Learning and Choosing to Self-Regulate – Step 7 (slide set 2)

**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Any uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer

Author: Peter Miller

After self-destructive beliefs have taken root over spans of time in our childhood development, as explained in Step 4 (slide set 1, slide set 2, and slide set 3), it then becomes a habit to perceive any new experiences through “the lens” of these beliefs. It also becomes a habit to reprocess our memories through “the lens” of these beliefs.

As we live, we gather “FRESH DATA” (see things, hear things, smell things, taste things, and touch things). This information gets filtered through our established beliefs. We make (I) interpretations about what we believe the information means. We make (T) thoughts, (F) feelings, and (S) sensations after the interpretations are made, perhaps we do something (behave), and then finally, we store the experiences as memories (thoughts, feelings, images, sensations). We go through a similar process with the “OLD DATA” – our memories.

Without working towards developing an awareness of our patterns of thought (and all related feeling and behaving) and how this is all ultimately rooted in our developed beliefs, we will continue to look through the lens of our established beliefs stubbornly. We cling to our beliefs, and as we do this, we create experiences that seem to affirm our beliefs, no matter what those beliefs may be. Carefully consider for a moment how convinced you are about the beliefs you hold about yourself, others, and the world.

Recall that we developed our beliefs as a false sense of security during our childhood development, although we were not conscious of this process as it happened. Thereafter, as long as we assert our beliefs (and related thoughts and feelings) as “facts”, we remain susceptible to the consequences of clinging so hard to them… more and more of the same types of thinking, feeling, and acting/reacting… whether it meets our needs and serves our interests, or not.

If we are to learn how to self-regulate, then we must be open to feeling our raw emotions, as well as challenging our thoughts (considering new information). If we have become “too attached” to our beliefs due to the sense of security they offered us in childhood, then the process of feeling raw emotion and challenging our thoughts can be arduous and uncomfortable. When this level of insight is attained is often the point where people choose how much interest they have in pursuing independent regulation of emotions or otherwise remaining dependent on their established beliefs.

As we continue on and on with our self-destructive beliefs (whatever they may be… again review Step 4, slide set 1, and slide set 2), and therefore, continue to create much unneeded and unhelpful thought, feeling, and behavior, life can become extremely and unnecessarily stressful, dramatic, and painful. In other words, the information process we have to make sense of the world and to make decisions does not help us to function in our bodies or our relationships. A good comparison would be having a computer that does not make the calculations or perform the operations we need, no matter how many times we try to input the data.

This unnecessary life difficulty related to self-destructive beliefs is indeed a defining feature of many mental health conditions, but especially in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Irrational thoughts start to outweigh rational thoughts by a large margin because the feeling experiences connected with the thoughts are so intense – making the thoughts “seem” indisputable/factual when in fact they may not be. Are you willing to acknowledge your dependency on self-destructive beliefs, and further that your unmanaged emotions have been playing an active role in your attachment to irrational thoughts and making unwise decisions?

If there is going to be any real hope of adjusting the process mentioned above to be more rational and effective, then a great starting place is changing the approach to emotions. In western culture, I believe it is (unfortunately) to have little-to-no developed ability to work with feelings. I think this is a cultural priorities issue (e.g., putting financial gain over critical health-related matters), but I will leave that for you to ponder.

Changing what you are doing with your emotions goes hand-in-hand with the notion of “choosing to self-regulate.” Are you willing to take this kind of responsibility? Instead of ignoring, dismissing, or invalidating emotions, the new approach involves FACING the emotions, ACCEPTING the emotions, and LOVING the emotions. Furthermore, instead of simply labelling your emotions “anger” or “sadness” when there is another emotional truth to be found, you choose to take the time to be curious.

Practicing emotional curiosity/mindfulness and otherwise learning how to process thoughts and emotions differently can be hard to do by yourself, and so getting the help of a therapist may be needed. A significant goal in therapy, no matter if you are struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder or not, is to achieve a healthy balance in feeling and thinking to make wise decisions in life.

In Step 5 (slide set 1, slide set 2, and slide set 3) we went through several types of emotional avoidance behaviours that are commonly used when a person has not yet developed skills for working through emotions. These are important to review and identify in yourself when you are working on “choosing to self-regulate” since they can happen so automatically/habitually and therefore end up being your “go to”choice.

Be honest with yourself! If you think of “choosing to self-regulate” as choosing the opposite of what you have been doing for a long time (avoiding taking care of this critical part of yourself), then you will probably realize more about what is needed to start making these changes.

Doing the emotional work of self-regulation is not an easy thing to do. It requires willingness and courage. If emotional work were easy to do, then it would probably be more common for people to be doing it for themselves and remaining mentally healthy rather than becoming (and staying) mentally unhealthy. In my therapy on myself, and in my work with others, I often speak of “practicing feeling” in those ways that are difficult when they come up in life, such as guilty, shameful, worthless, and abandoned.

Doesn’t sound very enjoyable, does it? It isn’t! However, it is entirely possible, and practicing feeling is better than experiencing the consequences of doing the opposite! Choosing to FACE, ACCEPT, and LOVE my feelings as they happen (feeling through them) means that I am not living in avoidance of them, and this means my whole approach to life and processing life information can start to take on a new form (e.g., responding with wisdom instead of reacting impulsively).

Sometimes to ignite the best motivation for learning to self-regulate, it is good to briefly consider the possible long-term outcomes of never learning how to do it. If you have a need to learn how to self-regulate and you don’t, the chances are good that the consequence will be remaining trapped in self-destructive patterns of belief and all the related suffering that goes with it (painful thoughts, painful emotions, painful experiences in relationships, body pain and illness, etc.).

When you don’t learn how to face and process your feelings honestly, it’s as though you become a slave to them – always seeking to run away from them should they attempt to make an appearance in your life. You mainly live your life in fear of experiencing unwanted feelings, and this sets you up for even more ongoing problems because your fight, flight, freeze response is so often engaged (see Step 1 – slide set 3 and slide set 4).

We are very proficient as humans in setting ourselves up for repeating patterns of suffering and illness. I like to refer to these as “vicious circles” because the different parts of our malfunctioning (e.g., self-destructive beliefs, irrational thoughts, painful emotions) all tend to feed off each other and keep the circle going when there is no awareness of what’s happening. The information presented in 9-Steps to Mastering Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is intended to give you a good head start in understanding how these things tend to happen in human life, but more importantly how to start making changes.

After gaining some understanding of how Borderline Personality Disorder can be improved, it is hoped that you will become empowered to take the next steps on your path to wellness. Hopefully, you are starting to see that much of your suffering with BPD is unnecessary but also unavoidable when you don’t have the right information and aren’t getting know yourself in the right kind of way. Do you want to be free? If so, you can get there!

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