I know I’ve said that I’d rather not write again about dealing with people with borderline personality disorder. But it seems that I still have some things I need to explain. I’m getting kind of tired of hearing that we mustn’t point out bad behaviour on the part of people with personality disorders, particularly Cluster B ones, because, y’know, it’s ‘demonising’ and ‘stigmatising’ and ‘ableist’ and all.
But it’s not stigmatising to stand up for victims of abuse. It’s not demonising to call out an individual or even a group on their negative behaviour patterns. It’s not ableist to point out that people with personality disorders are a high risk group for both abusing and being abused, precisely because of their disorder.* The very characteristics which cause them to either get a diagnosis, or for others to suspect they rate one, unfortunately predispose them to it. **
Because you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that people who have unstable emotions, a fear of abandonment and poor boundaries (borderline), or massive but frail egos (narcissist), or aggressive tendencies and lack of empathy (anti-social), are going to have problems relating to others. Even the desperate need for attention of those with histrionic, the lesser-known Cluster B disorder, could lay them open to abuse. I’ve also, sadly, seen many with personality disorders be abusive to some, but then get trampled on by others in turn.
But here’s the thing – people with personality disorders are entitled to support – but minimising and excusing bad behaviour is not the right sort of support. It’s no use complaining about being ‘stigmatised’, when it’s your very own behaviour that has created that stigma. People have become wary, and weary, of being victims of manipulation, abuse, angry tirades and distorted world-views. To try to ‘remove the stigma’ without addressing the ROOT CAUSES of it is to simply attempt to silence the victims of that behaviour.
Not to mention that I find it ironic when I get accused of ‘demonising’ by, for instance, someone with a personality disorder trying to bully another person into submission. Or I receive a message from another telling me how they’ve ‘changed so much’ – right in the middle of the kind of truth-twisting rant that proves, um, no, actually they haven’t. This kind of curious double-speak, or just self-dishonesty, leaves me unsure whether to laugh at the irony or just shake my head in weary disbelief.
The other accusation that’s come my way recently is that I’m uncaring and ‘lacking in empathy’ for those who have suffered the trauma/abuse/etc that created these disorders.
So let me make something clear – I very much do care.
I care about the whole world and its pain. I care about those who are abused or raped or tortured, about people dying in horrible wars, about First Nation peoples being deprived of their lands or culture or rights, about how so much of the world’s wealth is being hogged by greedy billionaires, about sexism and racism and classism and ageism and homophobia and transphobia and Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and every other prejudice and ‘ism’ you can name. I’m utterly opposed to oppression and hate of any kind, and want the world to be a much better place.
I know I can’t really heal the entire world, but if I could, I would. I’d put balm on all the wounded spirits, help the faltering, house the homeless, embrace the refugees, pick up those who have fallen… and I’d heal the environment too. I care because that’s who and what I am. Call it a ‘saviour complex’ if you like, or a ‘bleeding heart’, but this is me. It’s my nature to care. I don’t want anyone to feel pain or fear or loss, to suffer abuse or maltreatment of any kind, whether they’re on the spectrum or not, whether they have a personality disorder or not, or whatever else their life entails.
So yes, I care. I may choose not to associate with those of you with personality disorders because of my own past history, but I do care about the trauma you’ve suffered. No-one should have to go through that. No child should be abused, manipulated, neglected, and have their psyches twisted and damaged. It was seeing your pain, in part, that kept me in a relationship for nearly ten years, and more long months in a toxic ‘friendship’. But ultimately, it was the results of that which also drove me away. Because there is only so much an individual can take.
And I know you better than you think. (From this point on, I’m going to talk only about borderliners, because that’s the condition I’m most familiar with. But those who’ve been closely associated with other personality disorders can perhaps tell a similar story.)
I’ve seen your pain, and how it drives you to lash out. I’ve seen your terror of abandonment that makes you push away the very people you want to hang on to. I’ve seen your bone-deep anger that conceals an even deeper misery. I know that buried somewhere inside you, is a small child who knew something wasn’t right, but who got all kinds of messages that told you otherwise, till you were overwhelmed and lost your sense of self and safety. I’ve seen how you flounder around, trying desperately to compensate for not having a solid psychological base. I’ve seen the abyss within you, even when you were/are too afraid to face it yourself.
And most importantly, I’ve seen that on a very deep level, you’re not happy. It’s not called a ‘disorder’ simply because mental health professionals like to slap labels on you. You are ‘dis-ordered’, your true self compromised when you were so young that you don’t even realise how damaged you are, how dysfunctional your connections to others are, how twisted your basic assumptions about the world/life/other people are. You don’t seem to get just how much your style of personal interaction is neither normal or desirable. Not to mention that you are a high risk group for suicide, or, more likely, simply dying old and bitter and alone.
And that’s the true sadness of your condition, not the so-called ‘stigma’.
But here’s the cruncher – having a personality disorder is not something you simply have to accept. It’s not something to hang an identity on, but a problem that needs to be addressed. It’s not set in stone - though it can be stubborn - and you CAN heal from it. And I want that for you. I want you to be healed. I want you to burrow down into that deep well of long-held sorrow, to root out the pain and trauma, to lance the long-festering wounds in your psyche, to experience psychological ‘disinfecting’ and healing. I wish this for you.
But, rather like an alcoholic, you must first admit there’s a problem, before you can work on it. I assure you that I’m not minimising the difficulties of this path. It will be long and hard, and depending on your location and resources, therapy might be out of your reach. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on challenging and changing yourself. Taking responsibility for your words and actions, and the results of them on others, is an essential start. Not assuming that those who dare to challenge you are prejudiced, demonising, ableist, don’t understand you or your condition, etc, etc, is also essential. Consider that others might understand you all too well, but that you’re not listening to what they’re trying to tell you. Understand also that just because your BEHAVIOUR is bad, doesn’t mean that we think YOU are bad. You’re simply damaged – but the damage can be healed.
You don’t – you really, really don’t - have to live life at the mercy of your tempestuous emotions, your fear and anger and compulsions. You CAN have a calmer, more stable and fulfilling life and relationships. It IS possible. But you won’t get it by sitting back and complaining about ‘stigma’, without doing the work. Nor will you get it by gathering in PD groups to commiserate about how ‘misunderstood’ you are. I want you to challenge yourself, and others with PDs, to begin the long road to a better life. Because I believe you can do it.
And I want you to be healed.
I want you to be healed. I don’t think I can emphasise this enough.
I want you to be healed. For your sake, and for the sake of those around you.
I want us all to be healed.
I want a better world. For all of us. For everyone.
BECAUSE I CARE.
Never doubt it.
*Re ‘disorders’ - it’s true that autism itself has long been considered a ‘disorder’, but we now know it’s not. And something genetic and inborn in us, that’s ultimately simply a different kind of brain, is obviously nothing like emotional damage acquired through traumatic experiences.
**I’m aware that many autistics are misdiagnosed with different personality disorders, probably in all the Clusters. Reading some of the Cluster A descriptions, for instance, is like reading a textbook list of autistic traits. And I know also that those who do have a personality disorder may also may have a second one, or other mental health issues, eg depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc, which can of course complicate things.