Coping with OPP Triggers (Other People's Problems) Using DBT


Today in one of our online DBT groups, two students bravely shared how they skillfully and effectively coped with being triggered by "OPP": Other People's Problems. We cannot live in a protective bubble all of the time. There will be times, including those that are very unexpected, where we may overhear or see something we find terribly upsetting, leaving us feeling emotionally distressed and dysregulated.

There are times when we become triggered by things that other people say or the way that they behave.  In our first student's example, she was triggered by another student's (unknowing) pushing of boundaries by sharing explicit information regarding self-harm.

In our second student's example, she was triggered to find out that some dynamics of her personality triggered another student, which then triggered her.  Let's look at each of these.

In our first example, our student was attending class when a classmate, new to DBT Path and DBT in general, began sharing information that she (and even our facilitators) found upsetting and triggering.  As quickly as possible, the student was gently redirected, and a Trigger Warning (TW) was placed on the screen for students so that students who were feeling sensitive to the topic could take a break away from the screen and take off their headsets.  Of course, unfortunately, they may have already been exposed to the triggering emotion and now had to choose how to cope.

This particular student took care of herself in the following ways:


  • Immediately, as the Trigger Warning was being loaded onto the screen, also requested that the TW go up for all to see
  • Removed her headphones and stepped away from the screen to take care of herself
  • Checked in via email with facilitators after group about her concern 
  • Utilized her weekly DBT Skills Coaching benefit, included in her class tuition, to work in being triggered with our DBT therapist
  • Showed up to her next group ready and willing to discuss the incident while going through an Emotion Regulation 1a worksheet to process through her feelings and reactions in a skillful way.

In our second student's example, she became aware that another group member disliked her and felt the need to leave the private Facebook group/social aspect of DBT Path.  Initially, she felt very sad, hurt, and distraught.  Through a DBT Chain Analysis worksheet, which she brought to class to discuss, she was able to deeply process the events that led to what she described as a "breakdown" that she further described as a crying spell, during which she continuously judged herself and spoke to herself harshly, saying things like, "No one likes me," "This happens everywhere I go -- what's wrong with me?!"  She herself had been triggered to remember elementary school, where she remembers not having friends and being picked upon.  She was in a very emotionally vulnerable place at this point.

This particular student is a sensitive, very caring, empathetic, encouraging individual who is proactive and outgoing in group activities and is often a leader who initiates conversations and cheerleads others.  Another student admitted to feeling threatened by this student's personality.  When our student in this example learned of this, she initially thought she had done something wrong and needed to change the way she was approaching things in class to accommodate the upset student.

This student took care of herself in the following ways:

  • Fact checking: She emailed and checked in with our group facilitators and received reassurance that had not done anything "wrong."  The student also ran the scenario by her supportive husband who also pointed out that the student had done nothing wrong, and that sometimes people's reactions are THEIR problems related to issues that THEY need to work on.
  • Filled out a DBT Chain Analysis sheet and brought to class to work on in the group
  • Changed her self-talk, which shifted her perception.  She now believes that should something similar occur in the future, she will have the confidence and experience to not have a "breakdown" or feel the need to shift her (non-problem, healthy) behaviors.  She will remind herself that these are OPP: Other People's Problems.

How do you cope when triggered by other's actions or behaviors?   How might you approach being triggered differently in the future?


If you're interested in learning more about using DBT skills to cope effectively like these two students, check out our online DBT Distress Tolerance course.

4 comments:

  1. I deal with this issue all the time and I always assume I am the one at fault, like in the 2nd students' case. It's really helpful to read these tools to understand how to deal effectively with these triggers. Otherwise the negative self-talk makes me self harm and destroys my self-esteem. Thanks for the blog post.

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    1. So glad you found this helpful Shikka. Thanks very much for reading and commenting!

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  2. I have found this very helpful, im struggling at the moment taking on others problems finding things difficult.

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    1. Hi Allison. Thank you for sharing. It's wonderful that you are being proactive and seeking ways to help protect your boundaries. Thanks for the comment and for your tweets!

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