Mindfulness and Self-Destructive Behavior: What Next?
Reconnecting with your positive emotions and values
Posted May 26, 2016
If you struggle with dysregulated behavior, you may feel like stopping the behavior would mean giving up one of your primary methods of experiencing:
- relief from pain, and
- feelings of pleasure
Once you give up that source of relief and pleasure: What next?
- release feelings of pressure (so emotions and cravings feel less unbearable),
- build emotional muscle (so emotions and cravings feel less exhausting and easier to tolerate), and
- provide a pause button (so you can choose how to react to emotions and cravings—instead of reacting automatically with habitual behavior).
As (a) the pressure is decreasing, (b) your muscles are strengthening, and (c) you feel less controlled by automatic reactions, you can be more effective in mastering additional ways to process emotions. These methods can include:
- engaging in more activities that feel enjoyable or purposeful,
- taking actions that can help you feel more like the kind of person you want to be, and
- taking steps to move toward a life that feels more fulfilling and meaningful.
Sounds nice, huh? However, if you struggle with dysregulated behavior, you may be so caught up in the behavior that the above endeavors seem overwhelming. And anxiety-provoking. And maybe even impossible.
People who struggle with dysregulated behavior often have been conditioned to believe that some of their emotions and reactions are wrong or bad. You might have been taught that showing vulnerability means you are weak. Or that you should “choose to get over” negative emotions. Or that your reactions are just flawed in some way.
You might even think that something is wrong with you as a whole.
As a result, you might have become talented at hiding your emotions, even from yourself.
You may have become so caught up in
- trying to feel or act in ways you think you should feel and should act, and/or
- trying to hide the things about yourself that you feel are flawed or wrong
that you may sometimes lose touch with what you do feel.
Here is why: Negative or uncomfortable emotions do not exist separately from the rest of your emotions. If you routinely suppress or avoid negative emotions, your positive emotions will decrease as well.
In fact, you may sometimes even feel like you are not sure what would bring you long-term pleasure, what you do value, or what would make life feel more meaningful.
Mindfulness practice can target this disconnection in a several ways.
- Remember: Mindfulness practice involves purposely experiencing the moment – including your emotions, thoughts, and other reactions.
- By taking time to experience your emotions, thoughts, and reactions, you are sending a message to your brain that your emotions, thoughts and reactions have value.
- Therefore mindfulness, when practiced with a mental health professional, can help recondition your brain into believing that your reactions – and you – have value.
- What’s more, by engaging in practice to fully experience your emotions, you can gain a deeper awareness and experience of pleasant emotions,
- Mindfulness of your emotions also helps you become more aware of what you value and want in life,
- which helps you become more effective in taking steps to move toward such a life.
- Therefore, mindfulness, when integrated into therapy, can
- help you start valuing your emotions and reactions,
increase your ability to experience pleasure and a sense of connection, and
improve your ability to move toward a life that feels more meaningful and fulfilling.
- Having such a life can decrease your urges to use dysregulated behavior as a method of escaping pain or experiencing pleasure.
- Plus having such a life is a pretty cool outcome in and of itself.
Since this post is the last entry (for now) focused on how mindfulness addresses dysregulated behavior, I want to end by saying this: If you want to work to stop dysregulated behavior, I have the ultimate respect for you. Moving past dysregulated behavior can be painful and overwhelming, but it is also doable. I wish you all the best.
- You may be so accustomed to hiding your flaws and avoiding “unacceptable” emotions that you sometimes have trouble:
- experiencing pleasant emotions, or
- knowing what you value.
you deserve to realize that your emotions have value,
- you deserve to experience all of your emotions (whether positive or negative), and
you deserve to live a life that feels fulfilling and meaningful.
*Special thanks to Rakhel Shapiro, Martin Viola, Emily Edwards, and Sindhu Shivaji for their contributions to this series.