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On the last track, we discussed the various forms of should trigger thought. Some of these forms are predetermined rules; conditional assumptions; and punishment fallacy.
Blaming trigger thoughts are ones in which the BPD client believes that his or her pain is the another person’s fault. I have found that these types of thoughts are more frequent than should trigger thoughts because of the BPD client’s constant feelings of hurt and abandonment.
On this track, we will examine the various types of blaming trigger thoughts. Some of these types are black and white thinking; mind reading; and labeling.
Three Types of Blamind Trigger Thoughts
Type #1 - Black and White Thinking
The first type of blaming trigger thought is black and white thinking. As you have probably experienced yourself, BPD clients tend to categorize people into two categories: people who care and people who don’t. These types of clients soon begin to practice tunnel vision in which they are unable to see the kind and generous acts done by people they have labeled as uncaring. Often, clients with BPD will change their views, but sporadically and only when certain criteria are met.
As you know, BPD clients go through a period of idealization and devaluation, but there is rarely any gray area. Cynthia, a 23 year old client, stated, "You know my dad. Hates paying for childcare and doesn’t give a shit in general. When he’s around or he takes us somewhere, he does it for appearance sake only."
To help Cynthia, I asked her to try the "Awareness" technique. I asked her to think of someone she knows well and who she has at various times blamed. In Cynthia’s case, it was her father. I asked her to think of a decision that person made that angered her. Then, I asked her to reconstruct that decision from the other person’s point of view. I asked her to consider her father’s physiological state, emotional state, beliefs, needs, conditioning, or other obligations.
Cynthia stated, "I guess it was his decision, on several occasions, to bring his other daughter along when he went out with us. I thought it was selfish. But I guess when you look at it from another point of view, she didn’t have a mother and we did. He couldn’t just leave her, that would have been selfish. She was also younger than us, so he was just trying to be an attentive father."
As you can see, by becoming aware of the motivations behind her father’s decision, Cynthia addressed the trigger thoughts that commonly led to her anger. Think of your Cynthia. Could he or she benefit from the "Awareness" technique?
Type #2 - Mind Reading
I find that the second type of blaming trigger thought is mind reading. Clients who suffer from this trigger thought believe that their own suffering is the result of another person’s deliberate attempts to harm them. In a way, this trigger thought borders paranoia and is common among BPD clients.
I have found that there are Two Components to these trigger thoughts. 1. First, the client convinces his or her self that he or she is in pain as a result of another person’s actions. 2. Secondly, the client then comes to the conclusion that the other person is intentionally causing the client’s pain. Joshua was a 22 year old BPD client who experienced mind reading trigger thoughts.
While he was waiting for a table at a crowded restaurant, Joshua noticed that a couple who had arrived after him had already been seated. Joshua became angry at the hostess for ignoring his party and allowing the other people to go first. He believed that the hostess had deliberately allowed the other couple to go first as a way to show her superiority. However, it never occurred to Joshua that the reason the other couple was seated before him was because their party was smaller when Joshua’s party consisted of seven people.
Technique: No Assumptions
To help Joshua combat his mind reading trigger thoughts, I asked him to try the "No Assumptions" exercise. I asked Joshua that for one day, he would not assume he knew the motivations behind other people’s actions. Instead, I asked Joshua to ask the other person what his or her motivations are.
For instance, when Joshua’s girlfriend was taking longer than usual to get ready, he assumed she was getting back at him for not going to her favorite restaurant. Joshua then asked her, "Are you taking a longer time getting ready because you’re angry we’re not going to ‘Charlie’s’?" His girlfriend said that she was just taking longer because her hair had not curled the way she wanted it too. As you can see, by challenging and questioning his own assumptions, Joshua could combat his trigger thoughts that led to his anger.
Type #3 - Labeling
In addition to black and white thinking and mind reading, the third type of blaming trigger thought is labeling. This occurs when a BPD client labels another person in a negative light. For instance, instead of disliking the person’s actions, the BPD client will begin to hate the person as well. The guilty party is given a label which indicts their whole character rather than a specific flaw.
Tim was a 31 year old BPD client who experienced labeling trigger thoughts. Tim stated, "My sister-in-law is a nag. All she does is tell my wife how to do things better and what she’s doing wrong. She does it to her husband too."
Technique: Specific Actions
To help Tim, I asked him to try the "Specific actions" exercise. Instead of labeling another person with a negative label, I asked him to write in his journal only specific actions the other person did to make him angry.
Tim wrote, "My sister in law told my wife that cookies come out of the oven better if they are put on a sheet of parchment rather than directly on the pan. She told her husband to buy larger sized sweaters so he could wear more layers in the winter." I asked Tim what he thought of his sister in law now that he had described her actions instead of her character.
Tim stated, "I feel like she’s not so much a nag as she is being helpful. Yeah, she talks a lot and she’s always trying to help someone, but I guess it’s all in good nature." As you can see, by focusing on the actions rather than the negative feelings inspired by the actions, Tim could more objectively judge his sister in law’s actions.
Think of your Tim. Could her or she benefit from the "Specific Actions" exercise?
On this track, we presented the various types of blaming trigger thoughts. Some of these types are black and white thinking; mind reading; and labeling.
On the next track, we will examine the effects of stress on BPD clients who react in anger. Also, we will include techniques for reducing stress, "Scanning the Body" and "Stop and Breathe".
Borderline Personality and Externalized Aggression
- Sansone, R. A. and Sansone, L. A. (2012). Borderline Personality and Externalized Aggression. Innovation in Clinical Neuroscience, 3(9). p. 23-26.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Black, J. E. (2016). An introduction to the Moral Agency Scale: Individual differences in moral agency and their relationship to related moral constructs, free will, and blame attribution.Social Psychology, 47(6), 295–310.
Blanchard-Fields, F., Hertzog, C., & Horhota, M. (2012). Violate my beliefs? Then you're to blame! Belief content as an explanation for causal attribution biases.Psychology and Aging, 27(2), 324–337.
Schein, C., Jackson, J. C., Frasca, T., & Gray, K. (2020). Praise-many, blame-fewer: A common (and successful) strategy for attributing responsibility in groups.Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149(5), 855–869.
QUESTION 6 What are three types of blaming trigger thoughts?
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