We all know that borderlines have a reputation for being manipulative. It’s a pretty pervasive (and inaccurate) stereotype. There’s a lot to be said about it, but I don’t want this post to get too lengthy. So I’m just going to address a couple of things.
I have heard and read people say that borderlines will use suicide threats to get attention or to get what they want. For example, if they can’t get their therapist to talk to them or if a significant other talks about breaking up with them, a person with BPD might say they want to kill themselves. This is viewed as manipulative, as a tactic for getting our way.
I can’t speak for all borderlines, but that has NEVER been the case for me. What actually happens is that a situation that might not seem extreme to someone else truly does make me want to kill myself. I can remember a time several years ago when I got into an argument with my boyfriend at the time. I ended up crying and my ex-boyfriend refused to discuss the subject anymore because he thought I was upset over something stupid. Being told that I was upset over nothing caused me to escalate further. Then he said he didn’t want to be around me until I was over my crying fit. I wanted to know if he still loved me and if he forgave me. He told me those were ridiculous questions and left the apartment. His leaving while angry at me and the fact that he wouldn’t say that he loved me and forgave me sent me over the edge. While he was gone I became increasingly anxious and could not calm myself down. I was terrified of being abandoned, I hated myself for screwing everything up, I hated him for not understanding me and refusing to reassure me, and I felt completely hopeless about ever getting better. I wanted my life to be over. I was suicidal.
Of course when I texted my ex boyfriend and said I wanted to die, he said he didn’t want to talk to me and that I was just trying to get out of the situation.
I think that people just don’t understand that people with BPD truly feel things at an overwhelming intensity much of the time. If someone gets irritated at us and we burst into tears, we’re not crying to get out of accepting responsibility for our actions or to get the other person to feel sorry for us. We’re crying out of intense guilt or fear of the other person hating us or self-loathing or anger at ourselves for screwing up again.
I think part of the reason for the misunderstanding is that non-borderlines see us having big reactions to what they have decided are not big situations and they assume we have manipulative intentions. People aren’t always very good at understanding the functions of behavior. But when a kid has what we consider to be an overreaction to something, do we automatically think the kid is attempting to manipulate us? No. We just think they’re being a kid.
Sometimes, of course, kids are trying to play a situation. There’s a difference between a child throwing a tantrum when they don’t get a candy bar because they know their parent will eventually give in, and a kid crying because they are afraid of thunderstorms. Kids get upset over things that most adults don’t. Children cry more than adults; they are afraid more than adults. We might think they overreact or freak out over silly things, but we don’t think that makes them manipulative.
I don’t mean to infantilize those with borderline personality disorder, but the principle is kind of the same. Maybe the things that upset a person with BPD are trivial to non-borderlines. Maybe our reactions seem out of proportion. That doesn’t have to equal manipulation and wicked intentions. I’m not crazy about the idea of someone being dismissive of things that are important to me and cause me pain, but it’s better than being treated like I’m manipulative.
Again, I can’t speak for all borderlines. I’m sure some people with BPD are manipulative at times. But I don’t think the stereotype is deserved.