Learning and Choosing to Self-Regulate – Step 7 (slide set 3)

**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

If you have been following all along from Step-1 of the BreakAway MHE 9-Step program, you may now be reaching the point where you believe it is time to buckle down and change your approach to life (including the way all things internal have been managed, or not). Perhaps you have been in this “motivated” place for a long time and so there isn’t a need to officially “shift gears” as I am suggesting. Regardless, anyone who is seriously looking into his mental health must at some point decide what how he wants to proceed. For instance… “Am I going to start practicing new strategies to adjust the BPD pattern, or am I going to remain as I am?”

As a person who has both struggled with the BPD pattern and helped others make changes, I believe an important aspect of functioning to focus on learning emotional regulation. Of course there are other things in the BPD pattern that need adjustment as well, but making emotional regulation a high priority issue prepares you for adopting other ideas and skills down the road. As I have mentioned in the 9-Steps before, a person with BPD is like a car or computer that continues to overheat…. so even if you fix other parts of the car or computer and it continues overheating, it doesn’t matter what other parts have been replaced or repaired – it’s not going to work as it needs to.

If emotional regulation is what you want, then you can work towards it and reap the benefits of a more stable life experience. When I learned for myself that settling down the emotional area of the brain (the Amygdala) might reduce the destructiveness of the BPD pattern, I became highly motivated to learn practices that would work towards accomplishing that goal. In particular, I was surprised that practicing mindfulness worked so well for settling intense emotions, and ever since then I have made it a core component in my own self-care routine and I speak of it regularly to others in therapy.

The key to mind management in my view is being able to “see” or “observe” what’s happening when it’s happening in the mind, but also in the body as this is where our emotions can be felt. If you have never developed an ability to be mindful, to self-reflect, to observe yourself, through a practice that develops this ability, then it doesn’t make sense that you could ever do it, and therefore ever take full responsibility for yourself. Some things in the mind and body may develop on their own (without needing the person himself to be part of the process), but I don’t believe self-awareness does not fall into that category.

So for instance, if emotions UNFITTING for a particular life moment are being experienced (e.g., feeling like you’re going “to die” if you get dumped) then it is important that you have the ability to be a witness to both your thoughts and your emotions as they are in that moment, thus giving you more space to decide what to think and feel (asking yourself…. “what makes more sense for this situation?”). The adjustment you then make might sound something like this… “it really hurts to get dumped and I feel sad, but I am not going to die”. If you hadn’t practiced mindfulness and self-reflection prior to this situation, then you would probably not have the capacity to care for the emotion or challenge the thought.

People often come up with rules of thumb for “how to be” in order to have a better life (e.g.,” be rational instead of irrational”, “control your feelings instead of letting them control you”, “don’t be judgmental”), although the physical/neurological ability for following through with these rules is often not recognized as important. How do you follow through with rules and expectations if you have not developed the physical/nerological ability – the capacity – to do so? Does it just spontaneously develop on its own? No, it doesn’t!

Humans, therefore, have many unrealistic expectations for themselves and for others as they believe all that is needed is “a rule” to solve a problem. What is needed as well, however, is the time and instruction to develop and nurture desirable qualities/abilities to go along with the established rules. Unfortunately, the time and instruction needed for this development and nurturing is often sacrificed in the name of other “more important” activities (money-making, achievements, recreation, entertainment, learning math, etc.). Do you recall self-awareness or emotional intelligence being emphasized as important areas of instruction at home or in your school experience?

As a human growing up in a complex and demanding world, but not developing essential skills to live in a human body in a demanding and complex world, the common consequence is to develop self-defeating beliefs in order to get through and function at all. If you need a refresher on how self-defeating beliefs get developed, please refer to Step-4 (slide set 1, slide set 2, and slide set 3). If we are going to function in a complex and demanding world and ALSO maintain our mental health, then we need to take the time to develop the abilities that were not emphasized or encouraged, or perhaps not taken seriously enough, if by some miracle we were exposed to that knowledge during our development.