Borderline personality disorder (BPD) myths and misconceptions

Wednesday, 4 October 2023

When you think of borderline personality disorder (BPD), what do you picture? Perhaps it’s that “crazy” female character who is attention-seeking, oftentimes a stalker ex-girlfriend, or maybe even a murderer.

One of the biggest issues surrounding BPD is the amount of stigma and discrimination that’s experienced by people living with the disability.

The first to the seventh of October is BPD Awareness Week, and we want to take this time to shed light on the important topic of BPD.

Due to a lack of awareness and negative media portrayal, most of the public knowledge surrounding BPD are myths and exaggerations.

This results in the general public writing off high-functioning environments such as the workplace as impossible for an individual with BPD. This belief is entirely false. People with BPD are human beings capable of living full and happy lives.

Just like all health conditions (for example, diabetes, arthritis, or asthma), BPD requires management and monitoring. When left untreated, it can trigger unhealthy and inappropriate behaviours. But, with the appropriate care and consideration, people with BPD have the potential to thrive in a workplace the same way all of us do.

BPD in the workplace

  • Often people with BPD are undiagnosed and haven’t yet sought mental health care or support. This happens because a lot of aspects of BPD aren’t very obvious. An unrecognised and/or misunderstood disorder will almost always go untreated.
  • If you aren’t aware of them, it can be very easy to dismiss the behavioural patterns of someone with BPD to something as simple as having a ‘bad day’ or having pent-up frustration.
  • Most will see the escalating behaviour and distance themselves from the situation. If you do this, you won’t have any chance of being able to help this person or understand their experience and behaviour.

You’ll notice that most of these challenges come from not only the negative traits of BPD but by how often misunderstood they are. These are barriers that can be surpassed just as easily as your typical workplace issue if you come prepared with the knowledge and willingness to have a conversation with a solution in mind.

One of the best ways to get into this mindset is to banish any preconceived beliefs you had surrounding the myths of BPD. We understand that this requires a level of research and experience, so in honour of BPD Awareness Week – we’ve done the heavy lifting for you! Here are some of the most common myths surrounding BPD, and why they’re false.

BPD myths vs reality

You cannot treat BPD

BPD can be treated with DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy), trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy, inner child therapy, counselling, medication, and most importantly the support of family and friends. This myth is especially harmful as the belief that trying to treat BPD will be a losing battle turns people away from engaging with it entirely. Now you know better, so spread the word!

People with BPD cannot lead their own independent, fulfilling lives

With the right treatment, people with BPD can absolutely lead their own lives if they understand what it is that they’re dealing with and take the steps to manage it. In the same way that someone’s broken leg won’t get better without treatment, the same applies to those with BPD.

Some famous examples at the top of their fields include Vincent Van Gogh, Pete Davidson, Brandon Marshall, and Weezer’s very own Mikey Welsh.

BPD behaviour is just attention-seeking and should be ignored

Impulsive and manic behaviour is typically due to distress. People with BPD are trying to grab attention so that those around them can see that they need help. Giving attention to people in distress can save lives. In the same way that someone will cry out for help if in physical pain, what can be perceived as ‘senseless attention seeking’ is a cry for help about their mental state. Take the time to listen, care, and validate their feelings.

Those with BPD won’t die by suicide

This one is a belief that extends from the previous point. A common method of grabbing the attention of people around them is to move to the most drastic action possible – threatening self-harm or suicide. This does not at all mean that these are empty threats or that they should be treated any differently from typical threats of self-harm or suicide. Borderline personality disorder is associated with higher rates of suicide and self-harming behaviours. Show empathy and look for ways to help.

Having BPD is a choice

People’s BPD often stems from childhood trauma or trauma from another source. The perception that people with BPD are simply looking for an excuse to ‘act crazy’ is completely false.

People with BPD don’t help themselves

Often people with BPD aren’t aware of how to help themselves. Going through DBT is a great way to learn how to cope with distress, and how to healthily rely on the support of others. People with BPD, like everyone else, deserve time, treatment, and empathy.

BPD is a disorder with purely negative traits

While it’s true that people with BPD live with no shortage of difficulties trying to manage their condition, it’s also true that they typically tend to be extremely empathetic, highly intelligent, have a serious creative streak, and feel passion on a deeper level than most people could even imagine. These are all things that could benefit someone in the workplace.

Lachlan’s experience with BPD

If you need an example of someone with BPD flourishing in their position, look no further than our very own participant Lachlan!

Lachlan was taking the initiative to find a job that lined up with his interests as a self-proclaimed “professional full-time nerd.” He called up a local gaming cafe that had just opened up recently at the time.

Things progressed and Lachlan began working as a retail and sales assistant. He got to interact with customers, sell products, make coffees, and organise tournaments and other events that take place in the store.

When he was beginning his journey at the cafe, Lachlan had to step away from his job for a period due to his BPD and major depression. The medication that he had been taking had suddenly stopped working, and he soon spent six to eight weeks in the hospital to get the help he needed.

Lachlan smiles in front of a wall of board and card games.
Lachlan at the gaming cafe

The owners of the cafe were very understanding and accommodating of Lachlan’s situation. He got put on payments via Centrelink and they referred him to EPIC Assist for support going forward in his employment journey.

Since that time, it’s been smooth sailing for Lachlan. He has fortnightly catchups with Sam, his EPIC Assist Employment Consultant, and is managing himself at work perfectly. Thanks to the assistance and empathy of the gaming cafe and EPIC Assist, Lachlan flourishes in the workplace while managing his major depression and BPD.

A huge reason that this story is as heartwarming as it is, is thanks to Lachlan’s manager Trevor. He said it was important that his company was always there to support Lachlan through his recovery.

He’s proud of the inclusive and diverse business he has built, and the well-being of his staff and customers comes first.

Disorder, not a dealbreaker

BPD doesn’t have to be the monster that the media and myths portray it as. Many of these misconceptions have only persisted for as long as they have due to media stereotypes and unfair stigmas.

EPIC Assist has been supporting people with BPD to find and keep a job they love for over 30 years. Stories like Lachlan’s show that it’s not just possible but rewarding for your workplace to accommodate someone who lives with BPD.

In solidarity of it being BPD Awareness Week, spread the word about the unfair stigmatisation of BPD and the reality of how it can be managed in the workplace.

If you have a disability, injury, mental health condition, or health condition, get in touch with EPIC Assist today to find out how we can help you flourish in a job you love.

National Support Lines

  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • Kids Helpline (up to 25 years): 1800 551 800
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
  • Q-life LGBTQIA+: 1800 184 527
  • Lifeline Text (6pm-12am): 0477 131 114
  • GriefLine: 1300 845 745

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