Borderline Personality Disorder Coverage in New York Times

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New York Times has offered up further coverage of Borderline Personality Disorder in the mass media this month via their newspaper and web site. The newspaper published a story An Emotional Hair Trigger, Often Misread that is a basic overview of the personality disorder. Unfortunately, it seems that even a newspaper journalist can’t quite get the story straight. For instance, the article mischaracterized BPD as a “mood disorder” rather than a personality disorder. That inaccurately implies it is more like depression (which is a mood disorder) which can be treated fairly well in most patients using psychiatric medications, something that so far hasn’t been successful for many people with BPD.

New York Times added to their press coverage by publishing a web page An Expert Look at Borderline Personality Disorder that is accepting comments and questions from readers. They then fed these comments to Dr. Marsha Linehan, the psychologist responsible for the development of Dialectical Behavior Therapy which is one of the leading treatments for BPD. She looked through many of these questions and comments and responded on the web page Expert Answers on Borderline Personality Disorder.

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Downplaying BPD Destructiveness is Irresponsible

For those of us familiar with BPD, the comments on the New York Times web site are probably more interesting than the article. They show a wide range of outcomes and problems. A key point which continues to be raised in many of these comments is that Borderlines are dangerous to the people around them due to their tendency to engage in false accusations and distortion campaigns, particularly during divorces and child custody battles. There’s an understandable tendency by mental health care professionals to try to protect these people from being stigmatized by downplaying their behaviors, but it’s often beyond the point of being irresponsible to society. I was disappointed to see this from Dr. Linehan, too.

Families of Borderlines Often Need Intensive Protection and Therapy

We’ve often covered BPD and similar mental health issues from the angle of divorces, child custody battles, and parental alienation. People who suffer from BPD and similar mental health problems need help, but the need for help for the people around the Borderlines may be even greater. Borderlines can and often do engage in false accusations of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and other crimes. These accusations are particularly dangerous because many Borderlines tell them with convincing emotional intensity, despite their statements often being somewhere between extreme distortions to total fabrications. The result is that the falsely accused lose their jobs, children, homes, and sometimes even their lives.

We’ve covered this problem previously in our article BPD Distortion Campaigns from which I’ve excerpted the following list to make a point about how much damage can be caused by false allegations and defamation campaigns played out by many Borderlines:

Adverse Impact on the Targets

What happens to people who are victims of BPD distortion campaigns? Here are some of the examples of the results:

  1. They are alienated from their family and friends.
  2. They lose contact with their children for months or even years.
  3. They lose their jobs.
  4. They spend tens of thousands of dollars or more fighting false accusations of the BP attacking them.
  5. They have restraining orders placed upon them based upon false accusations.
  6. They end up in jail or prison due to false accusations.
  7. They develop severe mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others.
  8. Some commit suicide.

Distortion campaigns can destroy people’s lives, even becoming lethal. This is particularly the case when the people around the BP’s victim do not understand how Borderline Personality Disorder works. The victims of distortion campaigns need extensive support from others in order to survive such an experience without life-altering damage. Although an estimated 2% or more of the US population suffers from BPD, most people do not end up being targeted with a BPD distortion campaign. As a result, they have trouble understanding how severe, damaging, unrelenting, and widespread these campaigns can be. And many of the victims of distortion campaigns consequently are left without effective support systems and suffer far worse damage than might have been the case if their friends and family understood they are being victimized by a Borderline.

Mental Health Care Must Become Mandatory for More People

Under current law, mental health care can’t be forced on anybody in the US unless they are declared as immediate physical threats to themselves or others. This is a huge mistake in the case of many mentally ill people, particularly Borderlines. If they aren’t identified and helped, they can’t learn to control their behaviors to become happier and safer people. It also means that protection systems aren’t put in place to keep them from falsely accusing others. As a direct consequence of this, they tend to spread the destruction of mental illness and crime far and wide affecting spouses, ex-spouses, children, and others. The forms such destruction often takes include domestic violence, child abuse, parental alienation, false police reports, perjury, malicious litigation, and defamation. It can under extreme circumstances even result in homocide or suicide.

It’s also a huge mistake to stigmatize people with BPD into endless denial and hiding. It not only ensures they will not get the help they need, but significantly increases the danger they pose to others. They can be excellent performers in their professions and have a lot to offer the world, but can also create extreme ruination for others. Their emotionally extreme behaviors result in extreme outcomes for themselves and those around them. This would not be the case if their illness was better recognized and handled.

Raising BPD Awareness Will Help Reduce Societal Damage

I don’t pretend to have all the answers for what to do, but it is clear that in many cases the stigma vs. treatment vs. protection dilemma is like walking a tightrope over a deep canyon through which a strong and gusty wind is blowing. It’s virtually impossible to avoid making at least some mistakes that generate a worse outcome for everybody involved.

However, the worst outcome of all is ensured by ignorance and denial of mental illnesses similar to and including BPD. Unfortunately, both of these are highly common for the courts, lawyers, law enforcement officers, and others who get involved in many disputes involving Borderlines. That’s part of why we devote so much coverage to this topic. Awareness is critical to improve outcomes, whether it be by helping to get patients adequate treatment to improve the lives of themselves and their families or by implementing the means to protect their families from their troubled behaviors.

Please help spread the word about BPD. You may literally save lives by doing so.

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  1. No
    June 30th, 2009 at 08:19 | #1

    I’m afraid it is you who is misguided in your diagnosis… And the whole personality disorder range is massively under fire from service users as it ignores the experiences people are having. And many people don’t want to understand the effect of childhood trauma, which can lead to personality disorder. There are no such “campaigns” that you speak of. And more-over, your work is highly stigmatic.

    You’re a solipsist, I’m afraid.

  2. June 30th, 2009 at 10:27 | #2

    This diagnosis which is way over-used, is worse than say, the scarlet letter for family court. Plus, what isn’t mentioned is once an individual is labeled, even ten years later with so called “good” evaluations, judges use an outdated one. Parental alienation is often the result as judges work, often in conjunction with another parent to eliminate the targeted parent from the child’s life. See or a new site –

  3. Bumblebee72
    July 1st, 2009 at 01:22 | #3

    Quote: There are no such “campaigns” that you speak of.

    It seems you are highly in denial about the nature of personality disorders. Have you ever read “Stop Walking on Eggshells”? It’s one of the most highly regarded books on BPD and discusses distortion campaigns at length. They are real and can be highly destructive.

    As for stigmatizing people who do this to others, they deserve it. They may have all sorts of reasons why they have psychological problems are may really truly be victims of horrendous child abuse, bad genetics, etc. But the damage they cause to their victims can’t be prevented if their words and accusations are taken at face value.

  4. Bumblebee72
    July 1st, 2009 at 01:33 | #4

    The “acting out” Borderlines are the ones who are more likely to run distortion campaigns against loved ones or former loved ones. They tend to be the high-functioning ones and are more socially adept and convincing.

    The “acting in” Borderlines are more likely to be consumed with other issues that make them more low-functioning and more prone to suicide, mutilation, and other self-harm.

    Whether it is BPD or “malignant narcissism” or antisocial personality disorder or something similar, the name isn’t so much the important part. It is the behaviors that are the problem. Unfortunately, it is not convenient to talk about years of bizarre behaviors. So people label them and the people who show such behaviors as words.

    You may think labels like BPD are scarlet letters, but without labels it is hard to communicate about anything. Imagine you had no nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to use (all of which are labels in some sense). How could you communicate without them?

  5. James
    July 1st, 2009 at 19:13 | #5

    No distortion campaigns? You’re in denial. Do you have BPD and are trying to cover up for yourself?

    The author of this article isn’t the only one talking about BPD distortion campaigns. Go look at some other sites that discuss them.

    Steve Gunn sometimes talks about BPD, and he wrote a post specifically pointing out how these distortion campaigns can drive people he’s known to considering suicide. Look at his article at BPD Awareness II and the site to which it links if you don’t believe it.

    The point he makes is that if you understand the distortion campaign and can get other people to understand it, you can be a lot safer. Maybe there’s even a chance to help the BPD victim without having your life shredded and being driven to leave the state or kill yourself.

    And if you want to see lots of other people talking about their similar experiences with Borderlines in relationships, go check out the discussion thread Dating someone with BPD?.

    One of the examples:

    I dated someone with undiagnosed and untreated BPD for about 3 years. I can only echo what everyone else has said.

    Get out.

    It has only recently occurred to me that my relationship problems I have now are related to what I went through with her.

    Every time I get close to starting a new relationship all the memories of nights wondering who she has slept with this time, or which new man is going to come and “sort me out” for “beating on her” come flooding back.

    Relationships for me mean anxiety, drama, tears, unreasonable demands, guilt and threats (and attempts) of suicide when I try to leave.

    I started the relationship with a reasonably good number of friends. Now I have none. She slept with the males and alienated the females. She told many of my friends that I beat her, which I never realised until reading this thread was common for people with BPD.

    It’s not all bad news. My ex and I are still friends; she has been having regular psychotherapy, group counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and medication. She isn’t cured, but she is 100% better than when we finally broke up (she left me once she had found someone new).

    About a month into the relationship a work colleague told me to get out. She was right.

    I can’t say I regret everything, but it’s not the kind of relationship you want to be having if you can avoid it. You can. Get out.

    posted by cornflake at 4:31 PM on March 2, 2007

  6. Stephanie
    February 8th, 2010 at 10:14 | #6

    I know of someone who was given the diagnosis of BPD who had been molested By a doctor and was unable at the time to know what had happened because of the years of sexual trauma they had been experiencing. This doctor knew more about the mental situation of the client then they were aware of themselves at the time.

    When she tried to finally report the abuse she realized what kind of situation she was in . One of not being taken seriously and the heniousness nature of the crime this doctor had done.

    I find this to be quite damaging when doctors who are doing professional harm can hide behind this diagnosis.

    I find this quite upsetting, stigmatizing and a danger to those who are given this diagnosis.


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