So as you probably know by now, May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. What some don’t know is that it is also Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month.
The Good Limbo are working hard to spread as much awareness as possible this month, so I decided I would like to talk about the stigma surrounding the BPD/EUPD diagnosis and perhaps do a little bit of debunking!
TGL shared an excellent picture on Twitter crammed full of very interesting, useful facts and info on BPD. You can find it here:
In this post I discuss the points made regarding stigmatising words and beliefs. Unfortunately, medical/mental health professionals and society as a whole sometimes hole these beliefs.
People with BPD are selfish
That’s how it might look to someone without BPD, but it’s not the intent. Most people with BPD are either very selfless, to the point of it being detrimental to their own wellbeing, or have only ever known how to take care of themselves (because nobody else ever has) and keep themselves safe and fighting to survive. In turn this can result in them looking primarily after number one. Additionally, what might appear as selfishness, is actually an attempt to get their needs met in the only way they know how.
As with most things in life, there are some with the diagnosis who struggle to manage their mental health and emotions. Some so much that they somewhat lack the capacity to see and understand how their selfish behaviour is affecting the people around them. This becomes more of a problem when they are very unwell. This is when their history of needing a ‘survival mode’ is evident.
The word ‘selfish’ is so stigmatising because it has such negative connotations. Everyone needs to be selfish sometimes. It simply means taking care of yourself, but people with BPD care a lot about others as well.
People with BPD are difficult
What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that people with BPD are often a young child living in an adult’s body. They are expected to do adult things and behave like an adult. For someone who was emotionally stunted in childhood, learning to be ‘an adult’ is really difficult; it’s the emotional equivilent of jumping through your school education from Year 2 to doing GCSEs in Year 11. How are they supposed to take those exams?
For various reasons, a lot of BPD patients were forced to halt and push down their emotions at a crucial time when they were supposed to be taught how to control and develop them into adulthood. Generally, the adults closest to that child failed to guide them through, for various possible reasons. For this reason it’s really important to communicate and set firm but fair boundaries with them if you wish to have any kind of relationship with them.
People with BPD are attention seeking
This is another term with such awful connotations that is thrown at people constantly. 99% of the population need attention, most importantly children. People with BPD did not have their emotional needs met when they were growing up; the attention they sought, needed and deserved was not given to them. They may have learned that the only way to get any acknowledgement from the adults in their life is to ‘act out’ by perhaps getting in trouble at school, for example. Negative attention is still attention. As they progress into adulthood they have to adapt and find alternative ways to get emotional attention, and they don’t understand or don’t believe that simply saying “I’m struggling, can we talk?” can work in adulthood. This is because simply asking for help has been rejected or ignored for most of their life.
People with BPD are treatment resistant
It is true that there is no medication specifically for Borderline Personality Disorder. However, many of the symptoms are treatable with licenced medications for depression, anxiety, mood stabilising and psychosis.
Things like this can really contribute to managing the many debilitating aspects of BPD. There’s no guarentee that any of them will work, but its definitely an option worth looking into with your doctor.
As for therapy, it can be very helpful. The main go-to therapy for BPD is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy; sadly, access to this is difficult and even impossible in many parts of the UK/NHS (and elsewhere). but some offer forms of therapy adapted and based on DBT. Talking Therapy is also shown to be effective. This needs to be fairly frequent. consistent and long term, rather than a set period of sessions. There are therapists specifically qualified and experienced in treating patients with BPD though, who understand the specific long term needs.
I won’t go into all of the potentially appropriate therapies, and obviously they are all contingent on your country, area, finances, insurance etc. Ultimately, is many to try, many that help people with BPD to heal somewhat and learn to manage their symptoms and control their illness.
People with BPD are by absolutely no means a lost cause. Medication/therapy doesn’t work for all, especially since effective treatment tends to be longer term, but there is hope!
People with BPD are dramatic and love drama
For the most part, they don’t want it, but they do tend to attract it. This may be either because they are vulnerable to toxic, abusive people who do want the drama, or because they are needing attention (see above). They often seek connections with people who are dramatic because they desperately want to be accepted and to fit in. People with BPD struggle to find their identity and often act in a chameleon-like manner to fit in with whoever they can. Sometimes this might lead them to taking on a dramatic ‘persona’. Particularly if it means they can be a part of something. As a result of the vulnerable nature of some people with BPD, they are easily manipulated, eager to please, be taken care of and loved. As a result they may feel coerced to try to prove their loyalty/love/friendship leading to drama.
People with BPD are all the same (as that one person I know who has it)
This one is simple: no they aren’t. When considering the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) there are 9 symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. A diagnosis only requires 5. This means there are 256 possible combinations of symptoms for a diagnosis. With this in mind, it’s not possible for them to all behave, act, think and feel in exactly the same manner. As with all illnesses, both physical and mental, there are hallmarks of BPD. These include emotional disregulation, lack of self esteem and identity, and severe fear of abandonment and rejection – but everyone is different. Everyone has a different story, different history, different upbringing, different home life; hallmarks and similarities don’t mean each person should be tarred with the same brush, especially if that brush is negative.
People with BPD have a faulty personality
The term Personality Disorder isn’t the best; it implies that our personality, our persona, our sense of self is disordered and faulty. That isn’t the case. Our idea of personality generally refers to one’s individual traits and qualities, such as cruel/kind, friendly/unapproachable, selfish/selfless and so on. It is these that people tend to consider when hearing of Personality Disorders. Somewhat confusing.
However, the psychological definition of ‘personality’, which is what the diagnosis is based on, is as follows:
“Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. The study of personality focuses on two broad areas: One is understanding individual differences in particular personality characteristics, such as sociability or irritability. The other is understanding how the various parts of a person come together as a whole.”
This leaves the patient and those around them thinking their personality is wrong. That they are in some way bad, defective, faulty, like something that should be returned for a refund and replacement. To be honest, this is how I felt for a long time, purely because of the term ‘Personality Disorder’. But it’s not true. It’s not a personality fault; BPD is a product of your past, in which your emotional needs weren’t met, and the dysfunctional ways in which you were forced to adapt and survive.
People with BPD can’t live a normal life
What is normal?
People with BPD, just like anyone with any mental illness, often find it hard to adjust to life in a mentally healthy way. They may struggle to have healthy relationships, live the way they want to and contribute to society in the way they want to. However, a big part of recovery is learning how to live rather than just exist/survive. ‘Living’ looks different to every single person. Education, finding a partner, raising children, having the job you want, having a social life are all things that are considered key to having a ‘normal’ life. It doesn’t often turn out that way for anyone, even those without a mental illness.
Having BPD does tend to make relationships hard and often makes life itself very hard. In my opinion, we can all simply work towards ‘living’ rather than just existing. That might involve rethinking our priorities, reconsidering our goals and figuring out what fulfills us. It definitely involves working hard to overcome our pasts and demons. However, we can all create our own personal version of ‘normal’.
You can check Steph’s blog out here.