Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a psychiatric condition which is characterised by intense emotions, fluctuating moods, problems with relationships, an unstable sense of identity, and impulsive and self-damaging behaviours. BPD is one of the most stigmatised mental health conditions and myths about BPD are sadly still very common. Such myths may unfortunately discourage an individual from seeking treatment or believing that treatment for BPD is even possible, which may make it more difficult for the individual to access support and subsequently contribute to feelings of shame, hopelessness, and unworthiness.

Here are five common myths about BPD:

1- BPD is untreatable

This is one of the most damaging myths about Borderline Personality Disorder. Even among mental health professionals, personality disorders, such as BPD, have been frequently considered to be untreatable, which very often discouraged individuals with BPD from seeking help. Although it takes time and considerable effort for an individual with BPD to develop the skills needed to help them live a life worth living, there is clear evidence showing that rates of recovery from BPD are much higher than previously thought. There are also different therapeutic approaches that have proven to be effective for BPD, with Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) being one of the most common and effective treatments.

2-People with BPD are dangerous

Individuals with BPD can experience periods of irritability and intense feelings of anger; however, this does not mean that they are a threat to others, and it is more likely for people with BPD to be a danger to themselves. In fact, there is generally a high incidence of self-harming behaviours amongst people with personality disorders such as BPD.

3-People with BPD are manipulative and attention-seeking

Another dangerous myth is that people with BPD are manipulative and attention-seeking. Although people with BPD may seem to be acting manipulatively and seeking attention, for example, by sending multiple text messages, repeatedly asking for reassurance, or sobbing uncontrollably when someone has to leave, they are actually responding impulsively to intense emotions which are likely to be related to sadness and fears of abandonment, and which they have not yet learned how to manage. It is also crucial that suicide threats should always be taken seriously and not be seen as an attempt to manipulate others or seek attention. In fact, up to 10% of people with BPD complete suicide and more attempt suicide or self-harm.

4- BPD only affects women

It has been widely accepted that women are disproportionately affected by a ratio of 3:1; however, recent research has shown that the lifetime incidence of BPD was about equal in men and women. Part of the reason why the 3:1 ratio exists is because research on BPD is often conducted in psychiatric settings, and because women are more likely to seek help, there tend to be more women than men with BPD in mental health settings, thus making it look like more women have BPD. On the other hand, men with BPD are more likely to end up in prison, therefore their BPD is likely to go undetected. 

5-BPD is always caused by childhood trauma

A very common belief is that BPD is caused by childhood trauma; however, this is not the case. Although there is evidence suggesting that childhood trauma may be a possible cause of BPD, many people with BPD did not have these experiences, and also people who have suffered traumatic childhoods do not have BPD. Aside from childhood trauma, research has shown that various factors may contribute to the development of BPD, including biological, environmental, and sociocultural factors. 

Having BPD is difficult enough to cope with on a daily basis without having to face the stigma and discrimination too. Making sure that accurate information about BPD is widely available is crucial in helping those with BPD be seen for who they are, the intense pain they may be feeling and, very importantly, their strengths and potential. 

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Dr. Ronald Zammit holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Southampton, has completed Master’s level psychotherapy training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the New Buckinghamshire University in the UK, as well as received training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). He has a special interest in mood and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related difficulties, personality disorders, and compassion-based approaches to treating difficulties related to high self-criticism and shame.