**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Any uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
One of the primary reasons human emotion escalates is because there are perceived threats to safety, well-being, and personal interests, and likewise because humans create thoughts and make verbalizations about whatever is perceived. Perception, thinking, feeling, speaking, in that order… The notion that people can automatically start feeling without first perceiving and thinking is false and does not help with getting mentally healthy.
For people who suffer with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the tendency to perceive threat and experience heightened anxiety plus extreme emotion can be a strong daily occurrence. Part of the BPD struggle therefore involves trying to make sense out of the whole experience (am I in danger or not?); it also involves thinking and speaking in ways that are often intended to defend against or quell the perceived threat, even if doing so ends up making things more difficult or dramatic.
One of the main reasons things become and remain dramatic (more emotional, hard to manage, hard to function) in conditions like BPD has a lot to do with the types of words that are used. For instance, when we listen to ourselves and others speak about what we perceive is happening, we may notice that the language being used is loaded with extreme types of verbiage… words or phrases like “always”, “every time”, “everything”, “everywhere”, “everyone”, “all the time”, “never”, “ever”, “totally”, “completely”, “forever”, etc.
In mental health, we look at this type of speaking (and related thinking) as being “black-or-white” and “all-or-nothing” in nature, dramatic, and associated with looking at life in much more extreme ways than they are actually happening in reality. Extreme language might also suggest to the person expressing himself (and those listening to him) that the expression is “a fact” rather than being just another way of perceiving things. It makes sense that others hearing this kind of language might have an urge to get defensive, just because life isn’t so simple and everyone has a unique point of view. But when a person with BPD gets “emotionally convinced” that their perception is the one and only way of looking at things, working together with others in relationships and projects becomes extremely difficult, if not next to impossible.
While learning how to better regulate emotions and otherwise adjust the BPD pattern, it is important that “black or white” “all or nothing” words are replaced with “grey” words because doing so can help with settling the extreme emotions, induce perceptual flexibility, and therefore also help with interacting more rationally with others. Grey words can work well to inspire openness and curiosity in self and others when used in conversation and may include… “sometimes”, “preferable”, “both”, “partly”, “partial”, “mixed”, “sort of”, “occasionally”, etc.
The point here is to become more mindful of speech/language patterns because of their strong influence on us, and to realize that making adjustments in language can work well to help with regulating emotion. It may sometimes be a wise first move to validate the person using the extreme forms of speech in order to help reduce the emotional fire, but pointing out extreme language and working towards adjusting this kind of language in conversation is good practice. When we become acutely aware of how emotions become harder (or easier) to manage through the ways we construct thoughts and words, it empowers us to function better and better.
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