Some people are just criers, right?
We’ve all known someone (or maybe it’s us) who tears up at commercials or turns on the waterworks, even for seemingly small things.
They’re labeled sensitive, (generously) empaths, or just plain emotional.
But what if excessive crying is a regular occurrence?
For those with BPD, crying spells can become the norm. But what causes them, and is there anything you can do to manage them?
Understanding the Emotional World of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
BPD is a mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to manage their emotions and have healthy relationships.
Research suggests that as many as four million people in the USA have BPD. It’s seemingly more common in women and affects many people in adulthood.
BPD is characterized by emotional dysregulation, which means that those with BPD struggle to manage the emotions they feel, and frequently display inappropriate emotions (especially anger) that they can’t control. They’re also prone to impulsivity.
People with BPD have intense mood swings and their behavior directly corresponds to an extreme version of how they are feeling at the time.
They will often behave recklessly in moments of euphoria or engage in self-sabotaging, harmful behavior when feeling down. It’s why people with BPD should really avoid alcohol, which can exacerbate these symptoms further.
It’s a disorder that can be extremely challenging to deal with because those who live with BPD function in a permanent state of highs and lows and have unstable relationships with those around them.
But because those with BPD view everything in extremes – either all good or all bad – relationships tend to swing from closeness to dislike quickly, too.
What Are Crying Spells?
Crying spells refer to episodes of uncontrollable and excessive crying that often occur without an obvious or immediate trigger.
They are characterized by an overwhelming emotional response that may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as sobbing, difficulty breathing, trembling, and a sense of sadness or distress.
Sometimes crying spells are a natural reaction to situations that evoke grief or sadness in us. These are common and understandable in scenarios where we’ve lost a loved one, experienced trauma, or if we’re dealing with difficult life circumstances.
The problems arise when crying spells become common or occur in a disproportionate response to everyday life events.
This is often the case for people struggling with mood disorders like BPD. Let’s talk about why.
Why Do People With BPD Cry More Often?
People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) may cry more frequently for a variety of reasons, including heightened emotional sensitivity, difficulties in regulating emotions, intense fear of rejection or abandonment, and challenges in interpersonal relationships.
These factors contribute to an increased vulnerability to emotional triggers, which, in turn, leads to more frequent and intense episodes of crying.
Let’s break down these common issues one by one.
BPD is characterized by emotional dysregulation and a hyperreactivity to a person’s immediate environment and relationships.
Emotional volatility is a major characteristic of BPD, which means that situations that would generally not affect others too much can be disruptive and upsetting for BPD sufferers.
Because they can’t manage their emotions well, those with BPD may be subject to frequent crying spells and other emotional outbursts.
This can happen because they’re overwhelmed or simply because the intensity of the emotion is too much for them to process.
Attachment Issues and Fear Of Abandonment
Another hallmark of BPD is a deep fear of abandonment which affects the way a BPD person deals with situations.
Even perceived or imagined threats to their relationships can trigger intense emotional distress. This triggers a range of emotional reactions, one of which can be crying spells.
People with BPD often struggle with a negative self-image, low self-esteem, and self-critical thoughts.
They are prone to intense self-blame or self-judgment. These negative thoughts and feelings can also trigger emotional distress and crying spells.
Depression and Past Traumas
There also appears to be a strong connection between trauma and BPD.
Some studies suggest that up to 80% of people with BPD have complex trauma or report past traumas. This further contributes to intense emotional reactions like crying spells.
People with BPD often struggle to read social situations adequately.
In some cases, it’s not a matter of the person with BPD being more emotional, but rather that they perceive situations to be more negative than they actually are.
Those with BPD experience potential rejection and anticipate abandonment when there isn’t any reason to, and will often misinterpret interactions with their loved ones negatively.
They also tend to take everything very personally. Being overwhelmed with emotions of impending pain often trigger a crying spell.
This one is a bit more controversial. Research indicates that some people with BPD intentionally create emotional situations, but whether or not the tears are used as a means of actually manipulating is contentious.
While some sources – and many people who have been on the receiving end of crying spells – feel that intense bouts of crying are used to focus the attention on the BPD person, some experts believe it’s not intentional.
We do know that those with BPD will often engage in frantic efforts to avoid abandonment. With behavior like threats of self-harm, begging their loved one not to leave them, and even getting physically aggressive, it’s not a huge stretch to consider crying spells as a manipulation.
By breaking down in tears, the BPD person focuses the attention on them and draws empathy and compassion from their loved one. This feeds into their need for validation and reassurance and can help them feel like they aren’t abandoned.
How To Cope With BPD Crying Spells
If you find yourself dealing with regular bouts of crying, you will know how disruptive it can be for your daily life and how exhausting it is to experience intense emotions constantly.
Here are some of the best tips for how to deal with crying spells:
1. Identify Your Triggers:
Finding out what prompts crying spells is the first step to effectively dealing with them. Keeping a journal of the events and circumstances leading up to your teary moments can be helpful.
What most frequently triggers your crying spells? Is there a specific type of emotional distress that sets you off? Triggers like people and places? What patterns do you notice?
By using a journal to “play detective”, you can start to unpack root causes.
2. Learn Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques:
Practicing mindfulness and grounding techniques can help you become more aware of your emotions and bring your attention to the present moment.
This is a helpful skill for anyone who struggles with emotional regulation and getting swept up in feelings.
Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or engaging the senses by focusing on sensory experiences can help to ground oneself and regulate emotions during crying spells.
Here’s an example:
Work on Emotional Regulation Skills:
Learning specific skills for emotion regulation can be beneficial for individuals with BPD. These skills may include identifying and labeling emotions, understanding the triggers and patterns of emotional reactions, and developing strategies to cope with intense emotions.
Easier said than done though, right?
This is where working with a trained professional is helpful. They can use certain therapy modalities to help you regulate emotions. A popular one is DBT.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based therapy often used to help individuals with BPD develop effective emotion regulation skills.
Here’s an example of DBT strategy called “STOP” that can help with emotional regulation:
Employ Distraction Techniques:
Engaging in activities or tasks that divert attention away from intense emotions is another method that can help. It works similarly to mindfulness and grounding techniques.
By engaging in hobbies, listening to music, watching a movie, reading a book, or doing puzzles can provide, you can channel your attention toward the task and away from the overwhelming emotion.
Try Self-Soothing Techniques:
Self-soothing techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest and relaxation response. This can help counteract the physiological stress response associated with crying spells, and help you regain a sense of calm and relaxation.
The goal of these techniques is to create a sense of security, both physically and mentally. But how do you do that?
Again, there are different techniques and you’ll have to find one that works for you.
I’ve always found that wrapping myself up in a weighted blanket and focusing on my breath is extremely helpful.
Here are some other ideas:
- Try gentle yoga or stretching
- Cuddle with a pet
- Listen to calming music
- Go for a walk in nature
- Design your physical environment for calm by using soft lighting and decorating with items that bring a sense of comfort
- Journaling or expressive writing
- Deep breathing exercises
Are these miracle solutions to crying spells and emotional distress? No, but when employed repeatedly over time, you’ll notice your moods gradually become more stable.
Here’s a helpful deep breathing exercise to get you started:
Build a Strong Support Network:
Having a support network of understanding and empathetic individuals can make a significant difference in managing crying spells.
Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support groups who can offer support, validation, and a listening ear during difficult times.
Seek Professional Help:
Working with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can provide valuable guidance and support in managing BPD symptoms, including crying spells.
A therapist can provide valuable support to individuals experiencing excessive crying spells. They begin by conducting a comprehensive assessment to understand the underlying causes and diagnose any coexisting mental health conditions.
Therapists then focus on teaching emotional regulation skills.
They’ll help you identify triggers and patterns associated with the crying spells (think back to that triggers list), and develop effective coping mechanisms. They may also help you address unresolved trauma through specialized therapies like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Prioritize Diet and Health:
Prioritizing your health is important. Eating the right foods and avoiding substances that can intensify feelings of anxiety can be very helpful in managing big mood swings.
Two big culprits are caffeine and alcohol.
Too much caffeine can trigger anxiety, and alcohol is a depressant that will only amplify negative emotions and exacerbate existing mental health conditions.
Eat foods that help you feel good and avoid those that create dips in blood sugar and mood, like fast food and overly fried and processed junk.
This is challenging because I just listed things that a lot of people actually use to cope with stress and intense emotions, but the irony is that all of them only make things worse in the long term.
No judgment if that’s you. Consider it further evidence that healthy coping mechanisms are sorely needed.
When To Be Concerned About Crying Spells
While crying spells can be normal in some situations, and even in general with BPD, if you are crying more frequently than usual or barely need a trigger to have a meltdown, you may want to consider reaching out.
If your crying impedes your ability to function daily – for example, it interferes with your job, your ability to go about your day as you usually would, or leaves you unable to get out of bed – you should go back to your mental health care professional as soon as possible.
Extended, intensive, and frequent crying spells can be a symptom of more serious mental health problems, such as depression. If you are already on medication, it may signify that your meds need adjusting or new strategies to help you cope better.
Lastly, take note of feedback from your loved ones. If they are concerned or report that you are crying more frequently, you should take note.