My last post mentioned the fact of constant misconceptions of people with Borderline Personality Disorder. I mentioned a number of articles, but I want to speak to one in general that was extremely upsetting to me. This article appears on Forbes, a site I love to check out for business topics. It hits so many common misconceptions of BPD. And it is one of the first things Google recommends when you’re trying to research Borderline Personality Disorder in an office environment or leadership role.
Want to know the truth of BPD in the office? Here we go….
Wait, what? No, it doesn’t work that way. This is actually stated in both parts of the article, so let me clear this up. According to the National Allince on Mental Illness (NAMI), to be diagnosed with BPD you must have at least 5 of the following 9 symptoms:
- Frantic efforts to avoid being abandoned by friends and family.
- Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization—“I’m so in love!”—and devaluation—“I hate her.” This is also sometimes known as “splitting.”
- Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
- Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.
- Suicidal and self-harming behavior.
- Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
- Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
- Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity, or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes.
If you do not have at least 5 of these symptoms, you are not Borderline, not even a little. If you have some of these symptoms and they are of concern, then you may want to speak with your doctor or therapist about the possibility of a different mental illness. If you have none of them but have extreme moods during difficult times, then guess what, you’re human and alive. Congratulations.
Misconception #2 – Categorizing people with BPD
Comaford actually pulls these 4 categories from the book “Understanding the Borderline Mother” by Christine Lawson. I have not read the book so cannot speak to it. But the Forbes article describes the same categories. The Waif, the Hermit, the Queen/King, and the Witch/Warlock.
Yes, I took the quiz at the end, no I do not fit a single category. Everyone has their own path, their own personality, there own knowledge and experience, and therefore their own reaction to mental illness. My borderline is not the same as yours. People with any form of mental illness, or even physical illness for that matter, do not fit into a nice little category. Sorry to burst your bubble.
Misconception #3 – “true borderlines are not capable of deep long-term relationships and cannot be present during intense emotion”
That is a direct quote from the article. The entire sentence is wrong on so many levels. First, I am a person WITH borderline, not a “borderline”. My diagnosis doesn’t define me. Second, eliminate the word “true”. As established earlier, you either do or do not have BPD, there is no middle ground.
Third, why are relationships being completely ruled out here? I have been married for 10 years. I have had my best friend in my life for 29 years. I am close to both of my children, neither of whom notice my mental illness. Does that mean I’m not “true borderline” despite having 8 of the 9 symptoms listed above?
Fourth, yes someone with BPD can be present during intense emotion. In fact our whole brain is essentially intense emotion. So not even sure what that means.
Misconception #4 – Narcissism and BPD are the same thing
This is the most common misconception I hear. So let me set this straight. According to the Mayo Clinic, most experts diagnos Narcissistic Personality Disorder using the DSM-5 which lists the following qualities:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
- Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
- Exaggerating your achievements and talents
- Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
- Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
- Requiring constant admiration
- Having a sense of entitlement
- Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
- Taking advantage of others to get what you want
- Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
- Being envious of others and believing others envy you
- Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
Now compare this to the diagnostic list above for BPD and tell me how many traits match between the two…I’ll give you a hint, the answer is 0.
Misconception #5 – A “borderline” is just someone to be dealt with
Having BPD does not magically make me an issue in your life that must be dealt with. I can understand where this comes from as BPD is difficult to diagnose and treat. It can therefore become more visible and disruptive than some other disorders. However this is changing. The American Psychology Association discusses how the use of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has gone a long way to helping people with BPD seek treatment, and stick with treatment. More and more people are succeeding because they have worked hard to stay high functioning despite their illness.
I have spoken to the concept of “dealing” with a boss with BPD before as that has always been the most common search term that brings people to this blog. But the fact is there are so many people with Borderline getting treatment. There are so many whom you would never know have this diagnosis. And you are not just “dealing” with them. They are your friends, family, coworkers, classmates, and you enjoy time with them having no idea the daily internal battle of their mind.
I hope this article cleared up some of the misconceptions. I also ask that you please share this article. When someone with BPD does a google search similar to mine, I want what they see to be truth and hope, not Forbes articles spreading lies and confusion.
I have spent a great deal of time crying because I “can’t” be successful because of statements like those above. To anyone out there who has shed those same tears, I want you to know you are not alone, you are not hopeless, you are not just someone to be dealt with. You are an amazing human being who is incredibly strong as you have to fight your own brain every day. You are treatable, and have every chance to be successful. You can have stable relationships and good jobs. You are worth that success and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.