Mindfulness keeps me from quitting therapy.

MINDFULNESS (2)

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).

Advertisements

Observing your feelings.

watching_emotions

When you hear the term mindfulness, what that means is to quietly observe your own emotions, not judging or denying them, but just accepting that they exist.     This includes observing the way an emotion makes you feel physically or where it seems to reside in your body.    When you quietly observe your feelings this way, by default that keeps you in the present and you are not likely to act out impulsively on an emotion.    It’s central to mindfulness therapies like DBT.

I feel very anxious today.  I don’t know what’s causing it but that doesn’t matter.  Probably nothing is causing it; it’s just free floating anxiety.    In the past I might have drank too much, snarled and snapped at people to relieve the stress, or just suffered.  I might have told myself I was being stupid and to snap out of it, mirroring the very words my narcissistic parents and ex would say to me whenever anxiety (or any other emotion they didn’t like) would strike.   Feelings themselves are never wrong, though acting out on them in impulsive or destructive ways can be.

I went outside and sat on the porch and just observed my anxiety.    I realized how physical emotions really are.   The anxiety manifested as a tightness in my chest (heart area) and the middle of my abdomen [these may correspond with the third (solar plexus) and fourth (heart) chakras, if you’re into that].   I know I  have blockages in those areas and this is causing a lot of my anxiety.    I breathed deeply, imagining my breath flowing into these constricted, painful areas.   It didn’t help a whole lot, but it did a little.  I tried to connect the anxiety with a triggering event but couldn’t think of one.   I told myself the free-floating anxiety was temporary, like a headache, and that it wouldn’t kill me, so I just surrendered to it without judging it as a good or bad thing, and that the anxiety wasn’t ME, it was just a feeling and would pass.  And after a while, it did.