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  • Writer's pictureNick Hartkop

October 10, 2021 (BPD Exercise)

Nick Hartkop: BPD Exercise: Freedom From The Trap Of Emotional Buttons (10/10/2021)

The following are my answers to an exercise from The Borderline Personality Disorder Workbook, Daniel J. Fox, PHD, pages 99-114.

(Questions are colorized, and answers are bulleted in bold)

Emotional Buttons: Those things that hit you to your core, that bring up all those past thoughts, feelings, and memories that make you feel like you’ve been pulled back in time to a past experience.

You may be thinking that emotional buttons sound like triggers. Triggers are similar to emotional buttons in that they distort how we see and react to the world, but emotional buttons are tied to specific situations or events from the past that shaped how you see and interact with the world in the present. Buttons are from a deeper place inside you that gets activated, and when they get pressed the urge to react carries greater emotional weight than do triggers. Emotional button reactions that occur repeatedly create patterns of negative beliefs and behaviors that cause problems in all areas of your life. They can eventually make world views become distorted and present day situations and circumstances are seen through a lens of a past full of loneliness and failed attempts to get needs met.

Identifying your button-pushing situations: What happens in your life today that sets you off, making you feel like you did when you were younger and in a particular situation?

1. My emotional buttons are pushed when:

  • My emotional buttons are pushed when I think about judgment from others. When I think about being cancelled or think about the videos made about me. When I think about those things it makes me think about the rejection and abuse I faced growing up.

2. My emotional button thoughts:

  • I am a reject from society

  • No one will hire me or accept me,

  • I am more than what people say online about me

  • My worth isn’t summed up by my past failures

  • My mother will never love me

  • I will never be able to have a fulfilling life and follow my dreams

  • I will lose my home and family

  • I will never get to live in reality in adulthood because I am seen as a reject and failure and disgusting

  • I want to be a good person and love people

  • I want a do-over for my life so I can not have the failures I have and not hurt people and myself

  • I want to be normal

3. My emotional button feelings:

  • I feel isolated, angry, guilty, ashamed, sad, and I also feel the want of acceptance by others and to be seen as someone who is able to get their life together and redeem themselves.

4. My emotional button memories:

  • Because of the judgment I faced from my mother, God and all of religion, the way people judge me makes me feel like I’m back in my room locked up as a kid, and like when my dad would judge and keep me isolated. I understand that my failures and behavior before starting treatment were massive and that judgment is expected and deserved, but it causes me incredible amounts of pain. I know it is my punishment but I struggle with it.

1. My emotional buttons are pushed when:

  • When I think about how I am scared that I will never have a career or a normal life because of my mental health struggles.

2. My emotional button thoughts:

  • You’re going to be homeless because you are rejected from society

  • You’ll lose your wife because you won't be able to support her (This is a delusion I face because I am worried I am unemployable, but my dream is being someone who can work normally and be successful)

  • No matter how much treatment, therapy, and repentance I have, no one will accept me.

  • I have been labeled for life and can no longer follow my dreams. I want to be successful in my life, and have the drive and work ethic to commit to being healthy and a good person. I can do it, I am doing it, but I am worried no one will ever see the good in me because of the bad people say.

  • I am more than the bad, but I will never be seen that way.

3. My emotional button memories:

  • Fear, Grief, Shame, isolation, Want for acceptance and peace of mind for my future

Identify the negative beliefs, behaviors, or patterns that are connected to your emotional buttons. These beliefs, behaviors and patterns can include outward reactions toward others, such as yelling, throwing things, hitting walls and other people, and so on. They can also involve inward reactions, such as using drugs and alcohol, self harming, saying bad things about you to yourself, and so on.

1. Emotional Button:

  • I feel insulted or disrespected. (Before treatment this was an issue on social media and in my day to day life. I still struggle with this.)

2. My emotional button beliefs:

  • My belief is that if people insult me or don’t like me that no one will listen to me and I will be a failure and alone forever.

3. My emotional button behaviors:

  • My behavior before treatment was to use homophobic/misogynistic language to people who I felt had disrespected me. I would demean that person because I felt disrespected in my delusions, and try to hurt them because I felt hurt.

4. My emotional button patterns:

  • My pattern anytime I felt threatened was to demean and use verbally abusive language. I would also yell and throw things and if someone got in my face I would lash out. (This behavior has been corrected through treatment, but I still feel the same anger, it's just better controlled now)

1. Emotional button:

  • I think about being cancelled or the videos about me

2. My emotional beliefs:

  • My belief is that I will never be able to live a fulfilling life or follow my dreams because of the defamation about me online

3. My emotional buttons behaviors:

  • I will lose focus for the day and become so angry and frustrated that I pace around my home and have graphic imagery of me defending myself or killing myself. I will become short in conversation and tell my partner I want to kill myself. Which is inappropriate and wrong

4. My emotional button patterns:

  • Every time I think about what is online about me, I feel hopeless, sentenced, and angry. I become lost in angry delusions and become hard to communicate with. It makes me feel like I can’t show the world who I really am because of my failures, and I want to continue to grow and be a good person and live a healthy life and be someone people like to be around. I worry that I will never have that and that I can’t ever have a family because my children will see my failures online and think I am a loser and a bad person. I wish I had been medicated and taken my mental health seriously or known what BPD was. I have been working continuously everyday to better myself, and I hate my failures and my past, and I have a lot more to provide to the world and people then just gossip. I want to be successful in my interpersonal relationships, professional relationships, art, and want to be able to work a normal job someday without being judged for my past.

Identify the associations between your emotional buttons and your past, present, or future. Breaking down the association between past pain and present behavior helps you understand what drives you to have negative beliefs or to engage in the negative behaviors and patterns that have kept your BPD active for so long. Understanding past pain, present behavior, and future expectations helps you control your emotional buttons.

Managing Your Emotional Button Responses: When first learning how to manage your emotional button responses, the secret to success is this, strike while the iron’s Cold, In other words, when you’re first learning to manage your responses, don’t work on them while they’re happening. Only work on them when you’re not activated or overwhelmed.

1. The people most likely to push my buttons are:

  • When I feel insulted or disrespected, it’s anyone.

2. The situations in which I’m most likely to have my emotional buttons pushed are:

  • Online arguments, in person arguments.

Below are management strategies that will help you when your emotional buttons get pushed. Here is the preferred:

Self Statements of truth: Positive and honest things you say to yourself when your emotional buttons are pressed, such as, I’m safe, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, I’m in control of my own choices, This is just my past talking. This really isn’t what I think it is.

1. My self-statements of truth:

  • My past doesn’t determine my future, but shapes it.

  • I can be a normal, functioning member of society with a steady career and healthy relationships.

  • I am safe in my home.

  • No one is coming to take me away.

2. When and where I’ll practice them:

  • Daily in my home when paranoia sets in. It sounds like an easy solution, but I frequently dismiss these statements to myself and become consumed by my fear/anger. It is my biggest struggle and weakness currently, I get stuck in a track of thinking that I cannot escape. It is harmful to myself and ruins the days and hinders my development into being a normal functioning person who can still accomplish what they want in life.

Responding Differently to Your Emotional Buttons: Your emotional buttons are rooted in what was and not what is, and they appear to cause an immediate reaction based upon past experiences. Although it’s hard to recognize when you’re in the middle of it, there is a bit of time between your emotional button being pushed and your response. In the following exercise let's explore what happens when your buttons are pushed and how you respond differently.

1. Emotional button:

  • Thinking about never being able to find or hold a stable job, follow my dreams, or provide for my family because of the things online about me.

2. When my emotional button is pushed, I usually:

  • Become consumed in fear/anger

  • Become withdrawn/short and unable to communicate

  • Have delusions of the present and future in relation to my fear

  • Threaten self harm

3. To respond differently, I will:

  • Use self-statements of truth. This is something I work on with my rabbi. It is important for me to remember I am a human being with good intentions and love and kindness in my heart. I can have a fulfilling career and family. I want to be a good person and deserving of love. I do not want to be a failure, and I won’t be a failure. I will follow my dreams and be a person people can be proud of.

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