The myriad ways experts “see” borderline personality disorder. (click to enlarge)
There’s a great deal of confusion and disagreement in the professional literature about the nature of Borderline Personality Disorder. The blogger BPDTransformation (whose blog is excellent if sometimes a little on the scholarly side), who was cured of BPD, thinks the label should simply be done away with and that BPD doesn’t really exist at all–the label being merely a placeholder for a group of symptoms that are widely variable, and that experts can’t even agree on. He believes BPD is categorized as a Cluster B (dramatic/emotional) disorder only because mental health experts can’t decide where else to put it.
The stigma of BPD as a Cluster B disorder.
The problem with labeling BPD in the Cluster B category of personality disorders is the stigma that classification carries–that people with BPD (like those with NPD or ASPD) are evil, untrustworthy, selfishly manipulative, grandiose, dishonest, lack empathy, and really no better than people with malignant narcissism or even ASPD. (It sure doesn’t help any that an obviously sociopathic criminal like Jodi Arias has a diagnosis of BPD, when she more likely fits the criteria for high spectrum [malignant] narcissism, at the very least.) Insurance companies assume anyone with a Cluster B disorder is incurable, and therefore will not pay claims where a person is diagnosed with a Cluster B disorder. This is very damaging to those of us with BPD who have either successfully learned to modify and control our symptoms–or have even been cured, as BPDTransformation has been. People continue to believe we are lying about the success of the treatments or therapy we have received. Borderlines who have never been treated may find it difficult to find a therapist willing to work with them.
BPD is far more amenable to deep insight therapy than NPD (which is extremely difficult to cure but not impossible for non-malignants) and light years away from a disorder like ASPD (antisocial personality disorder), which can probably not be cured. Because the symptoms of BPD are so disagreeable to the sufferer (and not just to others), it is common for borderlines to present themselves for therapy, unlike people with NPD or ASPD. The vast majority or borderlines are unhappy with themselves and the way their lives have turned out. But many therapists won’t work with borderlines (other than with behavior modification treatments like DBT) because they know insurance companies will not pay such a claim.
What are borderlines on the border of, anyway?
The name “borderline” itself is confusing. What are borderlines on the border of anyway? Neurosis and psychosis? A normal sense of self and Narcissism? Mexico and the United States?
The experts are all over the map on this, with some recent theories stating that BPD is actually a less adaptive, more ego-dystonic form of narcissism. But the original term “borderline” actually referred to the belief that the disorder was on the “border” between psychosis and neurosis:
[…]It is called borderline because it was originally thought that people were on the ‘border’ of psychosis and neurosis. BPD is also sometimes called Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (Borderline type). Approximately 75% of people given this diagnosis are women and 50% have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse.
Because BPD is more commonly diagnosed in women than in men, it’s also been referred to as the female form of narcissistic personality disorder (which is more commonly diagnosed in men than in women).
Psychotic, neurotic, both, or none of the above?
Credit: Judgybitch/Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
The reason why BPD is sometimes regarded as the midpoint between neuroses (mild and easily treated anxiety or depressive disorders) and psychoses (disorders where the victim is out of touch with reality, such as schizophrenia and the manic-depressive form of bipolar disorder) is because people with BPD can, when emotionally upset, display psychotic or delusional symptoms such as splitting (black and white thinking), dissociation (feelings of unreality either about the self or the environment), magical thinking, severe paranoia, delusions of grandeur or persecution, and sometimes even hallucinations and disorganized speech or thought. However, for a borderline, these psychotic symptoms don’t last and as soon as the emotional crisis has passed, the borderline’s “sanity” normally returns. Antipsychotic medication can be helpful, but isn’t always necessary, as it usually is for a truly psychotic individual.
Others have speculated that BPD is really a severe form of PTSD or C-PTSD caused by trauma, and should be treated the same way as PTSD. Personally, I think it’s more long-standing than a reactive disorder like PTSD and is a true personality disorder, but it does make sense that BPD may have originally begun as a form of PTSD at an early age, often due to sexual abuse.
There is so much confusion and contradiction in the literature about BPD that I’m slowly coming around to BPDTransformation’s way of thinking that it should possibly be removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until mental health professionals can get a better handle on what BPD actually is, and whether it’s even a valid diagnosis (or simply a group of symptoms that could indicate several other disorders). There should at least be more agreement among the professionals at any rate.