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Debunking Common Myths Surrounding Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental health condition that, according to statistics published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), affects approximately 1% of the general UK population, 20% of psychiatric in-patients and up to 23% of the prison population.

There are a huge number of potentially damaging misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding BPD. These misconceptions can lead to stigma, misunderstanding and barriers to seeking help for those affected. Myths and misconceptions can also have a serious negative impact on the mental health and overall well-being of a person with BPD.

It is, therefore, essential to debunk these myths and promote empathy, understanding and support for individuals with BPD. Today, we are going to look at some of the most common myths surrounding borderline personality disorder.

Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder (Brief Overview)

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition, specifically a personality disorder, that affects how an individual interacts with others. It is characterised by:

  • Patterns of instability in mood, also known as affective dysregulation.
  • Disturbed patterns of thought or perceptions, also known as cognitive distortions and perceptual distortions.
  • Intense and unstable relationships with others.
  • Difficulties with self-image and self-identity.
  • Impulsive behaviour.

Individuals with BPD often experience emotional turmoil and struggle with regulating their emotions. Someone with BPD may experience intense negative emotions, such as extreme anger, sadness, shame, panic and fear or persistent feelings of emptiness and loneliness. Severe mood swings and emotional instability can lead to impulsive actions, unstable relationships with others and difficulties maintaining a consistent sense of self. Individuals with BPD may find it challenging to navigate their daily lives due to these difficulties. Low self-esteem, fear of rejection or criticism and struggles in relationships, education and employment are common features of BPD.

Managing emotions can be especially difficult for individuals with BPD, leading to impulsivity and involvement in high-risk or self-injurious behaviours, such as self-harm or irresponsible behaviour such as binge drinking alcohol, spending excessively or speeding.

Many people with BPD also experience distorted or disturbed patterns of thinking, for example:

  • Difficulties in the way they think about themselves and other people.
  • Negative thoughts, such as thinking you are a terrible person or that everyone hates you.
  • Feeling like you don’t exist.
  • Brief abnormal experiences, such as hearing voices for a short time. For some people, these voices give instructions to harm themself or someone else.
  • Prolonged abnormal experiences, such as auditory hallucinations.
  • Distressing beliefs with no basis in reality.

BPD can range in severity, from mild to severe, and the symptoms can have a significant impact on various aspects of an individual’s life. In particular, distorted self-perception and unstable relationships with others can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and can lead to elevated anxiety, depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts.

The symptoms of BPD typically emerge during adolescence and persist into adulthood and many people with BPD also experience other mental health difficulties or behavioural issues, such as alcohol or substance abuse, eating disorders and depression.

Borderline personality disorder may also be referred to as:

  • Emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD).
  • Emotional intensity disorder (EID).
  • Borderline pattern personality disorder.
Anxious young women

Identifying Common Myths

Identifying and addressing common myths and misconceptions about borderline personality disorder (BPD) is essential for reducing the stigma around the condition.

Some of the common myths surrounding BPD include:

Myth: People with BPD are manipulative.

One common misconception is that individuals with BPD intentionally manipulate others to get their way. However, the ‘manipulative behaviours’ often associated with BPD are typically rooted in the person’s attempts to cope with intense emotional distress rather than deliberate manipulation.

Myth: People with BPD are attention-seeking.

Some people believe that individuals with BPD crave attention and engage in dramatic behaviours solely for attention. In reality, these behaviours often stem from a deep-seated fear of abandonment and a desperate attempt to maintain relationships, rather than a desire for attention. Extreme behaviour can also occur because the individual is experiencing intense emotions and distorted thinking.

Myth: There is no treatment for BPD.

Some people believe that BPD is an untreatable condition, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness for those diagnosed and their loved ones. However, numerous evidence-based therapies, such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Schema Therapy, have shown effectiveness in treating BPD and helping individuals manage their symptoms.

Myth: BPD affects everyone in the same way.

Another misconception is that everyone with BPD displays the same symptoms and behaviours. In reality, BPD manifests differently in each individual and symptoms can vary widely in how they present and their severity. It is essential to recognise the unique experiences and challenges faced by each person with BPD.

Myth: BPD only affects women.

There is a stereotype that BPD predominantly affects women. In reality, diagnosis rates show that men make up 25% of BPD diagnoses and some research suggests that although diagnosis rates differ, BPD may occur in both men and women at similar rates. However, the presentation of BPD symptoms may differ between genders, leading to a lack of diagnosis or misdiagnosis in men. This myth can be harmful as it can create a stigma surrounding BPD in men, which can make some men more reluctant to seek a diagnosis.

Myth: BPD is rare.

BPD is less well-known compared to other mental health conditions and this has led to many people believing that it is a rarely occurring disorder. However, in reality, approximately 1% of people are diagnosed with BPD, equating to up to 600,000 people in the UK.

Debunking Myths with Facts

Below, we are going to debunk some of the most common myths surrounding borderline personality disorder.

Myth: People with BPD are manipulative.

Reality: While individuals with BPD may exhibit behaviours that appear manipulative to people with little knowledge of the disorder, their actions often stem from their struggle to regulate their emotions and cope with distress. Research has shown that individuals with BPD are more likely to engage in self-harming behaviours as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions, rather than as a means of manipulation. Many individuals with BPD experience feelings of guilt and shame after engaging in behaviours that others may perceive as manipulative, indicating that their actions are not intentional but are instead driven by internal turmoil. Improved education surrounding BPD is necessary to remove the manipulative label.

Myth: People with BPD are attention-seeking.

Reality: Individuals with BPD may exhibit attention-seeking behaviours, but these actions are often driven by underlying emotional distress and a fear of abandonment rather than a desire for attention. Research indicates that individuals with BPD have heightened sensitivity to social cues and are more attuned to perceived threats of rejection or abandonment, leading to behaviours that may appear attention-seeking. For example, someone with BPD may constantly reach out to friends for reassurance and may act out when they feel insecure in their relationships. However, this is not attention-seeking but may, instead, be connected to their fear of abandonment, their cognitive distortion and their previous unstable relationships with others. Attention-seeking behaviours are often a manifestation of unmet emotional needs and a coping mechanism to alleviate feelings of emptiness and loneliness.

Myth: BPD is untreatable.

Reality: Many people confuse ‘treatment’ and ‘cure’. Although BPD cannot be ‘cured’, treatment can help to significantly improve symptoms, help the person to function in everyday life and improve their quality of life. In reality, there are multiple effective treatment options available for BPD.

The Impact of Myths and Stigma

Myths and stereotypes surrounding borderline personality disorder (BPD) can have a significant detrimental effect on individuals living with the condition and their family members as well as broader implications for mental health care and society as a whole.

The impact of BPD myths and stigma can include:

  • Negative self-perception
    Myths surrounding BPD can portray the individual as being manipulative and attention-seeking and can result in internalised stigma and negative self-perceptions. Someone with BPD may internalise negative stereotypes which can lead to feelings of shame, guilt and low self-esteem, which can worsen their emotional distress and negatively affect their mental health.
  • Create barriers to seeking help
    The stigma surrounding BPD can deter someone from seeking help from family and friends or from medical professionals. Fear of judgement or rejection may prevent individuals from reaching out to mental health professionals and pursuing a diagnosis or treatment. For example, the myth that BPD is only diagnosed in women can prevent men from seeking professional help. This delay in seeking help can exacerbate symptoms and lead to more negative outcomes in the long term.
  • Social exclusion and increased discrimination
    Stigmatising attitudes towards BPD can contribute to social exclusion and discrimination against individuals with the condition. Negative stereotypes can lead to rejection or marginalisation in various aspects of life, including employment, education and relationships. This can further isolate individuals with BPD and increase feelings of alienation and loneliness.
  • Negative impact on policies and funding
    The stigma surrounding BPD can influence public perceptions and attitudes towards mental health issues, which can affect government decisions surrounding policies and resource and funding allocation. Misconceptions about BPD may result in underfunding of mental health services, limited access to specialised treatment programmes and insufficient support for people living with BPD. This can create barriers to recovery and well-being.

Although it can be difficult to speak out against negative stereotypes, it is important to remember that stigma often comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding. If you feel comfortable doing so, speaking out against negative myths and stereotypes can help to correct potentially damaging views surrounding BPD, particularly if the person perpetuating the myths is someone close to you.

However, you don’t have to be responsible for educating everybody and setting boundaries is important for protecting your own mental health and well-being. Walking away from situations where somebody is speaking negatively about BPD is always okay. 

The Importance of Awareness and Education

Awareness and education play an essential role in dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding borderline personality disorder (BPD). Awareness and education can be important for:

  • Correcting misinformation
    A lot of the myths and misconceptions about BPD occur because of misinformation and a lack of understanding. Awareness and education provide accurate information about BPD, its symptoms and its impact on a person’s life. Dispelling myths can promote a greater understanding of BPD.
  • Reducing stigma
    Stigma can occur because of negative stereotypes surrounding BPD. Misconceptions about BPD, such as the belief that individuals with the disorder are manipulative or untreatable, contribute to stigma and discrimination. Through education, we can challenge these stereotypes and humanise the experiences of those living with BPD, encouraging greater acceptance and support within society.
  • Encouraging help-seeking behaviours
    Stigma and myths surrounding BPD can discourage people from seeking help and support. By educating people about the availability of effective treatments and support services, individuals with BPD can be empowered to seek the help they need without the fear of negative attitudes or discrimination. Educating people about the benefits of early intervention and treatment can also encourage proactive approaches to mental health care and improve long-term outcomes.
  • Promoting empathy and understanding
    BPD is a complex condition that can be challenging to understand for those with no experience of it. Awareness and education initiatives provide insights into the lived experiences of individuals with BPD, helping to create greater empathy, compassion and respect for their struggles. Education can help to humanise the condition and create a more inclusive and supportive society.

Some of the recommended organisations for BPD education, awareness and support include:

  • Borderline Support UK CIC – Borderline Support is an organisation led by people affected by BPD. They offer peer support groups, training, information and family support.
  • Borderline Arts – Borderline Arts is a UK-based charity that uses the arts to raise awareness of BPD. They focus on educating people and removing the stigma of BPD by running awareness workshops, exhibitions and art, drama and music groups.
  • Rethink Mental Illness – Rethink Mental Illness offers advice and information for individuals with BPD and their carers. As well as offering support groups and carers hubs.
Giving a helping hand to someone need

Conclusion

In conclusion, borderline personality disorder is a complex mental health condition connected to many myths and misconceptions. Today, we have debunked some of the most common myths and stigma surrounding BPD, including that people with BPD are manipulative and attention-seeking and that BPD is an untreatable condition that only affects women.

Raising awareness and educating the public about BPD not only helps to reduce stigma but also encourages empathy, support and access to appropriate treatment for those affected by the condition. By challenging misconceptions and creating more understanding, we can create a more inclusive and compassionate society where individuals with BPD feel validated, supported and empowered to seek help and live fulfilling lives.

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About the author

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Nicole graduated with a First-Class Honours degree in Psychology in 2013. She works as a writer and editor and tries to combine all her passions - writing, education, and psychology. Outside of work, Nicole loves to travel, go to the beach, and drink a lot of coffee! She is currently training to climb Machu Picchu in Peru.



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