Learning to be mindful of our emotions, feelings, and thoughts is important for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. Like any problem in life, it’s difficult to work through a sticky situation if you don’t know what the underlying cause for that situation is. Being mindful of yourself is where you need to begin. When you are mindful of your emotions it becomes possible to accept and tolerate the intense feelings that seem to emerge out of nowhere when we are presented with a stressful situation. Being mindful helps you find that origin, locate where they came from, and get to the heart of the problem.
Many of you may recognize this as one of the core concepts in Marsha M. Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. The goal of Mindfulness is to help you pay attention to what is going on around you and inside you; observe it in a non-judgmental way, and learn to live in the present moment by actually experiencing your senses and emotions fully, but with a reasonable perspective.
This is not a skill that can be developed over night. It takes time and practice, but it can work for you if you allow yourself to internalize the tenants.
Linehan breaks these down into two sets: The “What” skills and the “How” skills. These sets of skills, ultimately, will help you learn emotional acceptance. It’s very difficult to heal from a traumatic experience if you cannot accept how it actually affects you. In order to achieve true healing, you must accept that what is occurring within your body and mind is a real experience. Experience it, understand it, and then you can begin to heal from it.
For me this is difficult. I fight my emotions. I fight my feelings. I suppress, repress, and completely detach from the conflict occurring inside of myself. As I’ve mentioned though, this only works to make things worse in the long run. It may make the moment appear manageable, but eventually it catches up with you.
So how do you work on being Mindful? Today let’s look at the “What” Skills.
Observe. Describe. Participate.
Observe – This is the act of experiencing with awareness your feelings, thoughts, and sensations without trying to describe them with words. In order to observe yourself you need to take a step back in order to re-orient yourself into the present moment. Often people get stuck in their own minds; they become preoccupied with thoughts, ruminations, and distractions. These things inhibit your ability to see what is actually going on around you in the present moment. By simply observing how you feel, without judging it or trying to describe it, it allows you to become a blank canvas.
Describe – This is where you actually attempt to put into words the thoughts and feelings that you have observed in yourself. The words you choose should not be judgmental! Just describe the facts of what is going on, do not try to interpret what is happening yet. This helps cultivate self-control. Describing what you think in words, describing your feelings, your emotions allows you to become focused. This helps gain control over those distractions that take you out of the present moment.
Participate – This is when you decide to become involved in what you are working through and doing. To do this, you must allow yourself to experience.
Allow yourself to actually feel the emotions you are having. This may seem counterintuitive if you’re trying to get rid of painful feelings. But if you don’t experience and acknowledge the pain, all you will do is repress it and avoid it, which will not help you move past it. By observing how you are feeling, letting yourself feel it, you can then take the next step.
When you’ve allowed yourself to observe how you feel, have permitted yourself to actually accept how you feel, it can be very painful. However, it provides the opportunity to work on what is causing your this pain. When you recognize the source, and ultimately are able to begin a path towards healing from the pain, you will form a cognitive attachment to the fact that you have experience painful emotions, however, these emotions and feelings, are temporary. One of the biggest problems for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is that, in the moment of painful experiences, it can feel like the world is ending. All that you know and feel is the pain you are in at the moment and it feels like that pain will never go away. When everything you do works to avoid pain, bury pain, hide pain within so that you do not experience it directly, it builds up and lurks below your surface. In this way it IS ACTUALLY ever present. It’s always there because instead of facing it, dealing with it, and ultimately healing from it, you’re allowing it to take up residence in the basement of your mind. Allowing yourself to experience painful emotions provides the ability to accept these emotions, work through them, and then let them move on, and move out of your life. It’s like mental housekeeping. Ultimately too, this will allow you to connect to happy and pleasurable emotions as well! Sound strange? When you attempt to cut yourself off from feeling, your body doesn’t work along a clear cut line. You can’t tell yourself, “Ok brain, I’m just not going to feel A, B, and C, but D, E, and F are good to go”. No. When you dull one mechanism you work to dull all mechanisms of feeling, which means it’s also harder to feel happiness and internalize positive emotions.
Often it feels like a compromise. In the past, and honestly right now in my present, I’m still fighting with a sort of stunted compromise. I may not be totally happy, but at least I’m not in devastating pain either. Does this sound pleasant to you? It doesn’t feel pleasant to me. In fact, it’s a pretty lame compromise.
Don’t compromise on having a fulfilling life.
When you don’t allow yourself to experience the pain you’re going through, you can not realize the there is, in fact, a finite resolution. When you suppress the pain, it continues to lurk. This is why it feels like the pain will never end… because you don’t give it the opportunity to! It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy of internal pain. And that pain can last indefinitely. You have to choose not to let it. It does mean opening yourself to some difficult emotions in the present, but once you do, you will also be opening yourself up to a wider range of happiness and unburdened living as well.
I’m still working on this. It’s not easy. It does take time, but it’s happening. Slowly. I think. =P