The Mighty Logo

15 Things You Shouldn't Say to Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I decided today was the time to talk about something important that has affected me for almost as long as I can remember. Often, I discuss my depression and anxiety and I’ve even touched upon my PTSD, but it is incredibly rare that I talk about the mental health issue that possibly has the biggest hold on my life. I think it’s important for me to talk about — as there is so little awareness surrounding it. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) has affected almost every part of my life since I was a teenager. Adolescence is usually when it starts to show in people, sometimes into young adulthood. Right now more women are diagnosed with it, but that could be because men are less likely to open up and seek help. I have decided to include some information in this post too, in order to try and help others.

You might have BPD if you have five or more of the following symptoms:

1. Worrying about people abandoning you, and going to extreme lengths in order to avoid this happening.

2. Having very intense emotions that can last up to a few days and can change very quickly.

3. Not having a strong sense of who you are.

4. Feeling intense emptiness and loneliness.

5. Engaging in self-harm or having chronic suicidal feelings.

6. Having intense feelings of anger that can be difficult to control.

7. Finding it hard to have stable relationships.

8. Feeling paranoid or disassociating.

9. Acting impulsively and doing things that could harm you.

It is not fully known what “causes” BPD, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic factors, and also stressful or traumatic things happening in your life. It has shown to be relatively common in victims of childhood abuse, whether that be sexual, emotional or physical.

I know there still isn’t enough awareness of the more well-known mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety, but I feel like they are spoken about more, and are more widely accepted. Because of this, some people think it is acceptable to treat people with BPD in an unfair way, and call them out for their symptoms. I am unable to speak for everyone who has BPD, but personally, having attention drawn to my symptoms makes me feel very insecure, upset and even paranoid.

Paranoia has not been something that has affected me for most of my life, but recently, I have been struggling with it quite a bit, which is a great example of how symptoms can change. Just like other mental health issues, BPD can be unpredictable, and you never know how you’re going to feel each day. Everything can be going really well in your life, but you can still be having a bad time with your BPD. This is why people with BPD can have trouble holding down long-term relationships, jobs or maintaining a home — all of which I have had issues with. I think if there was a bit more understanding, the world could be a much better place for people with borderline to live in.

Below, I have listed some of the things I, and other people with BPD have heard that are very unhelpful and can be damaging. If you are reading this and do not have BPD, please try and use this post as a way to educate yourself, and avoid using these phrases when speaking to the people you love who do struggle.

1. “You’re so emotionally unstable.”

I know I am emotionally unstable, that’s why BPD is also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder. What I also know is that I can’t help it, and if you want to stay in my life, you need to deal with it and try and support me when I am struggling.

2. “Why can’t you hold down a relationship?”

Personally, I have spent so much time worrying about being alone, which led to the majority of my relationships being unhealthy (along with the fact that most of my partners were terrible people). Because of that, I decided to take some time out and be single, even though I am ridiculously maternal and love sharing my life with a partner. I don’t need attention drawn to the fact that I am still alone, and you should be happy that I am waiting until I am ready to form a healthy relationship.

3. “You don’t need to get so angry all the time.”

I know, and I hate it. Recently, I have tried to hold it in for longer periods of time, which resulted in all of my emotions pouring out at once — I think we can agree that is far from healthy! Now, I aim to avoid situations which are confrontational, and where I may lose my temper. I need support, not judgment.

4. “Pull yourself together!”

Honestly, I am pretty sure that everyone who has any mental illness has had this said to them at one time or another. Imagine if it were that easy! If you’re still thinking those three words are helpful, please think again.

5. “You’re so stupid, you spend all of your money without thinking about the consequences.”

Impulsive spending is something that has affected me since I was 16, when I started working. When I had a bad day, I would walk to Topshop and spend 100 pounds. I’d just like to make it clear this is not why I am in debt, that is due to a former partner’s selfish actions (I know I have to state these things in order to avoid abuse!). I do think about the consequences — I spend a long time thinking about it afterwards. Enough time is spent with me making myself feel awful about it, without anyone else trying to!

6. “It’s like you have two completely different personalities.”

I am the same person, it’s just that sometimes my emotions control me.

7. “Stop being so paranoid!”

I’m not sure if this is just me, but these kind of phrases actually make me more paranoid! The best thing you can do to someone who has paranoia is attempt to reassure them and to let them know you love them.

8. “Do you ever think first about your actions?”

Yes, I do, but sometimes my emotions are so strong that I just am unable to control them. Next!

9. “You are crazy.”

This is quite possibly the worst phrase anyone can say to me. I spent so many years while I was a teenager, worrying that I was indeed “crazy,” and thinking my brain was wired differently than everybody else’s. How could those words ever be helpful? An emotionally abusive ex used to push and push me, until I would snap and those were the words he would come out with. Nothing — I repeat, nothing— makes me more angry than that.

10. “What caused that disorder?”

First of all, that is so rude! Especially seeing as childhood abuse can cause BPD. You are never entitled to somebody’s life story, unless they choose to share it with you. I’m sure they won’t if you’re rude enough to come out with that! Also, the true cause is not fully known, so asking somebody is unlikely to get you the answers you are looking for.

11. “There is something seriously wrong with your brain.”

Refer back to my “You are crazy” response to know why this gets to me so much.

12. “I can’t cope with you and your mood swings!”

Then please, just leave me alone! I try my hardest to accommodate the people in my life, in spite of my mental and physical health, and if what I am doing is not good enough for you, then I don’t want you around. Thanks.

13. “Why don’t you have your future figured out already?”

I change my mind about what I want to do with my life every six months. This year, I have finally worked out what I want to do, and what I can do with my physical health being so poor. The only things I have always been sure of are that I want to find some way of helping people, and that I want to be a mother. I am 22 years old, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with the fact that I am still working out what I want from life.

14. “It’s all in your head.”

I find it unbelievable that people still think it is OK to talk about mental health in this way! Honestly, I think this phrase is incredibly patronizing.

15. “Be more positive!”

Wow! You have single-handedly just found the cure to all mental health issues around the world! Give yourself a pat on the back! Of course, I am being sarcastic. I’d love to spend all of my days feeling positive, but unfortunately, this is impossible, even for people who don’t have any mental health issues.

I want to make it really clear in this post, that if you think you have BPD, or any other mental health issue, you should see a GP — preferably one who you know and trust. In my experience, some GPs are more understanding than others, so if you already have a good relationship with one, you should definitely try and speak to that one.

If you have taken the time to read this, I appreciate it so much. If you have borderline personality disorder, and have people in your life who aren’t very supportive, or who are not very aware of the disorder and the symptoms, please show them this post. I am trying to promote education, and it is so important, especially with lesser known illnesses like BPD.

Unsplash photo via Matthew Kane

Originally published: July 17, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home