As much as most of us would love to live a hassle-free life, unfortunately, problems crop up for all of us every now and then.
For those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD, also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder or EUPD), when problems arise, we can quickly feel overwhelmed or panicked.
I know from my own experience that once I start to panic, I tend to catastrophise and convince myself that the problem is unsolvable. This leads me to avoid or ignore the problem, or in some cases, fall back on unhelpful short-term coping mechanisms such as self-harm.
As some of you may already know, I undertook a year-long Intensive Life Skills (ILS) therapy programme as part of my treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder. ILS is based on Dialectical Beahviour Therapy (DBT) and a large part of the programme focused on problem-solving.
The ILS programme offered a four-step problem-solving method. At first, I struggled with the concept, but we kept practising it and I soon came to realise that I had started subconsciously following the steps in my “real life” – and it worked!
I realised that using a structured, reasoned method was exactly what I needed to override the intense emotional responses that BPD evokes. In my experience, when I’m experiencing overwhelming emotions, I need something to anchor me and help me to focus on one step at a time; to intercept my default reaction to conclude that even the smallest problem is the end of the world and I am incapable of finding a solution. This method breaks everything down into smaller, more manageable steps.
So today, I thought I would share this problem-solving technique in the way that I understand and use it. I hope you find it as useful as I do.
You will need:
- a pen
- a cup of tea (optional!)
Before you begin…
If we attempt to solve a problem when we are feeling distressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or in another heightened emotional state, it will be extremely difficult to follow the process. Practicing self-soothing can help to get us in a calmer state of mind before we try to tackle a problem. Also, make sure that you are in a safe, peaceful location, where your surroundings are not going to negatively affect your anxiety levels, and set aside some time to work through the process so you’re not rushed into a decision.
Ready? Let’s go.
Step 1: Identify the problem
The first step in problem-solving is to identify what the problem actually is. Try to sum it up in one clear, concise sentence. If we are vague about the problem we want to solve, it can make it difficult to find an effective solution, so try to be as specific as possible. If you are struggling to identify the root problem, try to identify the exact emotions you are feeling, then try to establish what has triggered those emotions. This should lead back to the root problem.
Once you’ve identified the problem, write it down as a single sentence at the top of the page.
Step 2: Generate ideas
The next step is to come up with as many different potential solutions to the problem as possible. Now the crucial part of this step is to suspend all judgement. What I mean by that is write down every single solution that comes to mind, no matter how ridiculous or outlandish it might be. The important thing at this stage is to generate as many ideas as you possibly can, regardless of how good or bad the idea might seem to be. Some of these ideas may seem silly or obviously unhelpful but try to suspend your judgement until the next stage. For now, just write it down.
3. Select and Implement a Solution
By this stage, you should have generated several potential solutions, perhaps even pages and pages of ideas, and now it’s time to narrow them down. Take each potential solution and note the pros and cons of it. Once you have done that for each idea, you should have a clearer view of which potential solution is the right one for you and your situation.
Now that you have selected your course of action, go ahead and implement it.
4. Monitor and Evaluate
It may seem like implementing your course of action is the last step, but it actually isn’t. It’s important to review whether or not the solution you chose has actually resolved your problem. If it has, that’s great! But if not, it’s time to loop back the the beginning of the process and try again.
It may be tempting to just go back to step 3 and pick another potential solution, but it’s worth going right back to step 1 to make sure that you have correctly identified the root problem. For example, do you really hate your job, or do you actually have an unresolved issue with your coworker that could be cleared up?
Make sure you’re really clear about this as it can significantly affect the whole process and the outcome.
I hope you find this method useful. If you try it out, or if you have any other problem-solving tips, please let me know in the comments.