Why DBT and mindfulness is helping me get more out of therapy.

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For anyone suffering from BPD who wants to undergo psychodynamic or trauma therapy, I definitely recommend taking some DBT (or CBT) classes first. This also applies to people with complex PTSD, as the symptoms of C-PTSD and BPD can be almost the same (and for Borderlines, usually co-exist together).

I’ve been in therapy many times throughout my life, but I never stuck with it before. I usually would quit, because I either gave up in frustration or things got too intense. My first instinct whenever things in life would get too uncomfortable was to run. I had zero insight into myself or why I reacted (or overreacted) to things the way I did. I always thought everything was someone else’s fault. Yet I was constantly apologizing for things that weren’t my fault. I know that’s confusing, but I was confused. I was ignorant about boundaries and then wondered why others got offended when I unwittingly invaded theirs. Either that or I put up too many boundaries, not letting anyone in or rejecting people who tried to get too close.  I had a martyr complex, always felt picked on and ganged up on, was constantly paranoid and hypervigilant, always feeling like everyone hated me and was out to get me. I was ready to go off on someone or act out at the slightest provocation, believing I was being attacked unfairly. I was much more likely to attack things than people (I was constantly breaking things; self harm was never really my thing) but my violence toward objects and verbal tirades still upset those around me and upset me too after the fact. People always told me I overreacted to everything, but I always felt like it was somehow justified. I couldn’t see the part I might have been playing in all that.

To be fair, I was horrifically abused both as a child and as an adult, so my paranoia and distrust of others wasn’t completely unfounded. I was trained to be a victim and tended to act in ways that ensured I would remain a victim, without knowing I was doing so. I still struggle with this. I still tend toward codependency.  I still find it hard to connect with people in any meaningful way.   I’m a long way from being the person I want to be or that I could have become, and I may never get there completely. But there’s a big difference between the way I am now and the way I used to be. Mindfulness.

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What is mindfulness? It’s the ability to think before you act, be aware of your own actions and reactions, and have insight into your own motives and why you do the things you do. It’s staying in the present, instead of fretting about the past or worrying about the future. It’s being able to step back mentally and see yourself the way others see you. Being mindful keeps you from acting out in ways you might regret later on. You’re not constantly apologizing because you acted out without knowing, because you can stop yourself before you do. Being mindful is like receiving a pair of magic glasses that allows you a view of yourself you never had before. You might think that having this “inner critic” would make you self-conscious, fearful and awkward, but ironically, it does the opposite. Because you have the ability to know how to act before you act, you have more control over yourself, and therefore more control over how others react to you. Slowly, you begin to find that people are reacting more positively to you, and you have fewer reasons to lash out at others or overreact to things. You begin to trust others more, because you trust yourself more.

Mindfulness is a wonderful tool in therapy, and is helping me get so much more out of it than I ever did before. I took DBT classes in 1996, when I was first diagnosed with BPD, and at the time I sort of blew them off. Because I was still in my abusive marriage, I was still very sick and not really ready to do the work. As long as I stayed with my narcissist, I was not going to get any better, but I didn’t know that. My ex had me convinced that I was the problem, not him. Because of his triangulation and gaslighting, he had everyone else convinced I was the crazy one too and he was just the put-upon victim. He’d systematically goad me into a BPD rage, knowing he could, and then with a smirk of satisfaction, tell everyone how insane I was. His personality and manner came off as more cool and collected than mine did, so I probably really did look crazier and more out of control than he did. But he was pulling all the strings.

Anyway, back to mindfulness. It wasn’t until early in 2014, when I finally went VLC (very low contact) with him (and kicked him out of the house), that I started to change. First I started to write and that’s why I started this blog. Writing every day helped me gain insight into myself and my narcissists. After a few more months, I began to realize I needed to make a few changes to myself. I pulled out my DBT workbook (Marsha Linehan’s Skills Training Manual for Borderline Personality Disorder) and began to do some of the exercises. I had already been doing a few of the things, but this time I took it more seriously and tried some of the things I hadn’t before. One of those things was paying attention to my internal, bodily state whenever I felt an unpleasant emotion. By doing this, I was able to begin to name what I was feeling. Emotions are very physical things. By naming an emotion, you can allow yourself to feel it, realize it’s just an emotion and not “you,” and learn to have more control over it.

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In therapy, I find I’m constantly focusing in on my bodily state, whether there’s any tightness, pain or strange sensations. There always seems to be pressure or tightness in my stomach, chest and throat that goes away when I can name the feeling and begin to express it. Being mindful this way of my internal state and naming my feelings, I’m much less likely to act out against other people or break things. I’m working now on breaking down the protective emotional wall I’ve developed that overlies softer feelings of sadness, grief, empathy, and connection with others. For many years it seemed the only emotions I ever could access were fear (sometimes straight up terror), shame, guilt, anger, and rage–and mind-numbing, zombielike depressions where all I wanted to do was sleep.

There are many ways to be mindful. Some of them are very simple, like counting to ten before acting. Others require more concentration. We need to learn how to self-soothe, something we never learned how to do as babies or young children. Being mindful allows you room to learn self soothing techniques. The insight you gain into yourself by being mindful also allows you the ability and courage to dig deep when you decide to undergo psychodynamic therapy. You’re going to experience powerful emotions when you’re searching for the root causes of your illness, and being mindful allows you to experience them without overreacting, acting out…or quitting therapy.

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About luckyotter

This blog is my journal. I just choose to share it with the world instead of keeping everything inside my head. I'm a recovering Borderline and have also struggled with Avoidant Personality Disorder. I also have Complex PTSD due to having been the victim of narcissistic abuse for most of my life. I write mostly about narcissism, because I was the child of a narcissistic mother, and then married to a sociopathic malignant narcissist for 20 years. But there's a silver lining too. In some ways they taught me about myself. This blog is about all that. Not all my articles will be about NPD, BPD or other personality disorders or mental conditions. I pretty much write about whatever's on my mind at the moment. So there's something for everyone here. Blogging about stuff is crack for my soul. It's self therapy, and hopefully my insights and observations may help others too.
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25 Responses to Why DBT and mindfulness is helping me get more out of therapy.

  1. Tessa says:

    I ordered the book you mentioned. I would rather do it on my own than with a therapist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      You should be able to. It helped me immensely once I put my mind to it. At some point you might want to get to the root cause and it won’t do that, but it will definitely help to improve the way you feel about yourself and react to others. I’m glad you ordered you a copy! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ibikenyc says:

    I SO relate to much of what you say here.

    I just happened upon DBT in the past two or three days at

    http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/

    I was “raised” by a narcissistic mother and a episodically-drunk, rageaholic father.

    I am now raising myself and think DBT sounds wonderful! It really is “just” a form of Mindfulness.

    I try to do Yoga every morning with those folks on PBS. I started it mostly to increase flexibility, but the thing that gets me out of bed in time now is the idea of how Mindful it makes me. I didn’t look for that Mindfulness; it just came along as a bonus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      Myparents sound very much like yours! I have a cold as ice, somatic narcissist mother who is probably malignant too (think of Joan Crawford in Mommie dearest + the mother in “Ordinary People”) and a father who was codependent to her, most likely BPD but possibly a low spectrum covert narcissist. Both were alcoholics and prone to frightening rages. I was raised as an only child so I served as both scapegoat and Golden child. It was hell.

      Yoga is good too. Anything that gets your mind on the present, and helps you to focus, is helpful. DBT is really just a bunch of mindfulness skills, some of them are probably used in yoga, meditation, and other disciplines too.
      Personally, I also found Chakra balancing helpful (though it could be triggering too, so you have to be careful with that unless you know what you’re doing). And don’t forget about prayer! Spirituality is an important part of mindfulness, imo.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. bp7o9 says:

    Thanks for sharing the link on DBT self help. My psychiatrist was talking about finding ways to ground myself. Happy to say I’ve found one or two.

    Training myself to not react in a knee jerk manner – which I guess is my way of saying ‘mindfulness’ – has been difficult. I still get triggered. But I can now choose a different course of action. Rather than blowing up, I can walk away. Rather than yelling, I can tap my chest or sit down. It’s not much, or it doesn’t feel like much. But it’s a start.

    Liked by 2 people

    • luckyotter says:

      Those are all good ways to start grounding yourself more.

      Liked by 2 people

    • ibikenyc says:

      It sure DOESN’T feel like much; I felt and still feel that way myself, but it IS a big deal, because you’re DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT, which means you’re effecting change!

      Liked by 2 people

    • ibikenyc says:

      It sure DOESN’T feel like much; I felt and still feel that way myself, but it IS a big deal, because you’re DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT, which means you’re effecting change!

      Liked by 2 people

      • luckyotter says:

        Today my DBT skills didn’t do me much good. :/ I had a high stress day and had to work with someone I don’t like and I didn’t handle it very well. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

      • bp7o9 says:

        *sigh* It’s tough. Every day, every minute. Because you can’t expect shit to stop happening to you. You can’t expect anyone to treat you differently or modify their own behavior. All you can do is work to control your own reaction. It’s miniscule. I feel like an atom on the wind. Tiny and inconsequential. And I remind myself every day of the tsunami effect; that one pebble dropped in the ocean can start a huge wave that changes everything. ❤

        Liked by 2 people

  4. ibikenyc says:

    holE!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Joyce says:

    Reblogged this on MAKE BPD STIGMA-FREE!.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks so much for writing this. I do long term group psychoanalytic therapy and almost quit but Im still there for the while. This is really encouraging! x

    Liked by 1 person

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