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Treatment & Therapy

Practicing Mindfulness: Learning to Let Go

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Mindfulness Letting GoAs we continue to break down some of the highlights of Dr. Blaise Aguirre and Dr. Gillian Galen’s lecture series on the practice of mindfulness, I’d like to begin this article with another quote from Aguirre, who describes the function of mindfulness this way:

“To bring into awareness in a certain way … your relationship to your experience, your thoughts, your emotions, and your behaviors. When you’re aware of what goes on in your own mind, you notice that you can be dragged around by your emotions and thoughts and that can lead to destructive and impulsive behaviors.”

For those struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), learning to regulate emotions is the single most important skill they must achieve in order to successfully recover. For those who have a relationship with someone with BPD, this is also a helpful skill to assist them in coping with the emotional roller coaster rides that often accompany BPD relationships.

Letting Go of Judgment

In the third of four NEA-BPD lectures on mindfulness for BPD treatment, Aguirre and Galen expanded further on some of the ways our own minds cause us needless suffering. One topic that was explored in greater depth was learning not to judge, or at least to recognize when we are judging.

We all have a tendency to judge ourselves, others, and situations in general. We think that things shouldn’t be as they are, or that someone else is wrong or that we ourselves are “bad.” Thinking in these judgmental terms shuts the door to curiosity or thinking about other possibilities.

We may not be able to stop judging completely. It’s something human beings do regularly and it serves a purpose. But when people with Borderline Personality Disorder think in black-and-white terms, it can lead to intolerable feelings that result in impulsive or destructive actions.

However, by learning to recognize when we are judging, we can stop and re-examine our thoughts and break the situation down into factual statements rather than judgments, which Aguirre explained can decrease the intensity of negative emotions almost immediately.

Letting Go of Being Right

When we are in conflict with another person, we often cling to the idea that we are right and they are wrong. We exacerbate the problem by trying to have the “last word” or prove that our position on the matter is correct.

Galen points out that in order to resolve conflict, we sometimes must let go of being “right” in order to be effective. Letting go of being “right” and simply doing what will give us the desired result is more effective. This method of seeking to do what is effective translates to many situations.

As an example of how this might play out, Galen gave listeners a very simple hypothetical situation where a person goes out for Chinese food with colleagues who they are interested in forming relationships with and getting to know better. At the restaurant, this person discovers to their dismay that they are the only person at the table unable to use chopsticks properly. This seeming deficiency leads to anxiety about not fitting in or being judged by others to be lesser in some way. Beliefs like this can easily lead to self-judging thoughts such as, “No one will invite me out next time. I’m not fitting in and no one will like me.”

If, instead, the person simply picked up their fork and ate and focused their energy on what they came to do – get to know other people, strengthen work relationships, and have fun – they would choose the “effective” means of dealing with the situation, rather than focusing on negative thinking that could shut them down socially.

Practicing Mindfulness

While all of these mindfulness techniques are quite simple, they can only work in our lives through consistent practice. Don’t be discouraged if you are unable to master mindfulness skills right away, even if you are in treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder. Keep giving yourself time each day, even just a few moments, to stop and be present.

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