How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Changed My Life with BPD

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All of my life, I knew that I had a unique personality, specifically because of the patterns that I would see in my interpersonal relationships.

I always had a small circle of friends who I was extremely close to, but I was very possessive and jealous. It was the same way for intimate relationships, but even worse. In both cases, small disappointments would cause me to react extremely. I could love someone more than I loved myself one day, but if they cancelled our plans the next day, I would immediately cut them off without question.

Although I do feel like I’m a very loving person who is more loyal than the average person, I can also be extremely cold. This icy part of my personality always comes out when I feel that I can’t trust people, which is frequently. I often view people who I don’t know as people who are potentially “out to get” me even when I have never observed their personalities. I also have a hard time viewing situations as being both good and bad. For someone like me, a situation or a person is either good or bad and they can’t be both. This style of analyzing life events is called “black and white thinking.”

For a long time I struggled with deciphering why I felt such strong emotions, and why my reactions to those emotions were so explosive. I had started going to therapy as a freshman in high school, as I was depressed about being a closeted gay man who was often made fun of or called a “faggot” in front of an audience. My therapist was a clinical psychologist, and after two sessions, he diagnosed me with depression. I continued to see him for about three years non-consecutively, but I was never satisfied with my experience. It felt nice to talk about my issues and get them off of my chest, but I always felt like my therapist was arguing with me by telling me that he didn’t believe that I felt how I told him that I was feeling. I stopped seeing him during my sophomore year of college.

After two years passed, I found myself in a relationship with a guy who was the love of my life. There was not a thing that I wouldn’t do for him, and every day he consumed my thoughts and made me feel complete. Sadly, despite it being unwarranted, I was always suspicious about him cheating on me or lying to me about his whereabouts. During an explosive episode just after New Years, which involved me accusing him of having a sexual relationship with his best friend, we broke up and I experienced the worst emotional pain that I ever had in my life. But as an adult with accountability, I accepted that many of the issues in our relationship were caused by me not finding the capability to trust him. I knew that because my emotions were unpredictable that something had to be wrong, and it certainly was not just depression.

About a month after my ex moved out of my apartment, I went to a psychiatrist for the first time in my life and I explained my symptoms and how they were detrimental to my relationships with family, friends, and mainly lovers. It was then that he asked me, “Have you ever heard of a borderline personality?” Immediately, I felt relief. For years I had researched different disorders and thought that borderline personality disorder (BPD) sounded a lot like what I experienced, but the therapist who I was going to in high school had told me that I didn’t fit the diagnostic criteria for BPD. Once my new doctor corrected the previous doctor’s mistake, it felt as if my entire life now made sense. Immediately, he recommended that I find a counselor close to home, who could treat me with dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). In addition, he prescribed me a medication called Atarax, which is a non-addictive anxiety medication, which he told me to take during times when I feel that I can’t control my anger.

The next month I started DBT, and began to notice results almost immediately. Dialectical behavior therapy was designed by a woman named Marsha Linehan, who is a psychologist who suffers from BPD herself. DBT is a 24 week therapy that treats BPD by teaching sufferers of the disorder about how to be mindful, how to tolerate distress, how to regulate emotions, and how to be effective with interpersonal relationships. Within a month of starting therapy, I noticed that I was much less judgmental and much more trusting of my family and friends. I also stopped allowing my break up to consume my mind, and sooner than later, I was able to go days without thinking about my ex.

Due to BPD making it hard for me to trust others, I was never a social person and spent most of my time alone, living a solitary lifestyle. Sure I have best friends, but I never made friends who I could have fun with outside of my apartment. However, after 3 months of DBT, I had made four new friends who I would hang out with outside of my home. All my life, the thought of being social gave me anxiety, but after DBT, being social was something that I found to be positive, as it instantly gave me a better outlook about my life and taught me that not everyone is out to get me.

Although I do not consider it to be my favorite benefit of DBT, what is perhaps the most important benefit is that since I started DBT, I have not had an urge to cut myself. Any person with a borderline personality knows that self-mutilation is a common coping strategy. Typically, we use self-mutilation to distract from our emotional pain with physical pain, but also to punish ourselves for our emotional episodes, which we feel ashamed of. Due to DBT’s inclusion of mindfulness, I have since been able to calm myself before I get to the point where cutting becomes an option. Mindfulness has employed me with the strategies I need to look at the big picture and change negative thoughts into positive ones.

Among all of the benefits of DBT, my favorite is that I am no longer a black and white thinker. Prior to DBT, I would meet guys for dates, but immediately dispose of them upon learning that they liked to go to bars or had a lot of gay friends. Both of those things always made me think that they couldn’t be trusted and that because they spent a lot of time intoxicated with other gay men, that they were for sure cheaters and not worth my time. However, after being more social and going to bars with my own friends, I realized that not everyone who likes to go out, does so in hopes of meeting other people to have sex with. When I go out, I don’t even dance with other men, which helped me see that it is possible to enjoy going out without it resulting in infidelity. Not thinking in black and white has helped me to be more accepting of other people, and showed me that it is possible for situations and individuals to have both good and bad traits. Just because I don’t see eye to eye with another person, does not mean that we can’t coexist or have a successful friendship or relationship.

Needless to say, my life after DBT has been less stressful than it ever has been. My mind is no longer consumed with racing, negative thoughts, and I have learned to stop assuming the worst in every situation. DBT led me to a life with more friends, more fun, and more alacrity than ever before. With that said, for the rest of my life, I will do my best to inform people about the benefits of DBT, especially when crossing paths with other BPD sufferers like myself.

More information about dialectical behavior therapy can be found here.

Check back soon for more guidance on living with BPD!