Welcome to day 5 in the #AtoZChallenge of random reflections. For my letter E post, I focus on emotions. In this post, I’ll explain what it is like living with emotion regulation issues and how dialectical behavior therapy helps. Both I and my treatment team prefer the term “emotion regulation difficulites” over “borderline personality disorder traits”, as my emotion regulation issues are likely in part due to my autism. Also, borderline personality disorder is very stigmatized. Now I know the solution to that is not to avoid the term, but I do feel I’m not the “classic” borderline.
First, I have difficulty understandign my own emotions. This is called alexithymia and is relatively common in autistic people. I can usually tell whether I’m feeling “good” or “bad”, but not whether “good” is joy or love or “bad” is anger, sadness, etc.
I feel “bad” far more often than I feel “good”. This may be because I suffer with depression too. I however tend not to express my depression as sadness. Rather, I express all “bad” feelings as irritability. Over the years, I have gotten slightly better at knowing when I’m genuinely angry and when it’s another feeling that I express as irritability.
In dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), the treatment I follow for my emotion regulation difficulties, we learn to counteract emotions by acting opposite to how the emotion “makes” us act. For example, one skill that I’m trying to practice is to half-smile, accepting the situation as it is even if I don’t like it. I initially thought that acting opposite to emotion was acting cheerful whenever a cheerful mood was expected. For example, I’d greet my husband enthusiastically when he’d come home even though I still felt like crap. Now I know that you’re not supposed to “fake it”, but that acting opposite from your initial impulse might help you achieve your goals. For exaple, if I feel like crap and want to stay in my room all the time, it may be more effective if I reach out to my husband instead.
Dialectical behavior therapy also teaches me about the misconceptions about emotions I may have. One of them is that some emotions are just stupid and shouldn’t be felt. Another is that emotions come up for no reason at all. In fact, emotions all happen for a reason and as such have value. Now that I write this, I realize this is the strongest argument against fake cheerfulness. It is important to acknowledge an emotion without judging it, but also without dwelling on it too much. Mindfulness, as such, is the first skill of DBT.