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 9-Steps to Mastering Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), 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 left unmanaged. 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 how he wants to proceed. For instance, asking the question “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 essential aspect of functioning to focus on learning is 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 9-Steps to Mastering Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) before, a person with BPD is like a car or computer that continues to overheat. Even if you fix other parts of the car or computer and it keeps 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 stability. 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 at how consistently practicing mindfulness worked so well for settling intense emotions. Ever since then I have made mindfulness a core component in my self-care routine and therapeutic offerings to others.

The key to mind management in my view is being able to “see” or “observe” what’s happening when it’s happening in 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 produces 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 falls into that category. Self-awareness must be nurtured and developed, just like a muscle.

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 can be a witness to both your thoughts and your emotions as they are at that moment. Becoming a witness gives you more space to decide what to think and feel. After becoming a witness to yourself, you develop more capacity to inquire deeper and ask questions like “what makes more sense for this situation?”. The adjustment you then make might sound something like this… “it hurts to get dumped, and I feel sad, but I realize am not going to die.” Without practicing mindfulness and self-reflection before situations like this, then chances are good you would have less capacity to care for the emotion and challenge the thoughts.

People often come up with rules of thumb for “how to be”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”). People come up with these rules of thumb even though the physical/neurological ability for following through with these rules is often not developed. How do you follow through with standards and expectations if you have not developed the physical/neurological ability – the capacity – to do so? Does it just spontaneously develop on its own? No, it doesn’t!

Humans 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 the abilities to go along with the established rules. Unfortunately, the time and instruction needed for this development and nurturing are 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 essential 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 typical consequence is to create self-destructive beliefs to get through and function at all. If you need a refresher on how self-destructive 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 known or considered relevant, emphasized or encouraged, or perhaps not taken seriously enough if by some miracle we were exposed to that knowledge during our development.