Learning and Choosing to Self-Regulate – Step 7 (slide set 1)

**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

At some point in your learning about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), you start to get a strong desire for getting tools for helping yourself rather than learning how it all went wrong and what’s been happening inside. In 9-Steps to Mastering Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), we are now at the point of focusing on what to do to help yourself deal with the core issue of BPD – problems regulating emotions. Once you have established a set of practices to regulate your feelings differently, then many other life issues unfold differently as well.

The approach that is taken to start regulating emotions may be a little bit different for everyone depending on what their life situation is and what has been helpful in the past. For instance, some people have others in their life that are open to learning about mental health and can offer informed support, while others are mostly on their own. Some people have arts, hobbies, or athletics that can be included in a regulation strategy, while others may be more open to traditional meditative and yogic practices.

Intense emotions happen on a daily basis in cases of BPD, and will most likely continue to happen no matter what kind of therapy is attempted. The point here is that working through BPD is not so much about “getting better” such that intense emotions are no longer “a thing in life,” but instead getting very proficient at living in your body through noticing and settling intense emotions as they happen.

If you are a sensitive, emotional being, then that’s what you are, and it’s still beautiful, even if it’s hard to believe! However, to live in a demanding and mostly emotionally inept world, you have to figure out how to master your emotions to go with the flow of the world (as it is and wherever you are). It is a “tall order” to learn self-regulation as a new skill in life, especially since most people don’t even realize they have to go through this unique learning until they are well into adult life.

When I think of regulating my emotions, I also think of attempting to unclutter my “mental office.” To unclutter means that time is taken to process life experiences through talking about them or just noticing what’s happening in the mind and body (thoughts and emotions, etc.). The critical point here is HOW the information gets processed, so that the mind and body can settle down, rather than staying worked up and tense.

The patterns and practices that many people believe are helpful in relating and responding to others about life experiences, thoughts and feelings are sometimes anything but helpful. Without even realizing it, people will often dismiss (or overlook) the emotional aspects of the human experience while in conversation with each other. When the goal is to process life information more thoroughly and therefore, to regulate the area of the brain affected in BPD (the Amygdala), a more informed approach is needed.

The aspect of communication I am talking about here is “to validate” or “to not validate.” I have written two blog articles on the subject of validation to help others understand what it is and why it is so vital to helping others suffering from BPD. See Article 1. See Article 2.  The point of emphasizing this topic is that if you are going to declutter your “mental office,” then it is beneficial if you are on the receiving end of validation (also known as empathy or compassion) from others, and even from yourself.

I believe it is essential to learn how to self-validate to regulate emotions, and it is nice if others around you can likewise learn and practice validating responses. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic to expect that anybody and everybody should want to learn how to practice validation. For many people, learning and practicing validation is just not going to happen, even if those people are very close to you and it would seem like they “should” want to learn how to develop this skill because of who they are in your life.

It is normal for the mind to continue becoming cluttered (and the body stressed) as life is lived and thoughts and feelings are produced. In the above slide, the “T’s” stand for thoughts, the “F’s” stand for feelings, and the “I’s” stand for interpretations. These all continue getting produced as long as we are having life experiences, and likewise, as long as we remember our life experiences from the past. Because this is the case, it just means that we have to take responsibility for processing “our stuff” every day if necessary.

We have to choose for ourselves when and how we are going to process “our stuff.” Again, it is ideal if others can be open to listening, and therefore, help out with this essential processing activity, but reality says that people are not always reliable for this support. Where people with BPD very often get frustrated and extra emotional is when they expect others to be available and supportive precisely as they need it, even when these others don’t have the skills and capacity to do it.

The challenge of BPD repeatedly comes back to learning how to independently self-regulate as much as possible, and likewise, choosing to do this even when it might make sense that others “should be supportive.” I will be getting more specific about how to practice mindfulness and validation, and other related activities for self-regulation in future steps. For now, the focus of learning is about making sure time is taken to process thoughts and emotions, more or less, depending on your individual need for doing so to function better.