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The Borderline Personality Disorder Trait We Need to Talk About

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Growing up, I always found myself making impulsive decisions. Of course, I had no idea at the time that they were impulsive decisions. For quite some time, I was very confused as to why I couldn’t seem to control myself and some of the actions I took. Because there was no explanation for the way that I was, I thought it was normal. I honestly thought that there was nothing wrong with me, and that everyone did the same thing.

The older I got, the worse it became. I began to find that if someone tried to stop me from making a decision I had already made my mind up on, I boiled in anger — though I never let it show. I’ve always been stubborn to begin with, so part of that comes from the fact that I’m going to do what I want to do, and no one is going to stop me. But I was never able to understand someone else’s perspective and accept the fact that they were trying to help — and that’s exactly where the problem was.

My therapist calls that “willfulness.” In other words, it isn’t just part of my personality like people try to say it is. It’s actually a trait that comes from my borderline personality disorder (BPD). There are many people in my life who disagree with that particular diagnosis. But the more I work with my therapist, the more I am convinced the diagnosis is very much accurate. I don’t know how to control myself, nor my thoughts — which eventually lead me to make impulsive decisions. I have tunnel vision and refuse to see things any other way. Willfulness is directly defined as:

  • Sitting on your hands when action is needed to not make an impulsive decision, refusing to make changes that are needed to prevent the impulsive decision from happening.
  • Willfulness is about the desire to be right in a situation, regardless of what is needed to get through effectively.
  • Willfulness causes you to fight any suggestions that will improve the distress and thus make it more tolerable.
  • Willfulness is being rigid and inflexible.
  • It is the opposite of doing what works, of being effective.

On a daily basis, I find myself in the midst of making impulsive decisions. Whether they be something very small and minor that most wouldn’t even notice if I made them, or something major and life-altering that people would clearly notice. I am very ashamed of some of the impulsive decisions I have made in the past, therefore, I beat myself up over the fact of even having impulsive thoughts to begin with. If I act on that impulsive thought and make the impulsive decision I tried so hard not to make, I go through a period of extreme self-hatred. I also don’t handle myself very well when the people around me decide they want to tell me they “told me so.” They don’t say those exact words; in fact they’re all very loving about it. But I still find a way to convince myself that they’re awful people and they’re out to get me and hurt my feelings. That seems to add to the extreme self-hatred that I was already feeling and my state of mind and emotional well-being completely shifts.

Out of all of the traits and symptoms of borderline personality disorder, I honestly feel like impulsiveness is the most under-acknowledged and the most stigmatized of them all. Normal people, who are able to control their impulsive tendencies to the point where they don’t even have them, don’t seem to understand how incredibly difficult it is to control yourself. Individuals with BPD do not think about the consequences of their impulsive actions, and most of the time it can land them in dangerous, abusive or life-threatening situations. I have made some very dumb decisions in my life, all due to the fact that I have no idea how to not make those kinds of decisions. I never thought about the consequences of my actions and what it might all do to me. Due to some of my impulsive decisions, my anxiety has worsened over the years, I now have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have a hard time trusting most people, and I even landed myself in a mental institution a year ago because of my state of mind following the events created by my impulsive decisions.

Based on statistics, chances are, you know someone with BPD — diagnosed or not. While impulsiveness isn’t a symptom or trait of every single person with BPD, it is very common and frequently overlooked. We are either categorized as people who just have that kind of personality and we want what we want and no one will stop us — when in reality, that isn’t what it is at all — or we’re the crazy people. There is no in between. However, we are neither. We are people just like you, however, we have the inability to process major life events properly, and we do not think before we act. We do not understand that our actions will have consequences. That is not a personality trait, it is disordered behavior. That is not us acting crazy, it is us self-sabotaging without even realizing it.

Please give us a little grace, and maybe even some patience. I cannot even begin to explain to you how much intensive therapy has helped me. In light of recent events, I have found myself fighting my urge of impulsiveness to uproot my life once again for the third time. Normally, I would have already have done it when the thought crossed my mind a month ago. However, with the tools my psychologist has given me through dialectal behavioral therapy (DBT) sessions, I am now able to remind myself I am being willful, I am being impulsive and the situation would not end very well just as the other two have not if I were to uproot once again. Multiple times a day, I can hear my psychologist saying in my ear, “Do not make another impulsive decision that we both know will not end well.” “You’re being willful; instead have some patience and things will fall into place when the time is right for them to do so.” I don’t want to face her if I make that impulsive decision, because I know I will feel ashamed, knowing that she was right all along.

I will not apologize for my impulsiveness. I will not apologize for my inability to think ahead and think about the consequences of things. I will not apologize for my disordered behavior. None of us should for that matter. Instead, I ask that your eyes be opened to the fact that not everyone goes about things the same way, and not everyone deals with things the same way. Not everyone lives a life without a personality disorder defined by disordered behaviors. Please give us patience and grace as we learn to process what it is about ourselves that is so different. We are not the “crazy people” the world often makes us out to be.

Unsplash photo via Jayson Hinrichs

Originally published: November 4, 2018
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