Some things to remember if you are struggling with your BPD diagnosis
No one every wakes up one morning and makes a decision to have a personality disorder. It doesn’t work that way. If you are struggling with your BPD diagnosis, these are some of the things I want you to try to remember.
1. It’s not your fault
BPD is no one’s fault, least of all yours. There is some scientific research that is pointing to issues with brain chemistry in a key part of the brain called the amygdala which is a very primitive part. This is where our fight or flight responses live. When we perceive a threat of any kind, this response is triggered. It is a chemical reaction in your brain and you can no more stop it than you change the colour of your eyes.It causes us to either want to run away from danger or fight to save ourselves. The fight or flight reaction is a hold over from when we lived in caves and literally had to go out and hunt for food and defend ourselves against predators. Though we no longer have to do those kinds of things, this response still lingers. As awful as it can be to experience it, the fight or flight response also helps keep us safe. Call it that little piece of “gut instinct” that tells you something isn’t quite right. So, you don’t want to get rid of it entirely.What you want to do is learn how to manage it in cases where the threat is only perceived rather than real.
2. I believe that much of our BPD symptoms can be attributed to learned behavior
What exactly is “learned behavior”? Humans have very large brains which is part of what helped us evolve and not become extinct. This means that we have tremendous capacity to learn new things. But not everything we learn is good for us. We learn from our parents and siblings and peers. Later, we learn from our teachers and fellow students. So, if you have a parent who has a problem with expressing feelings: anger, sadness or happiness, chances are very high that you will “learn” this way of expressing your emotions too. If you see your parent lash out when he or she gets angry, then that is the way you think anger should be displayed. This is not a conscious choice but something that is internalized from a very young age. Luckily, these kinds of things can be unlearned.
3. You are not a monster
How many times has someone told you that you are a monster? While you may feel like a monster after you’ve had a bad meltdown, you are NOT your symptoms. We have meltdowns because we don’t have the proper skills to handle stressful situations. DBT teaches something called distress tolerance.
The link will take you a site that gives you an overview of what distress tolerance is and how to use those skills. But I like to tell people that DBT really isn’t a “self-help” kind of program. It is usually taught in a group setting because we benefit from groups by sharing experiences and discussion about trial and error.We teach people to think about BIG emotions being like a wave. They come in and they are HUGE but they will eventually crest and then fall and then level out. One the biggest things I tell people when teaching them DBT is that the skills give you a buffer zone, they help you put distance between your emotions and your reactions. Distress tolerance is a very important component of DBT. The best part about it is that once you learn the skills and start integrating them into your life, you will see differences fairly soon. They become a self-perpetuating cycle of empowerment rather forcing you into the self-perpetuating cycle of failure after a meltdown.
4. You are not a manipulative shrew
’ll bet you’ve been ranked out hundreds of times and called manipulative by people in every facet of your life. But none of us are born manipulative. Again, learned behavior. Not necessarily from our family of origin but we resort to manipulative behavior when everything else we have tried has not worked. When we succeed with manipulation, THAT is the payoff and THAT is how we learn that the behavior works. But, manipulation is highly passive-aggressive and it will only get you what you want for so long. Eventually, people will withdraw from you because they don’t want to be used or abused or taken for granted. How do you change that? By learning assertiveness skills. Assertiveness is part of DBT but I incorporate these skills into my teaching program fairly early on because it is important to not only learn the skill but to also practice it. When you learn assertiveness it gives you a voice so that you can ask for what you need. Will you always GET what you ask for? No. But it helps you learn to communicate your needs in a positive way which dramatically increases the odds of them being heard and acted upon by the other person. I believe that assertiveness should be taught in all middle schools. It is one of my best DBT skills that I pull out of my emotional toolbox at least once a week.
These things can be really hard to remember but if you are feeling down and spending a lot of time invalidating yourself, try to thing about them. BPD is hard enough without dwelling on all these kinds of negative thoughts about yourself. Love yourself. Give yourself some slack and, above all, give yourself some space from your feelings and your reactions. The feelings will pass if you give them enough time and space.
Learning just a few of these DBT skills can put you back into control of your life. Learning DBT changed my life. It took me from being a victim and feeling helpless to being a champion and an advocate for myself.