In most treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and other issues involving emotion dysregulation, you are very likely to encounter the subject of mindfulness and how implementing it into your life can help reduce your suffering and overall symptoms. The word “mindfulness” is often thrown around, though, so most people see it as an elusive mystery, attainable only to monks far removed from society or other religious people only. I’m happy to tell you that this isn’t true. Mindfulness is available to everyone, including you, and you can begin as soon as you’ve completed reading this post.
Mindfulness is something that has helped me manage during the worst points of my BPD symptoms, and it continues to help me with the BPD traits from which I still suffer, PTSD symptoms, anxiety, and, beyond it being a way for me to help manage problematic experiences, I’ve integrated it into my life so that it’s a daily practice of truly being here in the now, enjoying each moment as much as possible. Now, I’m no guru, and I won’t pretend to be. I’m not mindful 100% of the time. But you know what? No human being is — not even those monks removed from society. You get to start right where you are.
So, what is mindfulness? According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, who created Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a set of skills to which I attribute my recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder , says that mindfulness “is not a place you get to. It is the practice and the process.”
She has also said that in her research as to why suffering causes some people to become stronger while it has the power to destroy others is one key ingredient: Radical Acceptance, a major concept in Mindfulness. It means to fully, totally embrace reality as it is in this moment and is sometimes referred to as Reality Acceptance.
Keep in mind that acceptance is not the same thing as approval. So, if you’re going through a tragedy in your life right now, Radical Accepting it doesn’t mean that you like, approve of, or want the tragedy in your life. It only means that you are looking at life in a realistic way, acknowledging that the tragedy is occurring in this moment. Rather than deny it, suppress it, avoid it, etc., you are simply saying “this is happening right now.” This reality acceptance is the starting point for processing through the pain and for making changes in your life as needed.
How do we go from where we are now to being more in the Radical Acceptance state of mind? Dr. Linehan says that the only bridge from willfulness, tantrums, and non-acceptance in our lives to Radical Acceptance is practice through Mindfulness.
Here’s an example: In BPD, we often have urges… urges to engage in impulsive behaviors that, while they may feel like they bring relief in the moment, are ultimately self-destructive and harmful. With mindfulness, instead of instantly going from the urge/impulse to acting on it, we insert a pause, on purpose. We notice the impulse like a scientist observing something. We acknowledge that the impulse has arisen within us, and then we acknowledge that we have power in this moment to choose. Yes, it is possible, though mindful awareness, to observe an urge without acting on it.
We also do not need to be controlled by our moods. Let’s say you’ve set out to complete an important tasks, such as a university assignment or work project. You become bored. There have been times in my life where that was all it took: I felt bored, had the urge to quit, and I did… only to regret it after the fact. Can you relate?
With mindful awareness, though, you can notice the boredom arise, and tell yourself, “Even though I am bored, I can stay in integrity and complete my commitment and finish this project,” and then you do it. You’re left with a much higher sense of self-respect when you follow through on things even if you “don’t feel like it.”
Mindfulness, that pause you proactively take when you become aware of whatever is going on in your conscious thought process (thoughts, body sensations, impulses, emotions, feelings), allows you to understand yourself better and to make healthier, more recovery focused choices most of the time.
So, today, as you go through your day, notice your experience. If a feeling, especially an intense one, rises up in you, instead of immediately acting on whatever impulse or urge the emotion is triggering, try proactively inserting that mindful pause. Notice your thoughts. Notice the feeling. Notice what’s going on in your body. Acknowledge it all. Then acknowledge that you have the power to choose, and for your well-being, may you at that point choose wisely.
Thank you for reading.
Click to learn how DBT skills like Mindfulness helped me overcome Borderline Personality Disorder.