When I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), initially, I was not aware of the stigma faced by those in the community. But as I began reading around my mental illness, I realized how much of the literature and discourse around BPD tends to seem rather prejudiced against those who struggle with it. It can be disheartening to come across resources that appear to regard borderlines as all being inherently “manipulative” and “calculating” individuals.
BPD is a complex disorder comprised of nine symptomatic traits, and in order to be diagnosed, one must show long-standing signs of five of these traits. Therefore, one person with BPD can present very differently from another, and we cannot all be reduced to one stereotype. There are many ways I have come to understand the stigmatization of BPD, and these are just a few of the prejudices I have come across.
1. The “crazy ex-girlfriend” trope.
On forums for loved ones of those with BPD, I have many times seen ex-girlfriends referred to as “crazy borderlines,” as if that is the sum of their personality and the only reason for the relationship breakdown. I find it very upsetting to see ex-girlfriends with BPD reduced to their mental illness and made to seem evil and “crazy” because of it. The word “crazy” in itself can hurt and invalidate those with mental illnesses, and so this stereotype of borderline exes can be very damaging.
2. “All borderlines are manipulative and cruel.”
As previously stated, not everyone with BPD presents in the same way, and some may behave inadvertently in emotionally manipulative ways, but it is unfair to lump everyone who struggles with this disorder into the same stereotype. Those who live with BPD are all individuals who behave as such, and to paint us all with the same brush is therefore illogical. It can also be harmful to our self-esteem to be seen so often in this negative light, and people should not judge us by this harmful stereotype.
3. “Borderlines don’t want help, they’re just attention-seekers.”
Because a key trait of those with BPD is impulsive behavior, often when we are hurt or feeling painful emotion very intensively, we may sometimes lash out or hurt ourselves in ways that may seem to be aimed at garnering attention. Alongside this, impulsive suicide attempts can also be common amongst borderlines, and acts such as these may appear emotionally manipulative. However, people with BPD can lack the ability to control their impulses, and they therefore sometimes act out in this way as a result of intense emotional hurt. We are not attention-seekers, and to dismiss self-harm and suicide attempts as such means that perhaps we will be less likely to reach out for help if it happens again. I would also add that attention-seeking behavior is not always manipulative or even necessarily a bad thing — sometimes it is just a subtler way of asking for help and support.
4. “Dealing with BPD loved ones.”
Many of us have looked online for resources on how we can best live with BPD, and though there are some fantastic aids out there, I’ve found there is also a wealth of information that instead advises others on how to “deal with us.” Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and loved ones of those with BPD do need help and support, too, a lot of this advice seems to play into the idea that every behavior presented by people with BPD is determined by their disorder, and that every borderline is inherently “calculating” and “emotionally manipulative.” It can be very discouraging to be searching for recovery tools, only to find the advice seems to suggest borderlines are just bad people. I feel this stigma around BPD — and other personality disorders — only serves to deter people from seeking help for fear of vilification.
5. “People with BPD are nymphos!”
Another way people with BPD experience impulsive activity is through sexual behavior, and unfortunately, there is a huge stigma against people, especially women, who engage in hypersexual activity. Those with BPD may do this for a plethora of reasons, these generally being very personal to them, but whatever the reason they do engage in “promiscuous” activity, it is not a valid cause for the harmful stigma they consequently face.
Every form of prejudice we face as borderlines can be distressing at best and damaging to recovery at worst, as it all can chip away at our self-esteem and make us feel as if we are all bad to the core, just sums of a disorder that makes us inherently “manipulative” and “cruel.” But in fact, many people I know with BPD have a wealth of empathy and would do anything to avoid causing hurt to someone else.
Debunking myths about BPD, such as the aforementioned, is imperative in it becoming widely accepted by others and in accessing vital resources for help and recovery. It is important to remember BPD does not define us — we define us. And though the stigma we face can be painful, we must continue to have open conversations about what this disorder truly is so we can destroy these harmful stereotypes.
Image via Thinkstock.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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