BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder, also known as EUPD or Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) is a complex and often controversial topic.
I should know – I have it.
I was officially diagnosed with BPD in 2016 (aged 26), but looking back, I can see I was exhibiting symptoms from the age of 11 or 12.
I’ve gained much clarity with hindsight. Learning about BPD has given me insight into some of my unhelpful behaviours and the thoughts and feelings behind them.
Of course, I don’t wish to use BPD as an excuse; my actions are mine alone and I take responsibility for them.
Nevertheless, knowing that I had BPD has allowed me to understand the logic (however misguided) behind some of what I did/do.
To receive an official diagnosis, one must experience a minimum of five out of the nine symptoms of BPD. This means that there are numerous different ways in which a person might experience BPD.
For example, if Person A experiences symptoms 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, whereas Person B experiences symptoms 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, they would technically have the same diagnosis, but with almost completely different symptoms.
The various possible combinations of symptoms mean that the behaviours exhibited by each person with BPD can vary too. However, there are some behaviours that can crop up more than others.
I understand that for people who don’t have BPD, some of the related behaviours can be confusing and sometimes upsetting or frustrating. Trust me, we know. We beat ourselves up about it all the time.
Once aware that we have BPD, most of us work incredibly hard trying to learn healthier coping methods. We know we are responsible for our own behaviour and it’s important for us to develop new skills to help us manage our disorder.
Nevertheless, while we work on changing our unhelpful behaviours, I think it’s important to make others who don’t have BPD aware of some of the thoughts and reasons behind the behaviours that may seem “irrational” or “over-dramatic” if they don’t experience them themselves.
That’s what I’m going to do today. I’m going to talk about some behaviours that you might see from us, along with what’s really going on inside our heads to prompt that behaviour.
Just to be absolutely clear:
I am not saying that having BPD is an excuse for unhelpful or potentially harmful behaviours.
What I am saying is that it’s important to recognise and acknowledge where the behaviours are coming from and what the actual need behind them is. As such, we can have an open discussion about compassionately challenging the unhelpful behaviour, working together to meet the need being expressed, and establishing new, healthy behaviours to effectively express our needs.
What you see: Disproportionate anger or distress at constructive criticism, easily offended, thin skin, “can’t take a joke”.
What I’m thinking: You hate me, you think I’m a bad person.
BPD involves something called “black-and-white thinking” (also known as “all-or-nothing thinking” or “splitting”, but please note, this is not synonymous with having a “split personality” or Dissociative Identity Disorder).
I tend to see things as very clear-cut, one extreme or the other, zero-to-100 in half a second, and I struggle to find the grey area, the middle ground, or the balance.
In this instance, this manifests as you either love me or you hate me. If you say something that I perceive as criticism (constructive or otherwise), rather than seeing it as a helpful tip on how to improve something, my brain jumps to you hate me as a person.
This can be very confusing for others to witness – I get it, I really do – but trust me, as hard as it is to witness it, it’s a whole lot harder to have it playing out inside your head.
What you see: Aloof, non-committal, closed off, unreadable, vague.
What I’m thinking: You’re going to leave at some point, if I don’t get attached, it won’t hurt so much when you abandon me.
I’ve been told by a few people that I come across as closed-off and unreadable. At first, I was offended – I thought I was quite open. But the more I thought about it, the more I could see they were right. Most of the time, I can be vague and non-committal.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think/hope I’m friendly, but I have to admit, I do keep myself at arms-length from people. I avoid getting too close to anyone in the most genuine sense and I’ve realised that this is because I know that once I allow someone to get close to me, the fear that they will abruptly up and drop me is too much to bear.
Self-imposed isolation can be difficult, but the fear of getting hurt is overwhelming. My little bubble keeps me safe… I guess.
What you see: Needy, clingy, constantly asking for reassurance or “testing” you.
What I’m thinking: I’m convinced you’re going to leave/abandon me, I need to hear you say that you’re not going to.
Leading on from #2, this tends to happen once I’ve allowed someone to get genuinely close to me. They’ve skilfully scaled the walls around me and shimmied into my heart… and now I’m in danger.
With BPD, the fear of abandonment or rejection is loud and persistent. I have been known to annoy the hell out of people by constantly asking if they still like/love me. I know it’s annoying, but I’m so convinced that people are going to leave me that I genuinely need that regular reassurance to quieten those horrible, scary thoughts.
The best kind of reassurance is the unprompted kind, but most people don’t outright say “I still like you” at regular intervals, so my BPD brain forces me to ask the question myself. I hate being seen as “needy”, but I feel like I have to ask or the discomfort of “not being sure” is unbearable and sends me into a spiral.
What you see: Constant self-deprecating jokes, minimising my successes, putting myself down.
What I’m thinking: If I put myself down, it won’t hurt as much when other people realise I’m worthless.
My inner critic is incredibly loud. I have very low self-esteem and genuinely believe that everyone is judging me for how rubbish and incapable I am.
Enter my coping mechanism: self-deprecation.
I’ve always made fun of myself. I call myself out for my (perceived) flaws and mistakes, and I constantly downplay my achievements as luck or a random fluke.
This was pointed out to me by my particularly lovely former CPN. She gently informed me that I was one of the most self-critical people with whom she had ever worked… a dubious honour, to be sure.
I came to understand that my self-deprecation and self-criticism came from this notion that was ingrained in my mind: that I am not “good enough”. I make the jokes and invalidate my efforts as a way of protecting myself from the pain of other people saying them to me or even thinking them. If I make it a joke, or something that I claim for myself, it won’t hurt so much when somebody else inevitably finds out what a piece of garbage I am.
I understand my brain’s logic here, but it has two major flaws:
1) The more I tell myself I’m a piece of garbage, the more I believe it and the worse I feel.
2) What if I’m actually not a piece of garbage and I’m preemptively making myself feel like shit for no reason?
Hmm. I should probably reconsider this habit of self-deprecation… maybe.
I know I’ve got work to do on learning how to effectively communicate my needs and how to challenge the thoughts that lead to these unhelpful behaviours. I’m making progress, but I know I have room to grow.
These are just some of the situations and habits that I’ve experienced and I do not claim to speak for everyone who has BPD. Nevertheless, I hope that this behaviours vs. thoughts insight is helpful, whether you have BPD or love someone who does.
Even if the specific situations are not relevant to you, I hope this encourages you to communicate openly about the reasons behind potentially unhelpful behaviours and work together to find more effective ways of expressing needs and challenging unhelpful thoughts.
Finally, please know that I’m walking this journey alongside you. It will take time and effort and practice but we will get there together.
Do any of these situations resonate with you?
Do you have an advice or tips to help others manage these unhelpful thoughts/behaviours?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.