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Read This If Your Family Only Sees You as Your BPD Diagnosis

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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.

As the only member of my immediate family with diagnosed mental health conditions, I have spent over half of my life feeling like a bit of a black sheep. I first started seeing a psychiatrist and therapist in the eighth grade, and my parents didn’t even seem to bat an eye when I received my borderline personality disorder diagnosis. After all, the “label” merely matched what they already saw me as– a mentally unstable hot mess.

When I spend any amount of time with my family, they remind me of all the ways I am “not normal” or “not like the rest of the family.” Any progress I make in therapy is discounted with the laundry list of ways I’m “still sick” or “too unstable” because obviously if I could “get better,” I would have already.

Essentially, I’m the identified patient in my family– and that role probably won’t ever change.

Although I saw myself as a black sheep, I have actually learned that the role of the identified patient is actually fairly common in family dynamics, especially in highly dysfunctional families in which many of the family members use maladaptive behavior patterns. In many instances, the identified patient is the only one with a diagnosed disorder and/or the only one in active treatment because most of the other family members refuse to recognize their own issues. Instead, they place all of the blame onto the identified patient and use their disorder as an excuse for all of the family’s maladaptive behaviors.

As I connect with more people with borderline personality disorder, I’ve learned that many of us feel trapped by our label because our families often weaponize it and refuse to recognize any progress we make. Many of the people I’ve talked to feel like they’re the identified patient in their family, and their loved ones refuse to see them as anything more than their diagnosis.

However, someone with borderline personality disorder diagnosis (or any identified mental health condition for that matter) can be so much more than that label — and it’s important that we recognize that.

So, if you’re someone who lives with BPD and feels like your family only sees you as your diagnosis, I want to remind you of several truths I’ve learned in my journey:

Your diagnosis doesn’t make you less “normal” than anyone else in your family.

My loved ones frequently throw around the word “normal” when comparing my thoughts, feelings and behaviors to theirs. Because of that, I spent years telling myself I was flawed, damaged and unworthy. But that isn’t true at all. My condition just means I experience emotions in extreme ways and I sometimes react in big ways because of my “big feelings.”

The same is true for you: Your “big feelings” don’t make you “weird” or “abnormal,” they just make you a very passionate human who experiences the world in extreme ways.

Recovery is possible– it just takes time.

When I was in high school, I went through several therapists over a six-month span because they believed I was “beyond help” and a “lost cause.” Because of that, my parents started saying similar things… and they continued saying them even after I reached adulthood and took over my own mental healthcare. Yet here I am, years removed from my initial diagnosis and more stable than I was for most of the previous decade.

Unfortunately, a lot of people will say borderline personality disorder is a “life sentence” diagnosis, but that’s not the case at all. Even in the most extreme cases, recovery is possible if you’re willing to do the work. It’s not easy, and it often feels like you’re moving at a snail’s pace, but you can and will make progress as long as you’re trying.

You’re allowed to have “bad” days in your recovery– no matter what other people say.

One of the biggest misconceptions I experience with my family involves temporary bumps in the road I experience during my recovery journey. If I lapse back into self-harm, my mom panics and asks if she should clear her schedule so she can help with my kids while I go into the hospital. If I say I feel depressed, my loved ones say, “Here we go again.” But they don’t realize my bad days rarely mean I need hospitalization anymore because I know that recovery is full of ebbs and flows.

One “bad day” doesn’t indicate a relapse, and it definitely doesn’t diminish all of the progress you’ve made along the way. Bad days are allowed and very much a typical part of the journey. So don’t let anyone tell you that one bad day indicates anything more than that– because it doesn’t.

You are not just your diagnosis.

I feel incredibly frustrated when my loved ones say or do things in a way that diminishes my entire existence to my diagnosis. Yes, my symptoms are a part of who I am and my diagnosis explains some of my behaviors, but I’m not just a “borderline.” I’m a smart, vibrant person with a great sense of humor and a bright future– I just also happen to live with a personality disorder.

If you feel like your entire existence is tied to your “label,” know that you aren’t alone in these feelings– but you’re also not just your diagnosis. You are a human first and foremost: a human who is capable of so much in life and who deserves so much love.

Living with borderline personality disorder can feel overwhelming and exhausting even on the best days, but your mental health condition isn’t all that you are. The more you tell yourself that and allow yourself the space to experience life as a human and not a label, the more fulfilling your life will feel.


Lead image courtesy of Getty images

Originally published: May 14, 2021
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