Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental disorder that is not well understood by the general population or even some mental health professionals. In addition, it is a disorder that tends to impact and even hurt others. Perhaps as a result of these two issues, there are many myths that surround the illness. Below are just some of the false beliefs of BPD.
Myth: Borderline personality disorder is not treatable
Borderline personality disorder is, in fact, extremely treatable. Having a diagnosis does not mean that a person will forever have BPD. Hard work and effective treatment can greatly increase the likelihood that the disorder will lessen and the BP will no longer experience the problematic level of dysfunction.
Even without treatment, the symptoms of the disorder will ebb and flow over time; sometimes a BP will be more stable than others.
Myth: All those with BPD are victims of childhood abuse
Too often, well-meaning people who do not understand borderline personality disorder believe that those with it must have been victims of severe abuse (physical, sexual, verbal) as children. This is not true. Some BPs were abused, or experienced some type of trauma as children, but by no means all.
The exact cause of BPD is unknown, and it likely differs from person to person. However, the cause is generally seen as a combination of biological and environmental factors. In addition, much of the environmental contribution is based on the perception of the individual -- a BP may have experienced his childhood as "abusive" even though there was no abuse present.
Myth: Children and adolescents cannot be diagnosed with BPD
This is not true. Children and adolescents can be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Due to the generally accepted belief that personality is still forming through adolescence, however, diagnosing youth with BPD has been quite controversial.
The Diagnostic Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (DSM IV) lays out clear standards under which a diagnosis of BPD can be made. Caution must be used when giving any diagnosis, and this can be especially true for BPD as the symptoms can often mimic typical adolescent behavior. Early diagnosis can be helpful in ensuring that an individual gets the intervention needed to treat the disorder.
Myth: BPD is a variation of bipolar disorder
This is not true. Although the symptoms of bipolar and borderline personality disorder may appear somewhat similar, they are two very distinct diagnoses and have been found not to commonly coexist.
It is possible that a BP may have bipolar. It is also possible that a person with bipolar may have BPD. However, the incidence of co-occurrence is no greater than for the general population. It is also important to note that medications used to treat BPD may be the same as those typically prescribed for bipolar disorder. The diagnosis relates to the symptoms, not the treatment.
Myth: BPD is only found in women
Borderline personality disorder is found in both genders, although men only make up about 25% of those diagnosed with BPD.
BPD is a real mental health diagnosis with an array of symptoms. The symptoms experienced by men may be viewed as being different than those experienced by women, but the underlying nature of the condition is the same. As the DSM IV states, there is "a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image and affects, and marked impulsivity...." in all BPs. This instability and impulsivity is the marker of BPD.
Myth: If you know one BP, you know them all
This cannot be more untrue.
Borderline personality disorder is a disorder with nine possible criteria, of which only five must be met. As a result, there are 256 possible combinations of the criteria that could result in a diagnosis of BPD. It is possible for two people to be diagnosed with BPD while only having one of the diagnostic criteria in common.
In addition, not all individuals experience specific symptoms in the same way. One BP's unclear sense of identity may appear very different than another's. One person may seem to drift from interest to interest, while another achieves clear success but continues to feel insufficient and uncertain.