We’re continuing our discussion about borderline personality traits with author Debbie Corso of DBT Path.
In these posts, Debbie will give us insight into self-sabotaging behaviors as well as practical skills that can help us move forward.
Today we’re discussing the trait of anger.
Anger is an interesting symptom. It often shows up in reaction to the frustration of feeling blocked from accomplishing goals.
Before DBT, a person with this trait may have difficulty even identifying this intense emotion as anger! They’ll also have a hard time understanding what caused them to become angry. They’ll may also find it difficult to figure out what other emotions they are experiencing at same time as anger, emotions such as shame, fear, or frustration.
Anger can easily become overwhelming and prompt verbal and even physical reactions. It takes courage to admit that anger is a problem. When students are brave enough to be vulnerable, and openly and honestly share their struggles with anger, it is important to be compassionate.
It is so easy to judge people who exhibit anger—they are labeled as being bad, dangerous, or beyond help. We do not believe this! We have to remember that meeting anger with fear or judgmentalism isn’t helpful. Usually the angry person is also fearful, herself.
Anger often manifests as pushing others away, usually because there’s any underlying fear of abandonment and rejection—generally, the patterns are unconscious.
If anger is a serious issue, we recommend starting with the DBT Path Mindfulness module. This module places a strong emphasis of the skill called Radical Acceptance.
Can you tell us what Radical Acceptance is?
I’ll begin with a quote: When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is. -Tara Brach
Radical Acceptance means completely, totally, RADICALLY accepting life as it is.
When first presented with this skill and concept, it can be daunting. (I remember feeling this way when I first heard about it in a DBT group I attended.) What helped greatly was the explanation that Acceptance does not mean approval.
A well-known, horrific historical event, such Holocaust can help us understand. In order to live in reality, embrace acceptance, heal, and learn from the past, we must accept that the Holocaust happened. That does not mean we approve of it or think it was okay. If we do not accept that it occurred, we feed into “crazy making,” because we convince ourselves of something other than reality.
Sometimes it’s easier for an emotionally sensitive person to hear an example that can be related to on a large scale by humanity before looking at situations that make them feel personally vulnerable. For example, coming to understand Radical Acceptance in terms of historical events might be the first step towards Radically Accepting that a marriage is not working out and that both partners must move on.
It’s very human to struggle with inner conflict over not wanting things to be a certain way. It’s okay to not like what is happening. But at the same time, it is possible to not like something and also work to accept “it is what it is.”
But we are able to learn to cope effectively with what life is presenting us in the present moment, even we don’t like it, prefer it, or wish it were different. Radical Acceptance is the skill we use to get to this place.
Then, based on how the anger manifests, we recommend either the Distress Tolerance or Emotion Regulation module next. Distress Tolerance is suggested if the person relates to usually having anger episodes they need to cope with situations over which he or she truly has no control. It’s good when there is no solution in the moment, and the person must somehow manage their distress about lack of control, without making the situation worse or sabotaging.
Emotion Regulation is suggested if the person is primarily frightened by the intensity of their own anger. They feel they may need help learning how to manage when anger and other emotions frequently reach such a high level of unmanageable intensity that it lead to undesired behaviors.
Thank you Debbie for all the insights and expert advice you shared with our readers. We hope you’ll join us again at Therapy Soup and PsychCentral!
Debbie Corso, is a pioneering mental-health blogger, author, and teacher who has blogged about living with borderline personality disorder. Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) she has overcome the symptoms of BPD. Together with therapist Alicia Paz, she helps others with BPD and BPD traits in her online program, DBT Path. She’s the author of two books about BPD. Today, Debbie no longer meets the criteria for a BPD diagnosis.
Check out Debbie’s books:
Healing From Personality Disorder