Visualizing Connections between Thoughts, Emotions, and Behaviors – Step 6 (slide set 1)

**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

Author: Peter Miller

I developed this section of 9-Steps to Mastering Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) specifically to bring the learning from previous steps together as a whole, as well as to show you a real BPD struggle in action as it is happening (an example from my past). The different “bubbles” correspond to the teachings from Step 3 (slide set 4), meaning that we are going through, in order, “EVENT”, “INTERPRETATION”, “EMOTION”, “SELF-TALK”, “NEW EVENT” etc., so as to gain a better understanding of how these parts of a BPD experience connect and can make for a “messy situation”.

I have done my best to portray the raw emotions and thoughts that can happen during a BPD struggle, but that isn’t well-managed before a person has developed sufficient self-awareness and skill to self-adjust. I have attempted to identify the common types of unhealthy thoughts (cognitive distortions) that can be part these moments, as indicated by “CD” in the flow-chart. If there is a need to review the common types of cognitive distortions that happen during a BPD struggle, please see Step 3 (slide set 2) and Step 3 (slide set 3) before proceeding with the presentation.


The thoughts and feelings that coincide with the event (and sub-events) shown above may seem extreme, and that’s because they are! When there is no mindful awareness of emotions and no ability to visualize what is happening on the inside when it’s happening, the probability that oversized feelings and irrational/unhealthy/distorted thoughts being experienced go way up. In this example of dealing with a lost bank card, I was getting stuck in some prevalent BPD emotional states (shame, worthlessness, and rejection), while at the same time thinking unhealthy thoughts that worked to activate and prolong the experience of those emotional states. My reactions to the emotional experience were also becoming less effective as the interaction proceeded – an extremely common BPD progression.

The identified self-destructive beliefs noted below were solidly in place at the time of the above-noted event, and no doubt contributed to my inability to manage/tolerate particular emotions. In other words, the self-destructive beliefs were my only way of “holding myself together” when I had no other way of doing so. The problem with using the self-destructive beliefs as a way of managing intense emotions (or rather, avoiding intense emotions) is that instead of “responding” to life situations with wisdom, the default way of life is “reacting” to life situations in the desperation to keep challenging emotions at bay. I have found that life goes much better (that is, I act with more wisdom) when I fully own MY thoughts, MY beliefs, MY emotions, and MY reactivity to MY feelings – when I admit that the whole internal experience is my creation!

**If there is any need to review the possible functions and varieties of self-destructive beliefs as pertains to Borderline Personality Disorder, please see Step-4 (slide set 1), Step-4 (slide set 2), and Step-4 (slide set 3).

While in the midst of experiencing and reacting to painful emotions, it is common to lose sight of facts that have relevance in life situations. It is also difficult to incorporate these facts into responses and decision-making when they don’t even have a chance to become known. In the slide below I have considered several relevant facts for “the bank card” example that was not available to me at the time of the situation. When emotions are “better regulated,” or in other words when emotions are noticed, named, validated, and adjusted (if necessary), the chances of considering these types of relevant facts for response-choice and decision-making go way up.

To consider the facts of life situations often involves examining some of the realities of people, human imperfection, habits, challenges, and giving credit where credit is due. What are the facts? When people are moving from moment to moment too unconsciously, and without any developed capacity to incorporate “thinking space,” then life moments may be a matter of going back and forth between EVENT and REACTION. If you again go back to Step 3 (slide set 4), you will notice that going back and forth between EVENT and REACTION misses taking responsibility for INTERPRETATION, EMOTION, AND SELF-TALK. If we are going to be healthy, then we need to take responsibility for ALL of what happens inside of us!

At the conclusion of this slide set that includes an example of what is happening during a “BPD moment,” please note how the consideration of relevant facts helped make a difference in the way the situation was interpreted, and likewise, in the way the emotional experience was adjusted. In this new interpretation, there is compassion for both myself and partner, the facts are straight, and the unhealthy/distorted thoughts are no longer in use. In the new interpretation, there is acceptance for reality as it is rather than demanding that it be something other than what it is – stuff happens sometimes, and there aren’t immediate solutions to be found.

The genuinely challenging aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder is that this “event, interpretation, emotion, self-talk, new event” tends to happen many times every single day and require adjustment many times every single day. When you are used to following a different (unhealthy) pattern for many years, it’s hard to develop a new pattern. It’s sort of like realizing you are in an obstacle course of the mind at the beginning of your learning, and this means that you are going to fall flat on your ass sometimes because you are learning something new. This is OK!! Remember that you are learning FOR THE FIRST TIME something that wasn’t available earlier on in your development. You can do it!! And many other ideas and skills are coming in 9-Steps to Mastering Borderline Personality Disorder to help you do it better and better.