Following on from previous posts, I thought I’d write a little bit about how mentalising has helped me with managing my emotions. A big part of BPD involves experiencing very intense emotions. It’s rare that I am ever feeling balanced, it’s all or nothing with emotion just like so many other things in life.
MBT is pretty focused on the idea that we cannot mentalise (that is, we are unable to know our own mind and others minds) when in a state of no emotion or a lot of emotions. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘window of tolerance.’
This optimal zone is the point at which a person is able to understand their thinking and feeling. If you’re too angry about a situation, for example, it is almost impossible to find a suitable solution. The boundaries of said window can be expanded over time, a person can develop the ability to tolerate more emotions in certain situations.
MBT is based on the idea that we often struggle with the management of emotions due to problems with development as a child. We rely on a primary caregiver to manage our emotions as children and to stop them from becoming too overwhelming If this does not happen, it sets us up for failure in managing emotions later in life.
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking how the hell are we supposed to avoid emotional extremes?! With BPD, it’s almost impossible to avoid them but we can learn to manage them.
The first step is to know how you are feeling. That might sound easy enough but it really isn’t, especially with BPD. Sometimes it can seem like you are feeling a million emotions at once. Other times, it can seem like there is no emotion at all. Part of mentalising involves pausing and taking a step back from a situation. If you can, walk away and do something to ease the emotions. Once the level of emotion starts to decrease, you are more able to think. Ask yourself some questions: how are you feeling? What are the emotions doing to your body? Is it the current situation that is causing this? Or something from the past?
Important to note: if the emotion is based on something from the past, that’s okay and it can be addressed when the time is right. However, for the purpose of your current situation, it is best to put a wedge between then and now.
If the emotion is still too intense to think clearly then you need to remove yourself further from the situation. If you have just moved to another room in a house, consider going for a walk. If you’re texting a person involved in the situation, stop. Read a book, make some food, watch a film, allow your mind to be distracted. I find that sleeping helps. If I take a nap, everything seems a little clearer when I wake up.
Once you have reduced the level of the identified emotion, you need to communicate to another person what you are feeling. You need to do this as clearly as possible. The pausing and stepping back should have allowed you to calm your emotions which will make communicating easier. Remind yourself that your emotions can affect other people. Communicating with another person will ensure the emotions have less of an impact on you and those around you. It’s very common for me to get really angry with someone and never tell them. This is completely unhelpful to both parties. It is okay to be honest about your feelings. If you can explain why something made you angry or sad then a solution is more likely.
“Mentalizing involves thinking about feelings and feeling about thinking” – Jeremy Holmes
The above quote describes everything I’ve written perfectly. MBT has taught me to think about how I feel and why I feel that way. Thinking helps me to rationalise and manage my emotions in a much healthier way than I used to. I’ve learnt not to let emotions take over and cloud my judgement. I’m not going to claim that I do this all the time, there are definitely situations which I look back on and can see I was not mentalising at all! But that’s okay. It is really difficult but with a lot of practice and hard work, I’m learning how to manage my emotions.
Next in this MBT series: a look at relationships and how mentalising can help.