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Emotional Instability: Help For Borderline Traits

Stop Sabotaging CoverWe’re continuing our discussion about borderline personality traits with author Debbie Corso of DBT Path. I

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 emotional instability.

This is one of the primary symptoms I suffered from and quite common.

Being extremely emotionally sensitive, and not having tools to manage the intense effect which even minor events can have on our emotions, results in emotional instability. This may include mood swings, impulsiveness, and often, an inability to follow through on things such as goals, school, and work.

People with this trait feel like they’re at the mercy of their emotions. They often feel as if they are at an intensity-level of twelve on a scale of one to ten. Their emotional states are very changeable, too, and may switch back and forth.

In an effort to cope with the distress, the sufferer will  turn to coping behaviors that provide a sense of relief—in the moment. But these behaviors are self-sabotaging and potentially very harmful.

Self-harm and mutilation, substance abuse, reckless driving, spending, and in the heat of the emotional moment, quitting important things like school, job, or a relationship are all flawed coping systems.

Can you give a us a real-life example?

In the past, I would become extremely emotionally unstable if I had to spend an evening alone.  I lived with a partner who traveled quite a bit for business, and when he would leave, I would become a shell of myself.

I’d lose my appetite and even get sick to my stomach from the anxiety that being alone provoked. I wasn’t able to sleep. Not eating properly and regularly and not getting enough sleep only made me more emotionally vulnerable and unstable.

It became a vicious cycle. The fear of being alone was overwhelming to the point of being intolerable.  I’d go to the emergency room for help and reassurance, because it truly felt like an emergency to me at the time.

As I began to learn Emotion Regulation skills, I was able to reduce my suffering when I had to spend time alone.  One of the skills that was most effective with this particular issue was practicing a set of skills from the DBT Path Emotion Regulation module called:

PLEASE: Taking Care of Your Mind By Taking Care of Your Body.

The acronym stand for:

PL—Treat Physical Illness

E—Balance Eating

A—Avoid mood-Altering drugs

S—Balance Sleep

E —Get Exercise

By practicing this skill set, we reduce our emotional vulnerability by tending to our body’s physical needs – even if we don’t feel like doing so!  This self-care is what can make all of the difference with an episode of emotional instability.  It can shorten the episode and help us to experience less suffering and potential behavioral consequences.

PLEASE: Taking Care of Your Mind By Taking Care of Your Body, is an example of an emotional regulation skill the reader can easily try.

As we work together, our students learn how emotions work and come to recognize the transient nature of emotional states. They learn how to regulate the intensity and shifting of their emotions.

With practice, confidence builds. As suffering is relieved in a healthy way, without the consequences associated with their old behaviors, we often see a reduction in harmful behaviors.  Life becomes less chaotic.

Debbie, thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences, insights into borderline traits, and amazing DBT skills.

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.

Emotional Instability: Help For Borderline Traits

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2014). Emotional Instability: Help For Borderline Traits. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2014
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