“DBT” (which stands for “Dialectical Behavior Therapy”) is a type of therapy commonly used by people with borderline personality. The purpose of the DBT Skills Series is to share information, techniques, and strategies among borderline people. You can include these in your current therapy regime or use them on your own.
As someone with BPD, I’m often anxious, suspicious and terrified of abandonment. If a friend texts me to say “can you give me a call when you get the chance?” I immediately assume that they’re going to tell me something awful, like that they have suddenly realized that I am a terrible person and so they hate me and they never want anything to do with me ever again. By the time I’m dialing their number, I’m probably close to tears.
When I was talking a little bit about positive interpretation on my personal blog, I described it as basically forcing yourself to assume the best possible intentions behind other people’s actions. I have never gotten a text from a friend who wanted me to call them just so that they could tell me they secretly hated me, you guys. Not once. But I have gotten texts from people who wanted to discuss a plan of action in detail over the phone, or who wanted to vent about frustration without needing to use spellcheck, or who don’t have an unlimited text plan but do know that I don’t check voicemail. Positive interpretation is about recognizing that the anxiety some people’s behaviors introduce is unfounded and telling yourself sternly to chill the fuck out and think about all of the more plausible explanations.
- I ask myself “does what I’m afraid of really make sense? what are the more likely explanations? what has happened previously in situations like these?” Once I think of the many non-disastrous, non-terrifying things that might really be going on, my anxiety starts to decrease. To bring it down further, I breathe deeply and slowly. I repeat the likely explanations to myself over and over until they sink in. For example, when a friend doesn’t call me back for a few days, I might initially become convinced that they hate me (or worse). But then I’ll make myself think of the more likely explanations: they’ve been busy, they’re planning on seeing me in school, or maybe they just forgot.
- I also keep a “positive interpretation log” in my journal. Every time I use positive interpretation to decrease my anxiety and give me a more realistic perspective, I add a new entry. My log has four sections: date & time, the triggering event, what I told myself, and how it made me feel. This log shows more explicitly what other people know from memory: that positive interpretation usually makes you feel much better, and that it gets easier the more you do it. The more I prove myself right about a situation, the quicker I am to adopt a positive interpretation the next the same situation crops up. I’ve been doing this for just a few weeks, and already major triggers have become much easier to deal with.
- I also distinguish between probable crisis situations and situations that just resemble crises. If my abusive ex gives me a call, for example, I’m allowed to throw the phone to the other side of the room and start crying, because that call probably is a bad sign. But if someone with an unrecognizable number calls me, I need to acknowledge that my panic is just because I have a false association between phone calls and boundary violations. Since I can’t reassure myself that it’s just a friend, I need to find other ways of calming myself down: deep breathing, reminding myself that there are a lot of reasons for someone new to be calling me, and answering the phone to see who it is.
-Positive interpretation can dramatically decrease anxiety!
-The decrease in anxiety also makes it easier to function. I’m more likely to be proactive about things that I feel okay about as opposed to things that terrify me.
-Over time, positive interpretation starts to happen naturally and triggers disappear or become dramatically less pronounced.
-It also becomes easier to identify when someone in particular is intentionally putting you in crisis situations. When you’re always expecting that your friends are clearly just about to ~abandon you forever~ or start a huge argument, it’s hard to see when someone really is constantly picking fights and making manipulative threats of abandonment. When you learn to expect that things will work out fine, someone who “creates drama” or is outright abusive becomes an obvious exception and not the rule.
Other skills to look into:
-Trigger avoidance: to decrease my overall anxiety, I usually ask closer friends to avoid communicating with me in ways that I find particularly anxiety-provoking. Much like positive interpretation, trigger-avoidance also decreases the feelings of crisis in my life and makes it easier to pick up on actual red flags in people’s behaviors. (For example, when my dad ignores my requests to not YELL AT ME LIKE THIS OVER EMAIL, I recognize that as a problem with his behavior and not an inherent part of conversation).
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