties in a safe environment while proactively working to become/stay skillful with a Wise Mind plan of action helps us and those who witness our willingness to make this healthy choice.
The anxiety has passed, and I’m feeling grateful and strong.
Thanks for reading.
I wrote this article this week for the Roanne Program on BPD: Disclosure, Boundaries, and Treatment, and it’s getting lots of social media love. Check it out!
Big Hug! Your students are wise…you should walk the talk. How else would you be able to talk if you didn't experience the walk both past/present and future. No one is perfect and being perfect is no fun. Being imperfect we learn and improve. And being open although it creates vulnerability it also creates opportunities to be loved unconditionally.
Shannon, thank you SO much for your kind words and the virtual hug! You truly made my whole day. I appreciate it! ♥