Borderline personality disorder is often misunderstood. It’s time to change that.
Borderline personality disorder — sometimes known as emotionally unstable personality disorder — is a personality disorder which affects how you think and feel about yourself and others.
People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often have a strong fear of abandonment, struggle to maintain healthy relationships, have very intense emotions, act impulsively, and may even experience paranoia and dissociation.
It can be a scary illness to live with, which is why it’s so important that people with BPD are surrounded by people who can understand and support them. But it’s also an incredibly stigmatized illness.
Due to an abundant of misconceptions around it, many people with the disorder feel scared to speak out about living with it.
But we want to change that.
That’s why I reached out and asked people with BPD to tell us what they want other people to know about living with the condition. Here are seven of their powerful responses.
1. ‘We’re scared you’re going to leave, even when things are good. And we hate it too.’
One of the biggest symptoms of BPD is fear of abandonment and this can occur even when things in the relationship seem to be going well.
There’s this pervasive fear that people will leave us, or that we aren’t good enough for that person — and even if it seems irrational to others, it can feel very real to the person who’s struggling.
Someone with BPD would do anything to stop that from happening, which is why they may come across as being “clingy” or “needy.” Though it can be difficult to empathize with, remember that it stems from a place of fear, which can be incredibly hard to live with.
2. ‘It feels like going through life with third-degree emotional burns; everything is hot and painful to touch.’
This person says it exactly right — people with BPD have very intense emotions that can last from a few hours to even a few days, and can change very quickly.
For example, we can go from feeling very happy to suddenly feeling very low and sad. Sometimes having BPD is like walking on eggshells around yourself — we never know which way our mood is going to go, and sometimes it’s hard to control.
Even if we seem “overly-sensitive,” remember that it’s not always within our control.
3. ‘Everything is felt more intensely: good, bad, or otherwise. Our reaction to such feelings may seem out of proportion, but it’s appropriate in our minds.’
Having BPD can be very intense, as though we’re vacillating between extremes. This can be exhausting for both us and for the people around us.
But it’s important to remember that everything the person with BPD is thinking is more than appropriate in their mind at that time. So please don’t tell us we’re being silly or make us feel as though our feelings aren’t valid.
It may take them time to reflect on our thoughts — but in the moment things can feel scary as hell. This means not judging and giving space and time where it’s warranted.
4. ‘I don’t have multiple personalities.’
Due to it being a personality disorder, BPD is often confused with someone having dissociative identity disorder, where people develop multiple personalities.
But this isn’t the case at all. People with BPD don’t have more than one personality. BPD is a personality disorder in which you have difficulties with how you think and feel about yourself and other people, and are having problems in your life as a result of this.
That doesn’t mean that dissociative identity disorder should be stigmatized, either, but it certainly shouldn’t be confused with another disorder.
5. ‘We aren’t dangerous or manipulative… [we] just need a little bit of extra love.’
There’s still a huge stigma surrounding BPD. Many people still believe that those living with it can be manipulative or dangerous due to their symptoms.
While this can be the case in a very small minority of people, most people with BPD are just struggling with their sense of self and their relationships.
It’s important to note that we’re not dangerous people. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than they are others.
6. ‘It’s exhausting and frustrating. And it’s really hard to find quality, affordable treatment.’
Many people with BPD are untreated, but not because they’re unwilling. It’s because this mental illness isn’t treated like many others.
For one, BPD isn’t treated with medication. It can only be treated with therapy, such as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There are no drugs known to be effective for treating BPD (though sometimes medications are used off-label to relieve symptoms).
It’s also true that due to stigma, some clinicians assume people with BPD will be difficult patients, and as such, it can be difficult to find effective treatment.
Many people with BPD can benefit from intensive DBT programs, but these aren’t the easiest to access. Which is to say, if someone with BPD isn’t “getting better,” don’t be quick to blame them — getting help is hard enough on its own.
7. ‘We aren’t unlovable and we love big.’
People with BPD have a lot of love to give, so much that it can be overwhelming.
Relationships can feel like a whirlwind at times, because when someone with BPD — especially those grappling with chronic feelings of emptiness or loneliness — makes a real connection, the rush can be just as intense as any other emotion they experience.
This can make being in a relationship with someone with BPD difficult, but it also means that this is a person that has so much love to offer. They just want to know that their feelings are returned, and may need a little more reassurance to ensure that the relationship is still fulfilling for you both.
If you’re in a relationship or have a loved one with BPD, it’s important to do your research into the condition, and be wary of the stereotypes you may come across
Chances are, if you read something about borderline personality disorder that you wouldn’t want said about you, a person with BPD won’t benefit from having that assumed about them, either.
Working to gain a compassionate understanding of what they’re going through, and how you can help both your loved one and yourself cope, can make or break a relationship.
If you feel like you need some extra support, open up to someone about how you’re feeling — bonus points if it’s a therapist or clinician! — so they can offer you some support and tips on how to improve your own mental well-being.
Remember, the best support for your loved one comes from taking the best possible care of you.
Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and to encourage others to speak out.