When I started seeing a therapist consistently for the first time ever, he identified the borderline personality traits wrecking havoc in my life and relationships. The first DBT skill he taught me was mindfulness. And it is a skill, a very powerful one at that.
But it’s not a solution. I try working at it, diligently. I practise, daily.
And here’s my hypothesis: it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because being aware of my emotions does nothing to change them, it can’t soothe my damaged soul, it can’t repair past trauma, it can’t repair ruined relationships and it certainly doesn’t stop me from self harming. Being aware of my emotions is not the same as being able to regulate them.
I am trying to work out why it doesn’t work for me, why it’s not the saving grace many claim. I think it has something to do with this core belief I identified recently: I don’t deserve nice things. Nice things like recovery. Now I’ve already resigned myself (smartly or stupidly I’m not sure) to the fact that my depression is chronic, but that doesn’t mean I can’t recover from it. Just as it’s not impossible to recover form anxiety, bulimia, anorexia and self harm, and learn to live a fulfilled life as “a borderline”. Recovery is possible, but it’s not something I deserve. And it’s certainly not something that an increased awareness gained through practising mindfulness is going to solve.
I don’t deserve nice things. Nice things like recovery.
Being aware of my emotions is good; it’s something I used to struggle with daily – feeling everything, nothing, or something unknown somewhere in between. I can recognise emotions now, and yes, mindfulness has helped with that. But what it hasn’t helped with is the depression itself, or the self harm. These are not things that a simple awareness will fix. In fact, I think it actually compounds their effects. If I notice that I’m having thoughts of self harm, trying to exist with the urges without engaging with them does nothing. It only makes the urge more difficult to resist.
I’m not being negative. I’m being honest, brutally so, as is my usual. Mindfulness has helped me in ways that you might not expect, but it has not fixed me or my problems. It helps me recognise emotions, and urges, and develop breathing patterns to instantly calm me down, reduced suicidality and helped me through panic attacks. But it has not – and I do not think it will ever – completely eliminated these things.
So next time I tell you I self harm, or suffer from depression, or am recovering from close to a decade of disordered eating, do not suggest mindfulness. Because my response may be to mindfully punch you in the face.