So yesterday The Guardian published an article called ‘Personality Disorders At Work: How To Spot Them And What You Can Do’, by Dr Mary Lamia, a clinical psychologist, and professor. It has since been taken down, under review, but that doesn’t erase the damage done to breaking the stigma of mental illness, and it doesn’t change the impact it will have had on anyone with BPD who happened to see it before it was removed.
This article has upset a lot of people, myself included… you can tell from the discussions on Twitter and from the comments on the article itself. This is not just someone disagreeing with the apparent description of themselves – it’s a widespread knowledge that the ‘information’ in The Guardian’s article is wrong. It is misleading and very damaging.
The article discusses personality disorders, but the language used is sloppy and appears to lump everyone in together, as psychopaths, sociopaths, anti-social personalities, narcissists and borderlines, as though they’re all the same. It describes both NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) as ‘Anti-Social Personality Disorders’. When in reality Anti-Social Personality Disorder is a diagnosis of its own, and is very different to BPD.
I’ve written a post before about the difference between BPD and NPD, as I came across another highly stigmatising blog, that lumped us in together. They actually described somebody with the traits of NPD and labelled it BPD, and as a result a lot of people who were new to their own BPD diagnosis, felt like they were ‘monsters’. People with BPD should not be made to feel they’re awful people…. dangerous… to be avoided… a burden… a monster. Because WE are the people who will take that to heart, and will feel we’re not welcome in this world, and will never fit in. People with BPD are at a higher risk of suicide. 70% of people with BPD will attempt suicide in their lifetime. 10% will complete it. Making us feel like freaks, psychopaths, and like we’re a burden will only push more of us towards that. It’s hard enough to feel like we can fit in, simply because of our BPD, and the existing stigma around it, without the added stigma created by articles such as this.
I originally began this blog to try and break the stigma attached to BPD. There is so much misinformation out there about this personality disorder, and the stigma makes us hide our illness. We bury it deep down, through fear and shame, and we don’t get the help we need.
I don’t have an actual diagnosis of BPD, but I was told that was what I was being treated for through my DBT at the time. I identify as someone with BPD. It makes my world make sense. I didn’t want a diagnosis of it as I didn’t want the label back then. I had read up and discovered the stigma surrounding it, and didn’t want this to affect my future employment. I wish I’d taken them up on the offer of it now, as in some ways it may have helped explain things, plus with the state of mental health services now, the likelihood of me getting to see a psychiatrist to get the diagnosis now, is slim.
But I don’t need an official diagnosis to know who I am. Besides, I am more than a diagnosis. I am more than my illness. And that is the whole point of this post…..
First let’s look at the stereotype for someone with BPD:
It’s generally thought we are –
- Young women, and we will ‘grow out of it’
- Attention-seeking / drama-queens
- Dangerous / violent
- Needy / clingy
- Manipulative / controlling
- A lost cause / untreatable
- Self-absorbed / lack empathy
These beliefs are held by others because they believe what they read online or hear from a misinformed friend, and are too lazy to properly research for themselves. If you want to know about BPD then ask people who have it – we’re the only people who actually understand BPD… friends and family, even psychological professionals, DO NOT understand BPD and cannot understand it fully. But WE do. People should be educating themselves about BPD, by learning from those who have it.
I’ll admit there probably are some aggressive, manipulative people out there who also happen to have BPD, this does not mean that all of those with BPD are dangerous, controlling, attention-seekers.
We are all individual. Every single person on this planet has their own set of individual traits. Just because we have a label attached to us of ‘Borderline’, it doesn’t mean we’re suddenly all the same. There is a scale with BPD too, and for those without it to think of it as ‘us and them’, like we’re this stereotype, is exactly the black and white thinking that is associated with BPD. I find it quite amusing that someone like me, with BPD can see the grey area.. the scale of BPD, whereas ‘non-sufferers’ can’t see this. We’re either one thing or we’re not. This is ignorance.
People of all ages, races, any religion and gender can be affected by BPD. It’s not a teenage girl thing. It is not an attention-seeking illness. It is not being a drama-queen… this is more likely to be another Cluster B personality disorder known as Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). Even then it’s not to be mocked or judged. But people tend to generalise and blur the boundaries of different personality disorders and saying we’re all the same… particularly when it comes to the Cluster B personalities.
The reason people think we are attention-seeking, manipulative and controlling, is because of the emotions that arise from our behaviour. For instance people with BPD often self-harm. This is a very touchy subject for some. Unless they’ve been there, some people can’t comprehend how someone could cut into their own skin, or understand the reasons why. They don’t understand it, so it scares them. It makes them feel uncomfortable. It stirs up emotions in them, because they care about the person who’s self-harming… they feel shock, sadness, anger, confusion… and because these emotions have been stirred up by someone’s act of self-harm, they feel they are being controlled and manipulated to respond in a certain way. This is very often not true though. Self-harm is done in private… secret even. It is not done to provoke some reaction or emotion from another person. It is done to cope with overwhelming emotions inside. We’re not trying to get attention or manipulate anyone. Any concept of manipulation is the problem of the person feeling it. If a friend or family member of ours feels manipulated, more often than not this is their problem, not ours, and they need to work through their own emotions.
We’re not dangerous and violent. I admit, I have outbursts of anger. But that anger will never be used against anyone else. It will be used against myself, or my environment – to hurt myself. In this way I may be ‘dangerous’ but only to myself. I may be ‘violent’, but only towards myself. I have anger issues. But my anger issue is that I think anger is a BAD thing. So I bottle it up until it has nowhere else to go, and it explodes. I don’t know how to cope with anger in a healthy way. I don’t know how that is done. I either witness it in a bad way, or don’t see people getting bothered by things, and both of these make me believe that anger isn’t normal, and makes me a bad person. I would never hurt anyone else. I couldn’t live with myself for mentally hurting someone else, let alone physically. I’m not an exception to the rule. Most people with BPD are lovely people… peaceful people… caring people… who just struggle with emotions and take those emotions out on themselves.
We’re not needy and clingy, and these terms are not helpful. Yes we fear abandonment, but the term ‘needy’ is one I hate. It’s thrown around generally by players, who aren’t interested in fulfilling a woman’s emotional needs. We all have needs. We all need to feel loved, cared for, appreciated, respected, secure… and these types of men don’t care about making a woman feel that way. They say she’s ‘too needy’, when in reality she’s asking for the basic human needs, that we all have. So when it’s implied that people with BPD are needy and clingy it annoys me, because it makes it sound like we’re too demanding. When in reality we’re neglected. The people in our lives are not fulfilling our basic human needs, and then on top of that they’re making us feel as though we don’t deserve to have those needs met. Like it’s too much to ask. That’s how very often our self-esteem ends up six feet under.
In some ways we can be impulsive, I agree. However, at the same time I have been found to overthink things as well. To over-plan things. To problem-solve for weeks on end, before making a decision. It’s not always black and white. It is possible to sometimes be impulsive and other times not. We don’t always act without thinking.
I assure you I think about other people a lot. In fact the reason I’m where I am right now is because I put others’ needs ahead of my own for a long time. I was still accused of being selfish by the people I prioritised, but that’s the way of life unfortunately – do good for people and they take it for granted, take advantage of you. Yes I might be a bit selfish sometimes and look after my own wellbeing – but that is part of having depression, a mental illness, and needing to get well.
The idea that we lack empathy is ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous. Narcissists lack empathy – I’ve met a few of those in my time, believe me! People with BPD have empathy in abundance. We have overwhelming, overflowing empathy. A lack of empathy is a disconnection from emotions… others’ and our own. It’s not realising the impact of our actions on the emotions of someone else. I am very much connected to my emotions. I have a certain amount of understanding about them. I can read the emotions in someone else – in fact I think people with BPD can pick up on emotions that others wouldn’t even notice in a room. We’re very sensitive, and perceptive. And my God, if I upset anybody or feel like I’ve caused any emotion in someone else, I immediately apologise. And then I beat myself up for it for ages afterwards. After I had a bit of a breakdown a month ago, and harmed myself at my therapy course, I was swamped with emotions – most of them relating to other people. I was aware of the effect my actions might have had on the therapists running the group, and I actually had more concern for their feelings than I did for my own.
I have so much empathy it drives me mad… I sometimes have to isolate myself to not pick up on others’ feelings and vibes, as it overloads me. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way – just about everyone who has BPD, talks about this empathy issue, and that we actually seem to have the most empathy out of everyone. So yet again, people are mixing up the disorders and labelling people with NPD as people with BPD. So the truth is getting lost.
Whether I am crazy or not is debatable. And crazy doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But I guess in this sense they mean off-the-scale, ‘not in touch with reality’ kind of crazy, and that is absolute rubbish. I may be a bit messed up mentally. I may be an emotional wreck. I may harm myself. I may make a lot of mistakes and react differently to things that wouldn’t bother other people… but my feet remain firmly in reality. I have enough sanity to question my own sanity. And that is a sign of sanity! Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy… I am ‘together’ let’s put it that way. I am able to recognise that my actions are not always healthy and ‘normal’, but I have researched enough about my mental health to understand why I am the way I am. And most of the time I would appear to other people to function like a normal adult. So I’m certainly not crazy. And though at the moment I FEEL I am beyond help, realistically I’m not. It is possible to recover. And BPD should not be confused with NPD – with NPD the patient is unlikely to seek help as they don’t recognise themselves as having a problem… they think it’s everyone else who has the problem. Whereas people with BPD accept they have a problem and are willing to work on it, as they want life to be easier and better. So there’s always hope for us.
So to recap – I am not attention-seeking… I am private, reserved. I am not a drama-queen…. I am simply struggling with life and dealing with it the best I can. I am not a danger to anyone else… my violence and anger is only ever self-inflicted, and I hate that I feel anger at all. I am not needy and clingy…. I fear abandonment, and I struggle to let go of things and people I care about, and I’m only asking for the basic human needs that everyone else seems to get met… I’m not too demanding. I’m not manipulative or controlling… my behaviours and words are my own experience… they have nothing to do with other people.. that’s THEIR own ego making it about them, rather than the pain I’m experiencing… It’s their own issue if they feel manipulated by my way of coping with life. I am not impulsive… I have episodes of anger where I’ll feel out of control, but otherwise I overthink everything. I’m not a lost cause… there’s hope for me yet – I can’t see it for myself right now, but I need others to believe there is hope for me… for them to not give up on me, otherwise I might as well give up on myself. I am not self-absorbed… I sometimes just need to focus on myself and protect myself from outside experiences because of the turmoil going on inside me daily…. I have a lot of empathy – I’m actually what’s called an ’empath’. It’s a part of what makes life so difficult for me. And whilst I’m ‘crazy’, I’m not insane. I’ve got my senses, my wisdom, my humour and a lot more sanity than many ‘normal’ people out there!
That’s what I’m not…. Here’s what I am…
- Humble (although this list makes it seem otherwise!!)
- Intellectual / inquisitive
It was incredibly hard for me to write that list – I had to rely on things people have told me, and a list of character traits as prompts, as I find it hard to think of good things about me. It’s much easier to list the negatives.
But the whole problem is that people hear the word Borderline and make assumptions about who we are… forgetting the fact that we’re human beings too, with a heck of a lot to offer. We have our good traits, and also our interests and hobbies. They also make up who we are. I’m not just a person with BPD. I am someone who loves her Godchildren so much her heart could burst… who has a passion for fossil-hunting… who loves playing the piano, writing poetry and enjoys art…. who is fiercely protective of her family…. who appreciates nature and loves animals more than she loves most people….. who likes to educate herself about the important things in life…. who will randomly burst into song when she’s happy but also when she’s sad, just to let it all out…. who never gives up, and picks herself up and dusts herself off, every time she’s knocked down. I am all this and more!
Life can be hard for people like me. I feel as though I will never truly fit in. I wonder how I will ever navigate my way through life, like a normal person. I don’t feel I belong anywhere and never will. Socially, romantically, professionally. Everything is a challenge when you have BPD. Relationships with others can be strained. Work is hard, particularly when faced with pressure and the public.
I help in a charity shop right now, to try and build my confidence up and propel me to bigger things. And I find it a struggle if I’m honest. Especially at the moment, where I’ve gone backwards in my recovery – I’m not feeling as strong. But when I’m at work I put on a face. I’m always really polite and helpful to the customers, and I don’t let anyone see the negatives. If I get overwhelmed I step out the back and breathe, before going back in as if everything is fine.
The article in The Guardian says about those with BPD:
“Nevertheless many of them function well enough in the workplace to stay in jobs long term. That’s not good news if you work with one of them, since they are divisive, use power tactics, show intense or inappropriate anger, and regard others as either all good or all bad. Terrified of abandonment and tending to feel empty, jealous or envious, they often secure their ties to others in coercive ways”.
“A person with borderline personality disorder, for example, would admit to ignoring the presence of particular co-workers when they passed them in an empty hallway to intimidate them”.
I would never dream of intimidating others. I live my life feeling guilty for ‘inflicting myself on others’. I don’t like to burden others with my problems. I don’t want them to know how screwed up I am inside. That’s why as someone with BPD I internalise everything. I am not divisive, at all. I try and include everyone, and work as hard as I can to fit in. I want to be treated normally, just with a little more sensitivity on my more fragile days. I crave to feel accepted and like I belong, so why would I sabotage that by ‘using power tactics’ and intimidating people?
Heck, the couple of times colleagues have upset me at work, I’ve just popped out for some air, returned, and when asked if they upset me I have DENIED it! That’s how much I don’t want my condition to infect the workplace. I soldier on through some very difficult emotions and tough days, and I do it all with a smile, and then I go home and drop the act and can be myself again. I try really hard at work to show my good qualities and to help as much as I can. It’s actually exhausting, pretending to be stronger than I am. But I do it, so that I can try to believe I can fit in this world somewhere, and it’s not all for nothing. I do it to give my life some sense of purpose and to feel better about myself.
If people have read that article it could make life very difficult for those with BPD. And life is already hard enough for us without accusations of things that aren’t true, and having people steer clear of us as though we’re monsters. People with BPD want to fit in. We want to be like other people. And vilifying us isn’t going to help us make a transition to recovery. I would suspect fewer people will disclose their mental illness now, after an article like that, afraid of the backlash.. the repercussions… the ostracism. So more people will hide their BPD, leading to more shame and secrecy, more stigma and a much harder life for those suffering already.
This is why stigmatising articles like that have to end. There has to be more understanding and compassion and less divisiveness in writing about personality disorders. What concerns me the most is that this article was written by a psychologist and professor! A supposed ‘expert’ showing a complete lack of knowledge on the realities of BPD. I think the world needs mental health professionals to learn less from textbooks, and listen more to lived experience from those with the condition. If I knew there was a way for me to get involved in educating professionals on BPD and self-harm, I would be all for it. I can’t see opinions shifting without this sort of intervention.
The article goes on….
“If you work for or with someone who has a borderline personality disorder you are likely to experience similar emotions to them – what psychologists refer to as “affective contagion” …… In interactions with people who have a borderline personality disorder, you may feel the same sense of inadequacy, disconnection, helplessness or anger they experience”.
“Like people with BPD, people who have a narcissistic personality disorder attempt to rid themselves of intolerable shame by behaving in ways that lead others to experience the emotion instead. People who bully others have similar skills”.
So this is saying we infect others with our disorder. Newsflash: You can’t catch BPD! If someone is that affected by our disorder that they start to exhibit signs of it, then that shows they themselves do not have a strong sense of self, and have lower emotional defences. This isn’t our fault. Most of the time we try and disguise how we’re feeling anyway. If I’m having a low day at home, I hide away from everyone, so as not to inflict myself on them. People need to take responsibility for themselves and their own emotions. If being around me when I’m feeling low, causes others to feel low, they need to look at why that is – it’s likely because they care about me and don’t like seeing me low, or they have expectations of me that can’t be met -which is not my problem. It’s a feeling they have to deal with themselves. I own my emotions. Others should own theirs and not blame them on mine.
The last comment implies we are like bullies. I’ll tell you what, the likelihood is that those with BPD have been the victims of bullying and abuse in their lives, so to then accuse them of BEING the bullying types is disgusting.
The article finishes:
“What can you do?
Work relationships can be challenging if you have to deal with someone who has a disordered personality. Recognise that when a boss or a colleague has a personality disorder they will approach situations differently to you. They will not want to rehash the past if any wrongdoing is their own, but prefer to ‘forget about it’ and move on as though particular events have not happened. If you push the issue, you are likely to encounter rage. However, some who are especially skilful may inquire about any hurt or anger you feel, but inevitably they will blame it on you and not their behaviour. The same principles you might use to handle a workplace bully apply when dealing with personality disorders – in particular, maintaining your confidence, competence and composure. Trying to get on their good side will only make you look weak”.
How about rather than the selfish thought of ‘What can I do to avoid this person and protect myself?’ as though we’re about to attack you… you ask the question ‘How can I help?’ … Perhaps think about the things you can do to accommodate the needs of those with BPD. Think how you can support them to do their jobs more successfully, so that they can actually have a chance at recovery and a normal life. The depiction of us with BPD in that last paragraph is so incredibly wrong. It may not say BPD but the whole article mixes us all in together, and refers to us as having a ‘disordered personality’. The last paragraph describes narcissism, it does not describe BPD, and it’s a shameful way of closing an already terrible article on personality disorders.
People who write things like that, and those who read and believe them, forget that they are also human and have many flaws themselves! Nobody is perfect. You don’t have to have a personality disorder to have ‘undesirable qualities’….
Many people have these character traits:
… And yet they will never be diagnosed with a personality disorder. This is just who they are. These are the qualities they possess. Yet those with BPD are singled out by this article, as though we’re the only ones with ‘flaws’.
Let me put this bluntly, I would rather BE an attention-seeking, needy, impulsive, self-absorbed young woman who inflicts violence on herself, who is also kind, gentle, loving, tolerant, understanding, honest and respectful… than to be like some of the ‘normal’ people out there, who lie, cheat, steal, are aggressive towards others, arrogant, superficial, selfish, rude, nasty, inconsiderate, intolerant, narrow-minded and judge people like ME for being who I am. You know what, I am a more decent person than 90% of the ‘normal’ ones out there. And the same can be said for anyone with BPD.
We are the some of the loveliest people you will ever meet in your life. We care about others. We have a lot of love to give. We are funny, intelligent, warm, giving, honest, trustworthy, creative people, and we would never want to hurt anyone else, because we know too well what it feels like to be hurt and abandoned by those we’ve loved and cared about. We would give you the world if you’d let us. Unfortunately as is the case with me, some of us fall in with the wrong people, who treat us poorly and bring out the negative sides, and make us forget our positive sides, and make us feel we’re unworthy of love and friendship.
We’re not monsters. We’re soldiers. Wounded soldiers. And we deserve respect and support. We are fighting our hardest to fit in with society, and it would be good if you could help us to do that, rather than trying to alienate us and undo all the hard work we’re doing, to have a better quality of life like the rest of you. You just don’t know how close to the edge some of us are, and how hard we battle every day just to function like you. Cut us some slack please and stop trying to make us feel bad for having a mental illness. We’re BPD warriors… we fight the hardest to get well and stay well… harder than you will ever have to fight in your lifetime. We should be proud of ourselves for not only having to defeat the demons within us, but also the ones on the outside, trying to bring about our demise.