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Why It’s Harmful to Call Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder ‘Manipulative’

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As a professional in the mental health field who also has borderline personality disorder (BPD), I am frequently faced with the stigma surrounding the disorder, and I’ve seen firsthand how it affects those with BPD, their access to treatment and their self-image.

Borderline personality disorder is one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses, and this has a lot to do with the lack of education mental health professionals receive on the disorder. For example, when I was getting my master’s degree, we only learned about borderline personality disorder for one week out of my entire education, and it was taught alongside several other personality disorders. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder myself that I began to dive deep into researching the disorder so that I could understand it, and myself, further.

Before I was diagnosed, my main source of information on BPD came from the professionals around me, and the majority of what I was told about individuals with BPD is that they were “manipulative” and “violent.” I was even told that many professionals refused to work with individuals who had BPD because they considered them “abusive” and “untreatable.” I was even guilty of stereotyping individuals with BPD due to what I had heard from my peers, and I can honestly admit that I became afraid of those with the disorder because of the negative information I absorbed.

But what many people don’t realize is that oftentimes, the actions of those with BPD stem from the pain that comes from feeling such strong emotions. I am often haunted by my past actions because I fear that they were perceived as me being manipulative when in actuality, I was in such a painful emotional state that I didn’t have the ability to think rationally through my actions.

One of the hallmarks of borderline personality disorder is a fear of abandonment, and this, personally, has been a trigger for me for many years. Oftentimes when individuals with BPD feel as though we are being abandoned, we will go to great lengths to try and ensure that we don’t end up feeling alone. These actions are often perceived by others as us being manipulative, but our actions are really a desperate attempt to escape feelings that are so strong that they become physically and mentally torturous.

By calling individuals with BPD manipulative, you are discrediting our experiences and vilifying a mental illness which leads to stigmatization and allows for individuals to fall through the cracks of the mental health system. This vilification leads to providers refusing to work with individuals with BPD and greatly minimizes accessibility to care. Only when we understand the behaviors of those with BPD for what they are — reactions to debilitating emotional pain — can we build empathy, understanding and increase recovery through further access to diagnosis and care.

Photo by Joanna Nix-Walkup on Unsplash

Originally published: March 7, 2021
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