You must meet 5 out of 9 criteria to be diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (this is from DSM-IV):
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in.
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. This is called “splitting.”
- Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in.
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.
- Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
- Chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
- Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
1. People will not understand you.
Or your diagnosis. If you tell a friend you have Borderline Personality Disorder, I guarantee that, if they’re not a psych major or a fellow member of the Krazy Klub, they’ll mention “Girl, Interrupted,” Jodi Arias, or that football guy. I’ve even heard, “Oh… like Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction?” And they step away from you ever-so-slowly. Hell no. Just because we have BPD does not mean we are inherently evil, future murderers, or out to get you, my pretties, and your sexy boyfriends, too! The media, medical community, and even the very researchers that have written about BPD have contributed to the negative stigma attached to the Borderline diagnosis. Most of this is fueled by misinformation. What most people don’t realize about people with BPD is that above all else, we just want to be loved, understood, and respected. We want to be happy and healthy, just like the rest of you freaks.
2. What feels right at first is usually wrong, wrong, wrong.
Your natural reactions to stressful events tend to exacerbate the stress of that event. Borderlines often feel the most extreme version of a feeling. A fight with the bf/gf can almost instantly send you into a head-exploding rage or a major, debilitating depression – either he/she is the Anti-Christ / Torturer of You 4Ever / User & Abuser Extraordinaire, or you just destroyed the best and only relationship your sorry ass will ever have and omghowfuckingstupidareyou and you’re never going to find someone that loved you the way that he/she loved you and so you have no reason to live and maybe you should just text them and ask them to forgive you– pleasepleasepleaseOMGyou’lldoANYTHING! It’s okay to feel extreme. It’s not okay to recklessly act on those extreme feelings. Certain therapies (CBT, DBT) are great for identifying and extinguishing chaotic, seemingly uncontrollable emotions when they arise before they cause you to use That-Professor-Who-Criticized-You’s email address to sign them up for a tentacle porn website’s email updates or tell a good friend who forgot your birthday that it’s fine, really, you knew they didn’t give a shit about you anyway.
3. Sometimes you’re the villain.
After finding out you have BPD, it’s necessary to review your life, particularly those times when you felt wronged. Some of those “So-and-So fucked me over royally” moments from your past suddenly seem to have new meaning. The first time it happened to me, it felt like when a game-changing piece of evidence surfaced on a Law & Order episode and the whole nature of the crime had consequently changed. Except I was both the unknowing audience and the criminal the audience had never suspected.
Did my best friend actually betray me by calling the cops after I told her I was suicidally depressed in order to get her attention, or was she genuinely concerned for my life and did what she thought was best? Did my boyfriend really break up with me because he never cared about me, never loved me, and always hated me, or was it because I drove him away with my incessant accusations fueled by the fear of those accusations being true?
These new realizations about some of the most painful moments in your life can be bitter pills to swallow, but those pills are the medicine that will help you get better.
4. You have a love/hate relationship with your diagnosis.
Your life has most likely been, well, hellish. Finally knowing what your role is in the insufferable pain you feel (and sometimes cause) can be a massive relief. One of the most helpful practices for improving your life after you’ve been accurately diagnosed is consistent therapy with a professional you trust and to be 100% honest with them about your life. That can be super fucking hard to do at first. Therapy flipped my whole shit upside down. I used to truly, madly, deeply believe that I was the victim in almost every situation, completely justified in taking from someone who I thought didn’t deserve what I wanted, and I felt it was normal to constantly require praise because that was how I’d learned to value myself as a human being.
After years of therapy, when I find myself daydreaming about that cute-ass bartender I’ve had a couple dates with and suddenly feel the overwhelming urge to text him a craaaazy amount of times just to reassure myself that he’s still into me and I’m still worthy of being liked, I am able to stop myself. As a teenager, that was nearly impossible. Now I can catch myself before I let the batshit-bullshit torpedo out of my brain and subsequently scare people away that I’m trying to befriend or love. Once you recognize that a thought or behavior is a manifestation of your disorder and not how you actually want to act/feel/think, it’s easier to be in get your shit together.
5. You’ve got some extra baggage.
Statistically, you’re more likely to also be an alcoholic, cutter, habitual shoplifter, gambler, pill-popper, frequent overdrafter, Adderall sniffer, reckless driver, dope-copper, or compulsive woo-hoo’er. You’re more likely to eat way too much, way too little, or be an active member of the double-finger diet club like I was for a near-decade.
Many of us are hard-wired for impulsivity; we experience intense, unbearable emotions and have—err—differently-abled “stop and go” receptors in our brains that are fucking terrible at their job, which is to remind us about things like how binge-drinking at a party where you don’t know anyone will make you feel less anxious in the short term, until you get so shit-canned that you become “That Hot Mess at that Party Last Night” and you don’t remember what you did or who you backed dat ass up on or when that humiliating Facebook photo was taken or why the hell you now have two mismatched black boots that are clearly different brands, sizes, and styles.
The most detrimental aspect of this impulsivity is that we consistently fail to remember what happens when the chase ends and we’re left feeling even lower and emptier than ever. The desire for pleasure becomes even more enthralling in this state. And so, the chase becomes cyclical and has no end. This is the biggest complication in getting better. Most Borderlines who committed suicide had a long standing addiction they were unable to shake. Programs like AA and NA can be quite therapeutic for Borderlines because they’re so inclusive, saccharinely positive about living one day at a time, the meetings are run by a familiar set of routines, and the program itself offers a set of principles by which you can live until you get healthier and feel enough strength and conviction to develop your own.
6. It’s not your fault!
Most folks are under the impression that “personality disorder” is just headshrinker jargon for “shitty person.” People tend to equate personality with identity. Rah, rah, rah, if the problem’s with your personality, then it must be a choice! Right? No, not really. Or at all. There are many different players in the development of BPD. Research suggests that it can be attributed to both biological factors and your shitty-ass childhood. Nature and nurture double-teamed us. And it hurts. Biologically, genetics, neurobiological factors, and irregularities in certain areas of the brain can all contribute to the development of BPD in a child. A good 65% of us with BPD have a mother or father who also has it.
Hint: It’s probably the one who both calls you and fights with you the most.
A lot of us were abused as kids. A lot of us had at least one parent who continuously shamed us for expressing emotions. A lot of us never had a stable parental figure that we could rely on to be there and not disappear. These are all things that can drive identity disturbance, fear of abandonment, emotional extremes, “splitting”, etc.
I’m not saying any of this shit is an excuse to act out, however. Just because it’s not our fault that we have this disorder does not mean we are not responsible for our actions, especially when they hurt others or ourselves. Living with BPD means having to evaluate your intentions, feelings, and actions on a regular basis until the healthy ways become the natural ways.
7. You’re interesting and exciting to others.
If there exists any kind of “upside” to the behaviors I described above, it could be that to those we meet for the first time, we often exude a mysterious passion and insatiable lust for life that both men and women find pretty alluring. Most high-functioning Borderlines I’ve met have been intelligent, artistic, and overwhelmingly charming, despite their issues. We can be some of the most entertaining people at parties. We’ve got some of the best stories because we’ve experienced some crazy shit and the attention of a crowd fuels our performance of such stories. People tend to be drawn to us, entertained by us, romanced by us. Our [American] culture has glamorized being whimsically impulsive, thrill-seeking, and acutely intuitive, e.g. the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” craze. Most artistic muses I’ve met and read about exhibit a number of Borderline traits. There’s just something arresting about our oceanic moods, lust for pleasure, and that dreamy way in which we drift with obstinacy from genre to genre, scene to scene, person to person, desperately searching for who we really are.
Tell me that isn’t romantic as hell.
8. You’re crazy in bed.
Alright, alright. This is purely a theory I have based on all the Borderlines I’ve known personally, my own experiences, and research. Maybe the old wives’ tale is true: insecure girls are just good in the sack. Why, you ask? We have an insatiable desire to please those who want to please us, we’re eerily intuitive (particularly if we grew up in scary and/or unpredictable households wherein we had to figure out how to act all the time to avoid explosive conflict), and some of us have some serious Daddy/Mommy/Authority issues, which can certainly make for, well, interesting sex. The finely-tuned Borderline intuition is an example of what I like to call a “mental illness gift” that can be used for good or evil. It’s what can make us good at manipulation, invalidation, or thought policing. But it can also be used to pick up on how your loved ones are feeling even if they’re trying to hide it, be insanely good at gift-giving, know intrinsically how to act around different people, and decipher exactly what it is that makes your lover tick sexually.
9. Your best friend/partner is one strong motherfucker.
You have both preciously loved and vehemently hated them. You’ve probably accused them of not caring about you and maybe even caused a fight based on your feelings, not fact. One particularly damaging feature of BPD is what’s called “splitting,” which is when you alternate between idealizing and devaluing a person. Way more often than not, you don’t even know you’re doing it and it can occur over anything from a full-on blowout to a perceived slight, regardless of the other person’s true intentions. For me, I tend to experience splitting with the people I care about most and have the greatest fear of losing. The intense Borderline fear of being abandoned by someone you love can drive you to both obsess over their involvement in your life and also push them away in response to perceived or anticipated rejection. My favorite BPD book is appropriately called, “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me,” and the title, though a little cheesebally, accurately describes how splitting feels. You both love the person for the fuzzy feelings that the close relationship fosters and hate them for the equally unfuzzy and scary feelings that losing that close relationship provokes.
10. You are also one strong motherfucker.
Having BPD pretty much guarantees you a rough time in maintaining healthy, stable relationships, regulating your emotions, reacting to stress, subduing your impulsive whims, and remembering who you are and what you value at all times. It’s a hard disorder to live with. But it gets easier with the more awareness you have about yourself and the more willing you are to act in healthy ways, despite how it goes against everything that comes naturally to you. It gets better, Borderlines! And then it gets worse. But then it gets better again! And so on, until you’ve got a firm grasp on identifying the BPD parts of your personality and knowing how to use what you know to be the best person you can be. Because honestly, that’s how we’re going to successfully love someone healthily and be loved back, to give respect and be respected, to understand and be understood. As a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, I spent most of my life feeling like the weary captain of a damaged ship, trying to stay afloat in a treacherous storm.
I spent years wallowing in despair about my situation instead of working to save myself from myself. If you have BPD, you’ve probably unknowingly spent your life trying to get others to save you, but this simply isn’t possible. Please remember: yes, the storm within you is raging, chaotic, and seemingly endless, but all you must do is hold on and navigate your way out of the storm. A happy, healthy life does exist beyond.
image – jurvetson