By Ashley Nestler, MSW
As a woman living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and as a mental health professional, I have researched the disorder significantly to better understand it.
As one of the most stigmatized mental health conditions, BPD is not covered extensively when in school for a mental health profession. This causes a disservice to those who live with the illness and the mental health professionals who treat them. Especially considering the vast range of signs and symptoms associated with BPD.
A large part of the problem is the level of stigma embedded in the way we talk about and define BPD symptoms — i.e. mercurial, superficial, impulsive, highly manipulative of others, etc. You can tell how stigmatized they are just by the way they are described, such as the symptom of “attention-seeking behaviors,” which invalidates the turmoil a person with BPD goes through.
The symptoms of BPD are often seen as exaggerative or abrasive, which can compromise the accessibility of treatment and the accuracy of diagnoses. It took me many years to be properly diagnosed and treated, which is very common for people with this illness.
One of the best ways to create more understanding and empathy is to take a step back and try to understand the underlying causes of BPD symptoms.
Most individuals with BPD have experienced some form of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment at some point in their lives, with many experiencing this abuse during childhood. Any form of abuse can lead to an inability to manage one’s emotions or create trust or secure relationships with others.
Now, imagine having experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment and trying to navigate the world as an adult when you don’t know how to regulate or express your emotions or connect with others in a healthy way. Understanding the abuse that often lies beneath BPD is imperative to creating acceptance and tackling the stigma surrounding this illness.
Many individuals who live with borderline personality disorder may not understand their impulsive or manipulative actions, and many do not see their actions until they are pointed out to them. That’s how it was for me.
Before treatment, I was flirtatious with others to try to find some form of acceptance or validation, and I would struggle with impulsive shopping and high peaks of energy and intense boredom. I had many superficial relationships because of how hard it was to trust others, and I experienced strong mood swings because of how abuse impacted my ability to express myself safely.
I still struggle with these symptoms from time to time, but learning strategies on how to regulate my emotions helped me manage my impulsivity in relationships and with money. Additionally, helping my loved ones understand my illness has strengthened my relationships, and that connection is so important when it comes to BPD.
There are so many underlying causes for developing borderline personality disorder, but I find that the symptoms that are most stigmatized cause professionals and others to avoid individuals with the condition. It is imperative that we rewrite the script and understand the abuse, neglect and abandonment that many people with BPD have experienced.
By starting the discussion with the causes, and not just the symptoms, we can create empathy and provide more treatment options for people with this mental illness.
Ashley Nestler, MSW, is a survivor of schizoaffective disorder, quiet borderline personality disorder, fibromyalgia, bulimia nervosa, obsessive compulsive disorder and Complex PTSD. Ashley is an educator on Borderline Personality Disorder and the creator of Releasing the Phoenix and The Ignite and Rise Academy. Website: www.releasingthephoenix.com
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