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Stoicism for BPD: Managing Emotions and Building Resilience

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Stoicism can potentially provide valuable tools for individuals who struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) since they have difficulty managing their emotions, which leads to outbursts and other challenging experiences. Some aspects of stoicism can promote emotional regulation, acceptance, personal growth, and complementary therapeutic approaches for BPD.

In this article, we'll discuss the potential benefits of applying stoicism in managing emotions and addressing challenges associated with BPD.

Stoicism is quite commonly misunderstood. Many people think it means wanting to feel nothing at all. They believe that it's all about not letting anything affect you and longing for numbness. But that's not what stoicism is about. It's not about being numb. Stoicism means to be affected by things but not letting them control your life.

To illustrate this further, we can turn to a principle in Buddhism known as the "two arrows." According to this principle, when life metaphorically shoots an arrow at us, the initial impact causes pain. However, the problem arises when we proceed to shoot a second arrow at ourselves for having been struck by the first. Stoicism aims to prevent this self-inflicted second arrow. It doesn't mean things won't hurt you. Even Marcus Aurelius, a stoic philosopher, felt all kinds of emotions. But he stayed calm in the face of those emotions. Tranquility does not entail emotional numbness; rather, it involves maintaining composure amid the presence of intense emotions.

By allowing ourselves to fully experience and embrace these emotions, their power over us diminishes. Stoicism is about not being reactive to the things that happen around you. People often try to avoid reacting by numbing themselves, but that's the opposite of stoicism. When they do that, they don't gain control as stoicism teaches; they actually lose control. So instead of pushing away your tears, it's better to let them come.

"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters." - Epictetus

One of the central teachings of stoicism is the distinction between what is within our control and what is not. This concept can be particularly relevant for individuals with BPD, as they often feel overwhelmed by intense emotions and external circumstances. By focusing on what they can control, such as their own thoughts, attitudes, and responses, individuals with BPD can develop a sense of empowerment and reduce feelings of helplessness.

Stoicism emphasizes the practice of acceptance and embracing the present moment. For individuals with BPD, who may struggle with impulsivity and mood swings, this aspect can be especially beneficial. By cultivating mindfulness and learning to accept their emotions without judgment, individuals with BPD can gain a better understanding of their emotional experiences and respond to them in a more constructive manner. Rather than being carried away by intense emotions, they can learn to observe and regulate their reactions.

"You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength." - Marcus Aurelius

Moreover, stoicism emphasizes the importance of developing virtue and personal character. By cultivating qualities such as patience, self-discipline, and compassion, individuals with BPD can work towards a more balanced emotional state. Stoic teachings encourage individuals to focus on their values and strive for personal growth, which can provide a sense of purpose and direction in navigating the challenges associated with BPD.

Stoicism teaches that emotions are natural and unavoidable, but our responses to them can be shaped and controlled. By practicing mindfulness and observing their emotions without judgment, individuals with BPD can begin to detach themselves from the intense emotional reactions that often characterize the disorder. They can learn to view their emotions as temporary states rather than absolute truths, allowing them to respond to situations more calmly and rationally instead of in a black-and-white manner.

It is important to recognize that stoicism alone may not be a comprehensive solution for managing BPD symptoms. However, incorporating elements of stoicism into therapy can complement the treatment process, offering additional strategies and perspectives to promote emotional regulation and personal well-being. By integrating stoic principles, individuals with BPD can gain a new perspective on their emotions and develop a greater sense of control over their lives.

1 Comment

Sergioi Montes
Sergioi Montes
Jul 12, 2023

Good one, thanks. You might enjoy reading this one, in which I include a comentary from a paper about DBT therapy and BPD (DBT is related to Stoicism) and I pit the common core beliefs of a Stoic sage against the ones from a cluster B disorder sufferer, which includes BPD, and are anithetical to each other:

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