This is something each of you can consider doing for your partner to help them understand and know you better, especially for those times when emotions run high. Maybe you have never thought about describing these things before. If that is the case, you might need to journal a bit to ask yourself how you would put into words your responses to the following questions.
- What are the physical sensations, thoughts, emotions and beliefs that you have when you are triggered or dysregulated?
- Why is it so hard to “choose” your behaviors when you are triggered or dysregulated? Why is it so hard to stop yourself from saying harsh words or doing negative or self-harming behaviors?
- What is your plan for yourself that you are going to put into place for when you are triggered or dysregulated?
- What do you want your partner to know about you in advance, and keep in mind about you, for during the times that you are exploding/experiencing these triggers or times of dysregulation?
I am writing today to tell you what I’ve told my husband about what it is like being me, a person with the condition of bpd.
- What are the physical sensations, thoughts, emotions and beliefs that you have when you are triggered or dysregulated?When I’m triggered, I feel like my thoughts about your words and actions go lightning fast into pain that is like a red-hot poker being jabbed in my gut over and over, every second that goes by. And this is accompanied by thoughts/beliefs that you are saying to me, “You don’t matter! You don’t matter!” with each jab of the red-hot poker, over and over again until the trigger subsides. I believe I don’t matter to the person I love most in this world! The emotional hurt is excruciating. It’s unendurable, yet I must and do endure it every day, or however often I get triggered as a result of having this mental health condition.
- Why is it so hard to “choose” your behaviors when you are triggered or dysregulated? Why is it so hard to stop yourself from saying harsh words or doing negative or self-harming behaviors? When I’m triggered, I feel like I would do about anything to avoid feeling the unendurable emotional pain described above. Sometimes I think that it will lessen if only I can get you to agree how horrible the pain is; if only I can get you to say how I’m “right” about what I’m perceiving and experiencing. I explode in pain, and in my explosion I want to get you to see the excruciating pain I am in and see that I have “no bandwidth” in my brain for anything else, such as tuning into how I am affecting you in this process. It feels like I only have “brain bandwidth” for me, for trying not to feel the excruciating pain, for doing almost anything to “make it stop,” and for trying to get through these moments of pain, including sometimes by screaming, yelling, sobbing uncontrollably, slamming doors, throwing down the pen in my hand or verbally striking out with loud, harsh tones and negative words. For others, perhaps it’s cutting or self-injury–reacting in a way that is not rational and that just seems to be driven by something beyond myself and just seems to “come out of the pain,” and for which I later feel great shame and regret.
- What is your plan is for yourself that you are going to put into place for when you are triggered or dysregulated? For me, I am trying to take a break from “talking when angry”–just STOP (DBT skill: stop, take a breath, observe, and pause) speaking; maybe I do a breathing exercise(s), a mindfulness exercise(s), or an “opposite action” or the TIP skill (change your Temperature, do Intense exercise or Paced breathing); maybe I write in a journal, ask myself what I am feeling and why, or maybe I ask for what I need as soon as I know what that is. Afterwards, I must ask myself if there is behavior I just engaged in that I need to own, apologize for, and repair. I might say to myself and my loved one, “I’m trying my best and sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not.” I might have variations of in-between, where I start off yelling or speaking sarcastically or harshly, and then I catch myself and try to “just feel the pain” and know it will pass and remember that I will want to be in this relationship once it does. It’s a constant struggle to somehow get my behavior under control and repair.
- What do you want your partner to know about you in advance, and keep in mind about you, for during the times that you are exploding/experiencing these triggers or times of dysregulation? What are the truths about your heart that you want your partner to know in advance about you, even for times when you are acting in ways that scream the opposite? For me, I say that when I’m “in” my bpd emotions, or triggered, I still love you and don’t want to hurt you AND know that I am so overwhelmed by pain that it feels like someone is stabbing me in the gut with a red-hot poker. For some, maybe it is like a parent is screaming at you “I hate you!” 6 inches from your face when you are 2 or 3 years old. Or maybe it is like you are a burn patient with third and fourth degree burns who gets touched and you jump sky-high. Or, for some women, maybe it’s like you are having back-to-back contractions in childbirth that are a 9 or 10 out of 10! Consider whatever image seems to put into words what you are going through. For me, it feels like it’s being done TO me, not coming from me or under my control. I say to my husband ahead of time, “Please know that my emotional explosions are not about you. It’s like my brain is doing something on its own, like a brain-flare-up or a brain signal that is hard for me to control.” (See Blog No. 1 for the picture of a sample brain scan of the borderline brain.) “I want you to know ahead of time, that I still love you and don’t want to hurt you. I am so overwhelmed by my emotional pain at these times that it feels like I am being stabbed over and over in the gut with a red-hot poker.” “I want you to know that the stuff that comes out of my mouth during those times is a reaction to my bpd brain wrongly believing that it’s being done TO me, rather than coming from me.” And, especially want them to know that, “Bpd pain is not a choice!” I also say, “When this happens, I will come back to you later, when I come down from my high emotions and behaviors, to hear what it was like for you and repair.”(Future blogs will be about using this knowledge about you and your partner in 60-second I-statement “repairs” or “regroup” processes.) HINT: don’t just share this one time with your partner. They will need to hear it many times over many months, and years, in order to keep it at the front of their minds during your emotional explosions. Sometime, when I know we are about to discuss something where emotions run deep, I say, “Just remember, I am particularly sensitive about a lot of things and that is totally about me and the way I’m wired. It is not about anyone else. Period.”
- The information in this email is not a substitute for medical care. You need to continue with your regular doctor. If you have serious mental health issues such as severe anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, seek professional help now. Call 911 if there is a medical or safety emergency. The suicide prevention help line is 1-800-273-8255.
- © All rights reserved.