Self-soothing skills and Borderline Personality Disorder

Still thinking about the social maturity and emotional maturity issues. Still talking about it with my mom, too, because she helps me keep my thoughts together and knows stuff. One thing she has been saying for a long time is that one key ability is for me to learn to self-soothe.

What is self-soothing?

I understand it to be the ability to calm myself down, emotionally, when I get upset. Not by going emotionally numb or by dissociating and not by using some unhealthy coping strategy like self-harm or drugs or distraction. Proper soothing myself, calming down, so that I don’t go off like a contact mine if anyone, myself included, makes only one more wrong move.

Mom says it’s an ability people usually learn when they are still young. Like, as babies, when they are upset and cry, someone comes, attends to them, gives them what they need and they calm down. Their brains produce “upset and stress chemicals” (forgot their names), but those don’t hang around for long, because soon some caregiver will do things that cause the baby’s brain to release soothing chemicals that neutralize the stress ones. The baby is fine again.

Then, by watching how the caregiver does that, and by experiencing that it does work over and over and over and over again, the baby, as it gets older and becomes a child, learns how to do it herself. And also learns to withstand a certain stress, because it knows from experience it will go away soon enough.

Kids like me, whose parents can’t be bothered, and even added a shitload of stress instead of making it go away, aren’t as lucky. If my brain gets stressed, it’s stressed for good. And it doesn’t take much to get really stressed either. Sure, I can turn to artificial soothers, like alcohol or cutting, or I can dissociate and just disconnect from my stressed brain if shit gets bad, but I have a hard time finding ways to release those soothing chemicals that make me okay again.

My mom can do it. She can usually soothe me. I watch how she does it – by being there, by comforting me physically with hugs, by taking me seriously even when I’m being unreasonable and by talking with me until I feel calmer again, but also by taking no crap. In a good way. But even when I know what she does, and that it works, I have trouble doing it by myself. Although I’ve gotten a bit better. I used to immediately act upon my feelings, and I don’t do that so much anymore. Like with the cereal mess this morning, all I wanted to do was destroy something, like throw my mp3 player on the floor and step on it (yes, pretty darn clever, I know), but I didn’t. So I guess I have gotten better at tolerating a stressed brain. I have also learned some small things I can do to calm down a bit.

Healthy stuff that I’ve learned, which helps soothe me:

  • crying – I used to never cry much, but it helps and now I cry a lot, over anything, and it probably helps doubly, because it also alerts others that something is wrong with me
  • talking – well, or ranting, more like. I used to bottle everything up, so that’s a big improvement
  • music – I learned to play the guitar and I sing and I find it helps to express my feelings with music, like by playing and singing angry stuff when I’m angry or sad stuff when I’m sad, etc.
  • seeking comfort from someone healthy – as opposed to going for a mindless fuck, lol
  • awareness and thinking – go figure! since I know more about the mechanisms of these things, I have an easier time pausing to actually think before I act on impulse. At least sometimes.

Well, and there’s one last thing, which I am really embarrassed to admit to. In my family everyone knows it and it’s no big deal, but people in general don’t really understand. Ah well, but as I recently learned how vulnerability is supposedly doing so much good, what the heck, I’ll say it: I use a pacifier. Like the same kind babies do. Only mine are way cooler, because I picked cool-looking ones and am not stuck with whatever is popped in my mouth, like a baby would be! Anyway, I don’t know why, but they work. They’re comforting. They feel kind of innocent and pure and like a good part of childhood that I never had. And for some reason they feel like I’m contained and don’t fall apart so much when I have a pacifier in my mouth. I don’t know if that is because they give me something to focus on, or for another reason, but it helps. Guess they’re called pacifiers for a reason.

Otherwise I’m normal, lol! As normal as I get, anyway. And I figure it’s healthier than smoking. 😉 (Gee, and now please, vulnerability thing, work out.)

Anyway, the point is, I really hope whatever I do helps my brain to get used to some of the good, soothing, positive chemicals hanging around. Not of the artificial happy pill kind, my body’s very own chemicals. For stability. I hope I get better at it, too. The little good chemical bastards are probably not used to being called into action so much, but I sure hope they get more used to it soon!

And I hope everyone who’s struggling finds good ways to soothe themselves. And can find someone healthy who can help with it. I believe it makes a real difference.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Antigone
    Oct 23, 2012 @ 18:27:46

    I see a lot of emotional maturity in the posts you have written. In case you need to hear it, you have come a long way.

    Also, it will come as no surprise that our littles jumped at the idea of a pacifier. We will get one for sure. The need to suck as a mechanism of self soothing is well documented. Many of us are fixated in the oral phase as our needs were neglected during this time and we were unable to move on.

    It does not surprise me in the least that you would use this as a way to find emotional calm. Good for you for identifying this method. And thank you for sharing it with us. We will find ourselves a pacifier forthwith.

    On a point of information, have you found adult sized pacifiers anywhere that are a better fit for an adult body? Or is it okay to use the toddler sized ones?

    • Lola
      Oct 23, 2012 @ 18:49:49

      Nice to meet you, Antigone! 🙂 Thanks for saying you see emotional maturity in what I write. I feel like I have come to a point where I am finally gaining some insights and can make sense of stuff when I’m calm. When I’m upset – a whole different matter. lol

      With the pacifier, thanks for understanding! The sucking really is soothing and I guess I’m quite orally fixated. I’ve never tried adult sized pacis because the only one I saw online was a bland white NUK 5 that looked like it belonged in a hospital or something. So my pacifiers are toddler sized. I have one black-and-white one with a skull and crossbones, and one with a pink transparent shield with glitter in it. That one reads “Princess” – my girly one. I guess the adult ones would be a better fit for an adult body, but I’m quite short and small, so I’m fine with the toddler size, especially when I can pick a paci that looks cool! 😉 It makes me feel safe to carry one with me, so I have some self-soothing tool at hand in case I need it.

      (Hi to the littles and I hope they’ll find a paci comforting and soothing!)

  2. Sparrow
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 04:59:18

    I’m still learning to self-soothe too, but I haven’t found much to be helpful. Usually I call my mum, but I need to find a way to do it myself (especially as she’s overseas right now). I’ve tried breathing and mindfulness, but it’s crazy hard when you are in that mindset. I think I’ll go buy a pacifier 🙂

    • Lola
      Oct 24, 2012 @ 06:14:12

      For years nothing helped me either. I was shown how to do breathing excercises and mindfulness in my previous therapies, also how to use a weird stop technique, but it didn’t help me much, as like you said, it really is crazy hard when my brain is already flooded with stress. For me the step of my mom doing the soothing and reflecting on the process with me came first. Only after I learned this actually worked I was able to do some baby steps at soothing by myself. I think part of the problem is that I never used to realize how I was getting stressed quickly enough – and by the time I noticed I that was upset, I was so far in, it was useless to even try getting out. I learned to notice earlier by realizing that often my mom started to calm me down way before I’d even notice I was upset. Maybe that’s where mindfulness is more useful: becoming aware of stress early on when it’s still easier to act.

      Anyway, lol, yeah, try the pacifier. 🙂

  3. Amy
    Apr 02, 2013 @ 06:07:12

    I have really have not got a handle on the triggers I hyperventilate and call my Emergency Services and they help me control my breathing as I stroke my leg over and over again!!! I don’t look at people or look up I used to get in a closet or cover myself with blankets!!! I am better than I was but this is a process!!! I don’t think a pacifier would help me!!!

    • Lola
      Apr 04, 2013 @ 16:46:52

      Yeah, everyone is different. I hyperventitlate, too, but find it soothing to have my mom around. Strangers or other family, however, may not touch me, or I totally freak. Knowing my triggers a bit better helps. Do you feel like you know your triggers well?

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