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BPD, DBT, and Facebook

The Core Mindfulness skills can help you deal with Facebook-induced paranoia.

Let’s talk about Facebook, shall we?

You don’t have to have BPD for the all-encompassing social-media time suck to make you feel depressed. A 2013 study determined that the more you use Facebook, the less satisfied you become with your own life. Of course, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence this is true – how many times have you looked at the pictures of your friends’ vacations, new houses, and $3000 Pottery Barn dining-room tables and berated yourself for not earning more money? How many times have you read status updates like, “Happy anniversary to my fabulous, perfect husband, who treats me like royalty and buys me flowers every day,” and assumed it must be your fault that you’re still single?

Does it make me feel petty when I hide these people from my feed? Sure. It also makes me feel like I might be able to get some writing done that day, instead of crawling behind the couch with a bucket of sesame noodles and/or benzos.

However, there’s nothing worse about Facebook – especially for those of us who might as well have “abandonment issues” tattooed across our foreheads – than sending someone a message or friend request and being ignored. Sure, I know about the “Other” folder. I also know about the godforsaken “Seen” notifications.

If you have BPD, there’s no social-media interaction more triggering (and I hate that word, but it totally applies here) than sending someone a message, seeing that they’ve seen it, and hearing nothing back. I recently messaged another author, one whose work I love, to tell her I was writing about one of her books. Not just in my diary, either – I was writing about it for a professional publication that was paying me. We have a mutual friend, so I sent her a friend request.

Within minutes, I saw the accursed gray “seen” beneath my message. But she didn’t write back, and she didn’t accept my friend request. For two weeks.

I agonized, of course. I asked our mutual friend about her, and my friend said, “Oh, she’s really nice!” So after a 14-day waiting period only slightly less stressful than an early-‘90s HIV test, I wrote her back, mentioned our friend, and told her I’d be honored if she’d accept my friend request.

It was “seen” 20 minutes later. And I got nothin’.

I know, of course, that thinking about what I got or didn’t get is one of those stunted-in-childhood phenomena that drove me into dialectical behavior therapy in the first place. I know it’s not all about me. I know other people have lives, and problems, and that Facebook is, as the popular (and often shared) aphorism goes, “like comparing your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.” In fact, I’m pretty sure there are Tumblr-style pictures-with-words-on-them that say exactly that, with a background image of a spool of 35-millimeter film, set to 50% opacity. But that doesn’t make me any less likely to lie awake at 3 a.m. wondering if I’m not bestselling enough for her.

My DBT therapist used to say, “emotions restart themselves,” and tell me to “get off the wheel” after I’d used up half our session hamstering over something. (And no, Microsoft Word, I’m not trying to type “hamstring,” so stop policing me with the autocorrect.) What I’m trying to say is that, in true BPD fashion, I can belabor something like this well past the point of rationality, convinced it’s all about my shortcomings and not about the fact that the author is in a full-body cast with only an iPhone, a Fentanyl drip, and one working finger.

(As a wise woman named Judy Tenuta once said, “It could happen.”)

And therein lies one of the great truths of DBT: it’s not all about you, and you don’t know what happened. I return once again to one of my most-used skills, Check the Facts. Anyone who’s been in a strict DBT program will relate (and groan) when I say that if I were still in treatment, I’d be doing a behavioral analysis of why I sent that second message.

The DBT mindfulness skills often feel like having bamboo splinters driven beneath my fingernails, but this is one of those times when they work. Allow me to review them and address how they help when dealing with Facebook-induced paranoia.

States of Mind:

If ever there was a time you need to get out of Emotion Mind and into Wise Mind, this is it. Often, you have to go through Reasonable Mind to get there. Logic and intellect are your friends when it comes to dealing with Facebook ambiguity. For example, I know that sending someone two messages in a two-week period is enough. I know she’s seen them.

However, when I focus my attention only on the known facts – she hasn’t responded, and she hasn’t accepted my friend request – I’m able to see that it’s not necessarily about me, just as most things in the world aren’t about me, and it’s especially not about the fact that I’m not a good enough writer. People have different reasons for doing things, or not doing them, as the case may be. When I’m able to radically accept these truths, I can ease myself (read: drag myself kicking and screaming) into Wise Mind, which I’ll know I’ve reached when the kicking and screaming subside.

“What” Skills (Observe, Describe, Participate):

Observing means noticing events, emotions, and behavior without naming them, ruminating on them, or reacting by clinging to pain. I notice that the author hasn’t responded to me. However, I can’t observe her emotions or behavior; I can only observe my own. My emotions tell me I’m not good enough, and they lead to the behavior of staying up at night worrying, which leads to the behavior of sleeping later than I’d like the next day, which leads to grouchiness, which leads to ruminating on the grouchiness, which leads to ruminating about why I’m not good enough to be somebody’s friend. Observing is the first step in stopping all that.

Describing is giving a name to what you observe. My DBT therapist used to talk about primary and secondary emotions, which I now talk about with my writing students, because they’re really helpful when building complex characters. I may think my primary emotion is anger, but it’s really fear. I’m angry someone would treat me the way my Emotion Mind tells me I’m being treated, because I’d never treat someone that way. After all, I was raised in Arkansas by a Southern mother, which means I grew up writing thank-you cards for everydamnthing. But the emotion that’s driving the anger is fear. And what’s scarier to someone with BPD than being ignored? NOTHING.

Participating is easy to understand, if not easy to do: it means getting the hell off Facebook and leaving the house.

"How" Skills (Non-Judgmentally, One-Mindfully, Effectively):

A nonjudgmental stance is being aware of what you’ve observed and described without judging it. In this case, I can be angry that the “Seen” notification exists without being angry at the author. (Really, what sadist thought that notification was necessary? Oops, judging.) When you “unglue your opinions from the facts,” as Marsha Linehan says, you can be nonjudgmental, which helps move you toward Wise Mind.

One-Mindfully means staying present, getting off the wheel, and fully attending to the things in my life to which I need to attend. I may want to play 50 million (okay, five) games of Candy Crush while obsessively monitoring my incoming messages, but that won’t get my laundry done, and I’m sure the real people in my real life would appreciate it if I wore clean socks and underwear. If I go to the Laundromat, I get to smell my Trader Joe’s lavender laundry detergent, and I really like the smell of that detergent. Focusing on the smell of your detergent might seem a little hippy-dippy, like something that Twin Peaks psychiatrist with one red and one blue lens in his glasses would espouse, but it’s better than composing why-won’t-you-talk-to-me messages in your head.

Effectively means acting as skillfully as possible in the situation you’re in, not the situation you want to be in. In other words, play by the rules of socially acceptable behavior, even if you have to memorize what “socially acceptable” means. Sending why-won’t-you-talk-to-me messages may have been my M.O. in the past, but it’s not socially acceptable behavior. If what you want is to keep someone from blocking you on Facebook and/or taking out a restraining order, you have to let go of your anger and stop making everything about how you’ve been slighted.

I may not enjoy using the Core Mindfulness skills, but I know how to, and that’s all that matters. What I love about DBT, what I loved about writing out these skills, is that I had to go back and tease them apart, because once I use one, the others follow. It’s all connected, and Saint Marsha is all about the interconnectedness. I like to think that if she could see me now, she’d be nodding in approval, wearing that slightly distracting but eminently comforting barrette she wears in the skills training videos.

Thanks again, Saint Marsha.

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