Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is an often misunderstood condition. To reduce the stigma around this complex condition, it’s important to separate the myths from the facts.
Historically, BPD has been linked with negative stereotypes. But as awareness increases around the intricacies of this condition, more people are understanding the truth of BPD.
Despite a lack of awareness around this condition, it’s surprisingly prevalent: Around
Because the condition is not widely discussed, it remains stigmatized, even among some mental health professionals. So myths have been allowed to prevail and lead to misunderstandings.
We’re here to put to rest some of the biggest falsehoods surrounding BPD.
BPD is a type of mental health condition that’s characterized by a list of symptoms outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) calls BPD emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD).
Myth: It’s just another name for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
“No, 100% not,” states Dr. Mark Silvert, consultant psychiatrist and medical director of The Blue Tree Clinic in London, United Kingdom. “BPD is not schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anything else.” While he notes that some symptoms, such as mood variation, also occur in conditions such as these, he clarifies that “they’re completely separate diagnoses.”
Thanks to this overlap, misdiagnosis of BPD is common, and it’s important to get a correct diagnosis to find appropriate and effective treatment.
“We all have symptoms of BPD. One of the signs is anger, and we all get angry sometimes. But it’s really how often you’re doing it, and how many of the symptoms you have, that define it.” As such, it’s important to see a psychiatrist to undergo a full assessment and receive an official diagnosis.
“[BPD is] a spectrum, like most things, of how mild, moderate, or severe it can be,” explains Dr. Silvert.
Myth: BPD is an adulthood condition
Although the DSM-5 states that a diagnosis can technically be made during adolescence, Silvert says that “you shouldn’t diagnose it until the personality is matured” at the age of 18.
However, “The illness can develop — and is developing — during childhood,” he adds. One study of BPD patients found over 60% experienced symptoms before turning 17 years old.
This is because, along with genetics, childhood trauma stemming from incidents such as bullying, domestic upset, or sexual abuse is believed to be the key player in the development of the condition.
“It’s not the case with everyone, but we do see high rates of [experienced] abuse in people with BPD,” Silvert notes. A person who has BPD is
Myth: Those with BPD can’t live full, well-rounded lives
This is absolutely not the case, says Silvert. As noted earlier, the severity of BPD varies from person to person, and seeking and engaging in the right therapy significantly improves your chances of getting better.
While people tend to focus on the negatives, Silvert suggests that those with BPD “think of the positive traits it also comes with: creativity, passion, and so on.”
Myth: Having BPD means you can’t maintain good relationships
Wrong. It is true that, if the individual with BPD is particularly sensitive to rejection or has a fear of abandonment, their relationships can be more unstable.
However, “That doesn’t mean you can’t have them or that they won’t be successful,” notes Silvert. So there’s no need to feel disheartened.
“Loads of my patients who have borderline personality disorder or who have recovered have great relationships.”
Myth: Women are much more likely to develop BPD
This is slightly less clear-cut. BPD has long been thought of as a condition that affects women more often, but some
BPD symptoms also tend to vary between men and women: Men are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors and angry outbursts, while women often experience higher levels of anxiety and intense fluctuations of emotions.
Myth: People with BPD are just attention seekers
This is an accusation regularly leveled at those with BPD, especially if they display self-harming tendencies or engage in negative behaviors such as substance misuse.
However, these actions are often a way of coping with difficult feelings and thoughts. They may also be a cry for help, rather than a form of “look-at-me” attention-seeking.
Myth: BPD can’t be treated
Good news: BPD definitely can be treated. “The quicker you deal with it the better,” advises Silvert. Though he notes that there’s no overnight fix.
DBT is a go-to treatment method for many mental health professionals. Research supports its usefulness in significantly reducing negative behaviors and hospital admission rates in people with BPD.
While medication is often recommended to help manage mental health conditions, this isn’t the case for BPD, as “no medication is approved,” Silvert notes.
However, medication is sometimes prescribed to help manage the symptoms of comorbid (simultaneously occurring) conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
Ultimately, “the main form of treatment is good therapy,” he adds.
Managing any mental health condition on a day-to-day basis can be challenging at times, but there are steps you can take to help make things easier if you’re living with BPD.
In addition to seeking help from a qualified psychiatrist who understands the disorder, Silvert recommends eating a healthy and nutritious diet, taking time to relax, and maintaining a good sleep schedule.
In fact, poor sleep is linked with increased impulsivity in those with BPD.
Meanwhile, mindful meditation has been shown to
If you’ve been diagnosed with BPD, Silvert also suggests taking time to “educate your family and friends [on the condition]. There are loads of good books like Stop Walking On Eggshells.” He also suggests offering advice on “how to cope with you when you’re experiencing an ‘episode.’”
With the right approach and support, BPD is a manageable condition that doesn’t have to dominate your life.
BPD was once thought to be untreatable, but research now shows that this isn’t the case. Rates of remission from symptoms vary, but some studies have found them to be as high as
There are also plenty of resources for those with BPD to learn more about the condition and find support, as well as help quell feelings of loneliness and isolation.
In addition to books, the National Education Alliance for BPD offers information, webinars, and courses for family and friends. The National Alliance on Mental Illness runs local support groups for those with mental health conditions.
To learn more about the stigma around BPD, you can check out the Psych Central’s Inside Mental Health podcast episode titled Stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder.
With better recognition and understanding, we can bust those myths about BPD once and for all.