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.
We all breathe, yet it is often overlooked how much our breathing patterns can be strongly influenced by our difficult past experiences and the ways we felt (or more likely didn’t feel) our emotions during those experiences. How did your breathing patterns change when you experienced strong stress or even trauma?
When we are living with unresolved trauma, there is an excellent chance that we are holding our breath and body in specific ways that we did long ago to survive the original traumatizing moments with authority figures/attachment figures (with parents, for instance). When we continue to breathe like a traumatized person (even when we aren’t in any danger) we become prone to hypersensitivities, mental-emotional numbness, dissociation, and even unnecessarily re-experiencing the intense emotions and related thought patterns connected to past traumas. When this goes on and on over time, we start to develop misguided beliefs about when we are safe and when we are not safe in life.
In cases of BPD, I would say it is prevalent for sufferers to be breathing (or holding breath) like a traumatized person, and therefore to be prone to reacting and overreacting to everyday life events to the point of unintentionally instigating confusion and drama in relationships. The sad and tragic reality of BPD is that both the sufferer and those whom he or she is in relationships with usually don’t have any understanding of what is going on under the surface. The unfortunate and common consequence of this all-around misunderstanding is for others (and even the BPD sufferer him or herself) to shun and punish the sufferer for what he or she appears to be doing (e.g., being unnecessarily irresponsible, being unnecessarily immature, being purposefully difficult, being manipulative, etc.).
On my journey to understand, articulate, and share everything I possibly can about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I have been moved to write about my experiences with Breathwork and how it may be a potent medicine for adjusting the BPD pattern. I believe that Breathwork, when done well, can assist a person with BPD to better regulate his or her emotions. It works very well for learning to notice unnecessary activations of the body’s fight, flight, freeze response, correcting the breathing patterns associated with the unnecessary fight, flight, freeze activations, and also being lovingly supported into renegotiating many of the unhealthy thoughts and beliefs connected to the unnecessary fight, flight, freeze activations.
So what is Breathwork?
Breathwork is a specific pattern of breathing, therapeutic touch, body movement, spoken affirmation, and other strategies (depending on the training and experience of your facilitator) that works to activate the outdated fight, flight, freeze responses noted above, but more importantly, provides an opportunity for the Breathwork participant to go through a corrective experience. What this means is that the outdated/unnecessary/irrelevant fight, flight, freeze responses can be partially or officially released/decommissioned.
The prospect of this occurring is good for a person suffering from BPD, since it means that the unnecessary activations of the fight, flight, freeze responses will interfere much less often in his or her life. Less difficulty with fight, flight, freeze means less drama and conflict in everyday life, plus less of everything else unhealthy that can stem from ongoing emotional struggle (toxic interaction, impulsive coping, regretful behaviour, broken relationships/families, etc.).
Breathwork is a natural medicine and may require multiple sessions/corrective experiences to produce a lasting benefit. It also requires openness and willingness on the part of the participant to enter into a mind/body process for genuine exposure of past hurts, as well as being sufficiently vulnerable to receive the benefits of the facilitator’s presence. Before diving into Breathwork to adjust the BPD pattern, I would recommend further study about the Breathwork process through reading materials on the subject and reviewing videos that accurately depict the process.
All that being said, my experience with Breathwork suggests it has great potential to adjust many of the unhealthy patterns of thought, emotion, and behaviour that make up the BPD pattern, and that make life much harder than it needs to be. The following websites are good starting points for exploring the Breathwork modality if you are interested…. numasomatics.com, vivation.com, liberationbreathing.com, claritybreathwork.com, transformationalbreathing.com
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