What are coping skills, and why are they important for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD)? The symptoms of BPD, including erratic mood shifts, self-harming behaviors, suicidality, intense emotional experiences, sensitivity to problems in your relationships and problems with impulsive behaviors, may all be related to one core feature: emotion dysregulation, where individuals have very strong emotional responses, difficulty managing those responses and often engage in harmful behaviors in attempts to escape from these emotions. Coping skills can help to reduce emotion dysregulation and the other symptoms of BPD.
What are Coping Skills?Since emotion dysregulation is such an important feature of BPD, many treatments for BPD emphasize the importance of building coping skills to better manage emotions when they arise. What exactly are coping skills? They are healthier ways of addressing situations and their resulting emotions.
Why Learn New Coping Skills?
Why is it important to learn new, healthier ways of coping? By using healthful coping skills you may:
- Reduce the intensity of the emotional distress you feel
- Reduce the likelihood that you will do something harmful (e.g., engage in self- harming behaviors) to attempt to escape from the emotional distress
- Reduce the likelihood that you will engage in behaviors that destroy relationships (e.g., physical aggression) when you are upset
- Improve your ability to be able to continue to function well even when in stressful circumstances
- Build confidence in your ability to handle difficult situations
- Ultimately reduce your overall experience of emotion dysregulation
What are Some Different Types of Coping Skills?
There are literally thousands of different coping skills that people use to manage stressful situations and the emotions that result. Here are a few types of coping skills that work for many people:
- Social Support. Talk to others who may understand what you are going through.
- Behavioral Activation. Engage in an activity that might take your mind off the stressful situation for a little while.
- Relaxation Exercises. Practice a relaxation exercise, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Grounding. Practice grounding exercises that are designed to keep you "grounded" in the present moment, rather than caught up in replaying events in your head, worrying about the future or zoning out.
- Mindfulness Meditation. Practice mindfulness meditation, which helps you to observe and describe your experiences without judging or rejecting them.
- Active Problem-Solving. Consider the problem at hand: Is there a way to solve the problem directly?
How To Learn Healthier Coping SkillsReady to learn some new, healthier ways of coping? One way to do this is by seeking treatment. Many psychological treatments for BPD, including cognitive behavioral treatments such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), focus on teaching healthier coping skills to manage strong emotions. There are online resource pages that can help you find a cognitive behavioral therapist or a DBT provider.
Chapman, A, & Gratz, KL. The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide. New York: New Harbinger Publications, 2007.
Linehan, MM. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford, 1993.
Linehan, MM. Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford, 1993.