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Author Topic: BPD BEHAVIORS: Extinction Bursts  (Read 69865 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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united for now
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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


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.

Change your perceptions and you change your life.  Nothing changes without changes
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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  :'(               

Letting go of what was or what you thought was, and accepting what is, is all part of the piece to the puzzle  we need to move forward.

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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?

? ? ?

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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
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,


"Perhaps the only real short cut in life, is brutal honesty..."
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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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