Mindfulness and present moment awareness are essentially the same thing. While the practice of being mindful has been integrated into the most current and effective treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the practice itself is centuries old.
A Personal Perspective
While I do not suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder myself, I certainly have years of experience with what psychologists sometimes call “excessive ruminations,” a term used to describe dwelling on unpleasant things that have happened or may happen, but haven’t yet.
Until I learned mindfulness skills, when something unpleasant happened in my life (let’s say a conflict with a friend or family member or someone hurting my feelings), the heightened state of emotional distress the incident caused me would last far longer than the incident itself. Hours or sometimes even days after the event, I would find my blood boiling, my heart beating faster, and my mind reeling when I thought about it. My body and mind were continuing to react to something that was no longer happening. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
The only significant difference in my “excessive ruminations” and the emotional dysregulation people with BPD experience is that I did not act on my fears, pain, and anger. People with BPD often do act out as a result of these kinds of disturbing states of mind.
Mindfulness techniques made an enormous difference in my life by giving me tools to bring myself back into the present moment instead of continuing to relive a conflict over and over again.
In the simplest terms possible, mindfulness is experiencing where you are and what you are doing in this moment, both internally and externally, and not judging it, but just letting it be what it is. People with Borderline Personality Disorder are often prone to allowing emotions dictate thoughts and actions that are not in their best interests. In people with BPD, the impulse to act out of emotional distress is nearly impossible to overcome without learning how to bring themselves back into a calmer state.
Even without being a Zen master or having years of practice meditating, we can still employ very effective and simple methods for decreasing elevated states of emotional distress by practicing the following mindfulness skills:
Stop what you are doing and simply observe. Focus on your own breathing for a moment or two. Sit quietly and notice how your body feels and what emotions you are experiencing. Don’t judge what comes up emotionally or physically as being bad or good, but notice that it simply “is” and recognize that how it “is” at this moment in time is not how it will always be. Your thoughts for better or worse are just thoughts. If they are unhappy thoughts, don’t try to force them out, just “watch” them without judgment, as you would watch something dramatic unfold in a movie, with detachment, rather than engagement.
A therapist who is treating you using Dialectical Behavioral Therapy will introduce you to many other mindfulness skills that you can use to bring yourself back into a mindful state when you are overwhelmed emotionally. You will learn that you do not have to allow emotions to dominate your thoughts and actions.
Mindfulness skills have a proven track record for bringing about an increased sense of calm and well-being in all who adopt them. They are simple, they work anywhere and anytime in any circumstance and, given a chance, they can help you overcome the worst aspects of BPD by giving you greater control of your own emotions.
What mindfulness skills have you found most useful? Share them in the comments below.