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Unpopular Opinion: We Don't Need to Change the Term 'Borderline Personality Disorder'

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As I recently scrolled through my social media feeds, I stumbled across this article someone shared in a borderline personality disorder (BPD) Facebook group. Although the headline immediately caught my interest, I soon learned through reading the article that it was yet another “expert” pointing out what most of us who live with borderline personality disorder already know — far too many mental health practitioners place unfair judgments on borderline clients because of their diagnosis.

Like Mr. Warrender, other professionals say the problem with how patients with borderline personality disorder are treated lies within the diagnostic label. Many therapists and psychiatrists seem to think that changing the label or removing the diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) will help clients avoid mistreatment or harmful biases. However, even in countries where clinicians have shifted to other labels like emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) or emotional dysregulation disorder, many people still battle the same unfair judgments and difficulties in finding treatment providers willing to take them on as a client.

In my opinion, it’s not the label that needs to change — it’s the perpetuation of the stigma that needs to end. 

When I received my borderline personality disorder diagnosis in 2017, my entire life transformed. I finally had a term to describe the emotional intensity and other symptoms that I’d grown accustomed to living with since my teens, and that label provided a sense of peace. I wasn’t “crazy” or “abnormal,” I simply have a mental health condition that, up to that point, wasn’t diagnosed or treated properly.

Receiving a borderline personality disorder diagnosis allowed me to seek out treatment options like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) so I could learn to not only manage my symptoms, but live my life to the fullest. In fact, it paved the way for me to learn powerful emotion regulation skills and improve my interpersonal communication so I could end the cycle of unstable relationships that consumed my teens and most of my 20s. Without an accurate label for my symptoms, I firmly believe I would not have been able to make the strides in recovery that I have over the past four years.

What’s more, my diagnosis helped me provide my loved ones with accurate literature to help them understand the world through my eyes. My friends now understand my extreme fear of abandonment in a way that allows them to offer more helpful support. I also feel like my relationships with my family members have improved as a direct result of our ability to see my behaviors from a new perspective.

That’s not to say I didn’t encounter my fair share of biases since my diagnosis (because I did). However, like most people with BPD know, the stigma attached to this specific disorder is rarely accurate for the vast majority of people who live with this condition.

People who live with borderline personality disorder aren’t inherently “bad” people, and there’s nothing “wrong” with us. Oftentimes the issue is that we simply don’t yet possess the tools we need to deal with the symptoms we live with day in, day out. Without a diagnosis, the proper treatment and non-judgmental, empathetic professionals to provide that care, there’s no chance for us to grow into the best versions of ourselves — yet a life worth living is all any of us want.

And this is exactly why I firmly believe that changing what we call borderline personality disorder or abolishing the diagnosis completely will never remove the stigma those of us who live with this disorder face. Whether we call it borderline personality disorder, emotional dysregulation disorder, or something entirely different, many clinicians will continue to judge the entire community based on one individual or what they learned from professors or other clinicians during their training.

Does something need to change? Yes, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the nearly 1 in 16 Americans who live with BPD. We need changes in how society and mental health providers view us so that we can have any sort of chance of recovery.

Photo by James Garcia on Unsplash

Originally published: October 6, 2021
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