Borderline Personality Disorder, Trisha Paytas, Empathy and Accountability

I have been loved by, and have loved, those with Borderline Personality Disorder. I have in many ways seen the disorder very up close for my whole life. I have had intimate, fleeting, loving, sustained, relationships with those who suffer from the disorder. And I have something to say about it, in conjunction with a take about Trisha Paytas’ departure from the Frenemies podcast. 

To give a brief summary of the disorder, it is symptomatically characterized by persistent suicidality, fear of abandonment, relationship instability, impulsivity/mood swings, a shifting sense of self, emptiness, self-harm, and chronic anger. Up to 10% of those with BPD will die from suicide. The disorder is present in almost half of all outpatient mental health patients, and almost half of those who die by suicide have a personality disorder. A common evidence-based treatment for the disorder is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and has been shown to improve symptoms in those diagnosed with BPD. 

I have had friends, family, bullies/harassers, and partners with this disorder, and everyone I will be anecdotally and namelessly referencing has been diagnosed. It is not up to me to give a diagnosis as serious as BPD (or any at all, really) to a person who has not seen a doctor; the stigma of this disorder is very serious and difficult for those who have been diagnosed to work through.

The first thing that I want to say is that I have so, so much love for those who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder. In my experience, those who develop can be, and often are, incredibly intelligent, dynamic, driven, passionate, and in some cases can be incredibly kind and introspective. From my own trauma reactions and suicidality, I know what it’s like to feel trapped in a head and body that are doing things that you don’t really want to be doing. I really do, in the way that someone from the outside can, understand.

That being said, BPD is known, and for valid reasons, to be a very externalizing disorder. Sufferers tend to lash out in anger, fear, and frustration, and can be, in some cases, willing to lie, bully, and manipulate to soothe those emotions. In my 10 years in and out of inpatient, outpatient, and other types of therapy, I have seen both BPD sufferers and victims of those sufferers come through the mental healthcare system. Both are difficult states to be in, and both deserve validation and support.

Something I see online a lot, and have been told by those whom I have called out, is that by pointing out some of these BPD tendencies and validating victims of abuse, I am stigmatizing the disorder. My very last intention is to further stigmatize a disorder that already has a truly terrible, often undeservedly, reputation. My only intention is to validate those who are often told a variety of things about their abuser, ranging from “they can’t help it” to “you’re being ableist” and everything in between.

One of my very best childhood friends has BPD, and she was diagnosed recently. Looking back, I could have predicted the diagnosis- she was impulsive, hyper-sexual, dynamic and passionate, suicidal (I only knew vague things but I’m sure it was persistent and difficult for her), and engaged in behavior that got her into scary and regrettable situations. However, she is not an externalizer. She makes the choice to fight her worst instincts and be a kind, giving, sweet and giving person. She has never lashed out at anyone I’ve known in unjustified anger, and I’ve never heard of it happening. Her expressions to others, harsh or sweet, are done out of love. I could not adore her more and she has done a lot (though this is not her job) to destigmatizes the disorder for me. Why did it need destigmatizing, do you ask?

I dated a boy with this disorder. I can’t get into the details but as most of you know, he was deeply manipulative, sexually abusive, and leveraged self harm and suicide to keep me in the abusive relationship for almost two years. I don’t really feel at liberty, not legally but personally, to discuss this further, but know that for two years I was ensnared in this kind of relationship and got to see up-close exactly how a BPD brain works and the kind of trauma it can inflict upon others, when left untreated, inadequately treated, or enabled. I was a caretaker for him and every lie, manipulation, fear, and outburst was my responsibility. This carried over into my time at a therapeutic school, where a good number of the population suffered from BPD.

One time, I was on the phone with a girl who was and is diagnosed with BPD. I was explaining to and confiding in her a different instance of sexual abuse by someone we both knew. She consoled me, we had an emotional moment, and we hung up. Five minutes later, while I was dabbing my tears in the bathroom mirror, I got a call from the boy who had sexually abused me. He berated me for telling the girl I had just spoken to, and asked me to stop “telling lies.” Yes- she had immediately called him and told him everything, minutes after consoling me. This phenomenon is called splitting, and it is unique to BPD suffers in that they can emotionally turn on a dime- one minute I was a victim and a friend, the next minute I was means to the end, that end seemingly being getting brownie points from the sexual abuser, who she happened to think was “cute.”

This girl frequently leveraged her likely very real suicidality to get folks to pay attention to her. I hate framing it like that, but it’s an accurate rendition of what happened. One time, I was walking a downtown with a former boyfriend of mine when both of our phones pinged. It was this girl, sending a completely identical message to both of us. She was on a plane, and she was intending to take all of her medications at once in order to kill herself. It came across as disingenuous, given that it was a copy paste to two people. She made it off the plane fine, as she did with every other (of dozens) suicidal gesture over text. The suicidality was probably very real, but leveraging it as a manipulative tool is the distinction in behavior that makes it abusive and harmful.

Another BPD-diagnosed person from my school made an entire Instagram account to rant about how much she hated me, how much everyone hated me, and how terrible I was, and then followed all of my friends so they could see it. It took a little over fifteen minutes of my friends swarming the account, and me talking to her, to convince her to take it down, which reflects on how impulsive and anger-driven it was. It was very uncomfortable for me to heap her with validation and praise, minutes after the account went up, in order to get her to see me as human, but I was scared of her and her friends and my reaction is a common one when faced with manipulative and bullying behavior.

I do not name these instances in order to call anyone out, nor do I name them lightly. I was deeply, deeply affected by these occasions and many others, during which I felt bullied, harassed, taken advantage of, manipulated. I felt worthless, helpless, stupid, hated, and more. This is the negative effect that this disorder can have on other people.

I must be able to point that out without responses accusing me of inducing stigma, or being ableist. Perhaps those accusations are unavoidable, but they are certainly unwarranted. Validating that BPD is a medical disorder, that is it not voluntary, and that its behaviors are difficult to avoid cannot mean that those who are bullied, manipulated, and abused by folks with the disorder cannot seek help and sympathy, or talk about their abuse. The folks who experience the deleterious effects of another’s disorder are as valid of victims as those who are hurt by folks without diagnoses.

In the end, we as reactors to victims’ testimonies, must believe victims and give them the space to speak their truth. I want to emphasize again how much sympathy and love I have for the BPD community, and how little I want to be contributing to the stigma of the disorder. It is simply fact that the disorder, when externalized, can be devastating to others. This is not to say that it is not equally (or more) devastating to the sufferer; it likely is. That being said, as DBT would dictate, both can be true; abuse can be bad, and the abuser can be nuanced, out of control, and sick. Those with BPD can be kind and loving, and those with BPD can be manipulative abusers.

Trisha Paytas is a good example of the emotional dysregulation and interpersonal tumult that can accompany BPD. Paytas is known for having BPD, and has discussed it widely. She has until recently been a co-host of a popular podcast called Frenemies, alongside Youtube personality Ethan Klein. If you want to know the exact nuances of the conflict please Google it, but in sum, Paytas engaged in self-destructive, manipulative, and impulsive BPD behavior and quit the show, proceeding to then slander Klein’s name over a slew of closely timed videos on her Youtube channel. Klein handled the blowup with grace, extending his love to Paytas in his singular response video while explaining that he had no mal intent towards Paytas and that he didn’t want to hurt her, but that he needed to express both the truth and how he had been hurt.

So thank you for inspiring this article, Ethan Klein. I really have been nervous to post about by experience with those with BPD, and I felt empowered by your ability to be kind and forgiving while also standing up for yourself and setting the record straight; staying kind to yourself and Paytas.

Mental illnesses of all sorts can result in harm done to both the sufferer and to those around them. It’s the job of a nuanced and sympathetic society to provide space for both sides of this coin to express themselves and heal. Again, I have so much appreciation for the difficult battle that those with BPD are fighting, every second of every day. That doesn’t mean that anyone has to put up with abuse, it just means that love can abound in spite of extraordinary pain.

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