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  • Writer's pictureMartha Witkowski

Borderline Personality Disorder: Let's End the Stigma



What is BPD?

Borderline personality disorder or BPD, is a personality disorder that is classified by an individual who fears abandonment and goes to extreme lengths to avoid perceived forms of abandonment. These individuals generally struggle with identity and sense of self and often times find themselves engaging in self-harm or other reckless behaviors. A person with BPD has a pattern of unstable behaviors over a period of time, and has a very difficult time maintaining healthy and stable relationships which are usually riddled with manipulation, conflict, victim play, a lack of boundaries, and at times abuse. Borderline personality disorder develops in response to trauma. Generally speaking, individuals with borderline personality disorder lack in insight to their behaviors and can present as unstable and predictably unpredictable.


Why is there stigma around BPD?

People with BPD are stereotyped as being dramatic and overly sensitive and are often told they should just “get over” whatever it is that is bothering them. The problem is the perceived notion that a person with BPD is finding themselves in a state of mind where they are in control of their emotions and behaviors, which is often not the case.


Another stigma comes from the fact that individuals with BPD do create states of conflict as a result of their perception of perceived abandonment. An example of this is when an individual with BPD feels left out and acts passive aggressively or even abusively in response to feeling this way. This type of behavior can cause others to in turn, actually abandon them or put distance between them and these individuals. It can be very difficult to continue to associate with someone who is appears to be constantly creating chaos and a feeling of instability. When someone with BPD gets triggered, chaos usually follows.


Unfortunately, this stigma is largely seen across the board in professional settings as well. Research has shown that doctors, psychiatrists and therapists also commonly have this stigma, along with the stigma of believing that individuals with BPD are unable to make improvements or get better or that they are in other words, “lost causes”. This is unfortunate, since therapy is the exact setting in which these i


What does C-PTSD have to do with this?

Complex PTSD or C-PTSD is a disorder that is in response to trauma that occurs over a long period of time. The most common form of this being childhood trauma or abuse. In our practice, we see this most often with adults who had parents that were emotionally absent or neglectful in childhood. When we are talking about C-PTSD we are generally talking about 4 different “F-types” which include Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn. These 4 F-types are different ways that a person usually presents when they are emotionally triggered by something and in an emotional flashback. An example of this behavior is a person who finds themselves in a relationship with an individual who is an alcoholic after having suffered a lifetime of having an absent and alcoholic parent. Perhaps a situation occurs where this partner shows avoidant behavior and the individual with C-PTSD responds in 1 of 4 ways depending on their F-type:


  1.  Fight- they argue with their partner and yell at them, telling them how they never live up to expectations and probably don’t even love them.

  2. Flight- they decide they do not have time to deal with this behavior and instead pack their schedule full of “productive” activities to in turn distract themselves

  3. Freeze- they are unable to face the potential conflict that confronting their partner might cause so instead they zone out with some particular behavior (perhaps drinking, binge eating, or playing excessive video games)

  4. Fawn- they act in a codependent manner and try to people please until they are able to “win their partner over”


If you know anything about borderline personality disorder, or, perhaps you know an individual with a confirmed or suspected case of BPD, some of these potential outcomes may sound familiar to you.


In other words, an individual with BPD is responding to their trauma triggers, much like a person with C-PTSD is responding to their trauma triggers.

The stereotypical BPD "I hate you, don't leave me", going from extremes of loving and hating the people in their life- this happens when a trauma trigger occurs.


It is my professional opinion that every individual with BPD has complex trauma and that what differentiates a person from having a true BPD diagnosis from a C-PTSD diagnosis with BPD traits is that they lack entirely in insight to their own traumas or behaviors. This may look something like a person with BPD stating that they actually did not have any childhood trauma and instead they are simply responding to the behaviors/choices of those around them (victim playing).


What about Narcisstic Personality disorder?

Yep, same thing and same stigma. A personality disorder is not something an individual is born with. Trauma is what causes a person to ultimately develop into a pattern of behavior that is at this level of maladaptive. Many individuals with borderline traits also have traits of narcissism, which is another reason for stigma. By nature of their illness, they generally treat others in ways that push them away from being able to connect. In both instances, these are trauma responses. What separates a borderline person from a narcissistic one is this: a narcissist individual lacks in empathy while a borderline one has extreme empathy. A narcissist may, on the surface, feel nothing when manipulating and abusing someone. The borderline individual on the other hand may scream, yell and sob while getting their point across because they truly feel unable to handle the level of emotions they are experiencing as result of the conflict present.


What separates a person from having insight versus none is level of shame. When we are too shameful we are unable to face our traumas and therefore engage in the healing necessary to face ourselves. This can be the line between someone having a personality disorder and having C-PTSD. This is why having a safe environment for processing and healing is crucial.

Takeaway

If you're here because you have loved one with a personality disorder - I know, it can be very hard to practice compassion, regardless of whether or not the reason for it was their mental health. However, a person who causes C-PTSD (for example, a personality disorder parent, or partner) is also an individual who suffered through C-PTSD and perhaps did not have the right healing resources. Understanding this is an important part of having a fuller understanding of our own stories in relations to others. It is also an important part of us having a better understanding of ourselves and being on a continuum of behavior in relation to others. While we all feel we would never act poorly towards others, sometimes, in the midst of a trauma trigger it is easy to lose sight of this.


It is important to remove mental health stigma so that we can have safer spaces for healing. This is one thing we can do to help decrease shame. It is only through decreasing shame that insight, healing and then growth can have room. Through this relationships can become much healthier and more stable.


Healing is a long process. We can help this process begin by removing stigma to create a world where less people are hurting others because of their trauma and their fear of facing themselves and what they have been through. The end game is the same in all instances. We all need a safe space for our inner child to grow and heal.


 

At Root Counseling, we specialize in C-PTSD and personality disorders. We believe in creating a safe space free of shame where you can grow and heal. To schedule an appointment with one of our therapists, you can visit our website here. 

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