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Why Is Self-Injury So Prevalent in Borderline (BPD)?

Self-injury is prevalent borderline personality disorder (BPD), but why? Read here about why self-harm is common in BPD and how one might receive that diagnosis.

People want to know why self-injury is so prevalent in borderline personality disorder (BPD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, borderline personality disorder consists of unstable moods, behaviors, and relationships, with trouble regulating emotions and thoughts while exhibiting impulsive behavior.

Another characteristic of BPD is self-injurious behaviors and increased suicidality. Cutting and other forms of self-harm are so prevalent in borderline that they seem to have become indicators of it. Of course, not everyone who self-harms has BPD, and not everyone with the disorder self-harms. However, self-harm is widely prevalent in BPD. And I was given the borderline diagnosis probably because I cut myself.

BPD and Using Self-Injury to Regulate Emotions

This leads us to the question of why self-harm is more widespread in those with BPD than those afflicted with other disorders. The answer seems to come back to the concept of control. Self-mutilation can be a way to gain control of our feelings and emotions when we can’t seem to reel them in. We are able to determine the type and amount of pain we feel, instead of letting it emotionally take advantage of us. Since borderline personality disorder is characterized by emotional dysregulation, those with the illness may use self-injurious behavior in an attempt to regulate, or gain some control of, their emotional turbulence.

Is Self-Injury in BPD Attention-Seeking or Manipulative?

Self-injury is prevalent borderline personality disorder (BPD), but why? Read here about why self-harm is common in BPD and how one might receive that diagnosis.

To some, the self-harming behaviors of those with BPD come off as attention-seeking or manipulative. There seems to be a belief that the suicidality and self-harm exhibited by those afflicted with this illness are done to manipulate those around them. Since this is an illness that heavily manifests through borderline and relationships, it may be natural to think of the self-mutilation in terms of how it affects others. Is it possible that someone diagnosed with BPD self-harms to get an emotional reaction out of someone? Of course. This doesn’t mean that it’s any less harmful for this stigma to exist against those with BPD. The self-injurious behavior is most likely taking place to gain control of emotions.

So, yes, I can understand why the diagnosis keeps being given to me. When psychiatrists see that I am a cutter, they may conclude that I have some trouble regulating my emotions or moods and use cutting as a coping technique. Considering that self-injury is a borderline trait, they probably use that as a catalyst to build a full diagnosis upon further evaluation. No matter what diagnosis is given to me, I still carry on and find ways to stay in recovery.

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8 thoughts on “Why Is Self-Injury So Prevalent in Borderline (BPD)?”

  1. A lot of people who don’t understand self harm thinks people are doing it for attention. I have learned that it is a condition where people really need help and are struggling with their own emotions I really like this article and will be posting it.

  2. Hi I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder at the age of 15. I have a history of cutting I am now 27 I am in recovery for cutting for 60 days now.. But not being able to cut has made me unstable and I am always irritable. I struggle to keep myself at bay. I wish I knew better ways besides journaling because that doesn’t seem to be working for me.

  3. As my doctor always says – SI a coping mechanism like everything else. It may not be the most healthy one, but you are doing the best you can. DBT can help you learn better coping mechanisms.

    Help support me as I participate in NAMI Walks to help others struggling, also.

  4. I have also been diagnosed with BPD, but mine is due to reckless behavior AND self-harm/suicidal attempts. My reason for cutting and burning was never about control or attention. It was to bleed/burn-out the pain. I am sick of the stigmas surrounding BPD and cutters/burners. It isn’t always about control or attention and the more people read that those are the reasons, the less people pay attention to other possible concerns. Most cutters/burners HIDE their acts, they do not display them like prized trophies, so where does the attention aspect come into it? And if you are trying to end the pain by bleeding/burning it out, where does the control aspect come into play? None of this helps get to the real reasons and only fuels more misconceptions.

  5. First, let me say that I agree with the part of your explanation for self-injury that ties it to attempts at self-regulation. However, I also absolutely believe that a huge amount of it IS done, usually with motive being subconscious, to manipulate others. But it is NOT about the others. It is about having an extremely pressing and painful need and trying to fill it without having the tools to do so (often as a result of a traumatic childhood). The need is often for some type of attention (love never received/needs never met). Again, the motive behind this is often either partially or fully subconscious. “Manipulative” and “attention-seeking” have become enormously loaded words. When I use them here, I am putting no judgment with them, just looking at their basic definitions. Self-injury works for many many people because their “bad” behavior brings “bad” attention, which is better than no attention at all. Many people with BPD never learned in childhood how to get positive attention or reinforcement and are left searching for that love in all the wrong ways. They may not even know that the feeling of getting attention for more positive behaviors is much more fulfilling and like what they are seeking in the first place. Yes, there are many other factors/motivations that can lead one to self-injure, but I would argue that most of them at some point in time co-exist with this one.
    There is, as we all know, huge stigma against people with mental illness. It is my feeling that within the mental health community (not the general public), the worst stigma or out-right dis-like is for those diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder. My thought is that it is because those doing the treating are the ones who see or hear about each behavior, and being human, take the manipulative quality of it personally. I think they also get extremely frustrated with their lack of control over the behaviors and how incredibly hard it can be to get someone with BPD to genuinely commit to changing what is, in some sense, “working” for them. Of course, there are those also who just rate not trained or who do not belong in the field.
    I am confused by your comments about yourself. You say you have repeatedly been given the BPD diagnosis most likely because you cut. You sound, at the beginning and again at the end of your piece, like you are saying you do not have BPD and I’m wondering, if that is the case, then why all of this explanation and why do you cut? Curious.
    I have very strong feelings and opinions about this particular issue, but whether I agree or disagree, I absolutely respect you for writing this out loud. Thank you.

    1. Having just had two bouts of harming myself severely in the last four days – which seems to coincide with times of stress- I do find it frustrating that words such as ‘manipulative’ and ‘attention seeking’ are used when certain behaviours are exhibited. I have a diagnosis of complex PTSD and traits of BPD. Ihave had DBT, trauma counselling with a psychologist and am on meds. I have worked hard to shake off this illness. I can speak from my own experience only. The reaction is very sudden, like feelings imploding and it feels like a way of retreating from a difficult moment. The attention from another is NOT welcome. It is downright embarrassing to lose control when normally I just get on with my life. It doesn’t help that it is often regarded as a ‘showing off just to create a scene ‘ type response. It is noteable that the illness has a high suicide rate. It suggests that BPD is an illness which is difficult to understand and manage. Meds only help up to a point. For myself, trauma counselling and DBT were the key to reducing symptoms eg.reducing self injury radically.

  6. I have diagnoses for bi-polar, depression and anxiety and I’m a cutter. I try not to, and did go for years without doing it, but the last year or so has been very hard (bad relationship, even worse breakup, financial stress….) and I found myself doing it again a couple of times.But for me it is not to get attention, in fact I try to hide it from everyone, including my therapist. I just feel better when I do it.

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