Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a broad condition with the power to affect every aspect of a person’s life including their mood, behaviors and relationships. Luckily, the mental health disorder is gaining a wider understanding among the general public, but many misconceptions remain.
Here are 11 myths and facts about borderline personality disorder.
Myth 1: BPD isn’t a valid diagnosis.
Fact: BPD is a universally-accepted mental health diagnosis.
For nearly 40 years, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has officially recognized borderline personality disorder as a legitimate mental health diagnosis in their publication, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is the standard text professionals use to diagnose mental health conditions.
Detractors may believe that people with BPD symptoms are overly dramatic or attention seeking, but this stance is inaccurate and harmful. People with BPD do not enjoy or benefit from the condition because it can cause chaos in their life.
Myth 2: Only women have borderline personality disorder.
Fact: Women make up the majority, but anyone can have BPD.
It is true that most people who have BPD are women, but it is incorrect to say that only women have the condition.
It turns out that men make up about 25 percent of all people with BPD. The myth that only women have BPD is harmful in its inaccuracy because of the possible stigma. A man with symptoms of BPD may be more reluctant to seek treatment for fear that he will be judged harshly by loved ones, treatment professionals or society. A woman may feel like she cannot receive an unbiased evaluation because everyone will assume she has BPD simply because of her gender.
Myth 3: BPD is caused by childhood trauma.
Fact: Childhood trauma is a risk factor, not the single cause.
The view that childhood trauma causes BPD is partially correct. Mental health conditions have risk factors that increase the odds of the disorder forming.
The National Institute on Mental Health reports that BPD risks factors include:
- Family history – people with parents or siblings who have BPD are more likely to have the condition.
- Brain/ biological influence – people with BPD have unexplained brain changes in the areas that control impulses and emotions.
- Environment and social factors – traumatic life events like abuse or abandonment during childhood seem to trigger BPD symptoms.
Myth 4: Borderline Personality Disorder is rare.
Fact: BPD affects millions.
In a way, all mental health conditions are rare because they represent atypical symptoms and levels of functioning. Most people don’t have mental health conditions, and most people with mental health conditions do not have BPD.
Still, BPD affects millions of people. The exact numbers of BPD diagnoses are challenging to gather, but estimates believe that between 2 percent and 6 percent of people in the United States will have BPD at some point in their lives.
This statistic means that at least 1 in 50 people will be diagnosed with BPD..
Myth 5: People with BPD are manipulative and attention seeking.
Fact: People with BPD act in many ways, but not because they want to.
You might believe the myth that people with BPD engage in manipulation and attention-seeking behaviors because they like it. Having BPD is not a comfortable situation. The condition is synonymous with stress, anxiety and unhappiness.
If someone with BPD is acting out through manipulation or appearing to seek attention, it is due to their desperation to feel well and avoid separation or rejection. Unfortunately, their unhealthy coping skills develop along the way as they cannot find the relief they seek. Lying and manipulation are only a failed attempt to control symptoms.
Myth 6: Suicide threats by individuals with BPD aren’t serious.
Fact: All suicidal threats should be taken seriously.
People may mistakenly see suicidal threats from someone with BPD as a way to create a reaction. Again, this assumption is untrue and unfair.
People with BPD experience a high rate of suicide. As many as 10 percent of people with BPD will commit suicide while many more will engage in suicide attempts and self-harm.
All suicide threats must be taken seriously. The risks of ignoring the threats are too high.
Myth 7: DBT is the only therapy for BPD.
Fact: DBT is just one effective treatment for BPD.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a form of talk therapy specifically designed to treat symptoms associated with BPD like chronic suicidality and emotional inconsistency. Researchers compiled evidence showing that DBT is effective in treating BPD.
Although DBT is a good option, others exist. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the foundation for many aspects of DBT. Also, mental health treatments that directly target causes and risk factors of BPD could help reduce symptoms.
As always, it is important to note that there is not one treatment approach that works for everyone. Treatments must be tailored to the individual’s unique needs and experiences.
Myth 8: People with BPD aren’t capable of love.
Fact: Everyone is capable of love.
Such a sweeping and cynical view of people with BPD is wrong.
People with BPD can love and be loved. Many with BPD are in long-term, committed relationships that endure the same ups and downs of other relationships.
People with BPD struggle to control their emotions and manage their behaviors. Their moods can go from happy to irritable to sad, quickly. Their impulsivity may lead to regrettable actions.
These issues can make relationships more challenging, so patience from all parties is a requirement.
Myth 9: People with BPD are unbearable.
Fact: People with BPD can be tremendously kind and loving people.
Unbearable is a strong word and one that certainly does not apply to all people with BPD. Of course, people have times where they are not proud of their actions or how they handled a situation, but they find forgiveness and move forward.
Living with or being in a relationship with anyone who has a mental illness, physical illness or other challenge is a trying experience, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. People with BPD who receive treatment can be happier than they were to begin with and find stability in life after treatment.
Myth 10: People with BPD are dangerous.
Fact: People with BPD are more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else.
It is true people with BPD can have periods of irritability. One of the main diagnostic criteria for BPD is an intensely, inappropriate level of anger.
People with BPD may:
- Have a bad temper or a short fuse
- Seem angry constantly
- Get into physical confrontations
This anger does not mean they are a threat to others. As mentioned, people with BPD have a high suicide rate, so they pose the greatest danger to themselves, not others.
Myth 11: Borderline personality disorder isn’t treatable.
Fact: Treatment helps people with BPD feel and function better.
Here is another dangerously incorrect myth. If people believe borderline personality disorder cannot be effectively treated, they may never initiate mental health services.
BPD is a complex and challenging condition. There are two keys to making BPD treatment successful:
- Evidenced-based treatments – People may offer all sorts of remedies for BPD, but if the treatment makes unrealistic promises, it might be too good to be true. Options like DBT and CBT have been proven effective. Also, medications like antidepressants and mood stabilizers are excellent choices when combined with therapy.
- Start early – To increase the chances of recovery from BPD, treatment needs to begin as soon as possible and continue for an extended period. Waiting too long to start allows the negative coping skills to become ingrained and harder to change.
Just because a condition is difficult to treat does not make treatment useless. Everyday people with BPD benefit from mental health services. If you or a loved one live with BPD co-occurring with a substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village to begin treatment that will address your addiction and BPD simultaneously. Treating both disorders together sets you up for a stronger recovery. Don’t hesitate, call today and speak with a representative.
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013. CBS News. “Borderline Personality Disorder: 8 Dangerous Myths.” (n.d). Accessed on February 14, 2019. Office on Women’s Health. “Borderline Personality Disorder.” August 28, 2018. Accessed on February 14, 2019. Psych Central. “7 Myths about Borderline Personality Disorder.” July 8, 2018. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition.” 2013.
CBS News. “Borderline Personality Disorder: 8 Dangerous Myths.” (n.d). Accessed on February 14, 2019.
Office on Women’s Health. “Borderline Personality Disorder.” August 28, 2018. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
Psych Central. “7 Myths about Borderline Personality Disorder.” July 8, 2018. Accessed on February 14, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.