Updated: Jul 14
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