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Borderline Personality Disorder Patients: The Pit Bulls of Mental Health

December 21, 2010 Becky Oberg

My adopted hometown of Indianapolis is pet-friendly: bark parks, social events such as "Mutt Strut", and farmers market vendors specializing in pet products. I enjoy watching dogs around town, and have noticed that as a general rule, each breed has a distinct personality. For example, if the dog you met two seconds ago is happily wagging its tail and trying to lick you, it's probably a pit bull.

You're probably thinking two things:

  1. "Pit bulls? But aren't they violent?"
  2. "What does this have to do with borderline personality disorder (BPD)?"

People with BPD are the pit bulls of the mental health community. We have a bad reputation that, while true in some cases, is usually not grounded in reality.

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The Negative Image of Borderline Personality Disorder

A case in point is this stigmatizing article in Time:

"Those with borderline disorder [sic] usually appear as criminals in the media. In the past decade, hundreds of stories in major newspapers have recounted violent crimes committed by those said to have the disorder. A typical example from last year was the lurid tale of an Ontario man labeled borderline who used a screwdriver to gouge out his wife's right eye."

And ice cream sales and the murder rate go up in August. One does not necessarily cause the other.

According to Psychology Today, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill study found that while mental illness alone did not predict risk of violence, a dual diagnosis (that is, mental illness and a substance abuse disorder) did.

Stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder

I'll go a step further--I spent 250 days on the BPD treatment unit at the state-run LaRue D. Carter Memorial Hospital here in Indy. During that time, I recorded 24 incidents of violence toward others or property. The violence ranged from a slap in the face to an assault requiring emergency medical treatment, and the same three people were almost always responsible.

Considering the severity of our cases, that's not a high number. Like pit bulls, we may be big kittens inside, but people don't want to give us a chance because of what they've heard.

(Listen to Borderline Personality Disorder: Beyond The Stigma. I talked about BPD stigma on the HealthyPlace Mental Health Radio Show.)

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2010, December 21). Borderline Personality Disorder Patients: The Pit Bulls of Mental Health, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, May 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/borderline/2010/12/borderline-personality-disorder-patients-the-pit-bulls-of-mental-health



Author: Becky Oberg

jje
February, 9 2015 at 1:06 pm

If you have this diagnosis, never, ever, ever tell anyone. You will be subjected to unbelievable abuse and stigma. I once had a nurse lie to me. When I called her on it, she told me she didn't have to listen to me being manipulative and stalked out. She lied to me and I was the manipulative one?
I've had experiences like this beyond number, but when I moved to another state, I went to a new doctor, didn't tell him about the borderline diagnosis and didn't provide past records. Five years later, I still don't have a BPD diagnosis. I do have PTSD and GAD. Could my original diagnosis have been a mistake?
Of course, once people see that diagnosis they never listen to you again, so there is no way to convince them it was a mistake.

Valarie Heuvel
October, 5 2014 at 7:25 pm

I have never seen an article nor anything that explains what I knew I was suffering from. Back in my day, it was maladapted and incorrigible. I have been in a tail spin PTSD via a reoccurrence of family issues I found myself in the middle of again and the reaction has been a verbal flailing followed by depression and loneliness. I am trying to refocus on things I have more control over and let go of what i can do nothing about that is reoccuring. My solution to the family crap is to withdraw myself from the situation because it causes me great distress directly taking me back to the childhood abuses. I have never been exactly a popular person but I do have a bleeding heart that is a set up for more of the same. Trying to break that cycle too. Out of sorts and need an outlet...so here I am touching upon the subject...working on letting go and letting god. It is so frickin' hard but I can do it. That 's my comment without going into details that set me off.

chris60
September, 25 2014 at 1:48 am

The tragedy of the mental health industry is that those who committed rape, physical abuse or emotional abuse that contributed to the development of psychological issues are rarely treated or held accountable. Then therapists may repeat the abuse and remain unaccountable as well. Sorry to say, but anger is a symptom of trauma and then to be stigmatised for being aggressive and angry compounds the problem as normal people develop anger after being violated or badly abused. Seems like a catch twenty two... a woman enters therapy to be treated for incest or domestic violence and then is criticised for being angry and unforgiving or ungrateful, while the perpetrator can go on to abuse more people and not be held responsible.
I own a Pomeranian and steer clear of pit-bulls or potentially dangerous breeds as I feel protective towards my dog and myself and do not want to flirt with being hurt by taking on a potentially risky situation. guess that therapists are the same, only if they are good they should have positive ways to diffuse or de-escalate potentially violent or aggressive clients. Seems that many of them want the money and the kudos without taking on the needy cases, or enjoy triggering their clients and then crying foul when the patient reacts in response to their "harmless digs". DBT works wonders as most people seek validation to help to sort through their emotions and feel understood and heard. Replace BPD with the symptoms of extreme trauma and suddenly the symptoms seem very normal given the extreme experiences of many patients seeking therapy. Some cases are biological, but the bulk of people seeking therapy are there in response to having been abused. The sooner the offenders are called to order the quicker the client will heal. But this rarely happens and this is what sends some people over the edge as they grapple with trying to understand why they need to put so much energy into healing while their offender rarely suffers or feels guilt. The ax forgets the tree remembers.

lucette888
May, 23 2014 at 3:58 am

I was treated for BPD here in Eastbourne, England. I was treated in a hospital that was run along the lines of a therapeutic community and I feel that the 2 years I spent there has changed my life beyond recognition. Prior to this treatment I had spent many years in hospitals that were mire traditional mental health units that simply filled me full of medication.
I was horrified when last year the unit that treated me was closed down and there are now no specialist units for BPD in this area. I would be interested to hear what is happening in America and if they have therapeutic communities for BPD patients there. Does anyone feel that traditional mental health acute units are ever capable of treating BPD successfully? I wrote a blog post on the closure of the unit I was treated in please have a look http://Lavender-Lodge-has-closed,-and-women-are-left-at-risk-with-no-help-in-the-area

lucette888
May, 23 2014 at 3:57 am

I was treated for BPD here in Eastbourne, England. I was treated in a hospital that was run along the lines of a therapeutic community and I feel that the 2 years I spent there has changed my life beyond recognition. Prior to this treatment I had spent many years in hospitals that were mire traditional mental health units that simply filled me full of medication.
I was horrified when last year the unit that treated me was closed down and there are now no specialist units for BPD in this area. I would be interested to hear what is happening in America and if they have therapeutic communities for BPD patients there. Does anyone feel that traditional mental health acute units are ever capable of treating BPD successfully? I wrote a blog post on the closure of the unit I was treated in please have a look http://Lavender-Lodge-has-closed,-and women-are-left-at-risk-with-no-help-in-the-area

Lisa
May, 15 2014 at 1:03 pm

I was diagnosed with BPD in 2005. I had stored memories of familial incest and they revealed themselves; was reason I sought diagnosis. Looking back at my life I have displayed symptoms of the borderline personality disorder my whole life.
The diagnosis, along with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy & one-on-one therapy, both for a year; has helped me become a functioning human based on my definition of what that means; not the worlds.
Let's face it just like with anything, having DBT I have good days and some not so good days...haven't self-harmed in years and for that I am very grateful.
Thanks for letting me share; that's for listening to my experience!

Pamster
March, 6 2014 at 8:57 am

I strongly believe my only sibling has bpd. She fits all of the symptoms, but I am no doctor. I have bp type 2. My nephew (her son) I strongly feel has one of the two or both. Our mom had bp 1, as did her paternal grandmother, who died in a mental institution back in the day.
To maintain my own mental health, I must distance myself from both. They literally make me sick, emotionally AND financially. I'm not blaming them. It is what it is. Neither will ever get treatment (unless they are committed and even then, it may not happen) as they think everyone else has a problem and I'm the 'crazy' one.
Both are very good con artists. Both have drug addictions (sibling = prescription, nephew = meth). Nephew was just released from jail last fall from meth charges, including the manufacture of.
Yes, I must keep my distance.

ChRis. Bonatti
February, 17 2014 at 5:34 pm

Thanks very insightful

Lauren
February, 8 2014 at 12:35 pm

My husband was diagnosed with BPD. He is very abusive, unpredictable, unkind, aggressive, controlling, vindictive and on and on. Collectively we've seen 8 therapists. He goes 3 times, invents conflict that isn't real, blames, take no responsibility for anything, and admits to being abusive (or as he says, I have behaved in ways that maybe someone could construe as abusive.) The therapists don't solve his problems in 3 sessions which is: tell the kids and I he's wonderful and obey him without question, while he throws fits on me and the therapists. Complete inability to empathize with others and expecting the world to serve him and obey his rules. He is self focused to the exclusion of others, and has no problem in inflicting his pain on others. It is inestimatable the damage he has inflicted. The lack of insight, wild scary emotions, lack of empathy,and unrepentant selfishness seem to never vary. Is it anyone wonder that therapist don't want to deal with being abused?

nostrangerstranger
December, 30 2013 at 1:12 pm

This is a much appreciated statement. This is the one disorder people seem to talk about as if no one in the room has been diagnosed with it or has had a loved one diagnosed with it. Thank you. Coincidentally, pit bulls are my favorite breed!

Melody
December, 26 2013 at 1:01 pm

I can relate to some of the treatment that others have posted here and it hurts the worst when it comes from a mental health provider when a patient is actually being honest in the majority of cases.
My diagnosis has flip-flopped between PTSD, Major Depression and after many years of being diagnosed with the first two plus after several allergic reactions to medications, I was labeled with having BPD. Now my new therapist, who I have been seeing for over a year now, says that no one in their clinic, including the Psychiatrist, believes that I have BPD. Recently I was told because my husband had PTSD along with BPD, that was why I was having depression issues and that I need to talk things out with my therapist, who is licensed to work with veterans (I'm a Navy veteran, but not wartime) and that the therapist could help me through some things.
I don't know. It is hard for me to trust some people anymore because when I am happy and expressing my true self, then I have someone trying to knock me down. I wasn't picked on a lot growing up or when I was married, but I get picked on more as an older adult. I'm not mentally slow, but my disability does seem to cause me issues of being "too nice" is how one of my male neighbors told someone else while I was nearby.
I just need to find supportive people who can laugh with me and not judge me for being the way I am. I've found that some people with mental illness who are my friends, start to put me down, so is there some kind of mental health condition that has symptoms of "being too nice"? I don't understand why I am this way and actually I enjoy being nice to others. I don't consider myself fake, but our culture seems to put nice people down as fake.
Has anyone else heard of any mental health conditions that include "being too nice".
Thanks for any feedback!

Erin
May, 12 2013 at 12:34 pm

For me, as completely hellish as the symptoms of "bpd" have been, the stigma and complete lack of understanding has been worse. NOT by family, friends or even the media, but the very professionals that are supposed to help. I cannot count the number of times I have been accused of doing things I never did or never would do OR not believed when I was completely truthful (as is, btw, how I usually am). My medical records are full of complete lies and distortions of truth that aren't even fun-house mirror reflections of reality anymore. My character has been decimated in a most hurtful way. We are the black sheep of the mental health profession. No matter what we say, do, think- it will be manipulated, warped, analyzed or even forgoten such that people preserve their hard-hearted vision of what and who "we" are.

Erin
May, 12 2013 at 12:33 pm

For me, as completely hellish as the symptoms of "bpd" have been, the stimga and complete lack of understanding has been worse. NOT by family, friends or even the media, but the very professionals that are supposed to help. I cannot count the number of times I have been accused of doing things I never did or never would do OR not believed when I was completely truthful (as is, btw, how I usually am). My medical records are full of complete lies and distortions of truth that aren't even fun-house mirror reflections of reality anymore. My character has been decimated in a most hurtful way. We are the black sheep of the mental health profession. No matter what we say, do, think- it will be manipulated, warped, analyzed or even forgoten such that people preserve their hard-hearted vision of what and who "we" are.

suzie
February, 17 2013 at 1:28 am

i was always told by my family that i cant ever get along with anybody. then i was diagnosef with bpd. now im having a hard time finding a knowledgable&willing m.h. worker. i wish i never knew what bpd is.

Dr Musli Ferati
December, 31 2010 at 4:09 am

In short, patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) limit permanent psychological problems, holder for conflicts they have with other people: either the family or the broader social environment. And to live together with these people represent a great spiritual pain because the same are the greatest provocateur: in every interpersonal relation they see and seek obstacles, injustice, deceit, malice... Another charge represent a persistent denial of these individuals to be treated in psychiatrist. Usually, psychiatric treatment following the violent hospitalization that was done the same. To date, there is not legal possibility of their psychiatric treatment to be done before the same committing violent acts. For me as a specialist of mental health this issue remain controversial.

DHFabian
December, 29 2010 at 7:50 pm

Thank you! Stereotypes tend to result in a lot of needless fear and suffering, and at least in our culture, we rely on stereotypes to a great degree.

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