DBT Peer Connections

Building Hope, Community and Skillful Means

Dialectical Dilemmas of Extreme Emotional States in People with BPD


A defining feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is extreme, intense, and long-lasting emotions and an inability to recognize, label, and process such emotions. Therefore, people with BPD tend to move back and forth between extreme emotional states that leave them and those around them exhausted, overwhelmed, and uncertain of how to resolve unending crises.

Dialectical Dilemmas of Extreme Emotional States

The following describes 3 common sets of emotional extremes people with BPD vacillate between. The term dialectical dilemma refers to the ongoing goal for the affected and willing person with BPD is to synthesize a balance between each extreme state as they occur.

  • Vulnerability versus Self-invalidation
  • Unrelenting Crises versus Inhibiting Emotions
  • Active passivity versus apparent competence


  • Active Passivity – Feeling helpless, wanting and/or asking others to solve one’s problems
  • Apparent Competence – Excessive independence, not seeking help from others or admitting to needing it
  • Inhibiting Emotions – Blocking/invalidating expression and/or denying acknowledgment of unwanted emotions
  • Self-Invalidation – Judging, punishing, questioning and/or denying acknowledging one’s emotional experience
  • Unrelenting Crisis – hyper-alertness to unwanted emotions that, in turn, increases their intensity/duration
  • Vulnerability – Expressing/communicating emotional experience/urges to self or others

Definition Examples

  • Active Passivity – “I can’t get through this on my own.”
  • Apparent Competence – “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine and have everything under control.”
  • Inhibiting Emotions – “If I just ignore my emotions, they will go away.”
  • Self-Invalidation – “I should not feel this way. I am too sensitive and emotional about every little thing.”
  • Unrelenting Crisis – “When I can’t stop feeling sad, I just drink until I black out.”
  • Vulnerability – “I will kill myself if he leaves me because I can’t live without him.”

BPD Dialectical Dilemmas by Rachel Gill


Author: Rachel Gill

I am a survivor on mission to synthesize balance from division, to find dialectical healing, learn to love what I am feeling, live in the now, show my peers how.

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