People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are frequently in states of extreme emotional distress. Their perception of other people’s behaviors is often seriously skewed, they almost always fear abandonment from those closest to them, and they may suffer from debilitating self-hatred.
Living with these devastating feelings every day and having no ability to self-soothe can cause a person with Borderline Personality Disorder to act out in disturbing ways. When their emotions overwhelm them and cause them to feel out of control, they may attempt to control others in unhealthy ways or engage in self-harmful behaviors. For this reason, learning to self-soothe is a crucial skill for anyone in Borderline Personality Disorder treatment to work on.
What Is Self-Soothing?
What does it mean to self-soothe? In very basic terms, self-soothing is the ability to calm yourself down when you are experiencing emotional distress. Most people do this regularly without even realizing it. They know that the way they feel in the middle of emotional upheaval will not last forever.
Some people may take a hot bath, go on a long walk, call a trusted friend or family member for moral support, put on music they enjoy, watch an escapist movie for distraction, or write in their journal about what happened that upset them. Usually simple activities like these can lessen the intensity of their emotions and return them to a more stable state of mind. These are acceptable ways that people work through a disturbing event.
How People with BPD ‘Self-Soothe’
The instinct in people with Borderline Personality Disorder to seek immediate relief from negative emotional states manifests in damaging and unhealthy activities that include substance abuse, depression and isolation, self-harming, and raging. They seek to unload or change the negative feelings they are experiencing, but engaging in destructive behavior simply serves to exacerbate emotional distress rather than relieve it.
Self-Soothing Skills in BPD Treatment
Learning self-soothing techniques and effectively implementing them is necessary for a successful recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder. For people with BPD, it may not be possible in times of great distress to imagine that their intense feelings will eventually pass.
While in BPD treatment, people with Borderline Personality Disorder are taught to de-escalate their emotions before those emotions take over and cause damage. Part of this process is learning to sit with a negative feeling and work through it instead of making frantic attempts to transfer that feeling to others.
Borderline Personality Disorder can cause people to constantly blame others and feel victimized by the people who are “making” them feel bad. In order to get past that dysfunctional perception, a person with BPD must take responsibility for their feelings and commit to not acting out.
Many people with BPD lack a solid sense of identity and struggle with feelings of emptiness, and they often feel unworthy of love. Adopting a more loving attitude toward themselves is quite difficult for them but it is something that can be successfully addressed through therapy. When someone with Borderline Personality Disorder can at last accept that they are deserving of love, care, and attention, they can then begin to give loving and caring attention to themselves instead of working themselves up into ever-increasing states of anxiety and pain that result from emotional dysregulation.
Like any new skill, it will take patience and dedication to turn self-soothing techniques into healthy habits. However, the achievement of gaining greater control of heightened emotional states is the key to a successful recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder.