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Why I Had to Go Back to Step One in Borderline Personality Disorder Recovery

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Over-focusing on negative self-talk is not healthy — it simply perpetuates cycles of recrimination, shame, self-criticism and eventually maintains the negative coping mechanisms or behaviors I’m criticizing myself for in the first place. But I have been reflecting on a recent relapse that took me back to places I don’t want to revisit anytime soon. It made me do some things that were harmful to myself and others as well as some that were destructive and self-sabotaging (to my recovery, my relationships and my progress) — and some that were merely embarrassing (but still best to be avoided).

I really felt I needed to delve a little into the things that happened and try to look squarely at my thoughts, feelings and motivations. In doing this, from a clear head, it was, I felt, necessary to indulge in some negative self-talk because I needed to take a long, hard look at myself and try to locate the specific things I want to pin down and do my best not to repeat or continue — as well as identifying fissures I’d opened in my relationships with myself and others so as to make appropriate repairs.

So I let my inner critic off her leash, but with limitations. I gave myself some time to write and draw the things my behavior had made me think and feel about myself. And this drawing was part of that process. The big challenge is not to sink into the criticisms and jump on the self-flagellation train. But to pick up the reigns of my life once more and acknowledge these feelings with radical acceptance. What happened has happened. It is what it is. It’s time to move forwards unless I want to stay here in this negative spiral.

I now know that the next step is a return to the very basics of my dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills. The core mindfulness skills. And before that, simple breathing exercises, because without these I struggle to even slow my mind down enough to manage the basics. But through practicing them regularly, I have before, and can again, gain a level of control over my thoughts and feelings and a sense of internal space, perspective and stillness I never thought possible.

So I’m going back, back, back to step one. And it does come with a certain heart-sinking sensation. “Am I really going all the way back?” But back to the beginning of my therapy is not as far back as relapse. So it is still a move forward from where I have been for the last week in particular, but in reality, for the last few months. And it’s a baby step, but it’s the right step to regain control of my life. I need to slow right down and start to observe and describe my emotions and behaviors again. And to respond non-judgmentally to my thoughts and feelings. These are the key skills for me to focus on now. They helped me gain control over my self-destructive and impulsive behaviors before, and they can help me regain that sense of control and stability. So in essence, negative self-talk can and does lead to very dark places. But when done from wise mind, it can also be helpful if done carefully, with purpose.

Getty Images photo via Nathings

Originally published: March 19, 2018
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