Why Mindfulness Isn’t Always A Solution

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.

13 thoughts on “Why Mindfulness Isn’t Always A Solution”

  1. Wow… Sending hugs….
    I finally put together some sort of list of what I want to change. First comes being able to accept what is and handle it (On my list) then being aware of what I feel. I think being aware is important. Because then can learn to deal with it… I honestly wish I could know what I feel instead of running away from it. I know how much hell it will be. But I hope you can get to the next step soon. Learning to handle and regulate…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i’ll admit it’s difficult… i always focus on my breathing. just say “in” and “out” as i breathe. i find it more grounding than counting breaths because i can’t get obsessive about it. there are some really great apps with guided meditations but they can be super overwhelming. if you’re interested my favourite is Calm 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Right-
    So how mindfulness helps, but doesn’t fix. I loved what you wrote there.

    I sometimes get so frustrated that I’ll never be fixed. Because I won’t. My eating disorder is chronic. My anxiety and depression will always come and go. My emotional response will always be emotional

    I’m desperate to be fixed and I get hopeless knowing I will never actually be fixed

    I’m learning to embrace my brokenness and finding the beauty within the brokenness- and THAT is mindfulness, mindfulness is the persuit of beauty within brokenness

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    1. so true! we can be broken and struggle and still find little pieces of okayness shattered all over the floor… i feel the same as my depression and eating disorder are chronic, and yes, emotional responses will always be, emotional. stay strong x

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  3. Great post! (Again!)
    Not negative at all; in fact I found this the opposite, I found it incredibly encouraging and helpful.

    I have struggled with mindfulness for the exact reason you describe, but I hadn’t thought of it the way you wrote about.

    TBC (I’m replying on my phone so I have to go back to read the post again because there was something else I wanted to comment on, but I don’t want to lose this comment yet) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My take on mindfulness is that it’s most effective when it’s one tool in a toolbox that contains several other options, because no single type of tool is going to be effective in all situations. It sounds like for some people mindfulness is kind of the be all and end all. It certainly hasn’t been for me, but one of the ways I’ve found it can help is giving me a bit of space so I can get more in touch with wise mind and start to use things like CBT techniques.

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  5. having the seemingly unchangeable belief that recovery and good things are not something that you “deserve” is one thing, but having that be true is another. i have the same core belief, i swear to you, and it eats me alive most days. but having a belief and holding a TRUTH are two different things. you may not feel worthy, and i’m not going to try to change that, because i don’t feel worthy either. but feeling and BEING are two different things. why can’t we be worthy until proven otherwise, instead of the other way around? i am fighting for you. i always am and i always will be. no matter what. you are a damn gem in my eyes. 💙💙

    Liked by 1 person

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