**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
Two things are occurring in modern life that, in my opinion, make Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) more likely to take root in a sensitive human being: one (1) is that we are rushed and often demanding of “results” from ourselves and each other, and two (2) is that we are obsessed with finding “the right” answer to every life situation. We believe that we don’t need to take the time to process thoughts and feelings, and we are also convinced that we can (or should) figure everything out ahead of time so that all errors can (or should) be avoided. On both counts, I believe we are being unrealistic, as well as inflicting harm on self and others.
In the modern world, many are focused on maximizing material and monetary gain, and so time and energy for other vital matters get sacrificed. The problem with being so rushed and unrealistic is that we end up sacrificing the ingredients for wisdom through turning to short-cuts and assumptions. And even though this “sacrificing of wisdom” may not happen in every circumstance of human life, it is very often happening during our childhoods and in family and partner relationships. The long-term result of this way of living is to adopt and endorse patterns of invalidation in regards to both thoughts and feelings, and towards self and others.
We invalidate the thoughts and feelings that we assume will not help us maximize material and monetary gain. For instance, we tell ourselves “not to think that thought” or “not to feel that way” because it is “negative” and “it will bring everybody down” or “not produce results.” The instant we do this, we are invalidating (ignoring, dismissing, rejecting) parts of ourselves. We put a dam in the flow of life and consequently sacrifice what could have been (a settled, thoughtful, insightful, creative human process and response). We end up invalidating ourselves and each other so much that we don’t even realize we are doing it anymore!
To practice mindfulness effectively involves doing the opposite of what we have been programmed or conditioned to do. In other words, instead of continually seeking shortcuts and doubting the validity of our thoughts and feelings, we now make a point of taking the time to be curious about them and looking for the validity in them – because it is there to be found! As humans, we attempt to make sense out of all that we perceive (taste, touch, smell, hear, see), and because of this way that we are, we need to take the time to understand what we came up with and how we came up with it. It makes sense that we could have thought that thought, or felt that feeling. It is all understandable, although not necessarily rational.
To become skilled at managing Borderline Personality Disorder, then it is also essential that we become masters at being “dialectical.” When we are adopting mindfulness practices, it nurtures the capacity in us to grow dialectically. To be dialectical means that we can regularly perform two operations that support both emotion regulation and higher forms of cognition (critical thinking).
One of these operations is the validation of perception and emotion, while the other is challenging perception and feeling. When done well, these operations happen close to each other, though not necessarily at the same time. So for instance, the first thing I do in any stressful situation is to regulate my emotional experience (validate my emotions either through self-talk or conversation, or both), and then soon after this consider other information that might be needed to reshape my thoughts.
To learn how to become dialectical takes time and practice, as well as mentoring from skilled others. The process is sort of like learning to ride a bike, or a skateboard, or a snowboard, or a surfboard, for the first time. It is a type of balance that we can learn through caring guidance from others and being determined ourselves, and then once acquired we can do it for life. If we have not been trained in finding this kind of balance, then it makes sense that we wouldn’t be able to do it yet. **Please do consider this if you have been hard on yourself about the issues you face. Chances are excellent you haven’t been adequately informed, guided, or trained to live in your body so that it functions optimally.
Something interesting I have noticed (something probably quite common) is that even though we can learn all about mindfulness and becoming dialectical to ease the symptoms of BPD, this doesn’t mean we can “just start doing it.” In the same way that a surfer can’t just read a manual on surfing and then immediately get on a surfboard in the ocean and expect to ride the big wave, a person can’t just start enjoying the benefits of mindfulness after learning about it. Just as much as we need to get the information, we also need to get the practical experience – the same as any new skill-set. At the same time, we can’t be rehearsing procedures from a manual to perform a skill. We have to start practicing what we are learning, over and over, until it becomes second nature.
**I am frequently amazed to hear how many people believe going to the therapist or reading a book is enough to make improvements to mental health. It isn’t!
I often mention to people that it is crucial to practice skills both when we are in moments of distress and moments of calm. Emotional experiences in Borderline Personality Disorder come in all shapes and sizes and every day, and therefore no matter what, you are going to have opportunities to practice mindfully noticing your emotions, validating them, and then challenging the thoughts that got you into the emotional place. That being said, I believe it is also essential to find ten to twenty minutes in your day when nothing is happening to watch your breath and practice observing the thoughts and feelings pass through your mind and body.
In Step-9, I will get more specific about how to practice mindfulness in moments of calm, but it is basically just starting with a focal point (such as your breath) and then observing and describing those things that pass through mind and body as they come and go, and then returning to the focal point, again and again, and again. When we are in moments of distress, it doesn’t make sense to practice mindfulness like this, but rather to attempt to zero in on what is happening at the moment to work it through. Starting to see the difference?
I look at the present moment as being a very sacred place where the best of human life can be experienced. It is as though the universe prepared a way for us to enjoy our human life together, and all we have to do is recognize and honour it. In the present moment, the brain and the body can operate in harmony with each other, problems can be solved, and patterns of disease and disorder can be resolved. Not to say that living in the present moment is the “end-all-be-all,” although it does seem to have some supernatural elements to it. I have no idea why it helps humans function better; I know that it does. The problem, however, with being a human in modern human culture (surrounded by all the inherent distractions, etc.) is that we are incessantly being lured away from the present moment.
Many issues in mental health (including Borderline Personality Disorder) have to do with struggling to exist in the present moment. I believe this struggle has much to do with the “high pressure” and “inpatient” culture in which we find ourselves living (western industrialized culture). And because we become so insistent about results and error prevention, our minds continue to drift off into the past and the future as if to live up this madness. But then as we do this, we heap on more and more emotional weight that has no place in the present moment. The result of doing this is that we impair our ability to function – as though we are carrying around a backpack all day long and filling up with rocks until we can’t carry it anymore. Remember that the body says “NO,” eventually.