In my last post, Jocelyn made a comment about quitting therapy, and this reminded me of something important that’s kept me going: mindfulness.
People in therapy, especially people who have cluster B disorders and have problems either regulating or accessing emotion, often quit when the going gets rough. Narcissists are notorious for quitting therapy (if they ever enter it at all) because of all the Cluster B disorders, NPDs have the most problems allowing themselves to become vulnerable (well, maybe ASPD is even worse that way), but for therapy to work, this cannot be avoided. This is why people with NPD so rarely get better. For most, as soon as they start to feel too much, they’re outta there.
For borderlines, it’s a little easier. We’re not running away from emotions all the time the way narcissists do (although I do to some degree and probably have narcissistic tendencies–I also have comorbid Avoidant PD which also explains my reticence). For BPDs, our main problem is the regulation of emotions that are too intense. But the core issues–abandonment trauma–is the same. When you finally reach the stage of diving into the maelstrom of pain and emptiness, it’s incredibly painful. You feel like you’re dying or going insane. You think about quitting because who wants to live with all that pain?
That’s where mindfulness comes in. Without mindfulness, I probably would have quit therapy after today. But with mindfulness, I can actually let myself fall into the pit of pain and trauma and allow myself to feel those unpleasant emotions. At the same time the mindful part of me is observing myself feeling them as they arise, and thinking logically and trying to make connections and give them meaning. This kind of distance–while at the same time being fully submerged in the feelings–makes the experience more bearable and also makes it more likely you’ll learn something valuable from it. Mindfulness also means you acknowledge that the emotions are not YOU; you have emotions but you aren’t your emotions. You are you, and the emotions are just trapped energy moving out of you.
Without mindfulness, you just feel like you’ve somehow fallen into the 9th circle of hell and will never escape. You can’t separate yourself from the overwhelming feelings and feel consumed by them. No wonder so many people quit when they get to this point. I’m so glad I took DBT classes (even though I blew them off back in he ’90s when I took them) and had the presence of mind to keep the DBT book I was given. It’s been so helpful to me throughout this whole process.
I think mindfulness training should actually be a prerequisite for intensive psychodynamic therapy, especially for trauma survivors (whether they are personality disordered or not), because there is nothing to prepare you for the intensity of the ride you’ll be taking (which seems so gentle and tame at first).