Please Note: The ideas contained in this FAQ are the opinions of the writer and are communicated without reference to supporting documentation in most cases. Other inspiration and influence for the writing came through consultation with other mental health professionals but the writer “Peter Quintano” is also fully qualified in DBT making him qualified to talk about the things discussed in this article.
The concept of “self-love” sometimes enters into the conversations people have with one another; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is understood and practised in ways that support mental health. No doubt there are many opinions on what “self-love” means and how to practice it, and depending on beliefs and background these differences could leave people in strong disagreement with one another. From the perspective of a mental health therapist, there is a particular way of looking at “self-love” and how to practice it to improve mental health. For this article, I will be exploring how “self-love” applies to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and what I think is happening when a person with BPD hasn’t yet learned “self-love.”
When Borderline Personality Disorder has not yet been acknowledged or realized, my personal belief is that the odds of having an understanding of “self-love” to improve mental health are very low. I say this as I reflect on my own experience struggling through BPD and how my disorder was active without pause for several years. During this time, I did not have a way to understand my experience and therefore had no way to effectively manage thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that needed managing. My lack of self-understanding kept me fruitlessly grasping at ways to hold myself together while at the same time creating and re-creating life problems and emotional suffering. I was living in the mess of my mind and relationships and perpetually confused about why life remained so consistently hard.
In the previous paragraph, the words that stand out to me as important are “creating” and “re-creating.” These words suggest that humans are constantly in the act of creating a reality for themselves. Life is constantly happening; humans are constantly experiencing what is happening; and in turn, humans are either reacting or responding to what is happening – co-creators of reality. To genuinely practice “self-love” a person needs to wake up to this truth and learn how to work with it. To refuse to wake up (choosing to live unconsciously), especially as a being with intense emotions, probably means going forward having unwise reactions to all that is happening (impulsively reacting rather than consciously responding), and therefore, “creating” unpleasantness – the BPD pattern in a nutshell.
As I continue to write and ponder, I recognize ever more clearly that to genuinely practice “self-love” is none other than to practice self-awareness and in particular non-judgmental self-awareness. As life is happening and we are living in our bodies, we each experience various thoughts, feelings, and sensations. These internal experiences are happening to us through the act of living life, and probably even more so when we are in the context of being around each other. Lots of internal activity happens! Lots of things are just showing up! To take the time to slow down and objectively notice what happens and to accept it for what it is (just thoughts, just feelings) is to be “self-loving.” To be instantly reacting to what happens inside, or constantly seeking to avoid what is happening inside, is the opposite of “self-love.”
Another word for self-awareness is mindfulness. Therefore to live mindfully is to be practising self-awareness, and likewise to be “self-loving,” and this is what gives a human the power to consciously create something pleasant because he is calm, rather than unconsciously create something unpleasant because he is frantic. The proof that a person suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder hasn’t yet learned “self-love” is to discover if he is understanding and practising self-awareness/mindfulness, or not. If he understands some of the methods for practising self-awareness/mindfulness and is in the act of practising daily, then he has started learning. When the learning has started, the suffering person soon realizes that his “self-love” nurtures the power to create a different life experience.
For a person with BPD who has suffered for years in a pattern of severe dysfunction, this kind of knowledge can be incredibly empowering. To continue in disorder without developing this kind of understanding can mean a lifetime of tragedy and passing the disaster on to offspring – kids very often take on the habits and programming of their parents. And even though people can learn to work through their internal experiences if guidance is available, they still often end up learning to habitually react to emotions (and avoid feelings) as a result of living in a culture of mental health neglect. However, an impressive fact in all of this (and in human life) is that it only takes is a spark of understanding to begin practising genuine “self-love,” and after that, living the life of a conscious creator.
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