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Reclaiming “Borderline” to Reduce Stigma

I’m very open about my condition. I even write about it on Facebook and volunteer information in class. And I like calling myself “a borderline.” The peculiar self-reference is deliberate. For a while I subscribed to the idea that we are not our diseases—we are not borderline, we have borderline—and to be fair, I still do; however, I also think there’s power in language and have decided to reclaim “borderline” to reduce stigma.

Reclaiming Words Reduces Stigma

Reappropriation is the reclaiming of a term that was previously used disparagingly in order to dissolve negative associations and stigma. As a group that has suffered cultural stereotypes and ableist slurs, I think it’s our turn to reclaim the meaning of “borderline” and use it as a banner of pride.

Reclaiming “Borderline” With Pride to Reduce Stigma

You might be thinking, “Pride . . . really? I’m not proud of being mentally ill. It sucks.” And that’s true: it does suck to suffer. But borderline also describes an experience of surviving, and I think recovery includes being proud of one’s experience, despite—or, rather, because of—the struggle. So, when I say, “I’m a borderline,” I am communicating a specific experience integral to my existence. It consists of overcoming hardship and positive attributes, such as empathy.

People hesitate to call themselves borderline because of stigma but I say we should say we are borderline and reclaim the word borderline to reduce stigma.

The reason for reclaiming “borderline” is twofold: therapy and activism. I’m rejecting the notion that I am someone to be hated, by myself or others. Self-loathing is central to borderline personality disorder, and the use of the name of our disorder as a slur reinforces this self-image. I worked as a psychiatric nurse and each time a coworker uttered the word, “borderline,” it oozed with resentment. How unfair that the clinical term is also a weapon against us. Such an incident would always trigger me and I would escape to the bathroom to swallow my antianxiety medication and tears. In private life, I began to call myself “borderline” with confidence, as a neutral and descriptive word. It helped change my self-image and exposed my community to a new perspective.

Reclaim “Borderline” Appropriately to Reduce Stigma

I am proud of my struggle and while my borderline doesn’t define me, it forms the lens through which I see. Of course, I would only label myself “a borderline” in the appropriate context. And I would not condone its use by non-borderline people, who have no right to characterize our experience. Importantly, I am describing my experience, not referring to my disease specifically, and only I have such insight about myself.

When I’m in conflict, I often stop and say, “I’m having a borderline moment.” It’s not negative: it’s honest, and it’s explanatory. It slows me down and lets me recognize my behavior; it informs my partner of my emotional state and helps her respond. And, by the same token, when a professor complimented me on being “justice-oriented,” I replied with, “yeah, I’m a borderline.”

Find Mary on FacebookTwitter, and Google+.

3 thoughts on “Reclaiming “Borderline” to Reduce Stigma”

  1. How cool your article is!! The information is liberating and I agree with the tag it, own it, understand it, and be proud of who I am and what i have survived through. Self loathing is a never ending process of learning to love oneself and understanding I am not the disease and my vision/thoughts may be askew at times…take time to evaluate the truth (ABC’s-choice theory)…don’t whip myself with life or things I can not control. For me, through the gift of time, I am able to make that choice and have gained the knowledge of how. Dig your article…thanks.

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