If you struggle with self-destructive (dysregulated) behavior, you probably have tried numerous methods aimed at stopping the behavior.
You may not have understood how the methods were supposed to work to help you stop the behavior - or even known whether the methods had any actual evidence of effectiveness.
You also may not have understood why you had so much trouble resisting the behavior in the first place.
However, giving up dysregulated behavior is extremely difficult in the best of conditions. This difficulty can increase if you do not:
This post is part of a series that will provide evidenced-backed explanations of:
The explanations are oversimplified due to space limitations, but they provide a general idea.
A review: Dysregulated behavior may help “turn off" uncomfortable emotions, but it is like putting an airtight lid on a pot of boiling water. The steam and pressure (emotions) continue to build – until you may feel almost-constant pressure. Eventually the pot will explode, and then emotions and urges will feel even more intolerable.
In contrast, mindfulness practice involves purposeful awareness of and attention to the present moment – including emotions and (possibly) cravings/urges. Therefore, mindfulness is like poking a hole in the lid of the boiling pot – decreasing the pressure and intensity of the emotions and urges.
Today’s post focuses on a second way mindfulness can help decrease dysregulated behaviors. (Warning: I will be mixing metaphors.)
Remember: Mindfulness practice involves purposely experiencing and tolerating current emotions, thoughts, sensations, and urges/cravings. Therefore, mindfulness helps a person build emotional muscles. For example:
Let’s face it: We all experience unpleasant emotions – whether they be boredom, irritation, anxiety, loneliness, and/or sadness -- on a fairly regular basis. Mindfulness practice can help you build your emotional muscles, so unpleasant emotions and urges feel less “heavy” – or, in other words, less exhausting, less disruptive, and easier to handle.
Instead, you can experience the emotions without straining your metaphorical muscles. You can let the emotions pass without feeling depleted or distressed afterwards.
I must add a disclaimer. The above explanation may make the process sound easier than it is.
Mindfulness is not magic. Mindfulness is everywhere these days, and its effects have often been misunderstood and/or exaggerated – to the point that some people think mindfulness is a cure-all, and others feel irritated when they even hear (read) the word. Please note that these posts only contain information backed by research.
Mindfulness practice will NOT give you the power to stop a dysregulated behavior without feeling cravings/urges. Sometimes these cravings/urges may even feel excruciating – at least at first.
Mindfulness also doesn’t exist in a void. Your odds of success will usually increase with the help of a qualified mental-health professional, as well as support from important others and/or a support group.
To summarize, mindfulness can help:
Upcoming posts will discuss additional methods through which mindfulness can help decrease dysregulated behavior. Until then, remember:
*Special thanks to Rakhel Shapiro, Martin Viola, Qian Li, and Amanda Reed for their contributions to this series.