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5 Stereotypes That Hurt People With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

It’s often called the “leprosy of mental illnesses” and the “black sheep of mental illnesses.” It’s known as untreatable, with even clinicians turning people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) away. In fact, it’s actually one of the most misunderstood psychiatric disorders today. Clinicians will label those with borderline personality disorder as “PDs,” “exhausting,” “attention-seeking” and “abusive.” Such stigma can prevent people from seeking treatment, can heighten self-hatred and damage any progress made. In order to eradicate the stigma, there needs to be more awareness and education.

1. “People with borderline personality disorder are manipulative.”

I feel like this is one of the most harmful and hurtful stereotypes about BPD because not only does it lump every single person into the same stereotype, but it is so harmful to our self-esteem — it is damaging to be seen in such a negative way. That’s why I have it as the number one hurtful stereotype; this needs to change, and more people need to realize you should not judge someone by a label.

I was at a doctor’s appointment recently, and do you know what they said to me? They said, “are you the type of person who will manipulate a situation?” It was incredibly offensive and hurtful — this assumption that I am manipulative because of a diagnosis.

Manipulation is used to describe bad intentions or wanting to hurt another person. However, it is unfair to assume this is the case with BPD. There is a difference between manipulation and seeking relief from a painful illness through desperate behaviors that are reinforced by negative thinking. There is a difference between defense mechanisms and skillful manipulation. There is a difference between manipulating someone and seeking reassurance.

And that’s the way it is for those of us with BPD; what is seen as manipulation is actually a desperate attempt to get our emotional needs met in the only way they know how, and developed from a harmful and/or abusive upbringing. Sometimes, we simply lack the coping strategies or skills to explain what we need.

Do not demonize something you do not understand.

2. “Borderline personality disorder is untreatable.”

I want to simply say that individuals with BPD are as treatable as any other diagnosis. It just requires a little bit more hard work. You do not deserve to be written off by anyone, most of all by clinicians. Unfortunately, this is a common view where we are considered “untreatable” and as a “lost cause.” However, this is simply not true; this misunderstanding, this unfair misconception, is due to a lack of awareness and frankly, a lack of education. This harmful myth can often prevent people from seeking treatment.

Having a diagnosis does not mean you will always be the same way. It is this kind of negativity and lack of faith that leads to people with BPD feeling hopeless.

3. “We are unable to have stable and loving relationships.”

Unfortunately, it’s often thought that people with BPD are unable to have healthy relationships without lying, cheating, abusing or ruining everything — it must’ve stemmed from that totally bullshit “we are manipulative” propaganda. As I sit next to my partner on our couch with our two cats and annoying gremlin (I mean, dog), I can happily confirm that that’s another fun stereotype for you.

We are capable of maintaining stable and happy relationships and to imply we are not worthy of love, just because we are labelled with a certain diagnosis, is unfair. Just because we have a mental illness does not mean we are any less deserving of happiness.

We might need to be more aware of managing our emotions and responses. We might need to attend therapy and take medication. We might need to work harder, but if this was about someone with a physical illness who had to attend regular doctor appointments or take medication, would you say they’re unable to be in a relationship? I don’t think so.

4. Self-harm is a form of attention-seeking.

I just want to get this out of the way and let everyone reading this know this is a lie. A simple, damaging lie. It is lies like this that cause people to go untreated, without any help.

It is not attention-seeking behavior; it is a coping mechanism when we feel like there aren’t any other ways left to cope with the emotional pain. See, that handy self-regulating skill most folks use to manage their emotions is missing in our brains; unfortunately, we didn’t get that upgrade in life for one reason or another. As a result, when we’re sad, we’re devastated; when we’re happy, we’re ecstatic; when we’re angry, we explode. This emotional rollercoaster hurts and so, sometimes, the only way we feel we are able to express it, the only way to stop feeling, is to self-harm.

If you say it is a form of attention-seeking, you are severely misinformed as to what BPD is about.

5. “All borderlines are ‘crazy’ and abusive.”

Of course, it’s another harmful stereotype and, similar to our inability to form healthy relationships, this myth stems from the fact that because we’re manipulative, we must also be abusive. Another common statement is when men describe their “crazy ex” as having BPD, as if it was a reason for her “craziness” and thus, all women with BPD are as “crazy” as the ex.

I want to get this straight; just because I have the same diagnosis as your “crazy, abusive ex,” it does not mean we are the same. Anyone can be an abuser. Anyone can be manipulative. These things are not synonymous with BPD. And the reality is we survivors with BPD are more commonly victims of abuse, not the abusers.

So, that’s that. My first blog post, done and dusted.

I have just one more thing to say: Just stop with the stereotypes. Just stop with the stigma. If you don’t understand something, learn about it. Do the research. Compassion is key. Change your language. Stop describing people as their symptoms. We are not our illness.

Mia x

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Averie Woodard on Unsplash

Originally published: January 10, 2019
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