What’s in a Name?

As someone who mostly eschews labels, I am more and more perplexed by our ability to slap those things onto others and ourselves so eagerly—well maybe not so eagerly, but so often without putting up much of a fight. I did that with calling myself an “alcoholic” for so many years, and I think that limited me in some ways. I saw myself through a certain, distorted lens where my trauma and my shame were things I seemingly had some responsibility for since there was so much emphasis on he “moral” aspect of my condition.

Fortunately, I’ve never stopped exploring and staying curious, and I think that, ultimately, was my saving grace. I didn’t succumb to my label. I encourage you, too, to treat whatever label you’ve been given—or given yourself—as something that might help you get help, but that might also put you in a box from which it might be hard to free yourself from. Proceed with caution. Recently, there’s been some discussion about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a diagnosis that covers a range of symptoms and behaviors that might or might not be pathological.

Those behaviors might be stemming from the fact that a person reacts in a certain way to triggers after a traumatic time in their life and develops coping mechanisms that are not healthy. Self-harm so frequent in borderline, inability to properly regulate emotions, fear of abandonment… all those behaviors are also not so uncommon responses in victims of abuse. In the article “We need to tread Borderline Personality Disorder for what it really is – response to trauma”  it says, “Most people who suffer from BPD have a history of major trauma, often sustained in childhood. This includes sexual and physical abuse, extreme neglect, and separation from parents and loved ones. This link with trauma – particularly physical and sexual abuse – has been studied extensively and has been shown to be near-ubiquitous in patients with BPD.”

Furthermore, the article talks about the actual name of this mental illness: “Labelling people with BPD as having a personality disorder can exacerbate their poor self-esteem. “Personality disorder” translates in many people’s minds as a personality flaw, and this can lead to or exacerbate an ingrained sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.”

Take those three words: “personality,” “borderline” and “disorder.” What a terrible combo. From the Oxford English Dictionary, “borderline—barely acceptable in quality or as belonging to a category; on the borderline.” Barely acceptable? And to say that there is such thing as personality disorder—a personality that is confused, messy, it’s no wonder that people with BPD are discriminated against, that the stigma is much greater than it can be for example, with depression (although it’s not like we don’t discriminate against depression either; it’s just a much cleaner, and more socially acceptable brain chemistry).

I don’t know what the solution is, as many diagnoses are useful as directives in how to conduct treatment, but I don’t believe we should rest on our laurels just yet and accept that our pain needs a name (a label) that will further damage our sense of self-worth and esteem.

 

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