7 Common Myths About Borderline Personality Disorder

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Despite its prevalence, many people have never of BPD. And like all complicated phenomena, myths about Borderline Personality Disorder abound.
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Last Updated on February 12, 2022 by Randy Withers, LCMHC

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is one of ten personality disorders recognized in the DSM 5, which is the manual mental health clinicians use to make diagnoses. Of the ten, BPD is the most common, and in some ways more debilitating than the others.

Despite its prevalence, many people have never even heard of it. And like all complicated phenomena, myths about Borderline Personality Disorder abound.

And like all the other personality disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is often misunderstood and rife with stigma. Humans innately fear that which they don’t understand. Pair that with the prevalence of mental health misdiagnoses, and many people with BPD struggle to get the support they need.

7 Common Myths About Borderline Personality Disorder
7 Common Myths About Borderline Personality Disorder

Myths About Borderline Personality Disorder 

The first step to understanding the nuances and complexities of BPD is to address the mistruths that run rampant about it in society. Here are some common myths about BPD and the truths about this complicated and fascinating personality disorder.

Myth: Borderline Personality Disorder Isn’t Real

One of the most common misconceptions about BPD is doubt of its existence. This disbelief stems from some of the common characteristics of the disorder, which seem generalized and typical in many people. 

Those with BPD experience an intense fear of abandonment and often romanticize people or relationships. These feelings lead to emotional dysregulation, which can present as anger and sadness. When people hear about these symptoms, it’s common to think, “Who hasn’t felt that way?” 

The difference between someone who doesn’t have BPD who experiences these feelings is the intensity. When you have BPD, these feelings dramatically impact your daily life to the point where they can have long-lasting debilitative effects on your relationships, job, and self-esteem. 

Similarly, many people who fear abandonment or poor self-worth can often relate those feelings to a triggering experience — a parent who leaves or a bad breakup. With BPD, there’s not necessarily a root cause of the problem; it’s ingrained in the individual’s psyche.

BPD is very real, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it affects 1.6% of adults in America. Personally, I suspect the actual percentage is much higher. One reason for this is that many therapists are uncomfortable diagnosing their clients with personality disorders, and many more who suffer from BPD never seek help for it.

Myth: Borderline Personality Disorder Can’t be Treated

Another common myth about BPD and personality disorders, in general, is that they can’t be treated. While a personality disorder is a lifelong experience with no cure, there are several Personality Disorder Treatment options for symptom management and emotional processing. These options range from therapeutic support to medications. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is considered the gold standard in treating Borderline Personality Disorder. It has been well-researched and is often applied in both group and individual therapy sessions. 

While treatment can help people with BPD and other personality orders overcome challenges, it’s not a quick-fix situation. There will be ups and downs, periods of recovery and relapse, and struggles along the way. It’s important to understand that the goal of treatment isn’t to fix something. People with BPD aren’t broken; they just process things differently.

Myth: People with BPD Can’t Lead Normal Lives

While it’s true that BPD can have a debilitating effect on the affected individual, it’s not true that they can’t eventually lead normal lives. Treatment options help BPD patients recognize their triggers and use coping skills to work through them, while minimizing the impact on their relationships and well-being. 

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Living with BPD is like living with diabetes or any other chronic illness. There are extra steps to take regarding self-care and symptom management, but normal is a subjective term that can be redefined to create a meaningful, fulfilling life. 

Myth: People with BPD Are Manipulative

People with BPD sometimes engage in emotional manipulation in a wrongful attempt to protect themselves. For example, a fear of abandonment can result in taking toxic actions to make someone stay with them. 

Like any human, people with BPD make mistakes. However, they aren’t inherently manipulative. If you’ve met one person with BPD, don’t let your experience with them shape your biases around the disorder. Someone undergoing treatment could have a different response than someone who doesn’t have support. Different people have unique experiences with the disorder, which shapes their behavior.

Someone with BPD may engage in manipulation, but it’s important to understand that these actions aren’t rooted in malicious intent and that not everyone with BPD is the same.

Myth: People With BPD Are Dangerous

One of the most pervasive stigmas surrounding personality disorders is the belief that someone with a personality disorder is dangerous. This mindset tends to gravitate toward personality disorders like schizophrenia and is perpetuated by news stories and Hollywood depictions.

In reality, only 3% to 5% of violent acts are directly related to individuals experiencing a serious mental illness — and that’s a large umbrella that includes more than personality disorders. Additionally, people experiencing mental illness are more than 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crimes. 

Unfortunately, people with BPD are more likely to engage in destructive behavior than someone without a personality disorder. However, those actions tend to be directed at themselves rather than others. 

Myth: People With BPD Experienced Childhood Trauma

While people who experience childhood trauma are more likely to develop personality disorders, it’s not always the case. There are many people with BPD who didn’t experience trauma in their past and many people who have experienced trauma who never develop a personality disorder.

There is a correlation between past trauma and BPD. However, there are also links to abnormalities in the parts of the brain that deal with emotional regulation and chemical imbalances of serotonin and dopamine. 

If you think you or someone you care about is exhibiting signs of BPD, but you put off seeking support because there’s a lack of past trauma, it’s time to reach out.

Nine Myths about Borderline Personality Disorder. Courtesy, YouTube.

Myth: People With BPD Are Narcissists

Another common misconception about people with BPD is that they are narcissists. Narcissism, in the truest sense, is another personality disorder adjacent to BPD and often leads to a misdiagnosis. 

Personality disorders are categorized into clusters based on the behaviors associated with them. Cluster A personality disorders include various forms of schizophrenia and paranoid personality disorder and are associated with untypical or eccentric thought patterns. 

Cluster B personality disorders include BPD, narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. This cluster is categorized by extreme emotional dysregulation and unpredictable behaviors.

Finally, Cluster C personality disorders are categorized by anxious and fearful thought patterns. This category includes OCD, avoidant personality disorder, and others.

The nature of these clusters means there are behavioral similarities between BPD and NPD that often lead to misidentification. The key thing to remember is that people with BPD have a deficient sense of self-worth, while people with NPD have an unrealistically high sense of self-importance.

Final Thoughts

While societal views around mental illness have evolved, there’s still an abundance of fear and misinformation. BPD is still largely misunderstood and often generalized. Yet, with care and compassion, people with BPD can get the psychological and medicinal support they need to lead happy, engaged lives. 

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If you’re experiencing BPD either directly or through a loved one, take the time to research facts about this disorder and help dispel the myths surrounding it.

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Randy Withers, LCMHC

Randy Withers, LCMHC is a Board-Certified and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor at a private practice in North Carolina where he specializes in co-occurring disorders. He has masters degrees in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Lenoir-Rhyne University and Education from Florida State University, and is the managing editor of Blunt Therapy. He writes about mental health, therapy, and addictions. In his spare time, you can find him watching reruns of Star Trek: TNG with his dog. Connect with him on LinkedIn. You can also see what he writes about on Medium.

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