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When Borderline Personality Disorder Makes You Believe You Don't Deserve Recovery

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When I started seeing a therapist consistently for the first time ever, he identified the borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits that were wreaking havoc in my life and relationships. The first dialectical behavior therapy (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 practice, 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 believe I deserve. And it’s certainly not something that an increased awareness gained through practicing 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 recognize 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 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 you might not expect, but it has not fixed me or my problems. It helps me recognize emotions and urges, and develop breathing patterns to instantly calm me down, reduced suicidality and get 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.

Unsplash photo via Anton Darius

Originally published: March 5, 2018
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