Tag Archives: Directional Thinking

The Wisdom of Mindfulness

Introduction to DBT

Ever since I experienced the onset of Dyslimbia/Borderline four years ago, I have consistently looked to therapy and psychiatry for help. For a long time, nothing seemed to be improving. This is not uncommon for people with Borderline; in fact, until about twenty years ago, many people believed that Dyslimbia symptoms hardly improve, if at all,  by using therapy or medications. Then, sometime in the 1980s, Dr. Linehan developed a promising new treatment: Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

If you have Borderline Personality Disorder or if you know someone who has it, you may already be aware of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for short. Nevertheless, I will explain this treatment in case you have no clue about DBT. It’s a type of talk therapy that can be used one-on-one with a counselor or discussed in group settings. According to The Linehan Institute, DBT was developed especially for people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. The four main teachings of DBT are Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Emotion Regulation, In other words, it teaches people to live one moment at a time, calmly handle distressing thoughts or events, communicate well with others, and learn how to redirect or effectively “control” emotions.

Many people report improvement from DBT, and even the American Psychiatric Association supports it efficacy, even publishing a book about the treatment. Just because DBT produces good results does not mean it’s an easy process; in particular, many people struggle with understanding Mindfulness. Many dislike it at first, but Mindfulness is one of the key principles in DBT, so it’s necessary.

What is Mindfulness? 

Mindfulness has various forms, including the practice of meditation. In the words of Dr. Arnold, Mindfulness “is an awareness of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and behavioral urges.” It is the ability to observe, describe, and participate in each moment, appropriately and non-judgmentally. For a common example, take meditation. Many meditations require you to focus on your breathing while being aware of your physical body, thoughts, and feelings. The more you do this, the more you train your mind to recognize and calmly observe facts about yourself and the world around you.

Ultimately, Mindfulness is about awareness. With awareness comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes power. You cannot beat an enemy you know nothing about. In the same way, you cannot beat troubling Borderline symptoms without knowing yourself and how your mind and body work. Some people (like myself) take a long time to “catch on” to Mindfulness, and it’s a little bit different for each individual. I will share my own experience with this more abstract form of therapy.

I used to be one of those people who didn’t really believe that Mindfulness would help. At first, I thought it was all about meditation, which has never worked for me, even with professional help. I also doubted that something so abstract could really produce results. Both my arguments, though, were eventually laid to rest.

First, Mindfulness is not a lofty, metaphysical practice. According to studies, it can significantly change people for the better, right down to literally changing their brains (Holzel 2011). Secondly, Mindfulness is not “all about meditating”; it’s about living in the moment, and finding a way to do that works for you, the individual. I discovered that I can practice Mindfulness with Writing Meditations. I focus much better when writing and am less likely to get overwhelmed and quit compared to traditional meditation. If you can’t sit still, you can try walking meditations. If you get distracted from the present moment, it doesn’t mean that you are doing it “the wrong way”… simply by being aware of the fact that you are distracted, you are being Mindful of your thoughts.

How Mindfulness is Starting to Help Me

Although I first learned about Mindfulness over two years ago, I only started to really understand it a few months ago, when I began attending a new DBT Group. So, what does it do for me, you ask? So far, it has helped me on two fronts: more awareness of my physical body, and more control over racing thoughts. Normally, I don’t pay enough attention to my body, and I don’t go out of my way to meet its needs. With mindfulness, I’m better able to locate and define chronic pain, and with that awareness I am learning to do things to appropriately soothe my pain. Better pain management leads to better mood, in general, for me. Then there is the part about my racing mind.

Many people with occasional or clinical anxiety report “racing thoughts,” and for me, this symptom is even more extreme. All kinds of thoughts, from bizarrely random to severely troubling, race through my mind and disappear from my short term memory almost as soon as they appear. This is why I can’t meditate without writing: writing allows me to “catch” and “pin down” some of those crazily spinning thoughts. Thanks to the writing exercises, I know my own mind better, and I feel like it’s getting slightly easier to keep my thoughts in order.  These improvements may be small, but I wouldn’t be surprised if continued Mindfulness practice started helping me in big ways, too. In the meantime, remember: even a baby step is still a step. Mindfulness is a great way to start taking baby steps.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. “Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.” Book. 2001.
  2. Hölzel, Britta K., et al. “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density.” Psychiatric Research 191(1): 36–43. Academic journal. 2011.
  3.  “What is DBT?” The Linehan Institute Behavioral Tech. Web. 2016.   >http://behavioraltech.org/resources/whatisdbt.cfm

Sense of Self Part 3: Support Your Sense of Self

“Identity disturbance” is a benchmark symptom of BPD, characterized by “markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.” This sense of not knowing who you are can manifest in many ways, and many people with Dyslimbia struggle to cope. In this blog series, we’ve discussed the importance of directional thinking and coming to understand and predict your own behaviors. In this final part, I’m throwing together some of my miscellaneous thoughts about Sense of Self.


One of the best ways to continuously encourage and strengthen your sense of self is to affirm it. Self-affirmation means honestly complementing yourself. Some people struggle with this—myself included. It can feel so silly to self-affirm, and I have such a hard time believing what I’m saying, like that “I’m attractive” or “I’m a good person.” Most days I don’t really believe I’m worth anything. In order to combat this, first find a method of self-affirmation that you can live with, and then repeat it enough so that you slowly start to accept it.

Someone recommended that I look at myself in the mirror every day and say my self-affirmation aloud; I couldn’t stand doing this! Instead, what I try to do is write out examples of when I’ve done things worth being proud of; and in my journals, I frequently assure myself that I’m doing the right thing and that I’m a good person. Find a form of self-affirmation that works for you. Though you may have to force yourself to do it on most days, if you self-affirm enough, your mind will slowly start to believe the things it hears.

Friends and Family

You will never have a stable sense of self if you are not in a supportive environment. Even if you were self-affirming every day, if you are surrounded by toxic people, your mind won’t be able to accept the good things you’re telling it. Toxic people are people who cause you large amounts of stress or people who put you down or discourage you. It’s extremely important for people with Dyslimbia to have supportive people around them. If possible, try to make sure you have at least one friend or family member who will study your “sense of self” with you—somebody who knows and accepts you for who you are.

Directional Thinking: Using Objects

Directional thinking is the continued process of channeling your thoughts in one direction, or toward one theme or lesson. Making sense of self your “theme” to think on for a while can be very beneficial. In everything you do, try to draw things back to how they relate to self-understanding. My best friend came up with a great idea to aid this kind of directed thought.

Pick an object that is carried with you or is frequently within sight. This could be a bracelet or any form of jewelry, a clock, your favorite pen, your water bottle, or even your shoes. Then, every time you catch yourself looking at or touching the object (e.g., fidgeting with a bracelet), remind yourself of that day’s theme and think on it—consciously direct your thoughts. This use of objects seems like a great way to help directional thinking, and I’m excited to try it myself.

This Week’s Personal Example

This is an example from my life of how it can help you to have a good sense of self. I frequently battle with suicidal ideation, and due to certain circumstances, I knew that the suicidal thoughts were going to be worse in the next few days to weeks. Knowing this about myself, I then designed a plan; I made a list of ten things I can do to distract myself next time I start thinking suicidally. In order to make an effective list, I had to know exactly what kind of activities would work for me and which ones wouldn’t work. For example, I didn’t put “do chores” on the list, because that takes me a lot of energy and might make me feel worse in a crisis. Instead I listed more mindless activities, such as watching anime, playing my favorite card game, and reading a book.

I can’t stress this enough: unless you know yourself very well, coming up with effective coping strategies will be nearly impossible. So take some time, please, to develop your sense of self and battle the dangerous Identity Disturbance.

Sense of Self Part 1: Directional Thought

What is Directional Thinking?

Many people with BPD struggle with negative self-image and difficulty controlling their thoughts and emotions. The fight to gain control of my racing emotional thoughts can be debilitating. That’s why I’ve decided that practicing “directional thinking” is a great idea.

Directional thinking simply means focusing your thoughts on a particular theme or idea, in order to have more control of the “inner dialogue” that everyone possesses. Many churches have discovered this secret and use it by writing or reading daily spiritual devotionals. The devotionals give you a particular theme, topic, or Bible passage to think hard about. Every time you catch yourself thinking scattered or emotionally charged thoughts, try to fit or redirect your thoughts into the “theme” given that day.

Not everyone likes spiritual devotionals, though. I’m an atheist, for example. In a case like this, you must think up your own self-devotional. Pick a theme you want to think about, something that has a lot of bearing on your life. For my first “devotional,” I chose to think about my Sense of Self for a week. I’d like to share my experiences with readers in this multi-part blog series on Sense of Self.

Identity Disturbance

Everyone goes through times of uncertainty or change, and everyone makes occasional decisions they later regret or don’t understand. For people with Borderline Personality Disorder (or Dyslimbia), though, these occasions are chronic and recurring. One of the criteria for BPD is “Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.” What this means is different for everyone, but basically it’s a sense of not really knowing who you are.

For me, “identity disturbance” manifests in several ways. First, since I also have a dissociative disorder, I sometimes feel like I have multiple personalities. My desires are so conflicted between totally different options, to the point where I feel like I am more than one person. Even if you know you don’t have multiple personalities, though, identity disturbance can still be very real and very frightening. I often become mentally anguished because I have this idea of who I’m supposed to be, and yet I’m doing things that don’t fit with that model, leaving me confused and frustrated. Identity disturbance is different for everyone, so if you care to share, please comment below. At any rate, it’s a problem that most people with BPD have to battle.

Today’s Example

In order to have a more stable self-image, it’s important to have goals concerning what kind of person you want to be. For instance, I want to be a “courageous, healthy, helpful, capable, strong, and self-controlled” person. Then, when I feel I don’t know who I am, I think about small steps I can take to become more like my ideal self. Equally as important, I give myself examples of how I’m already a person who shows many of those qualities. Let’s look at an example of this kind of directional thought from my own life.

Last night, I made an unwise decision and drank to excess, waking up today sick and hung-over. I also slept in very late, and realized my goals for the day could not be met thanks to my bad decision. On top of that, I received an invitation to a job interview on very short notice—with an intimidating company. As a result, I began to have a lot of racing thoughts, crippling anxiety, and intense self-loathing. Then I considered what I could do to calm my thoughts, and remembered my theme of Sense of Self.

Distracting from my panic, I told myself what I had done recently that proved I am “capable, strong, and self-controlled.” I thought about what small steps or actions I could take toward my goals, and how each one would prove I am “courageous” or “healthy” or “helpful.” To my surprise, exercising this directed thinking helped me through the intense anxiety until my medicine had time to kick in.

In summary, I believe directional thought could be a great tool for people with Borderline. In the next part of this blog series, I’ll continue discussing my experiences as I try to form a stable sense of self.