Originally published as a guest post at endthestigma.ie
A lot of people in today’s society are quite ignorant when it comes to understanding mental disorders. They develop an opinion based on the actions of the mentally ill individuals they encounter, and voice their thoughts with little interest in educating themselves on the symptoms and causes. As a result, all who are suffering from a mental disorder are stereotyped and left with a mark of disgrace.
Borderline personality disorder is one of the three most stigmatized mental disorders. It is even stigmatized by medical professionals. Individuals suffering from this disorder are often negatively viewed to be consciously manipulative, melodramatic, attention seeking and childish. These speculations are considerably misleading, and solely based on how a borderline individuals behaviour is perceived. Every action and reaction is a result of an individuals thoughts and feelings. So judging them by their behaviour is rather unsmart when you don’t understand their thought process and emotions.
Unlike “mentally healthy” people, those suffering from borderline personality disorder are unable to regulate their emotions due to brain abnormalities, childhood trauma or genetics. These three factors hinder the functioning of the areas of the mind that are responsible for emotional development. As a result, the mind of a borderline individual is frozen at the same stage of emotional intelligence as a young child. So similarly to a toddler, they cannot combine feelings of love and hate, have a hard time coping with stress, and are prone to having intense emotional outbursts. In other words, since a persons thoughts can be affected by their feelings (and vice versa), their resulting behaviour can be fueled by emotions instead of rational thoughts. As a borderline individual suffers from great emotional instability, their behaviour can be rather extreme, irrational and impulsive.
So are those suffering from borderline personality disorder really consciously manipulative, melodramatic, attention seeking and childish?
The answer is no.
When someone is consciously manipulative, they deliberately seek to control or influence another persons behaviour to get what they want. A borderline individual isn’t consciously manipulative. Their behaviour is not premeditated with the intention to influence anyone’s behaviour towards them. If anything, their behaviour is influenced by their need to be understood. While their reactions to others may look like they are being consciously manipulative, they just have no control over their emotional response and actually struggle to express themselves in a calm manner. The more they are misunderstood, the greater their emotional outbursts.
These emotional outbursts are not an exaggeration of how they are feeling. They really do internally feel the intense emotions they express. They are not melodramatic. A borderline individuals self-expression is true to how they feel, and they are suffering as a result. It is also important to understand their thought process. Their inability to merge contrasting emotions, such as love and hate, is actually a defense mechanism known as splitting. It results in unrealistic thoughts of objects, people, situations and self; characterised by idealization and devaluation. So it is common for them to view something or someone to be “all good” one moment, and “all bad” the next.
When a borderline individual devalues themself, they may express their self loathing through self mutilating behaviour. This behaviour is not a cry for attention, it is an unhealthy coping mechanism used to release or escape from their overwhelming emotions. Extreme emotions are not a cry for attention either. As stated earlier, those suffering from borderline personality disorder are emotionally unstable. Their extreme emotions are a result of this instability. Understand that they are not attention seeking.
One might assume all this behaviour is pretty childish. But remember, a borderline individual has not emotionally developed. Their emotional intelligence is like that of a young child. So while “childish” may be a correct term to use in that sense; a borderline individual is not behaving in a childish manner, as in silly and immature. Their child like behaviour is not deliberate like many people assume.
Ultimately, borderline personality disorder is a serious mental disorder. Those who are suffering from the disorder are highly sensitive and vulnerable. Their inability to regulate their emotions is crippling, and their irrational behaviour is not by choice. Instead of stigmatizing them with harsh and uncalled for labels, people should educate themselves to develop a true understanding. There is more to every individual suffering from borderline personality disorder. They are not defined by the mental disorder, it is not who they are. Stigmatizing all who suffer from this disorder just pushes them further and further away from the chance to gain a healthy sense of self.
It is time to end the stigma.