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7 Myths About Borderline Personality Disorder That Need a Reality Check

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Mental illness is a highly stigmatized topic in modern society. We often hear phrases like, “it’s all in your head” or “you’re just being a baby,” when we express our symptoms to a less than sympathetic individual, and people frequently confuse symptoms between certain diagnoses or make assumptions based on what they see through television and movies.

Unfortunately, some diagnoses seem to weather more misnomers than others, especially borderline personality disorder. The myths about people who live with this condition are often hurtful at best, and they often leave individuals feeling isolated and scared to disclose their diagnosis because they worry what fallacies people will attach to them once they hear that label.

But you know what? I think it’s time we break down some of these rumors about borderline personality disorder and stop perpetuating myths that simply aren’t true. So, here are seven myths about borderline personality disorder we need to stop believing, and the realities we can use to reframe these myths.

Myth #1: BPD is just “attention-seeking” and “manipulation.” It’s not a real diagnosis.

Many people (falsely) equate borderline personality disorder with manipulation. These people claim that everything someone with BPD does is just a “cry for attention.” Some people even go so far as to dismiss what people with borderline personality disorder say or do as “just an act.”

Reality: Many of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder cause great distress.

People with BPD experience extreme fear of abandonment, mood swings, and rapid changes in self-image. These pendulum swings can cause great distress, and when combined with a propensity toward impulsive behavior, can push individuals toward acting in ways that may not make rational sense.

However, these actions aren’t meant as manipulative — they’re a means of self-preservation. In fact, people with borderline personality disorder often feel remorse and extreme shame once they realize what they’ve done or said “in the heat of the moment.”

Myth #2: Only women get diagnosed with BPD.

If you look up statistics on gender and borderline personality disorder, you will see a disproportionate number of women who receive the diagnosis as compared to men. This belief is further fueled by mainstream media, which typically only shows women with BPD.

Reality: Both men and women receive BPD diagnosis.

Many experts believe previous research stating a 3:1 ratio of women receiving a BPD diagnosis isn’t actually accurate. In fact, studies have found that the prevalence of this diagnosis between the genders is nearly identical. It’s just a matter of how the symptoms present and the assessments clinicians use to make their diagnosis.

Myth #3: People with BPD are incapable of forming lasting relationships.

One of the key features of the borderline personality disorder diagnosis is “a pattern of unstable intense relationships.” Because some people with BPD will rapidly shift between idealizing loved ones and distrusting them, many people assume individuals with this diagnosis cannot maintain friends or romantic partners.

Reality: Anyone can learn interpersonal skills to help them form lasting relationships.

Although relationships are sometimes hard for people with BPD, they are far from impossible to maintain. In fact, many people with BPD enjoy lasting friendships and romantic relationships with the right people.

Most of the time, all a person needs to help them build a relationship is time and interpersonal skills to help them connect with others. These skills can help people express their needs and wants in a healthy way, learn to compromise for the sake of the relationship, and stand up for themselves when the time is right.

Myth #4: People with BPD are “too dramatic.”

People with borderline personality disorder are frequently seen as “dramatic” because of their emotional reactivity. In fact, some people compare their responses to tantrums children throw when they don’t get their way or become upset.

Reality: People with borderline personality disorder experience emotions intensely.

Marsha Linehan, the creator of dialectical behavior therapy, says that living with BPD is like having “third degree burns over 90 percent of [your] body.” Unfortunately, this means that many people with BPD lack the same type of “emotional skin” that others have, and this causes them to experience frequent discomfort and distress over seemingly small things.

However, everyone experiences emotions in their own way. There’s nothing “right” or “wrong” about how people feel. In the case of someone with BPD, emotions often feel all-consuming, and that can be hard to rein in, especially if no one ever taught you how to self-regulate your emotions.

Myth #5: All people with BPD are abusive.

Some people with borderline personality disorder experience a symptom often called “borderline rage.” For some, this uncontrollable anger comes out in extreme ways and can cause physical damage to property and tear apart even the strongest relationships. Because of this, people often equate a borderline diagnosis to abuse — even in individuals who do not meet the criteria for that symptom.

Reality: Anyone can be abusive regardless of a diagnosis.

While the recent news of Amber Heard’s dual diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder has reignited this common myth, it still remains exactly that — a myth. Not everyone with borderline personality disorder meets all nine diagnostic criteria, and some people who experience outbursts of anger direct it inward, not outward.

The fact is, anyone can be an abusive person, no matter what mental health conditions they do or do not live with. Furthermore, a diagnosis alone doesn’t make someone abusive. Their actions toward others is what makes them abusive, and we need to remember that.

Myth #6: People with BPD only make “empty” suicide threats.

Because people with borderline personality disorder experience rapid mood cycling and intense emotions, many people see them as “the boy who cried wolf” when they express a desire to die. Sometimes friends and family members go so far as to dismiss a loved one with BPD’s cries for help because they assume it’s “just for show.”

Reality: Borderline personality disorder has one of the highest suicide rates among mental health conditions.

Studies show that approximately 75 percent of individuals with borderline personality disorder will make at least one suicide attempt during their lifetime, with many of them making multiple attempts throughout their lifetime. What’s more, BPD has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness, with up to 10 percent of individuals with BPD dying by suicide.

It’s important to take any indication of suicide seriously, regardless of a diagnosis. Everyone deserves help, and people don’t just make “empty threats” when it comes to life.

Myth #7: You can’t recover from BPD.

Because borderline personality disorder is a, well, a personality disorder, people often claim it cannot be treated. In fact, some people claim individuals who live with BPD can’t “change who they are” or “refuse to get help.” This is further complicated by the fact personality disorders typically cannot be treated with medications, and some people do not see therapy as a valuable treatment method.

Reality: Borderline personality disorder is completely treatable.

Although these studies rarely get attention, researchers have found that the majority of people with borderline personality disorder do eventually go into remission or recover once they receive an accurate diagnosis and the appropriate treatment. This can take anywhere from two to 10 years, depending on a variety of factors.

What’s more, there are multiple proven treatment methods for borderline personality disorder, including dialectical behavior therapy and mentalization-based therapy. Many people with BPD also deal with other mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, that can be treated with medication. When combined with a strong support network and a willingness to undergo treatment, medication, and psychotherapy can work as the perfect teammates for someone with BPD who is trying their best to create a life worth living.

Getty image by Dreya Novak

Originally published: May 15, 2022
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