Why Calling Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder Manipulative is Harmful

As a professional in the mental health field, who also has Borderline Personality Disorder, I am frequently faced with the stigma surrounding the disorder, and I see firsthand how it affects those with BPD, their access to treatment, and their self-image.  Borderline Personality Disorder is one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses, and this has a lot to do with the lack of education mental health professionals receive on the disorder.  For example, when I was getting my master’s degree, we only learned about Borderline Personality Disorder for one week out of my entire education, and it was taught alongside several other personality disorders.  It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder myself that I began to dive deep into researching the disorder so that I could understand it, and myself, further.  Before I was diagnosed, my main source of information on BPD came from the professionals around me, and the majority of what I was told about individuals with BPD is that they were “manipulative” and “violent”.  I was even told that many professionals refused to work with individuals who had BPD because they considered them “abusive” and “untreatable”.  I was even guilty of stereotyping individuals with BPD due to what I had heard from my peers, and I can honestly admit that I became afraid of those with the disorder because of the negative information I absorbed. 

                But what many people don’t realize is that oftentimes, the actions of those with Borderline Personality Disorder stem from the pain that comes from feeling such strong emotions.  I am often haunted by my past actions, because I fear that they were perceived as me being manipulative when in actuality I was in such a painful emotional state that I didn’t have the ability to think rationally through my actions.  One of the hallmarks of Borderline Personality Disorder is a fear of abandonment, and this, personally, has been a trigger for me for many years.  Oftentimes when individuals with BPD feel as though we are being abandoned, we will go to great lengths to try and ensure that we don’t end up feeling alone.  These actions are often perceived by others as us being manipulative, but our actions are really a desperate attempt to escape feelings that are so strong that they become physically and mentally torturous. 

                By calling individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder manipulative, you are discrediting our experiences and villainizing a mental illness which leads to stigmatization and allows for individuals to fall through the cracks of the mental health system.  This villainization leads to providers refusing to work with individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder and greatly minimizes accessibility to care.  Only when we understand the behaviors of those with Borderline Personality Disorder for what they are – reactions to crippling emotional pain – can we build empathy, understanding, and increase recovery through further access to diagnosis and care.   

Published by Ashley Nestler, MSW

Ashley Nestler, MSW is a survivor of Schizoaffective Disorder, Quiet Borderline Personality, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, multiple eating disorders, and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ashley has dedicated her life to educating others on mental health and illness, as well as providing online resources for those who may experience barriers when seeking help for mental illness. She is also the author of "Beautiful Nightmare", "Into The Fog", and "Behind Broken Glass Walls". Her short stories and horror poems have been published in various anthologies. She is an educator on writing and loves to help authors through her book critiques and reviews.

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