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How I've Learned to Manage Conflict in Life With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Fighting with your partner or loved one is hard enough without a mental illness to contend with. Nobody enjoys conflict. Yet, arguments can occur in even the healthiest of relationships as we explore the things weighing on our minds and express challenging emotions. However, when a mental health problem is thrown into the mix, it can make these tensions even harder to navigate, particularly when it affects our emotional regulation, our ability to control the manifestation and intensity of our feelings.

As a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD), conflict resolution can be difficult. What can initially begin as a peaceful discussion regarding a problem that has arisen can end with me hysterically sobbing or screaming vitriol at the top of my lungs. I don’t ever want to get to that point, but sometimes, it feels near impossible to control my mind. Some perceived slight by the person I’m fighting with can lead me to just snap.

This does not happen as often as it once did. Before I understood some of the maladaptive behaviors and coping mechanisms manifested by my BPD, all I knew was I had a hot temper and a short fuse. After my diagnosis, I was able to access the right kinds of resources to help me cope with my illness, but that doesn’t mean I get it right 100 percent of the time.

My partner tends to bear the brunt of my anger, taking over from the role my parents once fulfilled. A wrong tone or a mistaken comment can send me into a paranoid rage, shouting things that I would never say in a more stable frame of mind. I hate the person I become. I hate that I have it in me to say such hurtful things to the people I love and care for. I hate that it is an inescapable part of who I am and that this hateful anger is inside me. Sometimes, I hate that I have to work to constantly keep that in check.

Regulating your emotions is hard with BPD, period. Regulating anger can be even harder. The insults and nasty words sit at the tip of your tongue, begging to be heard, and because this is arguably one of the uglier symptoms of BPD, it is discussed less frequently than other traits. This means there are less resources and information on regulating it. It takes constant work to control that fury and practice self-restraint, especially when BPD tells you that you don’t want to constrain your feelings.

Nonetheless, with work, it can be done. The thing that I have found to be most helpful is to simply force myself to step out of the situation for 10 minutes. Physically removing myself from a situation affords me the space to gain some perspective, and lets me reflect on my emotions to assess whether an argument is really worth having. Sometimes, this is all it takes to get out of that head-space, just a few minutes alone to cool off and consider if my interpretation of things is actually true to reality.

I have also been able to apply this to other issues relating to my BPD, such as impulsive behavior. Telling myself that if I still feel the same in 10 minutes, then I can act on it allows me to sit with the feeling. I, then, can allow it to pass without taking any action, and therefore, there are no negative consequences.

Although, as I said, this doesn’t work every single time. However, by allowing myself to take a breather and gain a better perspective on things, I have found I am more in control of my BPD than I have ever been before. Sometimes, all we need is a little time to sit with our feelings and allow them to pass, getting back into a more stable, calmer frame of mind.

When this doesn’t work and sometimes the emotions are just too intense to sit and cope with, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you have failed, and feelings of shame and guilt that may surface consequently are not fair to yourself when you work so hard to regulate your disorder. Don’t berate yourself for the times you have struggled. Congratulate yourself for all the progress you have made.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: December 21, 2016
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