1_mad_squirrel: (Shakyamuni Buddha)
[personal profile] 1_mad_squirrel posting in [community profile] buddhists
I can't remember if I've talked about this before, but I have started going to a closed-ended therapy group that teaches Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills. DBT teaches mindfulness techniques from Buddhism to help you manage overwhelming emotions and disturbing/unwanted/obsessive thoughts. It was designed to help people with Borderline Personality Disorder, but like Buddhism itself, can help anybody who wants to become more in charge of their thoughts and emotions.

In previous weeks the therapist taught mindfulness, one-mindfulness skills as a way of pulling yourself into the present moment and out of your thoughts/emotions. Last night we began the module on emotional regulation. The therapist asked about how our emotions and expression of emotions were addressed by our families when we were children. I told her that when I was a child, if I expressed anger or sadness, getting mad or crying, my mother would lift one hand and say "Do you really want something to cry about?" We were not supposed to disturb her with our emotions, but she has always felt perfectly entitled to rage at us, or weep or whatever. It was pretty much the same with my Dad, who did not live with us. The therapist said this was very common with people who lived with Borderline, or had Borderline features, or other issues with managing emotion. Basically the message we got, was shut up, and when you're a big person, you can emotionally vomit all over everybody too. My Mom still gets very angry when we're out in public and a child cries or has a "tantrum", but has herself had a screaming fit at a WalMart cashier in the express lane who waited on somebody with way more than 20 items. I've actually pointed out to her "Do you realize that you are asking for more control from a child that you require of yourself?" She didn't get the point, she just said "So?"

It does occur to me that she is only repeating what was modeled to her. This has probably been going on for generations. I know that her mother, my Nana, and Nana's parents were extremely toxic people. It came to me last night in the group that a healthier parent would have said to little freaking-out me "I see you're really angry/upset/sad, and it probably doesn't feel very good. When your emotions get too strong for you, you can try breathing deeply or counting your breathing, or telling yourself how your body feels, or about your surroundings." Basically I realized that there was a better way to handle that situation, and that little me deserved that better way.

The therapist said that one of the things that people find the hardest in the module on emotional regulation is recognizing and creating (healthy) opportunities for positive emotion. It sounds so easy, but as people who grew up as we did, and who live with overwhelming emotion, them have become so frightening to us, that in trying not to feel the pain of them, we dampen all emotion, even positive ones, and often have a hard time recognizing them. Basically, we have a hard time being good to ourselves.

One of the things that has been hardest for me about trying to lose weight this time, these last 15 months has been getting out and moving. Just getting out and walking has been proving beyond my ability to motivate myself. I was thinking that I could present daily walks to me as an opportunity to practice one-mindfulness (describing my actions and my sensations and feelings to myself) and an opportunity for positive emotions, both in the credit I would give myself for getting out there, and in the endorphins generated by the exercise.

Another thing we are supposed to be working on this week, is being mindful and observing what we tell ourselves about our emotions when we have when we have them. I guess the goal is seeing when we're repeating to ourselves the judgement we received as children when we were emotional, noticing and giving ourselves credit when we're not judging and just allowing the emotions to be, but also not judging our judging when we do find we've been doing it. It's complicated.

I've had some exposure to Buddhist meditation before, from the Tibetan perspective. I went to a teaching on Mahamudra, but typically for me, got bummed and frustrated when I felt I wasn't doing it right, and never really followed up with further meditation I thought I wasn't doing it right when thoughts and emotions kept coming up. What I'm learning from DBT is that the point of meditation, whether Buddhist or secular, is not not to have thoughts and emotions intrude, but to observe them, note them, and let them go when they occur.
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