Building Resiliency


Building Resiliency












When I was working in a Children’s Protective Services Shelter I met children who were scared from being whipped with extension cords, had suffered broken bones from being hit and who lived on the streets, surviving as best they could. I also met a young man, a former medical student, who volunteered at the shelter. He had hit his head when he dove into a swimming pool and was paralyzed from the neck down. Like this young man, some of the children exhibited an admirable ability to find joy and meaning despite the traumas and stress they had suffered. Those children shared similar qualities as this young man: they were resilient. Not only did they survive, but they were able to become passionate thrivers. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and stress, a key quality for your emotional and physical health.

Resilience is important for everyday stresses too.  In a recent article in Scientific Mind, the authors cite this 2002 quote by Dean Becker, a founder of a resilience-training firm:  “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails.  That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s’ true in the Olympics and it’s true in the boardroom.”

Emotionally sensitive people are especially sensitive to stress. The good news is that resiliency skills can be strengthened according to authors Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney who wrote Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges.

The first key is to be able to regulate your emotions. One effective way to manage painful emotions is through cognitive reappraisal, which means changing the way you think about a situation in order to change your emotional response. The strategy involves observing your thoughts and behaviors, challenging negative assessments of stressful situations and yourself, and replacing negative assessments with more factual statements. Ask yourself questions such as, “Am I thinking in black and white categories? What would be the gray or plaid way of viewing this situation?”

A second way to bolster your resiliency is to practice mindfulness. Staying in the present lowers your stress levels. Much of the stress you experience is due to worrying about the future or being upset about the past.

Increasing your positive emotions also will help you increase your resiliency. Creating joy in your life and creating positive experiences will add to your ability to cope well with stress. Developing realistic optimism, which means filtering out unnecessary negative information but paying attention to important negative information that is relevant to coping, will strengthen your ability to bounce back from stress and disappointment.

Avoiding stress may diminish your ability to cope. Using stress inoculation works to build your coping skills. Stress inoculation means taking on increasingly difficult challenges, much like gradually lifting heavier weights. If being out of your house is stressful for you, you might practice going to a small store a mile away before attempting to shop at the mall in the next town.

Exercise is always listed as a way to cope with stress and to improve your physical health. Walking is a simple way to start.  Having strong social support, and using that support,  also decreases your vulnerability to stress. Having friends to talk with, friends to play with, and friends who would help you out in a tough situation will lower your stress levels. Finally, having role modelswho manage stress well can give you inspiration and hope.

These ideas are not new. Sometimes when we hear suggestions that aren’t new we discount them when actually the fact that these ideas have been around for a while, been researched with many different groups, gives them credibility. Putting these strategies into practice will be difficult. Most of us would prefer an easier answer to being more content. But what if you practiced these suggestions for six months? Give it your all and do them to the best of your ability. If you need help, ask for it. Maybe you will be in a better place.

Self-Help Tool

Starting January 1, 2015 Dr. Hall’s self-help tool, Creating the Life You Want to Live, will be available. Dr. Hall will email subscribers daily coaching tips and ideas about research-based skills to help in your recovery.  See the details on this website (see the page for Creating the Life You Want to Live.  

Photo Credit:  ccThomas Levinson via Compfight

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Stop the Stigma

Stop the Stigma

Spread the word…NEA-BPD will be celebrating persons in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder throughout the month of October through their #BeyondBPDStigma social media campaign.

—This anti-stigma campaign will be conducted through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. People in recovery from BPD will be encouraged to talk about ways that they are empowering and advocating for themselves through text, photographs, and videos. Participants will be asked to use the hashtags #BeyondBPDStigma, #BeyondBPD, and #Imhelpingmyself. Peer advocate and family member Carl Dunn (@CarlDunnJr) and Amanda Smith, LMSW (@dialecticallife) will lead the campaign designed to bring awareness to the issues facing those affected by Borderline Personality Disorder. “This is an overdue effort,” said NEA-BPD president, Perry Hoffman, PhD. “It’s a positive message of hope, encouraging people to take charge of their recovery and support others in doing so as well.” To launch the campaign, an #BPDChat will take place on Twitter this Sunday afternoon, September 28, at 4:00 pm (EST) and 9:00 pm (BST). For more information, please email Carl Dunn at or Amanda Smith at

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Worry and Relationships By KARYN HALL, PHD

worry and relationships








Some emotionally sensitive people are worriers. Not just your everyday worriers, but world-class worriers. They worry when they wake up about what the day will bring. They worry about their appearance, they worry if they’ve done the right thing, and they worry about what might happen in the future. They worry about their family; they worry about their friends. They worry about people they love. They worry because they love. Some see worry as being part of  love and caring. They may not realize that their worrying can interfere with their sense of belonging and the closeness of their relationships.

Worrying Can Drain Happiness

Your daughter comes in to tell you that she’s been accepted to the college of her dreams. You had secretly hoped she wouldn’t get in because the college is so far away. You bite your lip and say in what you hope is an excited voice, “That’s great. Congratulations.”  It’s not long though before your brow furrows and you are asking questions like, “If you go there you won’t be able to come home as often, you know.”

Of course you don’t mean to dampen her excitement. You just want to be sure she is thinking of all the problems with being so far away. Truth be told (come on, now, admit it), you are thinking of the problems that you see happening and that bother you, not your daughter. She may respond with, “Mom, can’t you just be happy for me?  Just this once?”

Thinking of the pros and cons of a situation is a helpful way to evaluate choices that you have. Pros and cons are presented in a logical way though and worrying is filled with emotion, usually sadness and anxiety.

Worrying Communicates Lack of Confidence

Though you may not mean to do so, worrying about others communicates a lack of confidence. If they are uncertain about their decision or situation, your expressing worry can lead to their being more upset and uncomfortable. It can increase the tension that they already feel. If they are confident in their decision or situation, expressing worry will be seen as saying you don’t believe in them. Neither outcome is helpful and you may find they talk with you less and less about what is most important to them.

Worrying Can Be a Way of Avoiding Happiness

Sometimes people who worry are afraid of being happy. Most suffer greatly with their own worry and when they have let themselves be happy, losing that feeling hurt more than not feeling it at all. So when an event occurs that seems to bring happiness, they may automatically look for ways it could not be a pleasant experience. Sometimes they do this for other people too, perhaps not even aware of hat they are doing.

Most events in life are a mixture of both desired and less desired emotions. Graduating from high school can be a happy event with sadness about leaving friends. It’s usually pretty easy to find a reason to be doubtful about happiness. Winning the lottery could bring fears of tax problems and conflicts with relatives. Getting married can bring fears about losing independence.

While a realistic view considers both the advantages and challenges of events and decisions, not allowing celebration and not enjoying the positives limits your overall joy. Joining with others to celebrate joyful events is part of having a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships.

Worrying Affects the Way Others Treat You 

When you express worry about the decisions of others, they may see you as someone who can’t handle life. “Don’t tell her, she’ll just worry about it,” may be the mantra of your friends and family. They may discount what you say because they see you as worrying about everything. If others don’t listen to you, that can lead you to feel left out, which weakens the relationships.

You may be confused about how others react to your worrying about them.  You care so much and they don’t seem to understand that. If you’ve noticed that your worry is pushing people away, then you may want to try some ways to decrease your worry.

Ideas for Change

Find ways to be more aware of worry statements you make. Sometimes worrying is such a habit that you don’t notice when you are communicating worry. For example, ask others to point out your worry behavior to you. Statements of uncertainty can communicate worry. Asking others if they are sure about their decision, with a stressed tone and/or look, is an example. The television character Edith Bunker is an exaggerated example of communicating tension and anxiety to others through body language and tension level in addition to her tone of voice and the words she uses.

Once aware of your worry statements and body language, practice omitting those statements from your conversations. Practice having a more relaxed body.

Replace worry statements with supportive and congratulatory ones. “I’m so happy for you,” is an example.  You probably still have worries, but you don’t always need to express them.  If you do need to voice a concern, timing is important. Wait for some time to pass.

When you notice yourself being obsessed with worry, find an activity that gives you pleasure. Throw yourself into the activity.

Remember that productive worry is when worry gets you to take effective action, such as preparing for a test. Unproductive worry is worry over events that you have no control over and cannot change. Notice when your worry is not helpful and practice distracting yourself.

These are just a few ideas. Changing worry behaviors will not be easy and won’t happen quickly.

Bada Bing via Compfigh



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Emotionally Sensitive People Podcasts

We’ve just posted our second podcast on emotionally sensitive people in iTunes.


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Self-Validation: What Do You Do? By KARYN HALL, PHD












Validation is like relationship glue. Validating someone brings you closer. Validating yourself is like glue for fragmented parts of your identity. Validating yourself will help you accept and better understand yourself, which leads to a stronger identity and better skills at managing intense emotions.

Being out of control of your emotions is a painful experience and damaging to relationships. Knowing how to self-validate is important to learning to manage your emotions effectively. Self-validation means you can accept your internal experience as understandable and acceptable. But learning to self-validate is not so easy. How do you apply the six levels of validation to self-validation?  Notice that mindfulness and self-validation go hand in hand.

Level 1  Be Present

To be mindful of your emotions without pushing them away is consistent with Linehan’s  first level of validation, to be present. To be present also means to ground yourself and not dissociate, daydream, suppress or numb your emotions. Being present means listening to yourself. Feeling the pain of  sadness, hurt, and fear is most challenging and difficult. At the same time avoiding emotions results in quite negative consequences, while accepting allows emotions to pass and helps build resiliency. Being present for yourself validates that you matter and that you have the strength to feel.

Level 2  Accurate Reflection

Reflect means to make manifest or apparent. For self-validation, accurate reflection is acknowledging your internal state to yourself. Perhaps you reflect on what triggered the emotion and when. Maybe you reflect on the ways you feel the emotion in your body and consider the actions that go with the emotion. Reflecting means observing and describing, components of mindfulness. When you observe and describe your internal experience, you do not interpret or guess or make assumptions. You would say, “I feel angry and it started yesterday after my friend cancelled lunch. I sense tightness in my stomach, so maybe there is fear as well.”

Saying, “I am a total loser and no one wants to spend any time with me,” would not be stating the facts of your experience.  Stating the facts of your experience is validating and helps build trust in your internal experience.  Interpreting your experience in ways that you cannot observe to be true invalidates and leads to distrust in your internal experience and more

Level 3:  Guessing

Sometimes you won’t be sure what you are feeling or thinking. In these situations you may want to say something like, “If someone else were in this situation they would probably feel sad. Am I sad?”  You might also guess by looking at the actions you want to do.  If you want to hide, maybe you are feeling shame. Maybe you are thinking shame thoughts. You can notice where you feel body sensations, such as fear is often felt in the throat. If you are feeling fear, maybe you are thinking scary thoughts. Guessing your emotions and thoughts based on the information you have will help you learn more about yourself.

Level 4:  Validating by History

Sometimes you will have thoughts and feelings that are based on events that have happened in your past. Maybe you are afraid when people argue because in the past arguments led to your being hurt. Validating yourself by saying, “It’s acceptable and understandable that you are afraid of

Level 5:  Normalizing

Sometimes people who have intense emotions don’t see any of their emotional reactions as being normal. Everyone has emotions. It’s normal to feel sad, angry, hurt, ashamed, or any other emotion. The issue sometimes is that most people would not feel this emotion in this situation. That is important to realize. At the same time, it’s just as important to validate when others would feel the same way and accept that as well.  If you are sad because you didn’t get a job you wanted, remember that others would be sad if that happened to them. Check out whether what you are feeling is what most other people would experience and validate those feelings as such.

Level 6:  Radical Genuineness

In terms of self-validation, this means being your real self and not lying to yourself. It means that you don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Rejecting who you are is one of the highest levels of invalidation. An important distinction is that who you are is different from what you do. You are not your behavior, yet changing some of your behaviors may alleviate some of your suffering.

Self-validation is one of the critical steps for living with intense emotions. It is part of forming relationships and thriving. Practice and more practice will help you self-validate automatically.

Linehan, M.M. (1997) Validation and psychotherapy. In A. Bohart & L. Greenberg (Eds.), Empathy Reconsidered: New Directions in Psychotherapy. Washington, DC:  American Psychological ASsocaition, 352-392.

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Belonging means acceptance as a member or part. Such a simple word for huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong  is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions. Some find belonging in a church, some with friends, some with family, some on Twitter or other social media. Some see themselves as connected only to one or two people. Others believe and feel a connection to all people the world over, to humanity. Some struggle to find a sense of belonging.

Some seek belonging through excluding others. Yet a single instance of being excluded can undermine self-control and well being. A sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health, and happiness.  When you see your connection to others, you know that all people struggle and have difficult times. You are not alone.

Building a Sense of Belonging

To build a sense of belonging requires active effort and practice. Look for ways you are similar instead of focusing on ways you are different. Someone is much older than you? Maybe they have wonderful stories to tell. Maybe you can contribute to their lives with your youthful strength. Someone has a different believe system that you? Sharing your differences and still accepting the person creates peace. Acceptance does not mean agreement.

Communicate acceptance through validation. Validation builds a sense of belonging and strengthens relationships.

Say yes to opportunities to be with others and then throw yourself in to whatever the activity is. Let go of your judgments. Judgments build walls. Focus on people.  At a dinner and nnoyed because you don’t like the food? The food is not the goal. Connecting with others is far more important than the food or the noise in the restaurant. Gained weight and don’t want others to see? Stop isolating until you believe you are worthy. No one is perfect. Others have their struggles with their health too.

If you are emotionally sensitive, remember that in general people suffer the same emotional pain you suffer just not as intensely most of the time or as quickly.  Also, there are many other emotionally sensitive people who struggle as you do. You are not alone.

How do you give a sense of belonging?  Watch your words and your way of thinking. Some words create separateness and others promote togetherness. Other people don’t need “fixing.” They have strengths and offer their own unique contributions. Think community and acceptance. Validate yourself. Validate others.

Attributional Retrainng

Dr. Gregory Walton developed a belonging intervention he called Attributional Retraining. Through this intervention, people shift from blaming themselves for painful experiences, such as “I’m flawed,” or “It’s just me,” to seeing that they weren’t alone and that other people had experienced the same situations.

The technique is brief. It involves you seeing yourself as an expert on what you have experienced and writing about that experience to help someone else. Here is a video on how the techniques works for college students. The key is to write suggestions for other people on how to cope with something you have experienced.

If you are not a college student, the issues in the video may not seem relevant. But consider how you would use the technique. For example, what two points would you offer to others about coping with intense emotions or rejection sensitivity?  Your experiences can make a difference for others who also have intense emotions. Write your ideas down. I’d love to see them.

Karyn Hall

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Rejection Sensitivity











The need to be accepted by others, to have a sense of belonging, is a profound human motivation, one that is felt in some way from birth throughout life. Our natural state is to live in communities. Belonging to a community contributes to a sense of identity and purpose.

When someone is rejected by members of a desired group, anger, loneliness, anxiety and depression often result. Rejection is not only painful but rejection that happens early in life  is thought to reduce the person’s ability to cope with future relationships. When children are consistently teased and left out, they are more likely to develop interpersonal rejection sensitivity.

Interpersonal rejection sensitivity is a hyper-alertness to the social reactions of others. When someone has rejection sensitivity, they anxiously expect and rapidly perceive and overreact to rejection. Because of their fears and expectations,  individuals with rejection sensitivity may misinterpret and distort the actions of others. They then react with hurt and anger. The other person is confused, doesn’t understand, or sees the rejection sensitive person as too high maintenance.

Individuals who are rejection sensitive often see rejection by others as a statement that they are unacceptable as people. They see rejection as being a judgment about their worth as a person. Unfortunately, having rejection sensitivity can mean a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you are expecting rejection it is difficult to be satisfied with or feel safe in relationships, as you will see rejection frequently and often even when it isn’t intended. When you aren’t feeling rejected, you are likely to be expecting it.

Being in relationships requires acceptance of the other person’s faults. For someone with rejection sensitivity, missteps of the other person are likely to be seen as lack of caring or judgments. Even routine decisions, likes and dislikes may be interpreted as rejection. If someone with rejection sensitivity asks a friend to meet for coffee, a refusal may be viewed as rejection. The friend may have a previous commitment or other reason for saying no, but that is difficult for the person with rejection sensitivity to believe.

Emily is a college student whose family lives many miles away. She feels alone and repeatedly asks her family members to help her with various tasks such as moving, deciding where to live, and making choices about her academics. When they are unable to travel to help her or have other issues they must attend to, she is furious that they do not value her. She rages at them for their lack of support, and tells them she feels she has no family.

A typical response to feeling rejected is to be angry. Obviously, cursing the people you believe have rejected you is not the best path to acceptance. At the same time, people with rejection sensitivity are usually willing to go to great lengths to try to gain acceptance. The cycle is a painful one.

Most people are sensitive to rejection.  It is not realistic to get to the point you don’t care about the reactions of others. What can you do? The following are a few suggestions to consider:

1. Be aware of how rejection sensitivity affects you.  If you believe you are rejection sensitive, then keep that possibility in mind when you are struggling with a relationship.

2. Be mindful of your reactions. Take a pause and let your emotions calm before responding to a person you believe has rejected you.

3. Consider alternate explanations. What else could be the reason for the other person’s behavior? Think of at least three options.

4. Calmly ask the person about their intention.

5. Consider the facts of the other person’s life. A mother with three children may not have time to talk on the phone.

6. Participate fully in events and activities. Get involved. Contribute to social activities and conversations. When you hold back or isolate you increase feelings of not belonging.

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Creative Commons License Salvador Moreira via Compfight






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Validation: How the Other Person Feels


336874037_796d65b570Emotionally sensitive people are known as compassionate and caring about other people. Their emotionally sensitivity means they are usually particularly aware of the emotions of others. However, sometimes being emotionally sensitive means you are completely off base and sometimes invalidating of others’ feelings.

You Respond Based on Your Own Emotional Intensity

You see, one of the ways people are empathic is by imagining how they might feel in the same situation. Imagine a friend  describes an argument with a boyfriend who broke up with her. You would feel incredibly sad if that happened to you. You  respond with deep concern and say something like “Oh no. How awful. Are you okay?” Your friend responds in an off hand manner saying, “Of course I’m okay.  It’s not that big a deal.”

Her response confuses you and now you are cocerned that she is upset with you when you are only concerned about her. You respond that you guess the relationship wasn’t that important to her. She frowns in an irritated way and replies that  it just wasn’t working. The interaction now seems awkward. You try again and say you admire how well she is coping and that you couldn’t handle it as well if you were in her situation. Obviously annoyed now, she informs you that break ups are just a part of life and everyone goes through them. She changes the subject.

The interaction starts to feel tense. You were trying to be compassionate and validating and you know it isn’t working. You might think judgmental thoughts such as how cold your friend is. At the same time the situation seems like you’ve stepped in quick sand and whatever you try only makes the situation worse. You worry about losing your firiend. Your perspective is that she must be hurting and devastated and that is a horrible situation. You want to be kind to her. Her view is that the situation is painful but normal and she knows she’ll get through it. Your efforts to acknowledge her pain are seen as invalidating by her. The intensity of your caring did not match what she was feeling.  She says you must think she is completely helpless, which offends her.

How You Imagine You Would Feel is Sometimes Not What the Person Feels

Your daughter, just home from work, calls you to announce she didn’t get a promotion.  You are sure her tone of voice is sad. You feel so badly for her. She must be so disappointed. You think about her at night and can’t sleep. You feel so badly and can’t get the incident off your mind. In fact, you quite sad because of how you know she must feel.  Later in the week you say something to her. She isn’t clear what you are talking about but when she realizes you are referring to her not getting the promotion, she laughs. She tells you that if you really understood her you’d know she didn’t care about that promotion. With the best of intentions, you’ve invalidated her.

Taking the perspective of the other person can be difficult.  Usually the emotionally sensitive are upset by others not understanding their sensitivity. But the emotionally sensitive can misunderstand and invalidate the emotions of those who are not emotionally sensitive as well. Though you can use your internal experiences to know basically how someone might feel in a situation, you also need more information to  truly validate and/or  be effectively compassionate. To be validating, understanding the perspective of the other person is key.

Survey:  I am very grateful for all your help in better understanding emotionally sensitive people. I am currently writing a new book and would like to learn more. If you are emotionally sensitive, please consider taking this survey about decision making.  Thank you! If you gave your contact information to be interviewed about being emotionally sensitive, thank you more than I can say. It may be a few weeks but I will be in contact.




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Do Workplace Givers Finish Last?

Businesswoman consulting a partner













Successful people are typically viewed as possessing certain characteristics: high motivation, strong skills/abilities, and opportunity. In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant says there is another component to success and that’s how you approach relationships.

In interactions with others, are you likely to give more than you get? Or do you believe that you have to look out for yourself first  so you make sure you get more than you give?

Outside the workplace, in personal relationships, most people behave like givers. With family and friends they don’t keep track of who gives what. But in the workplace, givers are rare. Givers are generous with their time, knowledge, and connections. They don’t think about the personal costs and help without expecting anything in return. Takers help others strategically, when the benefits to them outweigh the personal costs. There’s also a group of people called matchers. They attempt to keep an equal balance of giving and getting. They want fairness. They help others but expect reciprocity.

The lines between giving, taking and matching aren’t hard and fast. You may find yourself acting like a giver when mentoring an intern, a taker when bidding for a project and a matcher when exchanging ideas with a colleague.  But overall, the vast majority of people adopt a primary style of interacting most of the time.

The Style Most Likely to Be at the Bottom of the Success Ladder

Which style is most likely to result in success at work? You might guess that givers would be at the bottom of the success measures. You would be right. Across occupations, givers are just too caring and too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests.  There’s evidence that compared with takers, givers earn 14 percent less money, have twice the risk of becoming a victim of a crime and are judged as 22 percent less powerful and dominant.

The Style Most Likely To Reach the Top

So what style do the people at the top of the success ladder have? They are  also givers. The best performers and the worst performers are givers; takers and matchers are  more likely to land in the middle.  The givers at the top of the ladder have strong interests in helping others and get satisfication from making an impact in that way.  They score high on measures of  caring about others.The difference between the givers who were top performers and the givers who are the lowest performers is that the givers at the top also had strong self-interests. They were ambitious as well as giving.  Self-interest and other interest are not mutually exclusive but two different characteristics.

The emotionally sensitive often have difficulty with balance and tend to  extremes. This can translate into being extreme givers, takers, and matchers. Extremes usually lead to misery.  Having both self-interests and other-interests would seem to create a balance that would lessen suffering as well as lead to more success in career goals.


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The Secrets of Validation

Alan Fruzzetti, Ph.D., who just finished conferences in Sweden and Israel, is coming to Houston on March 8 to present  at Secrets of Validation. The conference is primarily for family members of those who have difficulty regulating their emotions and is also open for professionals.

In addition to the presentation, professionals will have the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Fruzzetti and myself. The lunch will give more information about using validation in therapy.  Family members and other interested audience members can listen to a panel discuss community resources for individuals who struggle with managing their emotions.

The cost of the conference is $55 if you do not want CEUs and $95 if you want CEUs.  You can register on the Houston Council for Alcohol and Drugs website.


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