Beauty and the Borderline

A Journey towards Integration

Distress Tolerance: Self-soothe

conceptThe next Crisis Survival Skill on our agenda is Self-soothe.  Many of the self-soothing activities are also things we do to take care of ourselves — to feed our body, mind, and spirit what we need to grow and succeed.  I think many BPDers can tend to neglect self-care, because secretly we feel we don’t deserve it.  (I plead guilty on that score!)  But — especially when we feel down — regular, mindful self-care is a great habit to get into, because it builds inner peace, confidence, and self-worth.  If you don’t believe me, try it!  (Hell, try it even if you do believe me!)  Pick a couple of self-soothing activities you can practice daily, and keep a record of your feelings for one week.  See if you don’t feel better about yourself when you actively care for your whole self.

A way to remember these skills is to think of soothing each of your
With Vision:  Buy one beautiful flower; make one space in a room pretty; light a candle and watch the flame.  Set a pretty place at the table, using your best things, for  a meal.  Go to a museum with beautiful art.  Go sit in the lobby of a beautiful old hotel.  Look at nature around you.  Go out in the middle of the night and watch the stars.  Walk in a pretty part of town.  Fix your nails so they look pretty.  Look at beautiful picture in a book.  Go to a ballet or other dance performance, or watch one on TV.  Be mindful of each sight that passes in front of you, not lingering on any.
With Hearing:  Listen to beautiful or soothing music, or to invigorating and exciting music.  Pay attention to sounds of nature (waves, birds, rainfall, leaves rustling).  Sing to your favourite songs.  Hum a soothing tune.  Learn to play an instrument.  Call 800 or other information numbers to hear a human voice.  Be mindful of any sounds that come your way, letting them go in one ear and out the other.
With Smell:  Use your favourite perfume or lotions, or try them on in the store; spray fragrance in the air; light a scented candle.  Put lemon oil on your furniture.  Put potpourri in a bowl in your room.  Boil cinnamon; bake cookies, cake, or bread.  Smell the roses.  Walk in a wooded area and mindfully breathe in the fresh smells of nature.
With Taste:  Have a good meal; have a favourite soothing drink such as herbal tea or hot chocolate (no alcohol); treat yourself to a dessert.  Put whipped cream on your coffee.  Sample flavours in an ice cream store.  Suck on a piece of peppermint candy.  Chew your favourite gum.  Get a little bit of a special food you don’t usually spend the money on, such as fresh-squeezed orange juice.  Really taste the food you eat; eat one thing mindfully.
With Touch:  Take a bubble bath; put clean sheets on the bed.  Pet your dog or cat.  Have a massage; soak your feet.  Put creamy lotion on your whole body.  Put a cold compress on your forehead.  Sink into a really comfortable chair in your home, or find one in a luxurious hotel lobby.  Put on a silky blouse, dress, or scarf.  Try on fur-lined gloves or fur coats in a department store.  Brush your hair for a long time.  Hug someone.  Experience whatever you are touching; notice touch that is soothing.
Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan, p. 167.

MP900177843In the room where we have our group sessions, there is a little basket of Crisis Survival items for us to use if we get triggered during group.  We can use a miniature teddy bear, a silky scarf, a couple of fragrances (lavender and vanilla?), a small ice pack, a squeezable stress ball, some pretty stones, etc.  (I wish it held chocolate cheesecake, but food can be a trigger for many BPDers with eating disorders.)

Many people make up their own little boxes to use at home, full of things that make them feel good.  (I don’t have an actual box of things, but I have a mental list of soothing items and activities prepared, and I keep soothing items in different places.)  Looking at my son (and especially just being with him, touching and playing with him) is very soothing for me, and I have his pictures on my computer and cell phone.  I love to look at tropical beach scenes, and will visit vacation websites for this purpose (although I think this activity would more properly fall under the V in I.M.P.R.O.V.E., which we’ll learn about next — but DBT skills have a lot of overlap, and if it soothes me, I can circle both skills).

vesper_in_the_shower_8398 (1)My absolute go-to self-soothe skill is taking a shower.  Especially when I’m feeling hurt or my nerves are raw from stress, I love the comforting heat raining on my shoulders, coursing down, warming me from head to toe.  Some scented body wash and a mindfully-slow, luxurious soaping of my whole body help to melt away the tension and hurt.  If I’m really feeling awful, I’ll sit in the shower and have a cry, letting the warm rain fall on me like an embrace, until I can calm down.  As before, I validate my emotion by naming it, then telling myself it is okay, it’s perfectly understandable and natural that I feel ___.

Soft HandsAfter my shower, I often apply a fragrant, creamy lotion all over my body.  (Canadian winter = dry skin)  You don’t have to use lotion — anything you would like to apply to your skin that has a nice scent (or even no scent) will do.  Just the act of rubbing it into my skin, taking care and time and attention, is relaxing and soothing.  Of course, it’s best if I do it mindfully, paying attention to the fragrance and the feel of my hands on my body.  But even if my mind wanders off while I am doing this, some part of my brain registers the act of touching and taking care of myself — and I feel better about myself.

Other resources:

Self-Soothing: Calming the Amygdala and Reducing the Effects of

Distress Tolerance: Part 2 (self soothing)@Living with BPD

Ways I Soothe Myself Worksheet, p. 32 of Survivor to Thriver: Manual and workbook for adult survivors of child abuse who want to move-on with (pdf version)

Transcript of From Chaos to Freedom:  Crisis Survival Skills, Part 1: Distracting and Self-soothing, a video lesson by Marsha Linehan.

DBT Skills Handbook, p. 62


2 comments on “Distress Tolerance: Self-soothe

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    February 19, 2013

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  2. Ris
    July 9, 2013

    what a great article..I should really try DBT..actually I am thinking of attending weekly group session.


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