The Benefits of Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder
“Why couldn’t I just get a normal mental illness?” my friend Sophie recently bemoaned. “If you have depression, everyone says, ‘There are so many options for you!’ But if you have Borderline Personality Disorder it’s more like, ‘Most likely, nothing will help you and you probably don’t want help anyway.’” Unfortunately, she wasn’t being hyperbolic; people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) have often faced both a clinical community and a larger culture full of myths surrounding this complex mental illness. Chief among them are the false notions that BPD is virtually untreatable, and that people suffering from BPD overwhelmingly can’t commit to the treatments that are available. In fact, many people with BPD want help, often desperately, and there is a range of evidence-based therapeutic modalities available to alleviate suffering and restore psychological tranquility. At Bridges to Recovery, we witness what comprehensive, personalized mental health treatment can do for people with BPD every day, and create paths to healing using thoughtfully layered therapies that address the needs of each person. Often, one of the most powerful components of this treatment is meditation.
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The Centrality of Mindfulness in BPD Treatment
The gold standard in Borderline Personality Disorder treatment is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an innovative modality that seeks to simultaneously increase acceptance and replace maladaptive behaviors with healthy alternatives. One of the core elements within DBT is mindfulness, or “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” The following is one most accurate and useful descriptions I have come across:
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
While mindfulness can enhance the life of anyone, whether they suffer from mental illness or not, it is particularly useful for people with BPD, whose disorder typically prevents the spontaneous establishment of such thought. Learning how to be mindful directly addresses many of the symptoms associated with BPD and improves emotional regulation, impulse control, and interpersonal relationships. In DBT, these skills are taught in a structured way within the context of a client-therapist relationship, helping you to explicitly and verbally explore and establish mindfulness. While DBT can be invaluable for consciously learning and practicing mindfulness, returning to the roots of mindfulness can offer a different path towards healing that fortifies your ability to engage with the recovery process, with the world around you, and with yourself.
Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder Through Meditation
The concept of mindfulness was born out of Buddhist meditation; as such, using meditation to achieve mindfulness is a natural choice. Over the years, mindful meditation has transformed to include a range of secular practices that can be used in daily life as well as within specialized mental health treatment. A growing body of research indicates that these practices offer a number of profound benefits that directly speak to the needs of people with Borderline Personality Disorder:
- Decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression
- Increasing your ability to cope with and tolerate distress
- Enhancing compassion and altruism
- Increasing emotional regulation
- Fortifying relationships and encouraging healthy bonding
- Reducing PTSD symptoms
One of the most fascinating aspects of mindful meditation is that it has been found to encourage neurogenesis and increase activity in the left frontal cortex, the area in which we “generate positive feelings, such as joy and well-being.” Dr. Blaise Aguirre, Medical Director at McLean Hospital, explains the implication of these findings for Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment:
The data thus shows that regular practice of loving compassion activates the area of the brain that experiences joy and that allows us to consider that others might experience things differently from the way that we do. Both of these ideas are of profound importance to developing well-being in people with BPD.
Both the conscious and unconscious gifts meditation can bring you can be extraordinarily powerful pieces of your recovery process.
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Meditation at Bridges and Beyond
Meditation does not describe any one particular practice; while some people meditate by sitting on the floor, legs crossed, eyes closed, the way you typically see in movies, other people meditate while lying down, while running, or while playing an instrument. There is no right or wrong way to achieve mindfulness—what matters is that you find a path to connect to yourself, open your heart and mind, and be present in the moment.
At Bridges to Recovery, we offer a dedicated, weekly meditation group during which our experienced therapists guide you through breathing and visualization exercises to help you create paths toward increased awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and somatic sensations. You are encouraged to let thoughts enter your mind and release them without judgment as you develop a greater sense of harmony within yourself and with the world around you. Additionally, we also hold a weekly drumming group to offer another form of meditative practice. Through non-verbal, musical practice, you are able to give expression to your emotions and explore your experiences via sonic communication, which can make this therapeutic form particularly inviting to those who do not wish to discuss their experiences. Many find that the process of drumming creates a deeply meditative state that produces an inner stillness and encourages focus on the immediate moment.
One of the most empowering aspects of meditation is that it is a self-led experience; your meditation practice is your own journey and it is one you can access anytime you wish. For many people with BPD, meditation activates their self-healing abilities and becomes a vital part of ongoing self-care long after their time in residential mental health treatment. As such, meditative practices have the potential to be deeply enriching, not only facilitating remission from BPD symptoms, but enhancing your overall quality of life for years to come.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for people living with Borderline Personality Disorder as well as co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse, and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our innovative program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward healing.