Mindfulness is the core skill taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, but how exactly does it help people with Borderline Personality Disorder?
One summary of the research by UCLA reported on the positive correlation between meditating and positive affect, as well as a more active immune system, for example. Harvard recently published a report on mindfulness as an alternative approach to depression.
The term “mindfulness” can be abstract and difficult to understand, so let’s begin with describing what mindfulness is.
Mindfulness (in the context of DBT) is a skill developed by Marsha Linehan from the basic principles of Zen Buddhism. It consists of practices designed to build conscious awareness into the everyday moments of your life. Practices include things like yoga, meditation, prayer, and visualization exercises. Mindfulness practice doesn’t necessarily have to be a religious practice. Prayer and spirituality are some ways to practice mindfulness, but there are many other ways to tune into your intuition and connection with the universe. It is not a requirement to be religious in order to receive the benefits of mindfulness.
But mindfulness is so much more than just the practice exercises that make it up. Mindfulness is a way of life, a way of experiencing reality as it is, free of judgment and distraction. It is a way to step back and view the world, and then enter fully into the experience of life with awareness and knowledge of your true self and your motivations.
With time, mindfulness practice actually produces changes in your brain. The limbic system, which is so involved with the episodes we equate with Borderline Personality Disorder, can be “calmed” and “focused” with mindfulness practice. Eventually your brain will automatically be able to separate itself from its emotional experiences without much effort at all, allowing us to think more clearly and make more rational decisions.
With a clear-thinking mind, we can let go of overwhelming emotions and judgments about ourselves and others and focus on doing what will work to achieve the goals we have. If our goal is to improve a relationship, for example, mindfulness will help us to calm our emotions so we can respond and communicate effectively with a loved one. THIS is how mindfulness helps us in our daily lives to manage our BPD.
So how do we make mindfulness a part of our daily lives? Start small. Choose one mindfulness exercise that resonates with you. One exercise I like is to let drops of water hit my hand, and focus on just the steady drop of water, feeling the wetness, feeling the weight, and breathing slowly. Do that exercise for 10 minutes every day for a week, or two weeks. When it has become habitual for you to do your daily mindfulness exercise, it’s time to add another mindfulness moment into your day! Ten minutes in the morning, ten minutes in the evening is a great way to build up your practice time. The more you build the habit, the easier it becomes, the less effort it requires. Keep increasing your mindfulness moments, and soon you’ll be shocked at how much control you are starting to gain over your thoughts and impulses!