People who have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) tend to struggle with managing their emotions. In particular, social situations and social relationships can be triggers for emotional distress. Because of this, the holidays can become a particularly difficult time of year. Office parties, family get-togethers, friend reunions, and holiday dinners all tend to occur around this time of year, often leading to an increased amount of emotional distress for men and women with BPD.
What sort of emotional distress are we discussing? Well, if you have BPD, maybe you can relate to the following emotional difficulties.[i]
Emotional sensitivity – You feel easily hurt. Small things set off your emotions. You expect to be rejected and prepare for the worst.
Emotional reactivity – When something upsets you, you tend to react strongly. At times, your emotions are expressed at a higher intensity than fits a situation. This includes both intense positive emotions and intense negative emotions. Emotional reactivity can demonstrated with outward reactivity or turned inward, resulting in self-destructive behaviors.
Slow return to baseline – Once you become upset or emotional, you struggle to return to a calm and neutral baseline of emotions. It might take you hours or days to be able feel yourself again.
If you see yourself in these descriptions, you aren’t alone. These are common struggles that many people with BPD and other diagnoses deal with. Don’t beat yourself up about this. Instead, know that there are strategies you can turn to that will help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way.
Avoid Bad Habits
Think back to the holidays last year and consider any bad habits you used to manage your emotions. With lots of social parties, perhaps you turned to alcohol. Maybe you became upset with yourself about how you handled a family situation, and so you turned to self-criticism. Or, you just tried to suppress your thoughts regarding behaviors you regretted. On the other hand, maybe you knew that the holidays hold a lot of triggers for you, so you avoided any situations that could have brought about an emotional reaction.
Alcohol, avoidance, self-criticism, and thought suppression are unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions.[ii] Consider if you have a tendency to adopt these unhealthy strategies. Or, if you can’t find yourself on this list, consider what other unhealthy strategies you tend to use.
Adopt Healthy Strategies
As you move into the holidays, the key is to identify the bad habits you want to remove and then replace them with healthy habits. Here are a few to consider.
- Prepare for social situations ahead of time.
This is one of the most important things you can do over the holidays to manage emotions. The high emotional reactivity and sensitivity that people with BPD experience tend to happen in response to stressful social situations. Prep yourself ahead of time before you interact socially. Decide how you will respond in various scenarios that upset you. Begin to develop an awareness of your tendencies in social situations so you can make better choices. After you’ve decided how you want to behave in these situations, spend some time doing some imagery. In your mind’s eye, see yourself behaving in more effective, more skillful way. Practice this daily, leading up to the events.
- Logically assess and problem-solve after social situations.
Preparing helps, but there may be mistakes. And this is okay. After a social situation, do a self-assessment of how it went. One specific question to ask yourself is if you displayed any tendency to see problems that weren’t actually there. Sometimes, in the moment, it can feel as though someone is mad at you or rejecting you or upset, when this isn’t the case. Maybe they were just having a bad day or weren’t feeling well. Think back and objectively assess the situation and how you responded.
- Accept your emotions.
Finally, as you go into the holidays, assume that you will experience some negative emotions. The holidays tend to be stressful for many people. It is normal to experience a variety of emotions during this hectic time of year. It is a good practice to begin acknowledge and accepting your emotions instead of reacting to them. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel without judgement. Throughout the holidays, find a regular time each day to practice acceptance of your emotions.
Get the Help You Need
There are many steps you can take to manage your emotions on your own. However, it may be helpful to seek out professional help at an outpatient treatment center that provides treatment for individuals with BPD.
A trained therapist can guide you through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which provides a number of specific strategies for managing emotions. DBT treatment is highly effective in treating individuals with BPD, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and a variety of other diagnoses. Your therapist may also choose to incorporate cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to help you consider your thinking patterns and how they contribute to your emotional difficulties.
As you enter the holiday season, now is a great time to get help. Finding the right treatment for BPD can help you prepare for the social season ahead.
[i] Dixon-Gordon, K. L., Peters, J. R., Fertuck, E. A., & Yen, S. (2016). Emotional processes in borderline personality disorder: An update for clinical practice. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, Advance online publication. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/int-int0000044.pdf
[ii] Aldao, A., & Dixon-Gordon, K. L. (2014). Broadening the scope of research on emotion regulation strategies and psychopathology. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 43, 22–33. http://dx.doi.org/10 .1080/16506073.2013.816769