Tolerating feelings and emotions is something I’m still trying to get to grips with. This is a mammoth task for anyone at times, but is something people with borderline PD often struggle with. The inability to tolerate certain powerful and overwhelming emotions can cause a number of problems, such as anger management issues, self-harm (as it can alleviate overpowering emotions) and impulsive behaviours (sometimes behaviours that can put people at risk) such as wreckless driving, binge eating, over-spending, promiscuity. The reason behind these problems usually stems from a persons inability or unwillingness to tolerate how they feel. The behaviour usually leads to a dramatic change or shift in their feelings. Some of the feelings that can come from these unhelpful behaviours could be numbness, feeling free, feeling more in control or a feeling that you deserve to suffer (these are just a few examples and everyone is different).
For me, I avoided sitting with those overwhelming emotions usually by self-harming. Self-harm was the only way I knew how to change or reduce the intensity of my feelings.
For example, if I felt angry it was usually very intense and I had a strong feeling that I would completely lose control of myself. So once I’d harmed myself, the intensity of the anger reduced (like it was releasing my emotions) and I then felt in control again. This was a vicious circle I was stuck in, and it was only when I started trying to tolerate those emotions that things started to change: i broke that cycle. I remember lying in bed one night feeling extremely angry over something. I was so angry I wanted to punch something or scream and shout. Then came the self-harm urges, but I talked myself through it. If I lay there and kept myself as still and calm as possible I could focus on reminding myself that feelings come and go. That the way I felt at that moment would not last forever. And even though I felt like my whole body was about to explode, I could reassure myself that it was just a feeling and it could not harm me. Eventually I must have calmed down, because I fell asleep. Of course when I woke up, those intense feelings had subsided and the situation felt less overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really difficult thing to do, to sit with these horrible emotions and not act on them, but they do pass off eventually.
During times where your emotions are overwhelmingly strong, try to tolerate them, and ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that could happen right now’ – most of your answers may be irrational fears (ie when I felt I was going to explode it was important to reassure myself that this was a feeling that couldn’t harm me and my body was not going to explode).
The truth is, you have to be prepared to try new things and to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Nobody likes that, but if you don’t challenge your thoughts/feelings/behaviours they won’t change or improve. You also won’t learn about your strength, but we can all be very strong when we need to be. We, as humans, tend to push through things and move forward. But the only way you can start to move forward is by clearing your path of any barriers or by finding or creating a new/different path for yourself.
Give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen?