The Stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder
The stigmatization of individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder does not end in the emergency room or the doctor’s office. The stigma really becomes a serious issue when it lends itself towards criminal activity, and the unjust perception that criminals are often BPD sufferers.
A lot of criminal activity is either blamed on psychopathic personality traits, or entirely attributed to personality disorders in general. This leads to the general perception that those with borderline personality disorder, or other personality disorders, are inherently capable of criminal activity, on any scale. While it is absolutely possible that someone with a personality disorder can commit any kind of crime, be it violent or just petty, it is not solely those individuals that perpetrate criminal activities.
Psychologist Melvin Konner, M.D., Ph.D. states “In essence, day-by-day evil is done by people with certain severe personality disorders…” he also claims “The thing about them though, is that they often love intensely and inspire the love of others. That’s what makes them powerful and what makes the people around them vulnerable. Their love is intense, controlling, unreliable, and toxic.” when referring to BPD patients in specific. While it is possible that there are criminals committing crimes on a daily basis that fall into the category of a borderline personality diagnosis, it cannot be concluded that all day-by-day crime is committed by those with personality disorders.
First, we need to examine the personality traits of those with borderline personality disorder that may lead them to commit crime. Individuals with BPD have a lot on their plate when it comes to impulse control and emotional regulation. These people typically have a very hard time controlling their impulses, and this symptomatology can vary in severity from person to person, similar to how it would in a neurotypical group of individuals. The difference between impulsivity in those with borderline personality disorder and a neurotypical individual is the response to those impulses. Those with BPD may have a hard time rationalizing avoiding a dangerous activity, or one that puts others in potential danger. Being that this emotional impulsivity exists stronger in BPD patients, it can paint the picture that they are more prone to committing crimes. However, this is not necessarily the case.
In the article Personality Disorders and Violence: What is the link? by Richard Howard, he claims “Moreover, antisocial/borderline PD comorbidity has been found to be strongly associated with degree of severe violence perpetrated by personality disordered offenders.” There are so many factors that need to be taken into account when generalizing a population of mental health patients, especially comorbidity. Comorbidity is the existence of multiple factors that play into the result of a given negative situation. While borderline personality disorder has never been found to be conclusively violent or inherently criminally motivating, antisocial personality disorder has been found to be a driving force in criminal activity. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to act carelessly and completely disregard the safety, feelings, and well-being of everyone around them. This is not characteristic of borderline personality disorder. When two conditions exist within the same person, it becomes nearly impossible to blame one aspect of their personality for their actions, which leads to a generalized viewpoint of all aspects of their personality playing into their violent/dangerous behavior.
In psychologist Sudhinta Sinha’s academic article Personality correlates of criminals: A comparative study of normal controls and criminals she says “If we scrutinize the life histories of people who commit and are convicted of real, or victimizing, crimes, especially the histories of recidivist criminals, we find that the criminal’s personality has become organized around the principle of attacking, going against, and taking from people as his/her way of relating to them. Early in life, he/she learned to take what he/she wanted. Once the personality is so organized, he/she repeatedly commits crime, and he/she does so compulsively.” This is the typical case when it comes to criminals: their behavior stems from a long history of acting out, or being horribly abused. When looking at borderline personality disorder, we don’t find this to be the cause. Individuals with borderline personality disorder usually begin to show symptoms of their condition after childhood neglect, sexual trauma, and physical abuse. The structure of someone with borderline personality disorder by itself is different than someone who is a violent, psychopathic criminal. Those with BPD tend to regress, rather than progress into someone who is violent. Their behaviors often serve as coping mechanisms and a way to defend themselves, and this doesn’t make them act out violently. Borderline personality disorder is not often categorized as violent, or maliciously cruel, while psychopathic disorders such as antisocial personality disorder are.
Konner claims that those with borderline personality disorder use their intense emotions of love and attachment to their advantage, and this helps them make those around them vulnerable and emotionally compromised. While this is a true tendency of those with borderline personality disorder, it does not suggest criminal activity. These behaviors are often primarily exemplified in interpersonal relationships, rather than unprovoked crime or violence. The damage that these behaviors cause is limited to emotional damage in another person, not physical violence. Generalizing BPD sufferers in with all other personality disorders and their related crimes therefore does not carry any real weight.
Howard, R. (2015, September 17). Personality disorders and violence: What is the link? Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://bpded.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40479-015-0033-x
Mel, & Says:, J. (2015, February 21). “Evil genes”. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.melvinkonner.com/evil-genes/
Sinha, S. (2016). Personality correlates of criminals: A comparative study between normal controls and criminals. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5248419/