Grounding Exercises With Borderline Personality Disorder

Learn how to focus your attention on the present

woman doing breathing exercise
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If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), you may benefit from grounding exercises. These exercises are helpful during dissociation, panic, strong impulsive urges, flashbacks, and intense emotional distress.

Learning and practicing grounding techniques can help you soothe your emotions and manage your BPD symptoms. 

What Are Grounding Exercises?

Grounding exercises are designed to help you focus your attention on the present moment.

They are helpful whenever you are having an experience that is overwhelming or all-consuming.

There are a variety of exercises that have been developed for grounding and different ones can be used to target different situations. For example, some of the exercises can be done in public whereas others are more suitable for a private setting (for example, when a person is having very intense dissociative experiences). It is usually best to practice a variety of these exercises so that you have several to draw on when needed.

Visual and Auditory Grounding Exercises

Visual and auditory grounding exercises rely on using your senses of sight and hearing to ground you into the present moment.

To conduct a visual grounding exercise, take a deep breath, and then start to mentally catalog the things you see around you. Notice even the mundane details like the color of electrical outlets or a frame that is crooked.

To conduct an auditory grounding exercise, listen to the sounds you hear around you. Do not just notice the obvious sounds, but notice the layers of sound, such as a dog's whine before it howls. Notice how sounds rise and fall, their pitch, intensity, and timbre.

The good news is that these exercises are suitable for any environment.

In other words, you do not need to be able to see or hear anything special to be able to practice them. In fact, these exercises can be particularly useful for times when you are in public, as no one will even know what you are doing. You can then stop the exercise whenever you are feeling reconnected to the present moment.

Tactile Grounding Exercises

Tactile grounding exercises use your sense of touch to ground you in the present moment. These exercises can be used when you are experiencing particularly intense distress or dissociation.

One commonly used tactile grounding exercise is done using an ice cube. Grab an ice cube out of the freezer and hold it in your hand until it starts to cause some mild discomfort—but do not hold onto it for too long or it can cause pain. Many people find that the discomfort helps them reconnect with the current time.

Other tactile ground exercises include taking a cool shower to jolt you into the present or using a rubber band on your wrist to quickly "snap" yourself out of thinking too much of the past or anxiety-ridden issues.

Other Grounding Exercises

If none of the above work for you, be creative and make up your own grounding exercise. What senses are most powerful for you? Smell? Taste? Touch? Perhaps a strong smell, such as a whiff of peppermint from very strong mints, can help ground you.

Try different grounding techniques until you find one that works for you. It is also a good idea to discuss grounding exercises with your therapist or doctor, as he or she may be able to provide additional guidance on which exercises would be most effective for you. 

Sources:

Linehan, MM. "Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder." New York: Guilford Press, 1993.

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