Eliminating The Stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder

May is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) awareness month. A little over half of individuals with BPD have also been shown to suffer with eating disorders. In a special blog post, ANAD Program Coordinator Jenn Jones shares her own experience with BDP.

A Difficult Diagnosis

Borderline Personality Disorder is one of the most stigmatized mental health disorders, even in the mental health field, and those who have been diagnosed with it have been subjected to a lot of judgment and negative opinions, often leading them to believe that they are broken and hopeless. It’s crucial to change the language we use and our beliefs around BPD and eliminate the stigma that surrounds it.

As someone who has experienced a lot of trauma and has been to countless mental health professionals, I can attest to the stigma that comes with being diagnosed with BPD. In my experience, therapists and clinicians can often judge their patients and make notes on their charts that describe them as “combative” or “dramatic,” without considering what may have caused these behaviors. The notes often leave out the strengths of the individual, leaving them feeling broken and hopeless.

My diagnosis of BPD was the most difficult of all the diagnoses I had received. Over time, I began to feel the weight that came with it, and the stigma associated with it. When I told people about my diagnosis, they often made assumptions about me and doubted that I would ever recover and heal, which left me feeling more hopeless than before.

However, I was fortunate enough to find a therapist who believed in me and taught me that I was NOT my diagnosis. She specialized in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based approach that began with the effort to treat BPD. With her support and DBT on my side, I began to find stability, and it made all the difference in the world.

Finding Support in Community

I eventually pursued a career in the mental health field and worked my way up the ladder. I was promoted, got my own office, and was invited to attend treatment team meetings, where I witnessed the stigma surrounding BPD firsthand. During one of these meetings, a therapist referred to someone as “a borderline,” and others agreed, saying that people with BPD were ‘manipulative’ and ‘difficult to work with’. As someone who was in recovery and had not disclosed my BPD diagnosis, I felt the stigma acutely. I spoke up and called for a change in language, but it was clear that the stigma was still present, even among mental health professionals.

This is the reality for those of us with BPD. The stigma that surrounds BPD affects not only the language we use, but also our beliefs and opinions about it. This is especially true for mental health professionals whose opinions seep into their work and affect their sessions with their patients.

As a Peer Recovery Support Specialist, part of my job is to inspire others through my story. However, I still hesitate to disclose my BPD diagnosis, fearing that my opinions will be seen as combative or non-compliant. I worry that my contributions will no longer be seen as constructive, but take on a different meaning and be filtered through my BPD diagnosis. This is the fear that people with BPD face every day, and it is crucial to change the beliefs and opinions surrounding this diagnosis.

I realized that my hesitation to disclose my diagnosis was perpetuating the stigma and shame surrounding BPD. By hiding my diagnosis, I was contributing to the idea that it was something to be ashamed of, something to hide. So, I decided to be more open about my diagnosis, not just in my personal life, but in my work as well. I started speaking openly about my experiences with BPD and how it has affected my life.  

To my surprise, the response was overwhelmingly positive. People came up to me after my presentations, thanking me for sharing my story and telling me that they had a loved one with BPD and now had a better understanding of what they were going through. I realized that by sharing my story, I was not only helping myself, but also helping to break down the stigma surrounding BPD and other diagnoses.

Another important aspect of recovery from BPD is the role of community in healing and connecting. The journey to recovery is not a solitary one, and people with BPD need the support of those around them. Community plays a critical role in the healing process, and it can come in many forms, such as support groups, therapy groups, or even a close friend or family member.

This experience taught me the importance of community in healing and connecting. It’s essential to have a support system, a group of people who understand what you’re going through and can offer you support and encouragement. For those with BPD, finding a supportive community can be especially challenging due to the stigma and misconceptions surrounding the disorder. But it’s not impossible.

One way to find a supportive community is through therapy. As I mentioned earlier, DBT has been shown to be an effective treatment for BPD, and many therapists who specialize in DBT also offer group therapy. Group therapy can be a great way to connect with others who are going through similar experiences and to learn new skills for managing BPD symptoms.

Resources to Know

There are some amazing organizations that offer resources, education, and support for individuals with BPD and their loved ones. Some examples of BPD advocacy organizations include the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD), the Treatment and Research Advancements National Association for Personality Disorder (TARA), and Emotions Matter, Inc.

In addition to finding community, it’s important for individuals with BPD to prioritize self-care and develop coping mechanisms. This can include activities such as exercise, mindfulness meditation, journaling, and other forms of self-expression. It’s also important to practice self-compassion and remind oneself that having a BPD diagnosis is not a personal failure.

One of the most important things we can do to eliminate the stigma surrounding BPD is to educate ourselves and others about the disorder. Many of the negative beliefs and misconceptions surrounding BPD stem from a lack of understanding and awareness. By educating ourselves and others, we can break down these barriers and create a more supportive and accepting environment for individuals with BPD.

As we celebrate BPD Awareness Month, let us commit to breaking down the stigma surrounding this disorder. Let us recognize the strength and resilience of individuals with BPD and work towards creating a more compassionate and understanding society. Let us promote education, awareness, and understanding and strive towards a world where individuals with BPD are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Jenn Jones