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  • Writer's pictureSonia Neale

Borderline Personality Disorder - S.T.O.P. Stop, Take a Step back, Observe, Proceed mindfully

The gold standard for therapy with people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). One of the components of DBT is Distress Tolerance.

As someone with a recovered lived experience of BPD, one of the Distress Tolerance skills I find the most useful is S.T.O.P. So when I am triggered by an event, a person, a thought, a feeling, a behaviour, a memory, a sensation or even a dream, what I do is Stop, Take a step back, Observe the situation, and Proceed mindfully.

This has worked for me in many situations including one incident with a co-worker when I worked at a mental health organisation many years ago. We were both very different people with diametric ideas, and a mutual dislike and distrust of each other. Neither of us were bad people, we just had this silent antipathy towards each other and, for me, it was “sensed” and remained unspoken until it was spoken.

One day when I disagreed with her on something, she turned and launched into a verbal attack, working herself up into a lather, and she started screaming and frothing at the mouth at me. I was highly triggered by this, but I stopped and did nothing, I just let her vent and vent and vent. Then our supervisor came roaring in, grabbed her and read her the riot act while I was there listening and as innocent as a lamb. Had I retaliated and screamed back, I would have been in trouble as well.

The most curious and interesting (and gratifying) part of this was being able to possess the wherewithal to step back and watch her kick off. Don’t ever underestimate this ability, it works on so many levels. All sorts of accusations came pouring out her mouth, very inflammatory material, such as she didn’t like me, was never going to like me, didn’t like my opinions, my views………and that is fair enough.

We are not going to get on with everyone in this world. The gratifying part for me was that I am usually the one who flares up, shouts obscenities, says all sorts of slanderous comments, hissing and spitting as I do. To watch someone in real life “mirror” my histrionics was truly enlightening. A lesson I have never forgot.

When I am in the company of others, having a drink and sharing a yarn, I can get this desperate, pressurised, burning sense of urgency to share something I think is funny (and it isn’t), or something deeply controversial, such as what Donald Trump or Margaret Court said, or something that may have the effect of shutting others down with sarcasm. I weigh the pros and cons up in my mind, but most of all consider the consequences on myself, so that on the way home I don’t have to regret something I didn’t say.

I tend to sleep well on those nights.

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