Please Note: The ideas contained in this FAQ are the opinions of the writer and are communicated without reference to supporting documentation in most cases. Other inspiration and influence for the writing came through consultation with other mental health professionals but the writer “Peter Quintano” is also fully qualified in DBT making him qualified to talk about the things discussed in this article.
If you are suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), then it is a good thing you stumbled upon this article! No doubt you are hunting for certain tools and understandings of illness and self to create a better life experience. One of the primary objectives in recovering from BPD is gaining emotional mastery and learning the “three categories of choice” presented in this article will help you more effectively move towards developing that very ability!
Before learning about the “three categories of choice”, I didn’t grasp the reality that the choices I made each and every day could fit neatly into three basic categories that required a “yes” or “no” response from me (whether I realized I was choosing or not). When I did finally grasp that I was making “yes” or “no” responses to the three categories of choice at all times, I then knew more precisely which emotions I needed to take better responsibility for. Taking better (more precise) responsibility for my emotional challenges was a huge stabilizing factor for me.
Perhaps you are thinking this concept seems a little too basic or strange to be real, but I’m confident you’ll begin to understand as you continue to read through the article… There really is no way around these three categories of choice. It can be frustrating to learn how this works, but also very helpful/empowering in your effort to heal from BPD, and therefore absolutely worth the effort required to figure it out!
The “three categories of choice” are as follows…
1. Ask for change (yes or no?)
2. Accept the situation as it is (yes or no?)
3. Leave the situation (yes or no?)
For the first category (Ask for change), the point of learning is that when we are in our everyday life and participating in relationships, there are times when certain things are happening that we would like to have changed. For instance, you may have a preference that clothes are picked up off the floor and either put into a clothes hamper or neatly tucked away in a dresser. But even though you may have that preference, your partner may have the habit of leaving clothing strewn on the floor after getting changed or doing laundry.
Because you would like things to be different, you have the option of asking your partner to do things another way (your preferred way). The response you get from your partner, whether in words or behaviour (or both) gives you the information you need about change being possible in this situation, or not. If the answer from your partner is a consistent “no”, then that might require working through feelings of frustration or annoyance as long as you remain together. It would also mean that asking for change on this matter is over, and so you would answer “no” to this question (for this particular situation) from now on. In other words, you would stop asking for change.
For the second category (Accept the situation as it is), the point of learning is that you have already asked for change in a situation and the answer you received from the person asked was a consistent “no”. The next choice you can make is to either say “yes” or “no” to accepting the situation as it is. This is where people often get stuck, meaning that they continue asking for change (saying “no” rather than “yes” to acceptance) even after asking for change has proven futile. Since accepting a situation as it is (totally undesirable) can be hard to do, people often attempt to avoid this reality.
Recall from the example above that when the partner refuses to change his habits about the laundry, this might require working through frustration and annoyance feelings for a time. The dilemma people face, therefore, whether they realize it or not, is that saying “yes” to acceptance for things that can’t be changed requires working through challenging feelings. The choice is often made to NOT work through the feelings and instead continue wasting time and energy asking for change. In other words, saying “no” to acceptance when the healthier choice would be to say “yes” to acceptance.
If a person with BPD continues asking for change fruitlessly, it could be interpreted by her as meaning she isn’t worth listening to, or worse yet that she actually is worthless. Another possible interpretation stemming from fruitlessly asking for change could be that she is being rejected as a person, rather than just having a request rejected. Therefore, when saying “no” to acceptance when it would be better to say “yes”, the emotional challenge could very well include feelings of worthlessness and rejection because of the way things were interpreted. On the other hand, saying “yes” to acceptance might only require working through frustration and annoyance – an emotional experience less challenging than worthlessness and rejection.
The big question therefore becomes: which emotions would be less challenging/more preferrable to work through? When the people we love and live with persist with certain quirks regardless of what we request, saying “yes” to acceptance and working through the accompanying emotions might be the better way to go. Perhaps you are also starting to notice that experiencing some sort of emotional challenge no matter what we choose is a highly likely reality.
For the third category (Leave the situation), the point of learning is that you have asked for change and the answer is a consistent “no” from the person asked. You have also attempted to accept the situation as it is and this remains incredibly challenging or unsatisfactory. You are therefore left with the third option, which is to leave the situation, meaning the entire connection/relationship. People very often say “no” to this choice because they are accustomed to being in a relationship, believe they are obligated to remain in a relationship because of morals or values held, or believe they couldn’t get essential needs met if they left the relationship.
Leaving a connection/relationship often requires an incredible amount of courage and motivation due to the possible complications mentioned above. However, it does remain as a choice that can be made. It is usually delayed because so much energy is invested in categories one and two before finally focusing on category three. A person with BPD might also have a very hard time with category three because of fears of abandonment, and so continue saying “no” to leaving when it may be better to say “yes”.
It is in fact very common for people to unconsciously work through saying “yes” or “no” to all three categories of choice, changing their mind multiple times about what choices to make, and then finally settling on answering “yes” to category two (Accept the situation as it is). On the other hand, sometimes people get stuck on saying “yes’ to category one or three and then experience the consequences of those choices.
The main point of all this consideration is that it helps in becoming more mindful of how you are choosing each moment of your life, and likewise to better recognize which emotions might need acknowledgment or adjustment as you go. With an increased mindful awareness of the emotions that are connected to your choosing, you can perhaps more wisely answer “yes” or “no” as needed to each of the three categories, and therefore create a more stable and satisfying life experience.
If you have any thoughts or opinions on this article please do leave a comment for the witter to answer and reply to personally. But if you have any other issues or questions not relating to this do get in touch with us on social media or via our Contact Us page.