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 the 9-Steps specifically to bring the learning from previous steps together as a whole, as well as to show you a real Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) struggle in action as it is happening (an example of my own past struggle). 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”, and then “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 do not get properly handled 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 take a moment to review 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 emotions and irrational/unhealthy/distorted thoughts being experienced goes way up. In this example of dealing with a lost bank card, I was getting stuck in some very common 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-defeating beliefs noted below were solidly in place at the time of the above-noted event and related to my lack of self-awareness and inability to manage/tolerate particular emotions. In other words, the self-defeating beliefs were my only way of “holding myself together” when I had no other way of doing so. The problem with using the self-defeating beliefs as a way of living with intense emotions, however, is that instead of “responding” to life situations with wisdom, it becomes “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 emotions. I admit that the whole internal experience is my own creation!

**If there is any need to review the possible functions and varieties of self-defeating 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 intolerable emotions, it is very easy 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 aren’t readily accessible. In the slide below I have considered several relevant facts for “the bank card” example that were 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 up.

To consider the facts of life situations often involves considering some of the realities about 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 quickly and without any developed capacity to incorporate “thinking space”, life moments may simply 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 it!

At the conclusion of this slide set and 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 not 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 truly challenging aspect of Borderline Personality Disorder is that this “event, interpretation, emotion, self-talk, response challenge” tends to happen 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 in 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 there are many other ideas and skills coming in the 9-Steps to help you do it very well.