There are positive and negative coping skills you can use when you’re stressed. As a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD), I have to work especially hard to use the positive coping skills. The negative coping skills, such as self-harm, are my default coping skills. Recently I’ve learned a few things that make choosing the positive coping skills easier.
A List of Ways to Avoid Negative Coping Skills
know Your triggers.
One of my negative coping skills–one very common in people with BPD–is self-injury. However, self-injury does not occur in a vacuum. In order to self-injure, I have to be triggered–in other words, something has to happen to make me hurt myself. The key to avoiding this is by knowing what these triggers are.
For example, a common trigger for a person with BPD is an argument with a friend. This can lead to feelings of abandonment, which is the worst fear of a person with BPD. Feeling abandoned can be so overwhelming that a negative coping skill–such as self-injury or dissociation–is triggered. The reliance on a negative coping skill can then cause the person to feel bad about himself or herself, which can strengthen the negative mood, resulting in even more of the negative coping behavior.
Triggers are a no-win situation. However, knowing triggers can lead to avoiding them, which can lead to avoiding a negative coping behavior.
Know Your Reasons.
Knowing your triggers is important if you want to avoid a triggering situation. However, triggering situations can not always be avoided. In these cases, it is vital to know your reasons for relying on negative coping skills. If you know why you use the negative coping skills, it can help you find a positive coping skill that meets the same purpose.
For example, there are two reasons I self-injure. The first is to feel calm and in control of a situation. The second is to feel something instead of nothing. My choice of positive coping skills depends on why I feel the need to self-injure. If I need to feel calm, I can do yoga, deep breathing exercises or take an as-needed medication. If, however, I need to stop myself from dissociating, I can try grounding exercises or holding ice on my arm. It all depends on what my needs are at the moment.
Have a plan.
Another way to avoid using negative coping skills is to plan ahead. Make a plan on what to do if you can not avoid being triggered. This can range from meditating or doing yoga to calling a friend or a therapist. The goal is to avoid the negative coping skills by using positive ones to buy time for the mood to change.
My plan is to first try talking about it. By talking about my self-harm urges, I hope to find some comfort from whom I’m talking to and to find better ways to deal with my problem. If I am unable to talk about it, I have a PRN (as-needed) medication which works rapidly to calm me down. If the medication fails, I contact my therapist or the crisis intervention unit at the hospital. From there, depending on the severity of my urges, I can either return home after talking to a crisis counselor or be admitted to the hospital.
But having a plan is easy. Following it is what is difficult. Here’s what works for me: when tempted to disregard my plan, I remind myself of the consequences of doing so–in my case, hospitalization (I hate inpatient treatment). Sometimes a healthy dose of reality–an awareness of what can or will happen if I deviate from the plan–is a powerful motivator to use positive coping skills.
I still struggle with choosing the positive coping skills. However, I’m learning as time progresses. I have the know-how, and so do you. We just have to integrate it.