Study Sheds Light on BPD Symptom of Emotional Regulation

One of the characteristic symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is an inability to appropriately regulate emotions. People diagnosed with BPD often experience intense emotions in very black-and-white terms, preventing them from being able to cope effectively with what they are feeling or experiencing.

A new study published in last month’s Journal of Abnormal Psychology provides some insight into how this BPD symptom affects women with Borderline Personality Disorder. For the study, researchers examined emotional regulation from the perspective of emotional granularity, which refers to the specificity by which a person represents emotions. About 50 participants, both with and without a BPD diagnosis, were asked to perform tasks that assessed how they expressed emotions using valence (feeling pleasant or unpleasant) and arousal (feeling calm or activated).

The researchers discovered that women with Borderline Personality Disorder have lower emotional granularity than women without BPD, and are prone to use more valence information and less arousal information when expressing emotions. That means they are more likely to react emotionally in a way that is disproportionate to the situation and to be unable to properly distinguish between emotions. For example, their reaction to their boss telling them they need to revise work they’ve done may be represented in the same way as their reaction to their boss telling them they are fired. 

Effective Treatment for Emotional Regulation

The right type of treatment can help people with Borderline Personality Disorder learn to manage all of their BPD symptoms. One treatment in particular – Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – specifically focuses on the symptom of emotional regulation.

DBT was developed for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, and emphasizes the development of four skill sets: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation. Through DBT, you can learn to listen more closely to your emotions and better manage them.  

DBT, which is often offered at residential and day treatment centers for Borderline Personality Disorder, emphasizes the following techniques for more effective emotional regulation:

  • Observing your emotions
  • Differentiating between primary and secondary emotions
  • Learning how to react to events that are both in and out of your control
  • Effectively describing your emotions so you better understand them
  • Experiencing your emotions
  • Increasing positive emotions and self-feedback
  • Reducing painful emotions
  • Becoming mindful of your current actions
  • Learning how to take opposite actions

Dialectical Behavior Therapy uses individual therapy and DBT skills groups to help people with Borderline Personality Disorder reduce their emotional vulnerability and decrease their emotional suffering through mindfulness skills. By treating your BPD using Dialectical Behavior Therapy, you will be able to better recognize and express what you’re feeling and regulate your emotions so that you can have more effective relationships.

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