Recently, I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Mostly because I have had the opportunity to make friends with someone who was once BPD but no longer has the disorder. I have been fortunate to learn about borderline from someone who once had it. I have found this to be highly beneficial because I generally find the therapy and psychology community to have a lack of understanding about BPD. Learning more about it from my colleagues was usually a dead end. After awhile I became the so called “expert” and I was starting to be the one that was approached by my colleagues. But after learning what I have learned about BPD, I realized that I, along with most of the other therapists that I knew, were wrong about BPD. People with BPD are extremely misunderstood. Their behaviors and words are taken at a face value and they are quickly written off as crazy. Here are 5 things that has come as a surprise to me about BPD.
- People with BPD are very down on themselves – This came as a surprise to me because so many of them seem so strong in their frame. It’s not that I believed that they were big fans of themselves, it was more like that I believed that they lacked the personal insight to get an accurate measurement on how they feel about themselves. What I have learned is that people with BPD have extremely low self-esteem and are far harder on themselves than any of us could ever be. I understand and accept that at face value, this does not seem to be true but as I have been able to work with people that have BPD and bypass some of their defenses, I find a person who is extremely down and hard on themselves.
- People with BPD don’t enjoy hurting other people – To my surprise, I have learned that people with BPD are sometimes aware that they are hurting other people and sometimes they have no idea that they are hurting other people. When they do hurt other people, they become extremely hard on themselves. I know what you may be thinking, it’s what I used to think: But so many people with BPD are hurtful people. They are mean, rude and selfish. But being a jerk isn’t a part of the DSM diagnosis. Being a jerk, being mean and being hurtful isn’t BPD; it’s being a jerk and that happens everyday with all kinds of people, BPD or not.
- They probably aren’t deliberately attacking you – If they are calling you names or telling you that they hate you then yes, they are attacking you. But what I have been surprised to learn is that often their attempts to explain things and their attempts to be understood are seen as an attack when they are just trying to be understood and trying to communicate. They express fear and anxiety and it’s usually seen as a personal attack. I have simply starting asking them if they mean what they are saying as an attack. They usually respond with surprise and realize that other people see their words and actions as an attack when that is not their intention. People with BPD are usually around people who are actually very sensitive to emotions, especially anger, and criticism.
- People with BPD are extremely lonely – Imagine that nobody understood you, at all. They stayed at a distance from you because they found you to be confusing, strange or highly emotional. Imagine that even the people that you loved the most had no idea how you really felt. Imagine that they told you that they knew how you felt when clearly they didn’t and your attempts to be understood were shut down and dismissed. Imagine that you felt like you were the only person on the planet that experienced high levels of intense emotions and instead everyone just told you that you were crazy. How would that make you feel? You would probably question your own sanity and desperately try to fit or blend in. This is the life of the borderline. I was surprised to learn that a big part of their disorder is feeling completely isolated and misunderstood. People with BPD are some of the most lonely people that you will ever encounter. I believe that BPD is a disorder of empathy. They don’t feel it from others and are unable to give it to others and in a sense actually does create a certain type of crazy. The type of crazy that you might feel if you were surrounded by people and totally isolated which I believe is something that all of us can relate to.
- They are a lot more afraid of you than you are of them – People are afraid of borderlines. Therapists included. Some therapists are quite afraid of telling a borderline that they are borderline. I even once heard a story about a borderline that ran over to the therapist’s desk and pushed everything off and onto the floor. Phone, computer, everything. And while, yes, things can trigger a borderline into rage and they can lose control, I have been surprised to learn that they are actually very afraid. I frequently get asked what they are afraid of, the answer is everything. They are afraid to be close to you, they are afraid to be away from you. They afraid of trying, they are afraid of not trying. They are afraid of being judged, they are afraid of being completely rejected by everyone. That fear creates heavy defensiveness and resistance. That fear is intense; most of the time they barely manage it.
BPD is truly a very complicated disorder and one that we still have a lot to learn about. What I do know is that people with BPD need and deserve help, just as much as anyone. They are worth it, they are worth helping and they are worth saving. People with BPD have a hard time telling people about what it’s like because they are also confused and so full of emotion that they don’t know which way is up. I just know that I am not ready to give up on them.
**If you or someone that you love has BPD you can read some of my other articles to increase your understanding. I am also offering a therapeutic support group for people with BPD and if you are interested in attending, feel free to contact me to check for availability.