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Finding Meaning

An Exercise to Help You Find More Meaning in Your Life

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Updated June 27, 2014

Do you need help finding meaning in your life? Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) struggle with feelings of emptiness, identity problems, and depressed mood. Together, the symptoms of BPD can leave you searching for meaning in your life.

This is one exercise that is designed to help you identify what is meaningful to you. Of course, finding meaning is not an easy process, and no one exercise will get you there; finding meaning takes work and is best accomplished with the help of a good therapist. In fact, this may be an exercise that you want to work on with your therapist.

Finding Meaning – What Is Meaningful to Me?

The first step toward finding meaning in your life is to determine what aspects of your life are meaningful to you. This exercise, which is adapted from an exercise from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that is related to Dialectical Behavior Therapy for BPD, can help you assess what is meaningful to you.

To begin this exercise, take out a notebook or a sheet of paper. Down the left side of the page, write the following list:

  • Intimate Relationships
  • Parenting
  • Family
  • Friendships/Socializing
  • Education/Personal Growth
  • Career
  • Recreation
  • Spirituality/Religion
  • Physical Health
  • Helping Others

Now that you have the list, next to each item write a number between 1 and 5 that corresponds with how important you personally find each area to be in your life, with 5 = extremely important and 1= not at all important.

If you are not sure, just write a question mark. Remember that there are no right answers, and no one will ever have to see this list. Just write down what you feel is important to you (not what anyone else says should be important to you).

Finding Meaning – Define What Would Bring You Meaning

Now that you have rated each domain on the list in terms of importance to you, pick the two domains that you rated as most important. If you rated every domain as exactly as important as any other, go back and think about whether there is actually one or two domains that stand out as more important than the others (even if only by a little bit).

For the one or two domains that you picked out as most important, write one or two sentences about how you would like to behave in each domain. This is important- this is not about how you would like to feel or think (e.g., I would like to be confident and self-assured). Instead, focus on behavior, or how you would like to act in that domain. Here is an example from the “intimate relationships” domain:

”I would like to be a kind and caring partner. I would like to say supportive things to my partner when they are feeling down, and I would like to do things for them that will help make their life a little easier. I would also like to act as if I am worthwhile in relationships by asking for the things I need.”

Finding Meaning – Putting It Together

Now look at what you have written how you would like to behave in the one or two domains that you chose as most important to you. Hopefully you have written one or two sentences that describe behaviors or actions that you would like to take in those domains. These are the types of actions that can help you find meaning in your life—these are the ways that you would like to be in the areas of your life that are most important to you.

Don’t be surprised if reading the statements you have written makes you sad—perhaps you are not acting the way you would like in these areas of your life, or perhaps you feel no where near where you would like to be in these areas (e.g., maybe you are not in an intimate relationship despite the fact that it is very important to you).

If you are struggling with this exercise and are having a hard time finishing it, put it down and come back to it another time. This can be a very difficult exercise, and sometimes it requires some time to “digest,” so let it sit for a while and try again when you are ready. You can also try talking it over with a friend, or a therapist, to get more input.

If you have completed this exercise you have taken a very important step toward living a more meaningful life—you have determined what areas of your life are most important to you, and you have specified a few actions you could take that would move you toward having more meaning in your life.

Source:

Hayes SC. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. 1st ed. New Harbinger Publications; 2005.

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