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DBT Skills for Borderline Personality Disorder

Updated on March 1, 2020
Smiling and jumping around like you're happy (when you feel like curling up in a ball and crying) is actually a very helpful temporary coping technique.
Smiling and jumping around like you're happy (when you feel like curling up in a ball and crying) is actually a very helpful temporary coping technique. | Source

Dialectical behavior therapy, developed by Dr. Marsha Lineham, is used to treat people with Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT is the first therapy to be found as effective for treating those with the disorder.

Prior to the usage of DBT, Borderline Personality Disorder was considered untreatable. However, since the usage of dialectical behavior therapy (and other similar approaches), patients have seen remission rates of up to 86%.

Recent studies have shown this particular therapy to be helpful in the treatment of addiction as well as a therapeutic method for sexual abuse survivors.

Dialectical behavior therapy contains four core modules, one of which is Distress Tolerance. When faced with a stressful situation, those with borderline personality have the tendency to become extremely overwhelmed and hide from the problem.

What is Distress Tolerance?

The goal of Distress Tolerance is to help the patient recognize a stressful situation and learn to skillfully deal with the situation.

There are numerous coping skills in the distress Tolerance Module that can help those with Borderline Personality Disorder better cope with a negative situation.

Distracting Yourself from Pain

This sounds like a scary "bottle it up" technique, but temporarily distracting yourself from a stressful situation or from some dark feelings, can really help you feel better RIGHT NOW.

While distracting yourself is only for the short-term, this is an important skill to learn as it'll help you cope with negative events while you come up with a longer-term solution. Distracting yourself helps fight that awful, emotionally crippling effect that tough situations throw at you.

Instead of becoming crippled by your emotions or falling into a whirlwind of destructive reactions, remember the acronym ACCEPTS.

The Elements of ACCEPTS

Some Ideas
Do something you enjoy (that's positive.)
Play a computer game or go for a walk! Make sure that it's something you'll enjoy, even if it's something small.
Do something for someone
Clean up around the house, ask your neighbor if you can rake their leaves (free of charge), answer questions on a online forum
Compare Yourself
This sounds horrible, but it's actually an amazing tool! Compare yourself to someone worse off than yourself or how you were doing when you were in a worse state than you are in now.
Force a positive emotion
Do something that will make you laugh or smile, even if you know it will only make you laugh for a second. Try looking at funny cat pictures!
Push away
Bury your feelings (for the moment)
Don't even think about the situation you're in, ignore it for a while.
Think about something else
Think about something else. If you can think of something positive, that's awesome! Some ideas: What's your best feature? What's something about YOU that totally rocks?
Get the sensation!
Find something that gives you a strong, non-negative sensation. Eat some strong mints, watch a scary flick, etc.


Learning to self-soothe is extremely important (and helpful) element in DBT. Learning to comfort and be kind to yourself is very helpful when dealing with a less-than-optimal situation. Self-soothing is a great way to IMPROVE the situation you're in. Oh no! Another corny acronym? It works, I promise! IMPROVE is a great technique to help with self-soothing.

Check out the IMPROVE chart below to find out what it all means!

How to IMPROVE Your Situation

Imagine something relaxing
Turn on a sound machine and listen to a creek running or imagine yourself in a beautiful field that stretches for miles.
Find purpose in your feelings
Why do you feel the way that you do? Look for a meaning.
Pray to something
Believe in G*d? Pray! Not religious? Find a quote that's important to you and think about what it means to you.
Just relax!
Breathe deeply, take a warm bath, lay on your bed and stare at the ceiling and think about nothing!
One moment at a time
Think about the present
Don't think about your problem, think about the exact moment you're in, breathe in and out and concentrate on each breath, think about each second
Take a break
Take a temporary break from it all! You don't necessarily have to jet-set to Italy (who CAN do that!?) Just take a short walk or treat yourself to a nice dinner. Got a bit of cash? Go somewhere nice, spend the night there.
Make yourself feel good
Be your own cheerleader! Listen to music that really pumps you up and just get yourself going!

There are many other Distress Tolerance skills you can use to get yourself feeling better in the short-term. Try thinking about what will happen if you are able to make it through the short term. What will happen if you're unable to cope? Coping sounds a lot better!

There are a number of DBT skills that can be helpful in not only coping with life's problems but getting better. Keeping track of which skills work and which don't is an important part of this therapy. You can keep track using a journal or even just a few sheets of paper. Alternatively, there are many workbooks that will allow you to jot down your progress. These workbook books are amazing because they offer friendly advice and exercises that can teach you new ways to cope. If you're looking for some structure in your therapy, you might want to seriously consider a DBT workbook.

Make sure you're willing to do what you need to do in order to effectively beat this. Keep your eye on the prize. Do what you can to keep moving toward your goals. Remember that if you're able to get yourself feeling better right now, you'll be thankful for it in the future. You can do it!


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    • Maria Pizzo profile image

      Maria Pizzo 

      3 years ago

      Thanks Melanie! I have been diagnosed with bpd in December. I'm currently waiting on dbt therapy, so having this part of it has been amazingly helpful. I will put to act, before triggers unravel!!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Sounds like great advise for lots of folks. Wallowing in the negative is so destructive and can be overwhelming. Your tips have helped me (like robie above) throughout my life.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      8 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Funny, these are techniques I have been using as coping mechanisms for years-- don't know where I got them from. I'm not a borderline personality-- at least I don't think I am-- nobody has ever suggested that I am-- but whatever-- this is a very informative and interesting hug and there is name for all these self help techniques-- who knew. I'm off to google DBT and find out more.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hey melbel...I liked this hub very much! I am glad you wrote this. I am currently attending DBT and has been helpful! Voted up!

    • theseattlegirl profile image


      8 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I don't have this disorder, nor do I know anyone with it (that I'm aware of), but I still find articles on these topics fascinating. It reminds me to approach the world and those around me with a little more sensitivity than I usually do.

      What I found particularly interesting is that many elements of this therapy utilize the same tools (perhaps in different intensities) as those used for stress management or depression therapies. No surprise, I suppose, if the condition stimulates the same problem areas.

      Interesting and certainly useful to some. Voted up! :)

    • TaunTastic profile image


      8 years ago from The Mountain State

      It's been years since i participated in DBT and i agree that it's an amazing tool, if you're willing to use it. As a young adult i felt more comfortable in the role of victim than in the role of a recoverer. Thanks for your hub, i still use some of these skills in my daily life now and i'm glad to see it's still being taught.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      8 years ago from Minnesota

      Nice article on this disorder. All of us struggle with something and we can all think of ways to make it workable. I'm a psycho-therapist and know there are ways we can work through these issues.

    • AccessoriesLove profile image


      8 years ago from NYC

      My Counselor thinks I have BPD and I and my Psychiatrists say Bipolar. Either way,you can live a happy and fulfilling life, it may take some coping skills such as the ones you mentioned and a lot of consistency. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 

      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      A great way to remember what to do! I love it :) We are the best person to take care of ourselves. If we don't, we're no good to anybody else, either.

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 

      8 years ago from New York

      Very well research melbel,

      Wonder if you do this research by knowing first hand people with these Personality disorders. And, what about hormones? Do they Play a big part in this picture? Forgot if Britney Spears had this problem this problem too..or was bipolarity? Voted useful..can't find the C++ to rate a programmer, oops!(jk)



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