So many people have misconceptions about those with personality disorders, particularly those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). My hope is that eventually there will be deeper understanding of those of us who are just more emotional and sensitive, and find this world a little tougher than others. Here are just some of the common misconceptions…
BPD is a character flaw:
Simply not true. We are no more flawed than any other person out there. What some will see as ‘flaws’ in us, others will perceive as strengths. Take sensitivity for instance – yes, we may be more easily hurt by things that wouldn’t have any effect on others… we might take things personally, and get overwhelmed by the world. But sensitivity is actually a wonderful trait to have – it means we’re more in-tune with the world and those around us. We can read the emotions of others and know all about tact. We’re less likely to hurt the feelings of others, and actually our sensitivity probably makes us more approachable and kind, loving people, as we are in sync with our own emotions.
BPD is just a label. While labels can be good, to explain certain behaviours, they can also be very damaging. Everybody has their negative points… even those without a ‘personality disorder’ … everybody, even those without a ‘personality disorder’, has aspects of their personality that are less than desirable – it’s quite possible to make up a label for everyone else too. Anyone who judges us for having BPD, and mocks us because of it, may well have NPD… or they may simply be ‘an arsehole’! That would explain their judgemental behaviour. Nobody is perfect in this world. Nobody.
BPD is only a part of who we are, not the sum total of us. It explains particular personality traits. But not our individual character. Our character is actually our beliefs, our values, our morals, integrity, loyalty and other things like kindness and honesty. It’s who we are as people. And no personality disorder can dirty our true character… not internally at least! Others might see behaviours resulting from our BPD and decide that’s who we are, but that’s their flaw – judging what they don’t know. It doesn’t change our truth.
BPD only affects women:
False. It affects people of any age, gender, race, religion, sexuality, size and shape. There’s no one ‘mould’ for BPD. It can affect anyone at any point in life. More women appear to show the signs of it, but men do experience it, and perhaps more than is currently known – but because of the way men have been brought up to hide their emotions and not talk about things, they’re less likely to seek help. I hope this will one day change, so that it eases the burden on those suffering in silence.
People with BPD and who self-harm, are manipulative and attention-seeking:
No. People with BPD and those who self-harm are far from manipulative, and attention-seeking. Most people who self-harm do not want others to know. They do it secretly, and are deeply ashamed of the fact they do it. BPD sufferers do not do anything for attention. That would be Histrionic Personality Disorder. People often confuse the different disorders and think that we’re all ‘disordered’ the same. Not true. People with BPD don’t do things for attention. They do them because they are overwhelmed by their emotions, they don’t know how to appropriately cope with them, and they are terrified of being abandoned and not being ‘good enough’. If you think someone with BPD is manipulative, ask yourself why you think that…. is it because of their self-harming behaviours? Is it because they plead with you not to leave them? Is it because they talk about killing themselves? Is it because they don’t cope well with stress and emotions, so you’re worried about saying or doing the wrong thing?
All of these are from a lack of understanding of BPD. Self-harm and suicidal thoughts are common among those with this disorder. A lot of people don’t understand suicidal people – they view them as ‘weak’, ‘cowards’ and ‘wastes of space’… if only they knew the turmoil inside the mind of someone on the edge, and what they have to live with every single second of the day and night… the battles they’ve fought. The strength they’ve shown, to have even survived this long. And to say that someone in absolute psychological torture every day, is a ‘coward’ for wanting it to all stop… I can’t even find the words for scum who believe that. People judge suicidal people, and say they should just ‘suck it up’ and get on with things, like they do – that we all have issues, we all have stress, and suicide is a selfish, immature way of dealing with something that everyone else deals with too. Bullshit. The people saying that ‘everyone has issues’, don’t have the first clue about true issues. Anyone who’s experienced mental health problems, trauma, an endless onslaught of negative life experiences and emotional pain, would know what real issues are. We do not all deal with it the same. And resorting to self-harm or suicidal behaviours, does not make us worse than ‘normal’ people. We are dealing with much higher levels of emotion and trauma than the dare-I-say-it, ‘normal’ people. So they have no right to judge.
As for self-harm, like I said, it’s secretive. It’s one of those things people don’t understand – how can someone cut into their own skin in response to something said to them? They don’t understand how anyone could think like that. It seems illogical and irrational. It seems crazy. It scares them. And when people don’t understand something, and it frightens them, they very often create ill-informed opinions on those who self-harm. They assume it’s attention-seeking. They assume the person is trying to hurt THEM. To emotionally blackmail them. What they need to know is that when we self-harm, it’s not about them. Well, it might be caused by a fallout with them or something triggered by them. But it’s about letting the emotions out. It’s punishing ourselves. It’s about expressing how we feel… to ourselves – to validate ourselves, and say ‘yes, this pain is real, I feel this, and I can see it’.
Emotional pain is so difficult to bear at the levels BPD sufferers experience it. For us, physical pain is less painful than what we feel inside. We then also have a wound we can tend to and heal. Whereas with emotional pain you can’t see it, or nurse it better. Self-harm is just that – about the ‘self’. No it’s not selfish. But it is emotion aimed at the self. It’s not about you. It’s not a manipulation of you. And if you think it is, then hopefully you’ll read my upcoming posts on self-harm, as I hope to inform more people about the reality of what a BPD sufferer goes through, and why they end up self-harming.
Bottom line is, people fear what they don’t know. Until they experience the level of distress that we do, they couldn’t imagine the relief that would be found in self-harming behaviour. It’s a coping method. It is not healthy. It is not something I would ever recommend to anyone. In fact if you’re ever thinking about starting….don’t do it. You will regret it. And you won’t be able to stop. You will wish you never started. It’s like smoking or drinking… people do those two things to cope with stress too. Self-harm is no different. Yet people see it as manipulative. You don’t see someone smoking and think – they’re trying to make me feel guilty! So why with self-harm? It’s just the same…. it’s damage to oneself. I hope to destroy these misconceptions of self-harm in future posts.
People with BPD are dangerous and to be avoided:
Absolutely not! The only people we’re a danger to generally, are ourselves. We’re more likely to harm ourselves than any other being on the planet. I genuinely couldn’t hurt a fly… or an ant or anything! We want to be accepted. We don’t want to be abandoned. We long to fit in, so the last thing we’ll do is hurt another. A lot of us actually turn our emotions inwards, to avoid hurting others. People with BPD struggle with anger, and a lot of that anger does get turned inwards. We don’t like to display anger. We’re scared of it. We think it’s a bad emotion to have. So we bottle it up, and eventually it explodes, either through shouting and throwing things around, or by self-harming. I think it’s very rare that someone with BPD would explode and strike out at another. Yet because BPD is a Cluster B personality, some uneducated people lump us in with the narcissists and sociopaths. So we get a bad reputation because of people who actually enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on other people. We absolutely do not enjoy it, in fact we go out of our way to avoid conflict if possible.
We may be hard to be with. Our outbursts of emotion, and our varying opinions of ourselves and of other people, may cause difficulties in relationships of any kind.. but we’re worthy of love. We can be some of the most sensitive, thoughtful, loving, generous people in the whole world. But we need someone with patience, commitment and understanding in order to feel comfortable, and safe, knowing that you’re not going anywhere.
We’re not dangerous. We’re misunderstood. We’re not to be avoided. That only deepens the problem and worsens the stigma. We fear being abandoned, rejected and never fitting in. If everyone runs away from us, turns their back on us and misunderstands us, we will never heal. We will continue to believe we are unlovable, unworthy and a burden to the world. And so many more beautiful spirits will be lost from this world, because of a society that doesn’t care to understand the complex, yet loving, sensitive nature of a person with BPD.
BPD can’t be treated:
It can be treated. Either with the assistance of anti-depressants/anti-psychotics, or any type of therapy. The common treatment for BPD is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). I will talk about this in more detail in the future. But this consists of individual therapy sessions, and group sessions, where people are taught about emotions, and ways of coping with the bad and increasing the good. People are given homework and have to practise their skills, and eventually the hope is that new coping strategies will be learnt and self-harm will decrease, giving the patient a better quality of life. I completed two courses of DBT, and it really did help me. I never stopped self-harming entirely but I did go longer stretches without it. Eventually you have to move on away from the therapy and try and put your skills into practise in life. And hopefully most people cope quite well with it. I myself have gone backwards and if I’m honest I feel I need help with it again, but at the same time I don’t want to appear to be going backwards. So for now I’m just brushing up on the skills from my DBT folder.
Some aspects of BPD will remain, but some can improve, like the self-harming, and paranoid thoughts that come with BPD. A better quality of life can be attained, and after all, that’s all we really want. We don’t need perfection, just a better life than we’ve so far known.
BPD is caused by bad parenting, or abuse as a child:
Not true. Sure, in some cases it may well be. But you can’t generalise. Some people are just more predisposed to developing a personality disorder. Environmental factors play their part. In my case I would guess mine stemmed from my school days when I was socially excluded by my peers. I spent most breaks and lunchtimes stood against the wall by myself, or begging if I could tag along with people, just to not seem so pathetic and lonely. Can you imagine the level of humiliation and isolation I would’ve felt, for all those school years? What effect that would have on a developing human being? I was bullied at school too… all these things build up your views of the world and the people in it, as well as your core beliefs about yourself.
I had a wonderful upbringing. Away from school I had a great childhood, I feel blessed. I was well behaved, because I was simply told right from wrong in a way I could understand and learn. I don’t think I was ever even shouted at! I was born as a more sensitive, reserved and emotional person, and unfortunately that made me a target for all the noisy, naughty, popular boys and girls at school, who couldn’t accept someone being different from the rest of them…. and I attribute my mental health problems, including my BPD, to what I went through at school. I can’t exactly ‘blame’ them all, but it does go to show that your early childhood experiences will shape and form your personality, your beliefs and the state of your future. We need to teach children to be more tolerant, inclusive and kind.
People with BPD are demanding:
It may seem that way, but really what people with BPD need is consistency, stability and a sense of security. If any of these feel threatened, things become unpredictable, and that can throw people like us off-kilter. We then seek reassurance, either through apparent ‘neediness’, or by pushing people away, in the hope they’ll pull us back closer so that we know we’re wanted. I understand to the ‘normal’ people it could become draining having to reassure us all the time, but if there’s that trust there, that stability and consistency that in itself would reassure us you’re not going anywhere and things are good between us. My insecurities, fears and low self-esteem paired with someone’s shady behaviour, once made me feel like I was really ‘needy’ for asking for the reassurance I needed. But I realise now, anytime I’ve asked anything of people, it was asking for basic human respect, and things that even the ‘normal’ people would expect from others. My fear was that it was my BPD making me seem needy and demanding, but I actually wasn’t either of those. In fact when I think back to a relationship sense, I’m far less demanding than a lot of ‘normal’ women out there. I’m quite laid back in that sense. But I don’t expect anything from anyone other than respect and reliability. Basically if you’re going to be involved with someone with BPD you just need to not be an arsehole, and be able to reflect on your own behaviour too, to see what would make things work more smoothly between you – and be prepared to compromise. Otherwise we’re pretty easy-going… we just sometimes need to know we’re appreciated.
People with BPD have no empathy:
I can’t believe I even read someone saying this. They must have again confused the Cluster B Personalities, because Narcissistic Personality Disorder has ‘lack of empathy’ as one of its conditions. But I think it’s almost entirely the opposite with BPD. BPD sufferers are very often some of the most sensitive souls on the planet, and are able to put themselves in the shoes of others, and feel their feelings too. I had an encounter with a narcissist, and whilst researching about it, I started to question if I was the narcissist… maybe I was the problem – but alongside the fact I even considered it, which indicated I’m not, I thought the one thing I DO have is empathy, in bucket loads! Any minor traits I share with NPD are a part of my BPD – but the two disorders are very different. With NPD people tend to be unable to place themselves in the shoes of others, to think of others’ feelings, and are all about themselves. With BPD people DO think of others, sometimes at the detriment to themselves. They know what would upset them, so wouldn’t inflict it on others. And many take out their emotions on themselves to prevent upsetting others – a narcissist would sooner upset others than hurt themselves. BPD sufferers do have empathy, and that’s what stands them apart from the other Cluster B Personality Disorders.
People with BPD are immature:
False. Some of them had to grow up a lot quicker than they should’ve done, and had to face things no child should have to. True, we don’t cope in the most grown-up way, especially if we self-harm – people would view that as ‘immature’. Our coping strategies aren’t the healthiest. But people with BPD very often are mature, sensible, highly intelligent individuals, and the only problem they have is with controlling and dealing with their emotions. In every other way they are mature… they’ve just got stuck in an old pattern with a less than ideal coping method.
People with BPD are crazy:
Not true. A lot of us are actually very ‘together’ in our minds. We live in reality. And sometimes reality is a little too real for us, and we get overwhelmed. We feel everything more intensely, the good and the bad. We overthink. We worry. We get hurt easily. But in our minds, we’re perfectly sane. Even if we self-harm, we know it’s not the right way to deal with things, but it works for us in the short-term. Some people think you have to be insane to cut yourself… but if I was ‘insane’ I wouldn’t feel the need to cut myself, as I’d be so far removed from reality that life wouldn’t hurt half as much as it does.
People with BPD are ‘toxic’:
Define ‘toxic’. Toxic is subjective. What’s toxic to one person won’t be to another. It really depends on who YOU are too. Whilst there are individuals who are toxic, for example highly narcissistic people or sociopaths – people who deliberately hurt and upset people and show no remorse, project their flaws onto other people, and smear them to others… when it comes to mental health issues people are not toxic. Bonds can be toxic. Friendships can be toxic. But people generally aren’t. I had a friend who thought I was ‘toxic’ – they didn’t know about my BPD. This was a misconception, by far. It was unjustified and out of the blue. I subsequently discovered that they were one of the toxic people themselves, and that’s why I got stuck with the label instead. But really what it came down to was our friendship didn’t work…. I had my BPD and all that brought with it. And she had her own issues that she wasn’t prepared to admit and sort out. So she called me toxic as it was easier.
In her mind I was obviously so difficult and sensitive, and ‘negative’ because of my depression, that instead of accepting the problem, facing responsibility and fixing it, she decided I was toxic. But no other friend I’ve ever had has thought that of me at all. People with BPD are not toxic, unless you decide they are. Very often it’s laziness that ends up giving BPD sufferers the toxic label. People who don’t want to look in the mirror and face the hurt they’ve caused us. It takes effort to reassure and fix things. And effort = toxicity…… to a toxic person. Most people in the world will give us a fair chance, as they know we’re worth the effort.
Admittedly I have been known to complain about things a bit, and get depressed and be all doom and gloom, and some people may think that’s toxic. But I try to stay away from people when I feel like that. Toxic implies someone poisoning your spirit, wearing you down… but please be aware that BPD sufferers do not act with the intention of hurting or burdening anyone. We’re doing the best we can, and appreciate those who don’t give up on us, and who don’t see our difficulties as ‘toxic’.
BPD is just an excuse:
I would never use my BPD to excuse my behaviour. I would ask that others take it into consideration in order to forgive me and give me another chance. But I’ve said and done things before that I’ve felt incredibly ashamed of, and I’ll readily apologise for that. No excuses. BPD isn’t a label to be used to excuse ourselves… it’s to explain ourselves. It explains the difficulties we have interpersonally. It explains our outbursts of anger. It explains the struggles with emotions, and perhaps the reasons we might be harming ourselves. It explains some of our fears and anxieties and why we find it hard to trust people. And perhaps why we have difficulties in work too. It’s not an excuse to get out of doing things, or to dodge responsibility.
People who have BPD sometimes do things wrong, just like anyone else, and very often we feel guilty and ashamed. We’re not too proud to apologise, and fully accept our faults… we’re painfully aware of them.
If you ever hear someone with BPD apologising for something and mentioning their BPD, or ‘you know what I’m like…’ – they’re not using it as an excuse. They’re genuinely apologising, and hoping you will take it into consideration, as sometimes we do make mistakes, and act on impulse, and we want nothing more than to make it up to you and make things better.
Trust me though, BPD is not an excuse. We didn’t choose to be like this. Nobody would ever choose to feel like we do… to do the things we do. Who in their right mind would want to feel out of control of their mind and body? Who would want to harm themselves just to get through life? Who would want to feel so empty and lonely? Who would want rollercoaster relationships with people? We didn’t choose it. Yes there are things we can do to help it, but there’s no miracle overnight cure for it. We need to be treated like normal human beings, yet sometimes people need to make allowances for us.
All people with BPD are the same:
Not in the slightest! Just like not all people with depression are the same. BPD is about how we cope with our emotions and relationships. It is not who we are. You might have someone with BPD who is a controlling bossy-boots, generally grumpy, ‘neat-freak’ who hates animals and babies, and loves working… you could have another who’s loud and outgoing by appearances, is anxious, loves animals and babies, is wise, but has no concept of loyalty. And another may be quiet and shy, intelligent, down-to-earth, paranoid but fiercely loyal to those she loves. Every single BPD sufferer is different, just as any individual on this planet is different. You can never generalise with personality disorders… well, you can, but it might cost you a really special person who could bring a lot to your life. People need to stop generalising and start tolerating differences. We all have something to offer in this world, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.