Recently Rajkumar Kalapatapu, et al., released a report in which they hosted an Internet-based survey to ask people with BPD what they wanted to see in the next version of the DSM with respect to BPD. As many of you know, scores of people find BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) stigmatizing and confusing, since the term “borderline” was adopted to indicate “on the border between neurosis and psychosis” (although some indicate that it refers to “borderline schizophrenia” – although no correlation between BPD and schizophrenia exists as far as I am aware) and “personality” often connotes a “character-flaw” or something that is immutable and incurable. The only part of the name that seem to be in agreement is “disorder” – although even that can be called into question given a spectrum emotional regulation, impulsivity and other factors that play a role in BPD. I mean, NAAA and Bridget Grant published an epidemiological study that showed a 5.9% lifetime occurrence of BPD. Is that possible? Or is there something else afoot here?
In the Internet survey/study, the researchers asked self-identified people with BPD their ideas on a name and criteria change for BPD. I was forwarded a copy of the study findings because ATSTP hosted a link to the study and encouraged our readers with BPD to fill it out. The most-mentioned alternative names for BPD included were (not surprisingly since the DBT community has been advocating some change like this for years) “emotion” (or emotional) and “regulation” (or dysregulation) with Emotional Regulation Disorder (or similar form) mentioned in 21.4% of the cases. Again, not surprising considering the idea has been in the DBT community for years. A total of 53.3% of accepted responses indicated that a name change is desired.
There were a couple of things that I noticed in this survey data that actually piqued my interest. One was the most common symptom (based on the current DSM criteria) mentioned was emptiness (92.9%), not emotional instability. While unstable relationships was very high on the list, even higher was the “self image” aspects of BPD – emptiness and questions of identity. Personally, as someone who has for several years paid devotion to the “altar” of DBT, those aspects are not as noted within the clinical framework that is DBT. In fact, the idea of “systems-level” issues (emotional system, impulse control system) seems to be the most common way of approaching BPD, once you get out of the psychoanalytic backwater and into the CBT/DBT state of the art. Yet, these self-reporting people with BPD report emptiness and questions of identity as the most common symptoms (at 92.9% and 91.8% respectively) and relationship-based issues (fear of abandonment, unstable relationships) in a close second (each at 91.8%). I guess I am wondering then if a name change to “emotional regulation disorder”, while it is certain much less stigmatizing than BPD, would actually capture the crux of the issue? And what would instead? Frankly, I don’t really think the name matters all that much (if the stigma was expunged).
What further got me interested in this data was the biographical data. Of 646 included responses (1,186 were excluded), 88.5% of the population was female, 88.7% was Caucasian, the mean age was 36 (the median 35) and 45.2% of the respondents were single/never been married (with over 18% in the divorced or separated category). So what we have here is a group of white, 30-something women who are generally not married or not attached to another person – and almost half have NEVER been so attached, even though their biological clock is ticking (at 36). Plus, they feel empty and have unstable relationships and fear people will leave them. Granted, I am making assumptions based on this data and I am generalizing and “averaging the averages” at some level, but if this is the picture of a borderline person, it makes sense as to why she would be angry and fearful and shameful.
Recently, I started working with several men who want to get their BPD girlfriends back. And the picture of a thirty-something, white, never-before-married woman with BPD has arisen in several of these cases. That got me thinking about this person with BPD and how she must feel about her life. Here she is: empty, sad, distrusting, childless (when her friends probably have kids), unmarried (no one will truly love her), with a history of broken relationships thrown aside (if it doesn’t work out I’ll feel horrible, best to end it now). I rarely see a non-BPD man in a relationship with such a woman who actually thinks about how it must feel to be in her shoes. I think it would be quite beneficial to the men in the lives of these women with BPD to consider how it feels to be in that situation – empty, unmarried, childless, in your mid-30s, etc. I think if one were really to ponder and meditate on what that must feel like, the behavior might become less confusing and more compassion could flow into the relationship.