Beauty and the Borderline

A Journey towards Integration

Distress Tolerance: I.M.P.R.O.V.E.

easy chair

When you find yourself in a situation or experiencing a feeling that is uncomfortable, and you think to yourself, “I really can’t deal with anymore shit right now,” but you cannot, at the moment, get out of situation or openly express your feelings, it’s time to IMPROVE the moment.  Like any Crisis Survival skill, I.M.P.R.O.V.E. will never change reality to what you want, but at least you can reduce your own suffering and try to grow through the experience.

A way to remember these skills is the word
With Imagery:  Imagine very relaxing scenes.  Imagine a secret room within yourself, seeing how it is decorated.  Go into the room whenever you feel very threatened.  Close the door on anything that can hurt you.  Imagine everything going well.  Imagine coping well.  Make up a fantasy world that is calming and beautiful and let your mind go with it.  Imagine hurtful emotions draining out of you like water out of a pipe
With Meaning:  Find or create some purpose, meaning, or value in the pain.  Remember, listen to, or read about spiritual values.  Focus on whatever positive aspects of a painful situation you can find.  Repeat them over and over in your mind.  Make lemonade out of lemons.
With Prayer:  Open your heart to a supreme being, greater wisdom, God, your own wise mind.  Ask for strength to bear the pain in this moment.  Turn things over to God or a higher being.
With Relaxation:  Try muscle relaxing by tensing and relaxing each large muscle group, starting with your hands and arms, going to the top of your head, and then working down; listen to a relaxation tape; exercise hard; take a hot bath or sit in a hot tub; drink hot milk; massage your neck and scalp, your calves and feet.  Get in a tub filled with very cold or hot water and stay in it until the water is tepid.  Breathe deeply; half-smile; change facial expression.
With One thing in the moment:  Focus your entire attention on just what you are doing right now.  Keep yourself in the very moment you are in; put your mind in the present.  Focus your entire attention on physical sensations that accompany nonmental tasks (e.g. walking, washing, doing dishes, cleaning, fixing).  Be aware of how your body moves during each task.  Do awareness exercises.
With a brief Vacation:  Give yourself a brief vacation.  Get in bed and pull the covers up over your head for 20 minutes.  Rent a motel room at the beach or in the woods for a day or two; drop your towels on the floor after you use them.  Ask your roommate to bring you coffee in bed or make you dinner (offer to reciprocate).  Get a schlocky magazine or newspaper at the grocery store, get in bed with chocolates, and read it.  Make yourself milk toast, bundle up in a chair, and eat in slowly.  Take a blanket to the park and sit on it for a whole afternoon.  Unplug your phone for a day, or let your answering machine screen your calls.  Take a 1-hour breather from hard work that must be done.
With Encouragement:  Cheerlead yourself.  Repeat over and over: “I can stand it,” “It won’t last forever,” “I will make it out of this,” “I’m doing the best I can do.”
Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan, pp. 168-169.

I use all these skills at one time or another:  Imagery and Vacation in my imaginary trips to Cuba (the last socialist paradise, I always tell my Prince, and joke that we should get married there).  One thing in the moment and Encouragement quite often when I am distressed or trapped, and only have a minute or two to think.  Relaxation quite often before bed (check out the four free relaxation mp3s from McMaster University).

monty-python-s-life-of-brian-originalAll of them except Prayer.  I don’t believe in God, and even if I did, I think I would be angry at him or her.  (I feel slightly guilty that I can’t discuss or give an example of a DBT skill, so later on I’ll post some “prayers” and other meaningful stories and anecdotes that we read and discussed in group, and that other people seemed to like.  Personally, part of me resists all this self-help bullshit, and I dislike nothing more than meaningful little parables about looking on the bright side of life!  Chicken Soup for the Soul ain’t for me, thanks.) (But speaking of the bright side of life cheers me up, because I remember that deliciously ironic last song from Monty Python’s Life of Brian!)

There now, I’ve admitted a dirty little secret, haven’t I?  I often dislike all these silly acronyms, and taking responsibility, and honestly looking at my behaviour.  Part of me wants to go on blaming everyone else, especially my parents.

Stumped BusinesswomanBut that got me nowhere.  I almost lost my Prince and our son.  And so, I’ll use I.M.P.R.O.V.E., a DBT skill, to make learning and practicing DBT skills more palatable.  I’ll start a blog, called Beauty and the Borderline, in which I’ll write about BPD and DBT, in order to maximize my learning and to build up an online portfolio of my work.  I’ll learn a lot about BPD and DBT during this process, through researching and sharing with others, and feel validated that others experience the same crazy rollercoaster of emotion.  I’ll want to reach out to other Borderlines, to let them know they’re not alone.

And bam! — I can circle #17 (Improve the moment) on my diary card for bringing Meaning to my DBT practice, by trying to make this whole process more meaningful for myself and others.

Other resources:

Distress Tolerance Exercise Worksheet by Randy Wolbert (for recording use and efficacy of A.C.C.E.P.T.S., Self-soothe, and I.M.P.R.O.V.E. skills)

Improve the

Transcript of From Chaos to Freedom:  Crisis Survival Skills, Part 2: Improving the Moment and Pros & Cons, a video lesson by Marsha Linehan

DBT Skills Handbook, p. 63

Distress Tolerance, Part 3 (Improve the Moment)@Living with BPD

Improve the


One comment on “Distress Tolerance: I.M.P.R.O.V.E.

  1. Pingback: Talking in the Third Person Lowers Anxiety | Beauty and the Borderline

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