How I'm Breaking Through the Shame of Borderline Personality Disorder

What I have struggled most with is shame.

I use language intentionally. And strategically. I have, to me, connotes something perpetual, but not necessarily something permanent.

Each week, I attend a DBT group. DBT, or dialectical behavior therapy, is a form of therapeutic treatment geared primarily toward those with borderline personality disorder (BPD). It aims to support those struggling with BPD in learning how to change specific behaviors which cause them pain. It is immensely helpful for me. And, I have a great therapist, with whom I believe I am making progress.

But, shame. It’s what lingers even as I slowly heal, and as I work to share my story with a small, supportive group of people.

This past week in group, we discussed utilizing “opposite action” (basically, doing the opposite of a painful emotion). We were asked which emotion we connected to the most. Many in the group said jealousy. I said shame — thoughts dancing through my mind of what that meant and how it became so firmly rooted inside of me.

And, I saw. Rather, over the course of years, I have seen that it arises from the part of me which cannot share I have BPD. As many with BPD know, it is a condition which is often stigmatized both within society at large and within the therapeutic community. So, the question becomes: what do you do? Tell one person? Your family? Your employer? The world?

For me, the answer has always been to start slow. I’ve told a few people whom I deeply trust. I’ve tried to explain that the condition does not prevent me from doing anything. Except those times when it acts up and prevents me from doing everything.

I speak of the whirlwind of emotions inside of me and what it’s like each day to try to stem the tide. I speak of the anxiety that overtakes me at the slightest thought of possible abandonment. I speak of the perpetual exhaustion. Feeling everything all the time is tiring, but also fortifying.

I can see beneath the surface because I only exist beneath the surface. And, I can funnel all of the emotions that overwhelm me into supporting others.

But, sometimes, I can’t.

Sometimes, I’m furious, passive-aggressive, unkind and cruel. Sometimes, my strategic words are used to hurt and not to heal.

My capacity to help others and my capacity to cause others pain stem from the same place — my own struggle.

I’d like to establish a different sort of groundwork for the good I do. Perhaps that groundwork can also begin to help with the not-so-pretty stuff, too.

I think this groundwork lies in beginning to face my shame. Small step by small step. It lies in writing this piece and putting it out there. It lies in trying to find one more person with whom to speak my truth. Casting a wider net can yield a wider and deeper support system — a support system I deserve.

It lies in revealing a piece of myself because the shame lessens each time someone simply says: I understand. It exists in sharing responsibility. It is my responsibility to express where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. But, it is also others’ responsibility to find the courage to accept what’s different and scary.

I am not contagious. But, I am raw.

I am not fragile. But, I am still growing.

I am not the stereotypes you hold. But, I am affected by them.

I am not my borderline personality disorder. But, it is a part of me. I don’t love that part yet, but I will one day.

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Getty Images photo via Koldunov

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