Tag Archives: Coping

Sense of Self Part 3: Support Your Sense of Self

“Identity disturbance” is a benchmark symptom of BPD, characterized by “markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.” This sense of not knowing who you are can manifest in many ways, and many people with Dyslimbia struggle to cope. In this blog series, we’ve discussed the importance of directional thinking and coming to understand and predict your own behaviors. In this final part, I’m throwing together some of my miscellaneous thoughts about Sense of Self.

Self-Affirmation

One of the best ways to continuously encourage and strengthen your sense of self is to affirm it. Self-affirmation means honestly complementing yourself. Some people struggle with this—myself included. It can feel so silly to self-affirm, and I have such a hard time believing what I’m saying, like that “I’m attractive” or “I’m a good person.” Most days I don’t really believe I’m worth anything. In order to combat this, first find a method of self-affirmation that you can live with, and then repeat it enough so that you slowly start to accept it.

Someone recommended that I look at myself in the mirror every day and say my self-affirmation aloud; I couldn’t stand doing this! Instead, what I try to do is write out examples of when I’ve done things worth being proud of; and in my journals, I frequently assure myself that I’m doing the right thing and that I’m a good person. Find a form of self-affirmation that works for you. Though you may have to force yourself to do it on most days, if you self-affirm enough, your mind will slowly start to believe the things it hears.

Friends and Family

You will never have a stable sense of self if you are not in a supportive environment. Even if you were self-affirming every day, if you are surrounded by toxic people, your mind won’t be able to accept the good things you’re telling it. Toxic people are people who cause you large amounts of stress or people who put you down or discourage you. It’s extremely important for people with Dyslimbia to have supportive people around them. If possible, try to make sure you have at least one friend or family member who will study your “sense of self” with you—somebody who knows and accepts you for who you are.

Directional Thinking: Using Objects

Directional thinking is the continued process of channeling your thoughts in one direction, or toward one theme or lesson. Making sense of self your “theme” to think on for a while can be very beneficial. In everything you do, try to draw things back to how they relate to self-understanding. My best friend came up with a great idea to aid this kind of directed thought.

Pick an object that is carried with you or is frequently within sight. This could be a bracelet or any form of jewelry, a clock, your favorite pen, your water bottle, or even your shoes. Then, every time you catch yourself looking at or touching the object (e.g., fidgeting with a bracelet), remind yourself of that day’s theme and think on it—consciously direct your thoughts. This use of objects seems like a great way to help directional thinking, and I’m excited to try it myself.

This Week’s Personal Example

This is an example from my life of how it can help you to have a good sense of self. I frequently battle with suicidal ideation, and due to certain circumstances, I knew that the suicidal thoughts were going to be worse in the next few days to weeks. Knowing this about myself, I then designed a plan; I made a list of ten things I can do to distract myself next time I start thinking suicidally. In order to make an effective list, I had to know exactly what kind of activities would work for me and which ones wouldn’t work. For example, I didn’t put “do chores” on the list, because that takes me a lot of energy and might make me feel worse in a crisis. Instead I listed more mindless activities, such as watching anime, playing my favorite card game, and reading a book.

I can’t stress this enough: unless you know yourself very well, coming up with effective coping strategies will be nearly impossible. So take some time, please, to develop your sense of self and battle the dangerous Identity Disturbance.

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Sense of Self Part 2: Know Thyself

Developing a Sense of Self

One of the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder is “Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.” What this means is different for everyone, but basically it’s a sense of not really knowing who you are. This can be debilating, and many people with Dyslimbia struggle with it. Therefore, it becomes useful and even essential to develop a good sense of your own identity. There are several ways that beginners can go about doing this.

Goals

When it comes to developing a sense of self, it’s important to set goals. This is because “knowing yourself” means knowing what you want. Most people have life objectives or plans for their career or living situation, etc., but it’s much more important to list short-term goals—even daily ones. Meeting those goals will boost your self-confidence and sense of self, and you can learn about yourself from your failures and shortcomings, too. As for me, I have the following daily goals: Do some exercise (even if it’s just a short walk), find a social activity (such as calling a friend on the phone), engage in something therapeutic (talk counseling, mindfulness exercises, meditating), do something relaxing, do something useful or helpful (chores, work, etc.), and be sure to eat enough. You can also benefit from having personality goals; for example, I want to be a “Courageous, Healthy, Helpful, Capable, Strong, and Self-Controlled” person.

Personal Example

Examining your reactions to certain events or your patterns of thought can also help you develop a sense of self. For a personal example from last week, I meditated and examined my responses to grief and loss. This is because a death occurred in my family last week. I realized that my pattern of grieving is generally as follows: Shock, Anger, Guilt, Depression, and slow Acceptance. Knowing this about myself means I can better monitor and understand my responses and behaviors. When I feel like blaming someone for my cousin’s death, I make a mental note that this is normal Anger-stage grieving for me, and try to behave kindly, not judging myself, until I am past that stage.

Personality Type

Another interesting way to work on your sense of self is to find out your personality type. There are many types of personality tests and some are more helpful than others. I have always found the Myers-Briggs Typology to be the best test for learning about oneself. In this test, you are given a four-letter Type (there are 16 total) in response to your answers. Each letter represents a different dimension of behavior or character. I am an INFJ.

The first dimension, I versus E, means extraverted or introverted. While introverts get most of their energy from being alone, extraverts usually draw energy from other people in social interactions. The second dimension is sensing versus intuitive (S and N). Sensing types are generally more practical and in touch with their senses, and think about things in terms of parts and pieces. Intuitive types usually prove more abstract and theoretical, thinking about things in terms of the big picture. T and F stand for Thinking versus Feeling, and this depends upon how you make most of your decisions. If you are very objective in your decision-making, you are probably a T, while an F thinks subjectively. Finally, the fourth letter would be J or P, Judging versus Perceiving. J types show more organizational and planning habits, while Ps tend to be more spontaneous and flexible.

With a test like the Myers-Briggs, you can understand a) where you draw your energy, b) how you relate to the world, c) how you make your decisions, and c) how spontaneous or premeditated your actions tend to be. Knowing this much about yourself can be really helpful. With better understanding comes a better chance of adjusting your behaviors.

Remember that understanding yourself can help you in a pinch. When you feel empty or dissociated or extremely out of it, having a solid identity to cling to can save you.

Sense of Self Part 1: Directional Thought

What is Directional Thinking?

Many people with BPD struggle with negative self-image and difficulty controlling their thoughts and emotions. The fight to gain control of my racing emotional thoughts can be debilitating. That’s why I’ve decided that practicing “directional thinking” is a great idea.

Directional thinking simply means focusing your thoughts on a particular theme or idea, in order to have more control of the “inner dialogue” that everyone possesses. Many churches have discovered this secret and use it by writing or reading daily spiritual devotionals. The devotionals give you a particular theme, topic, or Bible passage to think hard about. Every time you catch yourself thinking scattered or emotionally charged thoughts, try to fit or redirect your thoughts into the “theme” given that day.

Not everyone likes spiritual devotionals, though. I’m an atheist, for example. In a case like this, you must think up your own self-devotional. Pick a theme you want to think about, something that has a lot of bearing on your life. For my first “devotional,” I chose to think about my Sense of Self for a week. I’d like to share my experiences with readers in this multi-part blog series on Sense of Self.

Identity Disturbance

Everyone goes through times of uncertainty or change, and everyone makes occasional decisions they later regret or don’t understand. For people with Borderline Personality Disorder (or Dyslimbia), though, these occasions are chronic and recurring. One of the criteria for BPD is “Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.” What this means is different for everyone, but basically it’s a sense of not really knowing who you are.

For me, “identity disturbance” manifests in several ways. First, since I also have a dissociative disorder, I sometimes feel like I have multiple personalities. My desires are so conflicted between totally different options, to the point where I feel like I am more than one person. Even if you know you don’t have multiple personalities, though, identity disturbance can still be very real and very frightening. I often become mentally anguished because I have this idea of who I’m supposed to be, and yet I’m doing things that don’t fit with that model, leaving me confused and frustrated. Identity disturbance is different for everyone, so if you care to share, please comment below. At any rate, it’s a problem that most people with BPD have to battle.

Today’s Example

In order to have a more stable self-image, it’s important to have goals concerning what kind of person you want to be. For instance, I want to be a “courageous, healthy, helpful, capable, strong, and self-controlled” person. Then, when I feel I don’t know who I am, I think about small steps I can take to become more like my ideal self. Equally as important, I give myself examples of how I’m already a person who shows many of those qualities. Let’s look at an example of this kind of directional thought from my own life.

Last night, I made an unwise decision and drank to excess, waking up today sick and hung-over. I also slept in very late, and realized my goals for the day could not be met thanks to my bad decision. On top of that, I received an invitation to a job interview on very short notice—with an intimidating company. As a result, I began to have a lot of racing thoughts, crippling anxiety, and intense self-loathing. Then I considered what I could do to calm my thoughts, and remembered my theme of Sense of Self.

Distracting from my panic, I told myself what I had done recently that proved I am “capable, strong, and self-controlled.” I thought about what small steps or actions I could take toward my goals, and how each one would prove I am “courageous” or “healthy” or “helpful.” To my surprise, exercising this directed thinking helped me through the intense anxiety until my medicine had time to kick in.

In summary, I believe directional thought could be a great tool for people with Borderline. In the next part of this blog series, I’ll continue discussing my experiences as I try to form a stable sense of self.

Explaining Dissociation Part 3: How to Cope

Review

So far, we have learned about the common types of dissociation that people with Borderline/Dyslimbia may experience.  We looked at personal examples of Dissociation interfering with life. Now you, the Dyslimbia patient, may be wondering, what can I do to help myself with this problem?

Some people may feel they need no real help. If dissociation does not actively interfere with your life, then don’t worry about it. I knew one person with regular dissociative amnesia who was content because he would tell his friends his forgetfulness was due to alcohol. I, however, recommend seeking help if dissociation interrupts normal social interaction.

Psychotherapy

The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that most dissociative symptoms are due to trauma (and/or, for borderlines, an inability to process stress). Because of this, the best treatment is talk therapy. Therapists can help patients work through traumatic memories and learn ways of coping with stress. This is a slow process that may take years, but the medical and scientific communities are fairly confident in the general effectiveness of talk therapy.

Medications

The National Alliance also notes that medicines are sometimes used for dissociation.  When people are being treated for dissociation with a co-occuring problem, such as depression, the antidepressant medicine may also help the dissociation.

Helpful Tips– 

Here are some practical things you can do to help treat dissociation. Some are taken from the web article “Coping With Trance States: The Aftermath of Leaving.”

1) Stay Healthy.  Exercise can help many people feel less “zoned out.” Some people with dissociative disorders may become worse when drunk or on certain drugs, so either avoid these substances, or always use with extreme caution and a friend nearby.

2) Avoid Triggers. Certain areas, people, experiences, or thoughts can trigger dissociation. For example, when I experience extreme loneliness I tend to dissociate. While a therapist can help you slowly adjust to your “triggers” — the things that make you dissociate– you should not try to do this on your own. Avoid overwhelming situations wherever possible.

3) Keep in Touch with Reality.  You may find having a regular daily schedule helps you stay grounded. Calenders and to-do lists can help with this.  Reading regularly can help comprehension, which might over time reduce the feelings of “zoning out.” Keeping up to date on something — like world news, for example– might do the same.

Remember, dissociation can be one of the scariest things you will ever experience, but it doesn’t have to rule your life. Even if we feel like we are trapped inside the prison this terrible disorder created for us, we must maintain hope for the Great Escape.

 “Coping With Trance States: The Aftermath of Leaving.” http://www.nwrain.net/~refocus/trance.html

 “Dissociative Disorders.” http://nami.org/content/contentgroups/helpline1/dissociative_disorders.htm