Amidst the ruins: Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder

All you need to know about BPD but were afraid to ask

Kevin Redmayne

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It’s one of the most stigmatised conditions in all of psychiatry. Sufferers are maligned, judged and misunderstood, victim-blamed and shamed. On one hand, accused of being “manipulative” or “attention-seeking” and on the other “vulnerable” and in need of help. What’s it like living with Borderline Personality Disorder? Those with the condition will most likely recount a story of emotional torture and a life lived under a gaslight. From parents to clinicians, the ones who are supposed to help often end up causing the most harm. The good news is that BPD — as it is commonly abbreviated — is treatable, and those with the condition can and do get better. This article will tell you everything you need to know in order to reach recovery.

Seeking a definition

Borderline Personality Disorder is a severe and enduring psychiatric illness characterised by emotional, behavioural, interpersonal and cognitive instability combined with chronic self-harm. The causes of the condition are complex and unclear, however, there is a strong consensus that it is a combination of genetics, biology and trauma. In fact, over 70% of individuals with BPD have a history of adverse childhood experiences. Despite this, the prognosis is good. With treatment, 99% of individuals with BPD find their symptoms remit, and 60% reach recovery.

Why is it called BPD?

BPD is a pejorative label, that fuels stigma and discrimination. But who created it? and why? In 1938, Hungarian-American psychiatrist Dr. Adolph Stern was troubled by a volatile group of ‘border line’ patients frequenting his asylum. ‘Difficult to handle’ and harder to treat, the border, in this case, was schizophrenia. According to Stern sufferers are on the edges of it. From the beginning, BPD was tied up with old-fashioned ideas of madness.

Soon other labels began to crop up: The “As If” Personality, (Deutsch, 1942), Pseudoneurotic Schizophrenia (Hoch, 1949), Extractive Disorder (Rado, 1956), Hysteroid Personality (Esser and Lesser, 1965), and Borderline Personality Organisation (Kernberg, 1967). It wasn’t until Roy Grinker’s Borderline Syndrome (1968)

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Kevin Redmayne

Freelance journalist writing on mental health and disability. Words have the power to shine a light on realities otherwise missed.