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Although a full 1.6 percent of people in the United States—over 4 million people—live with Borderline Personality Disorder, it remains one of the least understood and discussed mental health issues in the public sphere. It's frequently overlooked, and often stigmatized or treated as symptoms without a cause; that is, symptoms that are the fault of the person suffering from it. Here are a few of the most common myths about Borderline Personality Disorder, to at least begin dispelling these misconceptions.
Myth: It's the product of abuse.
Many people diagnosed with BPD have suffered abuse, often in childhood. However, this does not mean that any person with Borderline Personality Disorder has suffered abuse, or that their mental health problems are a result of it. Even for those who did suffer childhood abuse prior to their BPD diagnosis, it would be erroneous to attribute the title of "cause" to any one thing. As with many mental illnesses, BPD is largely believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and no single cause can be pinpointed. Assuming that someone with BPD has suffered abuse or bad parenting can be very damaging to both those who have and those who haven't, as the disorder is far more complex than a single cause can point to.
Misconception: It's the same as Bipolar Disorder.
Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder often share many symptoms and behavioral effects. As a result, one of the most pervasive myths about Borderline Personality Disorder is an idea that it is another term for Bipolar Disorder. However, they are vastly different, with their own distinct requirements for diagnosis and effects on one's life and mental health. BPD is also often misdiagnosed as other depressive, anxiety, or mood disorders, including PTSD in cases where abuse or trauma have occurred. This too feeds the myth about Borderline Personality Disorder being caused by or necessarily linked to abuse.
Myth: It's a women's issue.
One of the biggest issues with any mental health disorder is the difficulty involved in diagnosing symptoms that differ from one individual to another. This is often especially true when it comes to the way that disorders manifest themselves in men versus women. BPD is no different. One myth about Borderline Personality Disorder comes from these kinds of differences, which make it often more difficult to diagnose in men than women. As a result, there is a common misconception that BPD only, or mostly, affects women. This can have extremely detrimental effects for men whose disorder is so often misunderstood or undiagnosed, and may not seek or receive the treatment they need.
Misconception: It can't really be accurately diagnosed.
BPD is a complicated disorder. It manifests itself very differently in different individuals, and many symptoms are shared with other disorders, making diagnosis a complicated issue. Many people experience common symptoms like difficulties maintaining healthy relationships, having inappropriate emotional responses, and exhibiting suicidal behavior. All of these, individually, could be aspects of other disorders. However, this does not mean that it cannot be accurately diagnosed. In fact, robust genetic and biological studies have made massive progress towards verifying and diagnosing BPD on a biological level. These studies also bode well for continued improvements in treatment methods, as we begin to understand better the factors involved in its manifestation.
Myth: Kids and teens can't get a BPD diagnosis.
Disorders like BPD and Bipolar Disorder are often characterized by emotional disturbances. Similarly, the effects of puberty and youth cause major emotional disturbances. This is a simple version of the justification for why many people believe the myth about Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis, and similar disorders, which says that it can't be diagnosed in children or teenagers. This is a dangerous way to think, as children and teenagers do suffer from these disorders, and going undiagnosed during those already tumultuous years can lead to increased risks down the road. Many such kids and teenagers are unable to manage their disorder on their own, and self-harm or attempt suicide. So while it is more complicated to diagnose in minors, it is certainly possible and extremely important to do so.
Myth: It can be cured.
Unfortunately, BPD cannot be cured. However, it can be effectively treated and managed. Medication, in combination with forms of psychotherapy like dialectical behavioral therapy and others, can help those who suffer from BPD to live a normal life. This doesn't mean, however, that someone who has found an effective treatment is cured. Even when controlled and managed, mental health disorders of this kind have their effects, and some days will always be worse than others. While a person with BPD can live a relatively normal, happy life, it's still important to remember that they will sometimes struggle with things that come easily to neuro-typical people.
Myth: It can't be treated.
As just mentioned, BPD can't be cured. But an opposing myth about Borderline Personality Disorder is that it can't be treated, either. This is one of the most dangerous myths about borderline personality disorder. There are many effective treatments for BPD. An effective treatment and management program usually involves a combination of medication and various forms of psychotherapy. Therapy, especially, will differ drastically from person to person, as not everyone responds the same way to different forms of treatment. For example, many people have been very successful with dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, while others might find other forms of therapy more useful. Ultimately, there is a widespread consensus in the psychiatric community that both medication and therapy in combination are the most effective way to treat these disorders, and that this combination is far more effective than either on their own.
Misconception: People with BPD can't—or shouldn't—have positive relationships.
Perhaps the most difficult part of living with Borderline Personality Disorder is the difficulties involved in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. In fact, disturbances in interpersonal relationships is one of the necessary symptoms for the diagnosis of BPD. Inappropriate emotional responses, impulsivity, and unhealthy attachment tendencies are just a few of the effects of BPD that can make relationships difficult. However, this does not mean that people diagnosed with BPD should isolate themselves, or cannot have these positive relationships. In fact, cultivating healthy relationships with friends, family, and significant others is one of the most important aspects of treatment, and has one of the most significant influences on positive long-term outcomes for these individuals.
Myth: There's nothing you can do for someone with BPD.
A lot of the stigma surrounding BPD is borne out of the issues with forming and maintaining interpersonal relationships from those who suffer from it. This leads many to believe, erroneously, that they can't help the people in their lives with BPD, that they can't have healthy relationships with them or be close to them. This is one of the most harrowing myths about borderline personality disorder because people with BPD may need to approach relationships differently than others, even though close relationships are not only possible, but extremely important. Family therapy is, in fact, one of the most important aspects of many treatment programs, and further research in the best methods for involving loved ones in treatment is ongoing.
Misconception: Treatment of BPD is or should be standardized.
BPD manifests itself differently in every individual. Similarly, each individual responds differently to the many various treatment options available. Finding the right combination of medications and therapy can take time and trial, and there is no standard way to treat it. Nor should there be: There is nothing more harmful than believing that BPD is the same for everyone, and should be treated as such. This also means that it's important to remember when talking to or about someone with BPD, that you can't assume you know something simply because it was the case for someone else.