There is a long-standing and highly unfair stigma towards people who have a mental illness. But perhaps the strongest of these is the one held against people who have borderline personality disorder. BPD is one of the most common mental illnesses– diagnosed in some 18 million people in the US alone. Yet BPD is also one of the most misunderstood mental disorders. It typically sounds like this: “people with BPD are manipulative”, “people with BPD act that way to get attention”, “people with BPD can’t be cured” Wrong, wrong and wrong.
The truth is that people with BPD feel intense emotional pain, pain that is as real as any physical pain. That pain, which arises from the deep psychological disturbances that underlie BPD, also fuels the myriad symptoms associated with the disorder. To hold that against any person is unfair and counter-productive. Would we say the same things about people who have cancer or diabetes? Of course not. We, as a society, appreciate that one’s physical illness is the result of aberrant genes and damaging environmental factors. The same is true for mental illnesses as well.
For a long time, many professionals held negative beliefs and attitudes about people with borderline traits. In fact, BPD was once referred to as “the leprosy of mental illness” because patients were so difficult to work with and never seemed to improve. As a result, many therapists avoided people with BPD, shuffling them out of their office as quickly as possible. Fortunately we now know more about the nature and causes of BPD and several psychotherapies and medications have given people the hope of achieving recovery and living a life worth living.