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Author Topic: BEHAVIORS: Extinction Bursts  (Read 6582 times)
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« on: December 01, 2008, 10:09:11 PM »

Extinction Bursts - Important to Understand when your Loved One has BPD.

We all know that life is a journey and that it’s important to have focus and objectives. This can become difficult if the person "traveling" with us has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  Because of the associated impulsiveness, hypersensitivity, and dysfunctional coping, people with this disorder often "wander off the path". And we often feel compelled to chase after and cater to them, which, in turn, diverts our focus and often results in anxiety, abuse, and dysfunction for everyone.

According to bpdfamily.com, extinguishing this pattern isn’t easy, yet it is an essential first step in having a healthy relationship.  Taking care of ourselves may feel like a selfish focus - but as the emotionally healthier one, it’s important  that we not get bogged down in BPD induced dramas.  And it's important that we understand that our BPD loved ones aren’t mentally fit to be leading the relationship.

So what do we do?  When the person with Borderline Personality Disorder becomes dysregulated or depressed. bpdfamily.com recommends that you give them the space to self sooth - not try to do it for them.  Take a deep breath and politely and non-aggressively disengage. It’s not easy to block out the distraction and emotional pleas for our attention, yet it is only with a critical pause that we can really stay on a constructive and healthy pathway.

This act is called extinction. We essentially remove our reinforcement in an attempt to stop the  behavior. We simply stop rewarding the behavior.

When our partner doesn’t get the expected response (reinforcement by us) it may scare or anger them and they may try harder to  engage us using threats, violence, destruction, intimidation, name calling, belittling, promises of withholding necessary things, retaliation, or any other painful thing they can think of to get us to engage.   This escalation is know as an extinction burst.




Extinction Burst - The term extinction burst describes the phenomena of behavior temporarily getting worse, not better, when the reinforcement stops.

Spontaneous Recovery - Behavior affected by extinction is apt to recur in the future when the trigger is presented again. This is known as spontaneous recovery or the transient increase in behavior. Be aware of this eventuality. It is a part of the extinction process. Don't be discouraged.





This is OK, as long as we anticipate it, understand it, and are prepared for it.  The same is true for spontaneous recovery.

They won’t like this, but it is a necessary for them to experience and to learn to self sooth their own frustrations in life.  It is what will bring on the opportunity for change.   When we do it, we block this opportunity for change and we subvert our own emotional health.

We can not allow others to lead us astray on our journey. In time, if we stay committed to our path our partners will adjust.  And we won’t be subjecting ourselves to as much pain.  

Co-authors: United for Now, Skip
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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2008, 10:50:14 AM »

Here is a 2 min video on youtube on how extinction burst works

www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqHfEJt1ZV4

Common Trap: Remember, you don't want to inadvertently give them intermittent reinforcement to dysregulated behavior. This is easy to do, and once established extremely difficult to unlearn.

Intermittent reinforcement: slot machines use this. They pay out on irregular schedules. You never know when you will win, but you know that if you keep pulling the handle that sooner or later a pay out will occur. It may happen on the third pull or the twentieth pull, but you will win if you keep trying. The fact that you KNOW that you will eventually win, keeps you hooked into trying.

What does this mean? If you tell your partner that you won't answer the phone while at work, and they call you 20 times, and you answer on the 21st attempt, you have just inadvertantly given them intermittent reinforcement. Now they know that if they bug you enough, that you will always eventually respond. This actually escalates the behavior you are trying to stop. They believe they can win if they just keep pulling the lever, even if they go broke trying, they will keep at it. The more irregular and unpredictable your response to them, the more they will keep trying. It is the combination of hoping they will get their way and not knowing when it will happen that keeps them trying.

How to discourage dysregulated behavior.?

Consistency in not responding is the only way to discourage undesired behavior...

Your partner has to learn that  when you say no, that you mean no.  Any hint of weakness is a reward, encouraging him/her to continue trying.
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« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2008, 01:10:30 PM »

 IT works just takes time, like with my uBPDh he will call once i leave several times and leaving messages i never pick up, i use to just because i thought if i let him rage on the phone but not listen things would get better but it didn't it stayed the same.. i let him know once i know he has calmed down i will call him back, i listen to the messages and as soon as i can tell he is still angry i just erase it, it takes several times at first but sooner or later he calls and is much calmer so then i call him back.  and this puts the responcibility back on him, if i call and he starts in again which has happend i hang up.  now in time i am noticing lately since i don't pick up when he calls and i am back to reinforcing he needs to calm down his phone calls to me leaving me messages are less, he still leaves me angry messages but not as many. he is taking time to calm  down.i am seeing a differnce with inforcing the boundary of i will call back once i see you have calmed down and i will listen but not till then, things are better.. now i can say i started this boundary and inforced it more after i started here . so thanks to this site that part got better...and in time maybe his rages will even get less then they are now... or maybe i won't be out shopping as long  :'(               
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« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2009, 11:53:41 AM »

As enablers, we play a role in the bad behavior in the relationship by rewarding or accepting it.  We don't do this intentionally, but when someone pushes our buttons and we respond with the desired result, then we are effectively rewarding the behavior.  This is human nature.

As a result, dysfunction is often programmed into a our relationship -  by this continued repetitive interaction of the partners.

Now, as United for Now says, if we suddenly you change our response - even if the change is for the better (e.g., we don't engage) - or partner make accelerate the conflict (burst) trying to get the typical response.  This is human nature, too.

The important thing for us to know is to expect the acceleration (burst) and understand that it will often extinguish if we stay consistent with or improved behavior.


Extinction burst

While extinction, when implemented consistently over time, results in the eventual decrease of the undesired behavior, in the short-term the subject might exhibit what is called an extinction burst. An extinction burst will often occur when the extinction procedure has just begun. This consists of a sudden and temporary increase in the response's frequency, followed by the eventual decline and extinction of the behavior targeted for elimination.

Take, as an example, a pigeon that has been reinforced to peck an electronic button. During its training history, every time the pigeon pecked the button, it will have received a small amount of bird seed as a reinforcer. So, whenever the bird is hungry, it will peck the button to receive food. However, if the button were to be turned off, the hungry pigeon will first try pecking the button just as it has in the past. When no food is forthcoming, the bird will likely try again ... and again, and again. After a period of frantic activity, in which their pecking behavior yields no result, the pigeon's pecking will decrease in frequency.

The evolutionary advantage of this extinction burst is clear. In a natural environment, an animal that persists in a learned behavior, despite not resulting in immediate reinforcement, might still have a chance of producing reinforcing consequences if they try again. This animal would be at an advantage over another animal that gives up too easily.

Despite the name, however, not every explosive reaction to adverse stimuli subsides to extinction. Indeed a small minority of individuals persist in their reaction indefinitely.
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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2012, 10:21:01 PM »

Wow!  I got this!  I'd been hired, years ago, to work with a big dog that was threatening people who came to visit it's owners.  Everytime the owners tried to "soothe" the dog by offering it biscuits.  They followed my instructions to not give biscuits for aggressive behavior, and the dog became very quite and sweet instead.

So, I guess I need to pay attention to what and when I'm giving my husband "biscuits".  Thanks for the advice.
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« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2012, 09:08:47 PM »

My confusion with this thread is that because my exBPD, without explanation, withdrew and gave me the silent treatment, it was I who actually did the extinction burst!

This makes me feel as though I was the one with the problem.

When they disappeared, I must confess to a fairly angry reaction...which had no effect.

But on paper, reading about this extinction burst info, I feel like I was the one who did it and that they were the healthy one and did as the reading suggests, and did not respond.

Again - all of it adds to the confusion and self-blame. It all blurs the line between what I should own and what they should own.

We all bring stuff to the dance, but given I was never able to coldly walk away, was my stuff worse that theirs?

? ? ?

bb12
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« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2012, 08:21:44 PM »

Extinction Bursts are part of a larger Extinction Curve.  My therapist told me every animal does it.  He drew out a diagram to explain it to me and it looked like this one below:



In the extinction burst behaviors escalate, this can include a lot things.  Yelling, breaking stuff, sending increasingly nasty emails, the last ditch efforts of the "silent treatment".  Sometimes the person will quit the relationship (temporarily or permanently) because there are negative advocates, or enablers, who will meet the immediate negative needs.

It is important to have "skills" during the burst period.  Validation, SET to encourage positive replacement behavior, boundaries, time outs, etc. And the smaller spikes in the graph above are the spontaneous recoveries.  

Understanding how to manage an emotionally volatile relationship takes stamina and awareness.  

It's important to remember
Excerpt
Despite the name, however, not every explosive reaction to adverse stimuli subsides to extinction. Indeed a small minority of individuals persist in their reaction indefinitely.

If it's not a deal breaker for you, or something so destructive, it may be best to learn to accept that this is how this person behaves and part of who they are. 

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« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2012, 11:38:21 AM »

Dear bb12,

"My confusion with this thread is that because my exBPD, without explanation, withdrew and gave me the silent treatment, it was I who actually did the extinction burst!

This makes me feel as though I was the one with the problem
."

No one said this would be easy or that us non-BPD's don't have our own issues.  You are not alone.  We have to be willing to be alone over being in an abusive cycle, I think, to really pull this off.  Are there some self-soothing techniques you can use when you withdraw or are shut out?  I need some, too.  Positive activities for me would include exercise, cleaning, working on my book, playing with the kids, reading, and going/venting on this message board.   Smiling (click to insert in post)

Take Care,

Beachtalks
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« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2012, 06:26:36 AM »

This is essentially what you do in terms of "Behavior Modification" when trying to eliminate undesired behaviors.  If possible (not dangerous) you DO NOT REWARD the behavior (ignore it) and over time it will eventually stop.

When I studied psychology and education in college, many moons ago Laugh out loud (click to insert in post), I was trained in this technique and when I was a preschool teacher I used this technique.

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« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2012, 02:35:28 PM »

Do extinction bursts occur and then fade out, just within the specific situation? Or can they happen again later? I'm NC, and my ex's most recent burst, while very intense for a period of weeks, has seemed to stopped now. She hasn't contacted me for a while. Will something trigger her off again, memories perhaps? Or whichever triangulations she's in now, when they don't work out, will she perhaps focus the next round on me because I'm staying NC, and I was such a frequent target for her in the not so distant past? Is it 'out of sight, out of mind' when it comes to extinction bursts?
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« Reply #10 on: December 04, 2012, 07:56:22 PM »

Do extinction bursts occur and then fade out, just within the specific situation? Or can they happen again later? I'm NC, and my ex's most recent burst, while very intense for a period of weeks, has seemed to stopped now. She hasn't contacted me for a while. Will something trigger her off again, memories perhaps? Or whichever triangulations she's in now, when they don't work out, will she perhaps focus the next round on me because I'm staying NC, and I was such a frequent target for her in the not so distant past? Is it 'out of sight, out of mind' when it comes to extinction bursts?

Myself they can occur again when stimulus triggers the conditioned coping mechanisms.  When you see it again after an extended period of time it's the "spontaneous recovery".  It's not uncommon to see this. It makes weathering difficult.

It's important during one of these to not give intermittent reinforcement.
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« Reply #11 on: December 04, 2012, 10:50:53 PM »

Skip,

Thank you for posting this!  I have experienced this with my adult son.  I found that when I don't accept his pleas or listen to him (not take his phone calls), he does better.  So I have learned that I need to let him figure it out.  He doesn't like it, but he does figure things out as well as he can.  Very hard to do when it is your child, but in their best interest.  I won't always be here anyway.

Thank you again,

lostchild
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« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2013, 08:31:00 AM »

How can you not reward silent treatment? how can you get that behaviour to stop? by going silent yourself?
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« Reply #13 on: March 03, 2013, 09:02:17 AM »

Ruthi2,

I also have the same question as you have. How not to reward silent treatment? Its confusing..

some say you should "leave the door little open" and say I will talk when you are ready...  

others say go silent  and wait for her to contact. Will some one clarify.
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« Reply #14 on: April 28, 2013, 06:07:35 AM »

Extinction Bursts - Important to Understand when your Partner has BPD.

So what do we do?   When the person with Borderline Personality Disorder becomes dysregulated or depressed. bpdfamily.com recommends that you give them the space to self sooth - not try to do it for them.  Take a deep breath and politely and non-aggressively disengage. It’s not easy to block out the distraction and emotional pleas for our attention, yet it is only with a critical pause that we can really stay on a constructive and healthy pathway.

This act is called extinction. We essentially remove our reinforcement in an attempt to stop the  behavior. We simply stop rewarding the behavior.

OK, I understand this, and it is in fact  something that I discovered naturally on my own, without knowing the real name for it.

However...  

When I 'disengage', as you put it, my wife calls it 'becoming emotionally distant'.  And she interprets it as a 'provocative act' in our relationship.  Another form of conflict, if you like, just more like a 'cold war', perhaps, than a 'hot' one.

In other words, from her perspective, she sees this disengagement as a sign of me being uncaring, unfeeling and unresponsive to her needs.  And further she sees it as a sign that I am the dysfunctional one, because I am choosing to behave in this 'strange' way towards her, and am not responding correctly, as she sees it, to her emotional pleas.

We keep coming around all the time to the same fundamental question - which one of us is unwell, and which is merely struggling to respond appropriately to the dysfunction of the other?

Sadly, I don't believe my wife will ever accept that she is unwell.  She always believes she is the innocent victim, and any dysfunctional behaviour on her part is merely an understandable response to the pressure she believes she is under from me, and other members of her and our family, who are truly the dysfunctional ones.

If there was a 'litmus test' for BPD, things would be a lot easier. Because I think she really would accept the results of a blood test, or brain scan, or whatever.  But as long as it is possible to shift responsibility for her actions onto other people, she will do it, because ultimately that's far more palatable that owning your own behaviour.  'I had a rage - it wasn't my fault - the things my husband said were so upsetting, than anyone would do the same'.  She can always argue that it someone else's fault.   And to her, I'm sure I must seem like I'm doing the same thing - blaming someone else for our marital problems - her. 

Life would be a lot easier if there was some objective way to easily demonstrate who has the dysfunctional emotional response.  But of course, that also gets tricky, because by hanging around with people with BPD, one's own emotional response starts to get flakey too, something the BPD is usually quick to pick up on.

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« Reply #15 on: July 01, 2013, 02:29:11 AM »

Extinction Bursts - Important to Understand when your Partner has BPD.

So what do we do?   When the person with Borderline Personality Disorder becomes dysregulated or depressed. bpdfamily.com recommends that you give them the space to self sooth - not try to do it for them.  Take a deep breath and politely and non-aggressively disengage. It’s not easy to block out the distraction and emotional pleas for our attention, yet it is only with a critical pause that we can really stay on a constructive and healthy pathway.

This act is called extinction. We essentially remove our reinforcement in an attempt to stop the  behavior. We simply stop rewarding the behavior.

When I 'disengage', as you put it, my wife calls it 'becoming emotionally distant'.  And she interprets it as a 'provocative act' in our relationship.  Another form of conflict, if you like, just more like a 'cold war', perhaps, than a 'hot' one.

In other words, from her perspective, she sees this disengagement as a sign of me being uncaring, unfeeling and unresponsive to her needs.  And further she sees it as a sign that I am the dysfunctional one, because I am choosing to behave in this 'strange' way towards her, and am not responding correctly, as she sees it, to her emotional pleas.

Sadly, I don't believe my wife will ever accept that she is unwell.  She always believes she is the innocent victim, and any dysfunctional behaviour on her part is merely an understandable response to the pressure she believes she is under from me, and other members of her and our family, who are truly the dysfunctional ones.

'I had a rage - it wasn't my fault - the things my husband said were so upsetting, than anyone would do the same'.  She can always argue that it someone else's fault.   

Traddad--this sounds so exactly like my husband!

GreenMango or Skip or somebody: The thing I don't understand how to "give him space" on is that he TRIES to get me to leave him alone. I don't know how to give him space when space is what he wants, to not have me asking him any questions even if I try to say that I only want our relationship to be better/happier. He's pretty good at getting me to go away. he can talk a streak about his job or other people's situations etc, but bring up US and it goes to a new level!
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« Reply #16 on: July 01, 2013, 07:30:07 AM »

I'm with you on this one DreamFlyer99

There are two main borderline types from what I understand: the acting out pwBPD and the quiet borderline. One rages and the other goes passive aggressive.

If trying to manage a quiet borderline who demands space...  Perhaps too much space...  much of this coping advice does not apply.

I contributed to this thread some time ago out if confusion. And as much as I am clearer on BPD, comprehending this issue remains elusive for me. If anything, when my quiet borderline wanted space, it was I who did the extinction burst. My respect for his space turned into days, weeks, months of silence and I reacted angrily to the deliberate and cruel ignoring of my request to communicate. 18 months later and not a word. And threads like this make me feel like the borderline!

Bb12
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« Reply #17 on: July 01, 2013, 11:40:32 AM »

I'm with you on this one DreamFlyer99

There are two main borderline types from what I understand: the acting out pwBPD and the quiet borderline. One rages and the other goes passive aggressive.

Bb12

WELLLLLL...  

I guess my H is both then, raging AND quiet! Cuz he pushes me away if I try to talk about us learning some communication skills, but if I keep trying to have the conversation he'll roar! It's confusing. Maybe i'll ask this question on a different board, and someone can help straighten this out. (I hope!)
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« Reply #18 on: July 15, 2013, 05:58:40 AM »

Traddad--this sounds so exactly like my husband!

The thing I don't understand how to "give him space" on is that he TRIES to get me to leave him alone

In my view, the thing that makes it impossible is the inconsistency.

Sometimes my wife wants me to leave her alone.  So I get criticised for not leaving her alone.  She will claim I'm pressurising her, 'emotional abusing' her, often just because I tried to have a particular conversation that needed to happen, that for some reason she didn't want to happen.  She will sit on the sofa and literally ignore me - refuse to comment on anything I say, read the newspaper, surf the web, whatever.

On the other hand, if my wife wants my input, she will march over to wherever I am and whatever I am doing, she will interrupt and demand my attention.

Sometimes she will just spontaneously decide that she wants to play 'happy families' for no apparent reason.  And you can tell when she's in these moods, because she suddenly tries to be all considerate. For a while.   If you don't play along, often because she very recently did something quite horrible to you, then it's your fault, because you're refusing to be nice.  She doesn't understand that your feelings towards her have been coloured by all of the unpleasant and thoughtless things she's done lately. Instead, she thinks you're being unfair, by not putting all of that behind you, and restarting from scratch, when she wants to.

It's this push-pull, go-away-come-home experience that is so frustrating, and I believe is often called 'The Dance'.  It's always about their needs, and their mood at the time - never about yours. If you don't respond quickly enough when the dance tempo changes - it's your fault for being a bad dance partner - never theirs for putting a different record on.
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« Reply #19 on: July 15, 2013, 01:16:49 PM »

Extinction bursts can include things like turning up the projection machine.

Part of getting out of these bursts is learning more sophisticated ways to handle these things.  It is hard to deal with this day in and day out out.

Some of the ways to handle these are validation, boundaries, and reflective listening.

It's good to question why we don't start to change our approach - sometimes its fear, sometimes its exhaustion, and learning new stuff is hard at first.

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« Reply #20 on: July 16, 2013, 03:40:39 PM »

Extinction bursts can include things like turning up the projection machine.

Part of getting out of these bursts is learning more sophisticated ways to handle these things.  It is hard to deal with this day in and day out out.

Some of the ways to handle these are validation, boundaries, and reflective listening.

It's good to question why we don't start to change our approach - sometimes its fear, sometimes its exhaustion, and learning new stuff is hard at first.

I feel like I'm only barely getting to understand "extinction bursts" let alone put the "validation, boundaries, and reflective listening" into use. And I definitely don't do some things at some times because I'm so freaking tired, and I don't want to put up with what may turn into The Litany (of my wrongs.) And that makes me inconsistent which is not helpful.
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« Reply #21 on: July 18, 2013, 03:08:24 AM »

If you've been together a long time and the pattern is to put the other persons needs first for whatever reason and you start to change the "unspoken" norm the other person will react.  This goes for humans in general.

With a person with BPD the emotional reaction to this change can be overreaction.  It's likely they don't have the coping skills to deal with the stress.  They've been conditioned to a response by part on our actions.  Change in this respect can be shocking to a person with BPD.  Good savvy communication skills are a must in these early stages.

Part of it is weathering the burst with new approaches that hold this boundary of taking care of yourself too.   This is where the validation and reflective listening comes in - not solving it.  If they get abusive you take a time out. It takes practice and repeats.

Likened it to when a kid a tantrums or pushes for something.  They keep trying going past their normal range they would normally get what they want.  Eventually they give up, learn to solve it, self soothe or they go find a way to get it somewhere else.

Try posting a particular event you need help on for validation on the staying board.  The seniors are really good at working through them. Smiling (click to insert in post)

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« Reply #22 on: July 19, 2013, 01:49:42 AM »

Thank you, GreenMango, for all your helpful suggestions!

I do remember from my earliest learning about boundaries the concept of "any time you begin to enforce a new boundary there will be resistance." That sure is true. Lately (because i'm trying to learn better how to take care of me and my fibromyalgia and myself after recent surgery) I've been consciously saying "no" to myself when I start to do one of my usual "helpful" (translate: enabling) things like see some food item in the kitchen when i'm getting a drink of water and feel like "oh I should offer some of that to my H." because while I thought I was being lovely and hostessy and thoughtful I was actually teaching him that I was his mommy and maid and he didn't learn at all to take care of his own snack needs or whatever. I actually was crippling him in a way and teaching him he didn't have to take care of himself. Der.

It's a brave new world alright. Smiling (click to insert in post)
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« Reply #23 on: July 22, 2013, 07:15:51 AM »

It's pretty amazing when you zoom out and look at the dynamic between all the people involved.  It can really give us a sense of where we can work and change our part and a little emotional distance to see it clearly.

Many times that change alone is a catalyst for other changes.  Sometimes its not always what we imagine it would be - but if you are doing healthy things for you, learning about values and fulfilling your own basic needs first, healthy limits and being mindful of compassion - we can be more resilient and better equipped to handle tough situations.

Try to be compassionate to yourself too - its a lot to learn and nobody here expects that you have a grip on this stuff overnight. 
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« Reply #24 on: July 22, 2013, 01:35:48 PM »

It's pretty amazing when you zoom out and look at the dynamic between all the people involved.  It can really give us a sense of where we can work and change our part and a little emotional distance to see it clearly.

Many times that change alone is a catalyst for other changes.  Sometimes its not always what we imagine it would be - but if you are doing healthy things for you, learning about values and fulfilling your own basic needs first, healthy limits and being mindful of compassion - we can be more resilient and better equipped to handle tough situations.

Try to be compassionate to yourself too - its a lot to learn and nobody here expects that you have a grip on this stuff overnight. 

TRUTH, GreenMango, truth, there is so much to learn!

That "zooming out" thing alone is important, and something I wasn't able to do before. I so appreciate my T and her work in that regard--before I think I was just reactive to whatever was in the emotional-soup-of-the-day with my uBPDh, and couldn't step back. The past couple of years my T and I have done some seriously hard work to learn to pull back and observe. BUT I still have to remind myself! Being able to look at the bigger picture has been helpful and has taken much of the burden off of me as I learn better boundaries between my H and myself. I have been so entangled as to be incapable of seeing what is his and what is mine. Now that i'm getting better at that it's definitely time to get hold of the communication skills and other things on this site. If i'm to be in this r/s longer termed than the present 37 years, I need to learn how to not let the craziness stir up my adrenaline because I will stay healthier. At least I think i'm finally understanding what I can and cannot expect from him. It's a good step.

i'm going to go read awhile on the site and then I think i'll do what you suggested about putting a specific (and common!) situation on one of the other boards to get some input. Thanks so much for your clear-headed words. Smiling (click to insert in post)
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