Blaise Aguirre and Gillian Galen, both based out of Harvard Medical School, have written a book that is one part guide, one part Buddhist manual, and one part scientific compendium. That may sound like almost too much to cover in a mere 181 pages of text, but the authors pull it off splendidly. Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder: Relieve Your Suffering Using the Core Skill of Dialectical Behavior Therapy is meant to improve the lives of those living with or touched by Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The science flows and the narration is easy to read; the guide is helpful rather than overbearing, and the interspersing of Buddhist philosophy provides a big-picture perspective on the human condition.
The authors give a description and breakdown of BPD, and highlight new advances in the neurobiology of the disorder. In my own struggle to manage emotions more effectively, this book has helped. Many pages resonated with me not only because I have taken several courses in mindfulness meditation, but also because I can identify with some of the patterns of behavior displayed by those living with BPD.
Mindfulness meditation, as the book points out, is not about sitting on a cushion for three hours a day or chanting “ohm” in an attempt to slap bliss over every emotion. On the contrary, mindfulness meditation encourages recognition of the wide palate of human emotions, but also keenly encourages one not to fixate on these temporary feelings. Work in mindfulness meditation, as the authors remind the reader continuously, includes labeling these emotions in a non-judgmental manner and allowing them to pass just as freely as they came. The misery and the suffering we (and especially those with BPD) experience in life often come from our denial of some of these emotions.
The authors regularly give the reader examples of how to pause before reacting to certain sentiments that often lead a person living with BPD down a path of self-destruction. In this pause, the individual can better recognize that the situation and the emotions attached to it, like everything in life, are not permanent. The book provides numerous acronyms to assist in remembering some of the easy steps that can separate an individual from a potential roller-coaster of emotions. “RIDE the WAVE” gently prompts the reader to “Register body sensations, identify action urges, determine the emotion, express yourself nonjudgmentally, take deep breaths, (keep) hands and body open, establish a ground position and finally watch and notice your emotion as if it were a wave.”
These things seem simple. But for a person who is quick to react to what feels like overwhelming pain or fear, these small tricks can prevent a spiraling of negative actions and thoughts that end in a trough of sorrow and regret. Each chapter provides simple and precise take-home lessons based in mindfulness meditation. The authors repeatedly drive home the point that one should ideally practice these tools during calmer times so that they are easily accessed during times of crisis.
The book also offers personal accounts of those with BPD. These act as a gauge so that readers can see how profoundly some individuals suffer from pain and desperation. The authors relay several stories of people contemplating suicide, struggling to manage feelings of worthlessness and remorse, and battling overpowering feelings of loneliness. As someone who has sincerely been changed for the better because of my work with mindfulness meditation, I find it incredibly heartening to think of each of these individuals learning to lead a calmer, fuller life.
Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder is a kindhearted journey into a challenging inner world wrought with emotional dysregulation and chaos; it is a hopeful volume that consistently offers tangible habits to break the agonizing cycle of BPD. It would be an outstanding library addition to any person attempting to understand the world of BPD and the subject of mindfulness meditation. I applaud the authors for their sincere approach to both subjects.
Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder: Relieve Your Suffering Using the Core Skill of Dialectical Behavior Therapy
New Harbinger Publications, May, 2013
Paperback, 224 pages