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Mindfulness Meditation for Living with BPD

Learn Mindfulness Meditation to Reduce BPD Symptoms

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Updated June 15, 2014

In the past decade, more and more psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals have incorporated mindfulness meditation training into their psychotherapy practice. Mindfulness meditation has many treatment applications, including major depressive disorder, chronic pain, generalized anxiety disorder, and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation has been defined in many ways, but perhaps one of the most widely-used definitions comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., (the creator of a treatment for stress and chronic pain called “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction”), who defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

When you practice mindfulness meditation, you practice being in the present moment, and noticing all of your experiences. You practice being aware of things happening outside of yourself (e.g., things you see, smell, hear), and things happening internally (e.g., your thoughts, feelings and sensations). Importantly, mindfulness meditation involves being aware without judgment. So, you are paying attention to all of these experiences, without labeling them as good or bad.

Mindfulness is a concept that comes from the Buddhist spiritual tradition. For almost almost 3,000 years, Buddhist monks have practiced mindfulness meditation -- but in recent years mindfulness practice has become increasingly widespread and applied outside of the Buddhism. In fact, most Eastern practitioners who use mindfulness think of it as a skill that can be used separately from any kind of religious or spiritual practice. So, no matter what your religious background, mindfulness meditation may be helpful for you.

What Does Mindfulness Meditation Have to Do With BPD?

Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., who created Dialectical Behavior Therapy for BPD was one of the first to apply mindfulness meditation training to the treatment of BPD. Often, individuals with BPD not only experience intense emotions, they can become “stuck” in these emotions and judge both the emotions and themselves (e.g., “This is a terrible feeling and I am such a weak person for feeling this way”). Unfortunately, this can end up making the emotion feel even more intense. And, judgmental thoughts can add other emotions to the mix — if you tell yourself you are weak for feeling sad you may end up feeling both sad and ashamed.

Mindfulness meditation training can help people with BPD to feel less “stuck” in their emotions, and less judgmental of the emotions and themselves. Mindfulness meditation training may also help individuals with BPD be more effective in applying healthy coping skills in the midst of emotional pain, because mindfulness skills allow you to get just a little bit of space to be able to notice the emotion and be more strategic in terms of how you will act in the face of the emotion.

For example, imagine being in a verbal argument with someone you love. During the argument you may feel very intense feelings, such as anger, fear and rage. Without mindfulness skills, you are more likely to act on these feelings without being able to see the consequences -- maybe you yell at your loved one, throw something or storm out. With mindfulness meditation practice, you may be able to notice the emotions you are having (e.g., you may think to yourself “I’m feeling really angry, hurt, and afraid right now”), and you may be able to step back and chose your behavior (e.g., “I am too upset to talk about this and I am may say or do something I’ll regret later. I need to take a time out from this discussion”).

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

There are a variety of ways to begin practicing mindfulness meditation. Usually you can begin practicing mindfulness by trying some exercises that promote mindfulness. To get started, try these exercises:

How Can I Learn More?

If you are interested in getting more practice with mindfulness meditation, there are a number of excellent books on the topic that have been written in the past few years. Here are some suggestions:

  • "Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness," by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., New York: Delta, 1990.

  • "Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life," by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., New York: Hyperion, 2005.

  • "Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life," by Thich Nhat Han, New York: Bantam Books, 1991.

Sources:

Block-Lerner, J., Salters-Pedneault, K., & Tull, MT. “Assessing Mindfulness and Experiential Acceptance: Attempts to Capture Inherently Elusive Phenomena." In L. Roemer & S. Orsillo (Eds.) Acceptance and Mindfulness-Based Approaches to Anxiety, New York: Springer, 2005

Kabat-Zinn, J. Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditations in Every Day Life. New York: Hyperion, 1994.

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