[content warning: discussion of rages, self-injury, suicidality, and abusive behavior]
Being borderline– not for everyone, but for most people– makes it harder not to hurt people.
One of the most iconic symptoms of borderline personality disorder is rages. They often come on suddenly, with other people having no idea what set them off. The borderline may cry, throw things, scream, insult people, hurl profanity, break possessions, threaten to leave their partners; some may even be violent. And then as quickly as the rage started, it subsides, and the borderline may be as horrified as anyone else at their behavior.
Even if they don’t rage, borderlines may have other difficulties with not harming others. For instance, most borderlines are suicidal or self-harm: out of fear that the borderline might harm themselves, people the borderline knows might find it difficult to set boundaries about how much time they’re willing to spend comforting the borderline, whether they give them money, or other subjects. Because it feels like being abandoned every time their friends go somewhere without them, borderlines may feel tempted to isolate people they’re close to. Many borderlines “test” people they’re close to (for instance, by giving them the silent treatment to see if they will initiate conversation on their own). Many borderlines are incredibly possessive. Moving away from the field of interpersonal relationships, most borderlines are impulsive, and sometimes this can lead to damaging others: for instance, driving recklessly can injure or even kill other people, and getting high while babysitting is risky for the child you’re taking care of.
This is a thought a lot of people are uncomfortable with. We know that you can have difficulties walking, or hearing, or turning in papers on time, or reading, but a lot of people seem to have this odd idea that it’s impossible to have an impairment in morality.
So I’ve noticed a couple different ways people try to resolve the conflict. First, many people demonize borderlines. It’s not that we’re people with a disability that makes it harder for us not to hurt others: it’s that we’re Inherently Evil. Some people claim that when borderlines self-harm it’s not a product of real pain, but just “manipulation” and “attention-seeking”. (Of course, if you need attention so badly you’re willing to cut yourself open for it, I’m… pretty sure you’re in some serious pain.) This ignores the obvious fact that many borderlines don’t want to hurt other people; indeed, borderlines whose emotions are not dysregulated are notoriously compassionate. For a lot of people, it’s not like they wake up in the morning and go “I know! I’m going to rage at my partner today!”; they just don’t know how else to handle anger.
Second, many people pretend that this is not an issue. For instance, they may claim that the idea that borderlines are sometimes awful people is “borderline stigma”. Of course, borderline personality disorder is very stigmatized. But the behavior I’m talking about wasn’t made up for Leaving The Horrible Bitch Demoness You’re Shackled To: A Guide For Innocent Nons Who Have Never Done Anything Wrong In Their Whole Entire Lives. A lot of it is literally in the diagnostic criteria: inappropriate, intense anger; substance abuse and reckless driving; recurrent suicidal behavior and self-harm. And the rest is well-attested in the literature, even by sympathetic people like Marsha Linehan.
Third, some people pretend that there’s not a problem with borderlines’ behavior. This is, for some reason, a very popular strategy on BPD Tumblr, large portions of which seem to be under the impression that not being okay with people screaming insults at you or needing to talk to you every thirty minutes is ableist. This is absurd. I do not intend to use moral culpability language here: I don’t think it’s particularly helpful. But the fact of the matter is that it is very difficult for us not to yell at or cling to people and sometimes it might even seem impossible– and it will cause harm to people we care about if we do it, not to mention causing other people to dislike us and maybe even try out that abandonment we were trying to avoid. That is not ableist or people falsely accusing borderlines of being abusive. It is a perfectly reasonable preference set.
I think it is hurtful for borderlines when people don’t realize that a lot of us have a hard time not hurting people, and it’s not because we’re evil. For one thing, the amount of work many borderlines put into not hurting people goes unrecognized. It literally does not occur to many people that not having rages is hard. Why would it? Most people have gone through their whole entire lives never having a rage because their partner bought the wrong kind of peanut butter. The amount of personal growth, self-awareness, and inner strength it takes to go “oh that fucker, I’m going to KILL– okay, deep breath, don’t do anything yet, check the facts, those are thoughts they’re not reality, now we’re going to go do jumping jacks to happy music until we’re calm” goes entirely unrecognized.
For another, it can be very invalidating of our guilt. I’ve done things that hurt people, some of whom I loved very much. I feel guilty about this. That’s okay! It’s not unreasonable or a sign of my irrational guilt complex that I feel guilty about hurting people I care about; that is what people are actually supposed to feel guilty about. But if you don’t realize that this is an experience most borderlines have, you can treat their perfectly justified guilt like it’s a sign of their mental illness.
I feel like having to accept that it is harder for me to not hurt people has made it easier for me to accept other demanding moral premises. For instance, some people have argued that vegan ideologies are ableist because many people are disabled and can’t go vegan. My reaction to this is mostly “yeah, so?” Many people can’t go vegan, and not going vegan leads to the horrific suffering of thousands of animals. Both can be true.