In recent weeks I’ve seen a lot of so-called awareness pages/groups on social media posting factually incorrect articles with no scientific basis about the horrific traits of people with borderline personality disorder (my diagnosis). I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this not only unhelpful, but actually pretty upsetting. It’s definitely not a good way to raise awareness, unless the aim is to warn people about how awful people who have BPD are.
This sort of ‘BPD bashing’ tends to be kept alive by people who’ve been in a relationship with someone who has BPD, and have pinned all the blame for the breakdown of their relationship on their ex-partner’s mental illness. This is convenient for them I suppose, but it doesn’t absolve them of blame and it probably doesn’t make them feel any better either. I’m the child of a parent with this much misunderstood disorder (although it went undiagnosed), and it’s a safe bet that I inherited it, but what’s the point in ruminating on that? It is what it is – so deal with the here and now. After all the present is all we have.
Let me blind you with a bit of science:
Emotions are key to our ability to reason, plan and make decisions and they’re controlled by the emotional nervous system in the brain, which also contributes to memory formation and a whole lot of other magical intangible things. Not bad for a lump of soggy tissue and electrical activity. You keep your neural pathways to yourself. In people with BPD, physical differences in the part of the brain that would normally regulate emotion remain inactive when the person is exposed to something very emotionally provoking. This means that the reaction is likely to be very extreme in BPD sufferers. We know this because we can see it using FMRI scanning. My brain is broken.
Biosocial theory says that this double whammy of biological dysfunction in emotional regulation (i.e. not having the skills to recognise and deal with emotions in the usual way), plus an invalidating environment (where feelings are denied or made out to be ‘wrong’) results in pervasive emotional dysregulation. It’s not difficult to see how things might get messy. Assigning blame to someone with BPD for their inability to navigate something as emotionally complex as a romantic relationship is akin to chastising someone who has epilepsy for having a seizure. It’s about time this ‘neurodiversity’ was accepted – some brains work differently; we provide tools for people with dyslexia, but there’s no software to help someone regulate their emotions. Yet.
It is possible to learn how to regulate emotion and start to behave differently, in a similar way to how people with ASD can – we can adapt to living and interacting with neurotypicals (that’s basically the rest of humanity), because we can’t expect neurotypicals to allow for our neurodiversity can we? No we can’t. That would just be silly! ‘How would we know where you were to avoid you?!’ I hear you cry.
At this point, let me reinforce the severity of these effects – 10% of people with BPD complete suicide. We’re far more likely to harm ourselves than anyone else, especially because of the combination of a high suicide risk with sometimes reckless or self-harming behaviours (anorexia is also very high risk for suicide and common in BPD).
We (and by ‘we’ of course I mean the ‘royal we’ because no two people with BPD are the same, we’re not a homogenous tag team of emotionally inept troublemakers) are likely to attempt to ‘jump off’ when a wave of emotion comes, using so called ‘target behaviours’ which provide the coping mechanism we don’t have through normal emotional regulation. These target behaviours are troublesome at best and life-threatening at worst.
Another problem is recognising what emotion one is feeling. Imagine that! Not only feeling something really extreme, but not even being able to name the emotion? Apparently there are 6 basic emotions, but the only one I can recognise is anger. Anger’s the kind of emotion that tends to hurt the person feeling it more than it hurts whatever has made them angry. It’s destructive by nature. I can vouch for the fact that it really doesn’t take prisoners. Just now I was told that only butter, not margarine, was free with the jacket potato I bought for lunch. You have to pay 10p to choose a healthy option. THAT JUST DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!!
So funnily enough, at the end of a typical day all I want to do is SWITCH IT ALL OFF, but instead I get a guilt trip courtesy of good old social media.
I’m feeling… angry?