In modern times, talking about mental health, mental illness, and various mental disorders seems to be pretty common. However, despite this, there remains a stigma surrounding mental illness that continues to place a barrier between the myth and reality of what it truly means to have such an ailment.
Making things even more difficult is the fact that while the topic of mental illness has become more popular as time has progressed, this is only true of ‘popular’ or well-known disorders.
For example, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know about depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or even bipolar disorder. And while no disorder should be left misunderstood, there is an entire spectrum of mental illnesses that we are either avoiding or missing.
As someone who has suffered from borderline personality disorder, I have known this to be true since day one of my diagnosis. Imagine my surprise when my psychiatrist broke the news that I had borderline personality disorder. To be honest, I had never even heard the term before. Instead of his news providing me with answers, I only had more questions. My previous diagnosis of bipolar disorder was easy to understand. However, borderline personality disorder is much more complex, or it seemed so at the time.
With that being said, there are signs and there are criteria. And if you have recently been diagnosed or know someone who has, it is likely that you have done your research. Understanding the criteria that brought you to the disorder is important. But there are also symptoms that each and every one of us with the disorder deal with that are rarely talked about.
Here are 10 commonly overlooked, but typical symptoms of someone with BPD
Upon reading any book about borderline personality disorder, one of the first things you may notice is how the ‘example’ patients usually have a history of destroying their own lives. While for years things may be going great for them, at a moments notice they could make an impulsive decision that sabotages everything they have worked for. Why is this? Well, you could blame it on impulsivity, or self-harming behaviors. You could even say that for that particular patient it was because they were so used to the devastation in their lives that it had become their normal. Honestly, it depends on the person.
2. A Massive Attraction to Cult Like Organizations or Obsessing Behaviors
Many people with BPD are drawn to cults, religions, hobbies, and obsessions, and oftentimes they will change from one obsession to the next. One week, they may put all of their energy into pottery, while dropping their newfound hobby like it’s hot, for yet another obsession. This behavior is often common with bipolar disorder.
3. Poor Eating Habits That Resemble Eating Disorders
It is quite common for patients with BPD to become anorexic, bulimic, or even to binge eat. This is yet another symptom that can be tied to the various criteria associated with the disorder.
4. Constant Black/White Thinking
For the borderline, there is typically no grey area. This type of thinking can commonly be associated with ‘splitting’ or the habit of going from idealizing people or situations to flipping quite rapidly to devaluing them. Many who suffer find themselves either excelling or failing, either social or completely introverted and constantly trying to decide whether other people are truly good or pure evil.
5. Feeling Completely Isolated in the World
From unstable relationships, constantly changing moods and having a distorted self-image, it is hard for someone with this disorder to be able to relate to anyone else. And even when they are able to, there is always the chance that they will have a trigger cause an episode, thus changing their entire personality all over again.
6. An Inability to See the Big Picture or Make Major Life Goals
This sign was actually once considered to be part of the diagnostic criteria, however, as times have changed so too has the diagnostic manual for mental illness. With that being said, even with the criteria changing, this remains a common issue for those suffering from the disorder.
7. Needing to Have Comfort Objects or a ‘Security Blanket’ in Tough Situations
Many psychiatrists refer to this as the need for transitional objects. When you have BPD, separation from someone you cling to desperately can be devastating. Even having your partner go on a business trip can make you feel lost and alone in the world, desperately trying to put yourself together while they are gone. While this is common for children, most adults (or those without this debilitating disorder) outgrow the need for transitional objects as they develop the ability to self-soothe.
For example, when I went to the mental hospital that diagnosed me with BPD, I brought a teddy bear with me and a pile of photos. I was so terrified of being alone in there, and having these objects helped me a little. Having these objects handy makes the borderline feel stable, or at least more stable. For more information on that, take a moment to read this.
8. Feeling Disconnected From Yourself
If you speak to anyone with BPD, it is likely that it won’t take you long to see that they have a difficult time understanding who they are or even relating to their own personal actions. Sadly, this results in feelings of emptiness, feeling completely disassociated with one’s self and others around them, and even an unstable self-image.
9. Extreme Sensitivity And Empathy For Fictional Characters
Throughout my life, I have always had an extreme sense of empathy. And when I began my research into borderline personality disorder, I found that I was not alone. For many people with this disorder, we can be so sensitive to others, that even watching someone being harmed on television can be too much for us. Because of this, I have completely stopped watching certain shows, even after investing hours into watching seasons of the series, because one episode depicted someone being harmed so badly that I became overwhelmed with sadness and horror.
10. Chameleon-Like Behaviors (Or Altering Their Personality Depending on Who They Are Around)
While many may see this as manipulative, for most BPD patients, this behavior occurs because of their desperate need for people to accept them and to avoid being alone. It can also be caused by their constantly unstable self-image. Teenagers often commonly go through fads or phases to fit in with various friend groups but outgrow this as they age and develop a sense of self. However, people with BPD may continue to cycle through phases during their adult life.
While these symptoms can be devastating, borderline personality disorder does not have a life sentence prognosis. Thankfully, Marsha Linehan’s research and work, a therapy referred to as dialectical behavioral therapy was developed with borderline patients in mind. By completing this therapy, many patients find that their symptoms begin to deteriorate and most end up losing their qualifying traits to be considered borderline. So don’t ever give up hope!
Image via Psychology Blog