“Oh no, what have I done?!”
How many times have you had this thought? It seems like you’re trapped in a never-ending cycle of doing things you regret, then wondering why you did them.
I’m talking about impulsive behaviors such as substance abuse, quitting a job, lashing out, and self-harm. There are many types of impulsive behaviors, and they all involve doing something suddenly without thinking of the consequences — and the results can be disastrous.
The problem of impulsive behaviors
Impulsive behaviors are common in emotionally sensitive people. Believe me, I’ve been there. For a long time, I was quite bewildered by my impulsivity. It made no sense to me the things I did sometimes. I’d impulsively say or do things that damaged important relationships, cost me jobs, and that even had effects on my physical health. Why?!
I *needed* to understand. And, there I was – again – in the emergency room, feeling out of control of my emotions, scared, and wanting someone to please help me reel it in…to feel safe…to feel some sense of peace or contentment.
Then there was the other side of me that thought I wanted to die. The truth was somewhere in the middle. I wanted to escape and leave behind the tormenting pain I was experiencing. I was tired of living in crisis mode. But I had literally no clue what to do to stop the vicious cycle.
My emotions felt unbearable. I would go from sadness to despair in a nanosecond and joy to feeling overstimulated and anxious in the same amount of time. And I worried each time that *this* was it — the time I’d lose my mind and go crazy.
Maybe you’re in a similar place right now where you’re confused by your own behavior, and you know something’s wrong and something needs to change, but you feel like everything is out of control.
This is the cycle you’re going through:
You experience a strong, sudden wave of negative emotions, and it’s overwhelming. You feel like if you don’t do something, this pain will last forever. You feel pressure to do something right now to stop the pain.
You quickly do an impulsive action to respond to the negative emotions.
The impulsive action relieves the pressure in the immediate moment, but before long, the consequences catch up and you regret what you did.
The cycle repeats, and you get into a habit of impulsive behaviors.
Why do we keep doing this?
This cycle keeps happening because you’re looking for a way to regain control in the midst of chaos. That’s how it was for me. Super quick backstory: I experienced childhood trauma — abuse and neglect. I also experienced major abandonment by caregivers, more than once. I always believed something was bad, off, or wrong with me. I was convinced of it.
Maybe that’s why it felt so foreign when things were going smoothly. It was as if I’d become conditioned to rocking the boat. I had experienced so many hardships that I just expected that another one was right around the corner. At least if *I* were the one to f*** it all up, I’d have a sense of control over the situation.
Breaking the Cycle
Do you feel this way, too? If so, it’s time to break the cycle. You can learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills and use those skills to help you cope with negative emotions. Then the next time you experience a sudden wave of negative emotions, you will be able to escape from the pressure of needing to do something immediately to stop the pain.
That means whatever problem you’re facing, you’ll be able to deal with it by carefully thinking about what you’re going to do and responding in a way that makes sense. Instead of doing things you regret, you can handle negative emotions in a way that makes you feel proud of yourself.
This is called distress tolerance. Distress tolerance is the first thing you’ll learn in our upcoming online DBT class, which is taught by myself and Dr. Kathryn C. Holt, LCSW. In this 9-month class, you’ll learn how to tolerate distressing situations so that you can stop resorting to impulsive, destructive behaviors.
This is just one of many things taught in this comprehensive class that’s designed for emotionally sensitive people like you. By the end, you’ll know how to use DBT skills to gain control over the negative emotions that have been weighing you down. You’ll have more joy and a lighter heart.
The class begins on November 1st. Click HERE to join.
Hope to see you there. In the meantime, please take good care and
Debbie of Healing from BPD