Coping with Suicidal Thoughts and Borderline Personality
Learning how to cope with suicidal thoughts combined with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is extremely important. Suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and self-harm behaviors are all a major part of the borderline diagnosis. I’ve written about suicidal thoughts and borderline personality disorder before ("Borderline Personality Disorder and Suicidal Thoughts"), but today I’d like to focus on how to cope with suicidal thoughts in BPD and what to do when these thoughts arise. Today, I’ll share with you how I learned to self-soothe and cope with big feelings and suicidal thoughts in BPD. With Suicide Prevention Month almost behind us, I believe it is so important to open the conversation and dialogue about borderline personality disorder, coping with suicidal thoughts and suicide prevention. The stigma surrounding borderline personality disorder is real and so is the stigma surrounding suicidal thoughts.
You Don’t Have to Cope with BPD Suicidal Thoughts Alone
It's important to remember that coping with suicidal thoughts and BPD is not something you have to do alone. It’s been so important to me to find trusted spaces where I can safely and openly share about these feelings when they came up. They become dangerous and isolating when we keep them to ourselves. Support may look like a trusted therapist, a group therapy setting, a support group of some sort, a trusted spiritual advisor or confidant, or supportive family and friends. It also means learning who you can go to with these thoughts. Not everyone is equipped or knows how to respond appropriately to suicidal thoughts. While this can feel painful, I’ve also learned who is available and able to respond in healthy and appropriate ways when I am distressed. It can do more harm than good to go to people who are not helpful in moments of distress. It’s not that they don’t love me, it’s just they haven’t learned tools to help in these situations.
I also want to recognize that there are times when the following coping and self-soothing plan that I’m writing about may not be enough. It’s important to know yourself and really recognize when you are a risk to yourself and can’t keep yourself safe. There were times in my life where I did require psychiatric hospitalization. Over time, I learned new tools to self-soothe and calm which helped me avoid future hospitalizations. Those are what I hope to share below.
Learning to Self Soothe and Cope When Suicidal Thoughts Arise
For me, suicidal thoughts came out of either feelings of abandonment or big and overwhelming waves of emotion that I really thought would kill me. While deep down I don’t believe I wanted to die, I did really want a release or an escape from my pain. When I not in distress, I created a self-soothing or coping plan (you can do this with a trusted therapist) where I listed out a number of tools that help me feel better. Many of these come from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). I would write these all out on notecards and kept them by my nightstand. When the feelings got overwhelming, I would pull out the notecards and, one by one, start going through them. Usually, I would find after going through five or six, I’d start to calm and the suicidal feelings would change or at least diminish.
Because feelings with BPD are so rapid and transient, I really found that if I could soothe the painful feelings, often the suicidal feelings would also pass. This can be different than a lot of other mental health diagnoses where the state of suicidal ideation could persist for days, weeks, or months. With BPD, I’ve found mine could really come and go quickly, sometimes over just a matter of hours. Learning to self-soothe is a critical part of healing from BPD. Just like my big and overwhelming emotions would pass, I learned my suicidal thoughts would come and go as well.
My Plan for Coping with BPD Suicidal Thoughts
- Call another friend with BPD. Over the years through many different spaces, I’ve met other people with BPD who are working on healing. There is no one that can understand this pain like a fellow human with BPD or someone else suffering from another serious mental illness. I’ve had friends walk me through on the phone the very coping skills I’m sharing here because they’ve used them too. I also feared less judgment from a fellow BPD sufferer who I call and say “I feel like hurting myself right now.” I’ve met these individuals through spiritual communities, support groups, and the like.
- Distract and soothe. Grabbing an ice cube and holding it firmly until it melts is an example of a distraction technique. Once I called a friend and she suggested I do sprints in my yard to get my heart rate up and to distract. Sometimes I'll blast really loud music in my living room and dance until the urges pass.
- Take a bath. Filling a bathtub with essential oils and relaxing in it helps me to get back into my body and calm.
- Connect with spiritual practices. For me, meditating was actually the worst thing when feeling suicidal. I couldn’t sit still and my thoughts were incessant. But, going on a walk and praying, keeping my body moving and connecting to a deep source of love was incredibly helpful.
- Journal. Write out the anger, self-hatered, and suicidal thoughts. Try writing replacement coping thoughts instead. So if you write: “These feelings are going to kill me.” A healthy coping statement might be: “This is really hard right now, but this too shall pass. I’ve felt like this before and I got through it.”
- Spend time with beloved pets. One of my favorite things to do is to give my dogs a bath (or, really, do anything with my dogs) when I'm having suicidal thoughts. This might sound silly but my dogs have been an incredible source of comfort and soothing. Sometimes grooming them would distract me long enough for the feelings to subside.
- Spend the night with a friend or family member. Sometimes, I just couldn’t be by myself when I felt dark thoughts. Knowing that someone was with me was a lot less scary. Telling a good friend what was going on, spending time with her, and not having to be alone was also really helpful.
What has worked for you? I’d love to hear in the comments below. And as always, know when you can’t keep yourself safe.
If you feel you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
If you need help with distressing thoughts (including suicidal thoughts), call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
For more information on suicide, please see our suicide resources here.
Easton, W. (2018, September 30). Coping with Suicidal Thoughts and Borderline Personality, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, August 10 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/borderline/2018/9/coping-with-suicidal-thoughts-and-borderline-personality