BPD, Trauma, and WHY the f*#k did I just say that?!

As an emotionally sensitive person or someone with borderline personality disorder or BPD traits, have you ever found yourself saying anything along the lines of the following, all the while regretting each word as it’s coming out of your mouth?:


to a spouse/partner… “I HATE you and want a divorce….” “I can’t do this {relationship} anymore…”
to an employer… “I HATE this job, and I QUIT!”   
to your child… “I miss what life was like before having kids!”
to anyone who’ll listen… “I should just kill myself*!”


The guilt, shame, and remorse that can arise during and immediately after speaking words such words to a loved one can feel unbearable. 


This article is not about excusing anyone from speaking to loved ones in this way, but rather an opportunity to gently examine what might be happening in these moments when we find ourselves asking,
WHY the f*#k did I just say that?!”
with curiosity, self-compassion, and empathy for ourselves and the other person.


There have been times in my life when I’ve uttered these types of things, noticed someone was finally listening and felt vindicated. I’d been hurt or screwed over by the other person, or at least that was my perception…and after years of being in an actual victim role (abusive situation), my nervous system was on red alert for any semblance of someone violating my boundaries or disrespecting me.  I was very quick to jump to defensive, hurtful, sometimes vicious speech.  But why? 


Human beings often lash out and attack, whether it be physically or verbally, when we feel threatened. Even if we are not in any grave physical danger, someone who has experienced trauma and then perceives in present time that they are being violated, deeply disrespected, or disregarded  – especially in a moment of emotional vulnerability – may utter harsh words as a protective mechanism.


The words serve as an attack that push the other person away and create a sense of space and safety.  But if you are regretting those words as you’re saying them, what’s really going on?


Perhaps it occurs to you that you don’t want to finish that sentence, but there’s no way you’re willing to be vulnerable and let your guard down.  
You may feel sensations in your head, throat and abdomen that feel like indicators that this action ‘isn’t right,” even as, perhaps, another is witnessing the interaction and you’re hoping they’ll back you up and take your side.


Even though a person may seem (and feel!) horrible when they are uttering harsh words, if they are also experiencing regret and remorse, body sensations, or a knowing that this isn’t what they really want to be doing, what’s going on?

These can all be signs that the action (the hurtful speech) is not in alignment with who the person really is and what they REALLY want in that moment. 


Human beings are thought to not do anything, really, without a purpose – without an attempt to meet some need.  While the lashing out may be an attempt to fill the need of feeling safe and powerful in the moment, what might have led up to that moment may have been a very different need.


For example…


Someone might say:


 “I HATE you and want a divorce….” “I can’t do this {relationship} anymore…” not because they truly, in their heart of hearts want to actually end the relationship, but perhaps because they feel so desperate for the other person to understand how deeply they are hurting or wanting a need to be met in the relationship. In the moment, it may seem as though this “9-1-1 language” feels necessary to get the point across and be taken seriously.


Someone might say:


“I miss what life was like before having kids!” not because they truly wish they hadn’t had their kids or because they actually don’t want them anymore, but perhaps because they are feeling overwhelmed, overloaded, and are desperate for some support around having some time to themselves somehow, and this “9-1-1 language” feels necessary to get the point across and be taken seriously.



Someone might say:


“I should just kill myself!*” or “I don’t want to live anymore*” not because they truly want to end their life*, but perhaps because the internal emotional distress, regulation, anxiety, and conflict feel like too much to bear and they don’t know how to get relief from the pain, and this “9-1-1 language” feels necessary to get the point across and be taken seriously.


You see the pattern: there’s a need to be seen, heard, and taken seriously. There is often an associated cry for help: pay attention to me, I need you, I need time to myself to restore.  
When we don’t trust in the moment that our needs will get met by outright asking for them (due to past abuse or a pattern in the existing relationship), 9-1-1 language may feel like the best option.
But anyone who’s used it and regretted it knows the damage choosing to do so can cause – to the other person, the relationship, and to ourselves. 


Our words and choices have impact.


So, how can we prevent deferring to 9-1-1 language?


One of the first things we can do is take a regular check of our self-care status. You might ask yourself, on a scale of 0-1000, with 0 being no distress and 1000 being the most distress ever and barely tolerable, where you are each day.


If you note that you are at 800 on a given day, you’re already almost at your capacity for handling stress, annoyances, and upsets.  Something that might feel relatively minor or just irritating on a day where you’d gauge your distress level at, say, 400, might just be enough to push you over the edge and feel like a full-blown crisis.


When we have an episode of lashing out with words and take a step back, it’s not uncommon to discover that we’ve been operating at almost full capacity for a while.


So how do we reduce this number and create more spaciousness – more room in our nervous systems so we’re not feeling as if we’re always operating at nearly our breaking point?




Self-care looks different for everyone. And, right now, in addition to talking about daily self-care habits (i.e. getting enough sleep, eating well, and getting movement) we’re also invited to think about which pleasant activities we can incorporate into our lives – daily – that will allow us to decompress, unwind, and relax. 
All of these activities can help us reduce our perceived stress level on that 0-1000 scale.


Perhaps you’d enjoy:


·         Sitting or walking in the park or somewhere else out in nature


·         Strolling through your town


·         Antique shopping


·         Sipping on a peppermint mocha at a nice café


·         Taking a luxurious bath or shower with essential oils or scrubs


·         Watching a non-triggering movie or TV show


·         Listening to soothing music


·         Doing a guided meditation


·         Having fun taking pictures and playing with photo editing


·         Cuddling up with a pet


Or if time is really limited:


·      Getting up before everyone else (or staying up later) and sipping some herbal tea with fuzzy slippers on and looking up at the night sky or while watching a favorite show, listening to good music, or scrolling through a social media platform that you don’t find triggering {for me, that’s Pinterest.}.


·         Absolutely taking those 10-15 minute breaks at work and sitting quietly in your office, outside under a tree (perhaps bring a nice yoga blanket), walking around the building or outside, or sitting in your car to get a few minutes of peace and rebalancing. You could practice mindful breathing, listen to a quick 5-minute meditation track on the free app Insight Timer, or perhaps have a nourishing snack or hydrate.


·         Bring a “book on tape,” i.e. use a CD, mp3, or stream something like audible in your car while driving attentively and safely and stuck in gridlock traffic…or you might have some music queued up. On apps like Spotify, it’s possible to make some playlists available offline so you can listen to them in situations where there isn’t any wifi.



Look for moments of opportunity to nourish your body, mind, and soul…and take them!


And, self-care is only a part of it. In addition to tending to our nervous systems, we must also proactively engage in problem-solving. 
If there’s a need we have that isn’t getting met, how can we go about skillfully asking for this need to be met and asserting how important and serious it is to us without bringing 9-1-1 language on board?


One idea is to express, verbally or in writing, through the DBT DEAR MAN format, a skills template that guides you asking for what you want with the intention of making the ask effective as possible.


Another is to use DBT Distress Tolerance skills to “buy time” when you’re nervous system is emotionally activated so you don’t make matters worse in the moment. (You can learn these skills online at DBT Path.)


And yet another is to ask a support person, such as a therapist, to be present when you initially bring up the issue with the other person.


And, if you find yourself in one of those heated moments, I personally know how incredibly difficult it can be to CHOOSE to step away, calm down, soothe your nervous system and then return to skillfully ask what you want – but please remember that IS POSSIBLE.


I hope this article helps you to tap into even just a little bit of self-compassion around this issue and gives you hope that you can choose differently in the future and have a different outcome.


Be well!


In kindness,




LEARN MORE: Debbie DeMarco Bennett, BSc., CLC is a DBT-trained certified life coach who teaches DBT skills online to emotionally sensitive people around the globe at emotionallysensitive.com. She is in recovery from borderline personality disorder herself and now thrives an emotionally sensitive person thanks to learning DBT.


*We must always take threats of suicide seriously and point those who are experiencing such thoughts toward a qualified mental health professional. Sometimes, a person will gain clarity once they feel truly heard and realize they have needs that are not getting met and are seeking to meet those needs. Other times, they are truly in danger of harming themselves. It is critical that we take all talk of suicide and wanting to die seriously.



2 replies
  1. Miss Peggy
    Miss Peggy says:

    Love this article,,,,you are so right. It can be lonely when you do not feel heard and understood. There are times when one has to listen to themselves and figure out what it is that they really want and need, then go after it. Thinking with Wise Mind of course and not Emotion Mind. <3 Miss Peggy.


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