Please note: I have no formal mental health qualifications – this post is (in fact, all my posts are) based purely on my personal experience of living with BPD. Don’t @ me.
Most people experience the urge to act on impulsive urges every once in a while, but for those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) it can be something that happens regularly and we can really struggle to manage these urges. This can often lead to dangerous or damaging results, from overspending to the point of significant debt to potentially risky sexual behaviour, and all sorts of things in between.
The best course of action is to use the “surf the urge” skill (also known as “ride the wave“) from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. However, there are times, particularly at the start of therapy, when these skills are not yet completely ingrained in us, so they don’t always work effectively, and we can find ourselves continuing to act on these impulsive urges.
In these situations, I learnt to use a technique that I call mini-indulgences. Mini-indulgences are small allowances you give yourself, where you can act out slightly on an impulse, in order to prevent or reduce major damage from an all-out descent into impulsivity.
Mini-indulgences are not meant to be a long-term plan for managing impulsivity, but I’ve found them useful in the interim between starting to learn the skills in therapy, and having them solidified in my daily life.
I’ve put together a list of mini-indulgences I have used in the past, which have been able to satisfy my impulsive urges, rather than me acting out and doing something dangerously impulsive.
Go on Amazon and search for “Bargains Under 1”. I would allow myself to spend up to £4 (including any shipping costs), but because the items were so cheap (some as cheap as 13p) I could still buy quite a few things to sate my impulsive urges, rather than buying something really expensive that would put me in debt or at risk of not having enough money to pay for my rent and bills. The same can be done if you go to a bargain shop like Poundworld or the 99p Store, just remember to set yourself a spending limit, and never buy on credit when you’re feeling impulsive. A good way to have a limit is to save your change in a jar, then limit yourself to only spending what’s in the jar on your impulse shopping, but no more.
Dying/cutting my hair
When I’m feeling impulsive about my own identity or image, one of my options is to dye or cut my hair, as this can be corrected or left to grow out if I don’t like it when the impulsivity fades. Luckily for me, I’ve mostly ended up liking my hair when this has happened, but even if I didn’t, it’s a temporary thing, and hair can always be changed back or regrown – it’s not permanent damage.
Getting a piercing
Getting a piercing is often my go-to impulsive thing, but if I was going to do it, I’d have to restrict myself to getting something that wouldn’t leave an obvious mark if removed. There are plenty of piercings you can get that heal up with no visible scar (daith, rook, septum, tongue, etc). As I said, the caveat I would mention is not to get something that can’t be removed and healed back to normal, such as excessive ear-stretching or other drastic body modifications. You could also look at purchasing fake piercing jewellery, such as a fake septum ring, in order to alter your aesthetic without having to make any actual changes to your body.
If these suggestions seem too small to sate your urges, this one is a bit bigger but actually safer, as it doesn’t involve actually taking any action. If you’re feeling the need to do something extremely impulsive, try thinking of something massive, for example moving to a foreign country, or changing careers, and create a vision board about what you want to do. Do your research, and write extensive lists and plans of everything you’d need to do; create an inventory of items you’d need to buy and/or sell, and go into the most minute detail of everything you’d need to sort out in order to do this massive thing. This will keep you busy and also make you feel like you’re working towards something impulsive. The *huge* caveat here is don’t actually start work on the list. At least not while you’re still feeling impulsive. It may be after you’ve created your vision board and lists that your logical brain will kick in and realise that you don’t actually want to do the thing you originally thought of, and hopefully, this will have delayed the impulsivity in the same way “surfing the urge” does. This is a good way to “act out” an impulse without actually doing it. However, it may be that once the impulsive urges have subsided, that you still want to do the big project you planned out, except now you’re doing it from a place of excellent planning and research, and it’s no longer an impulsive decision.
As I said at the start of this piece, surfing the urge is the best way to deal with impulsive urges, but if that isn’t currently working for you, I hope these ideas will help you to manage your urges and keep you safe in the meantime.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, you can reach out for help from your GP or a mental health professional. I’ve also put together a list of services at the end of this post that you can contact for support.
How do you manage your impulsivity? Let me know in the comments.
Telephone: 0300 123 3393 (9am – 6pm, Monday to Friday)
Telephone: 116 123 (24 hours a day)
Telephone: 0300 5000 927 (9.30am – 4pm, Monday to Friday)
Telephone: 0300 304 7000 (4.30pm – 10.30pm)