A diagnosis for any type of Personality Disorder or mental health issue doesn’t have to be a negative diagnosis. Often times such conditions are portrayed as only dangerous or detrimental to someone’s well-being, and while that may be part of the truth, it isn’t necessarily the whole truth. The very thing that makes a person unique, special, or individual might just fit within one of the diagnostic codes part of a PD or other mental health concern. By definition, a diagnosis is a group of characteristics that deviate from the normal expression of a behavior or trait. The same could be said for someone with remarkably high intelligence or who performs at an above level standard. A gift of music or talent in sports is celebrated, but aren’t these also just traits in people that may function outside of the norm?
I would propose that every disorder can have some benefit. Depression can cause a person to turn inward and become more reflective or self-analytical, helping to release strong feelings of disappointment, grief, or rejection. In this way, depression can provide a very beneficial cleansing experience. Anxiety, when seen as a warning signal instead of something to fear, can heighten the senses and alert a person of impending danger, a triggered memory, or a potential overload. Used properly, anxiety can become a guiding friend instead of a tortured foe.
Of all the diagnoses that get a bad rap however, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is the most frequently mistreated. Most of the articles, blogs, books, and videos about the disorder have a negative spin warning others to get away from anyone with these symptoms. Yet, there is a beauty to this disorder. A person with BPD will have a real, raw, natural vulnerability that is so unique and different from other people. Either by intention or not, most reality TV shows end up featuring a person with BPD because of this authentic openness. Here are a few other gifts of this disorder that you may never have heard of.
- Highly self-aware. At any given moment, most people with BPD are profoundly aware of their feelings regardless of the natural conflict the differing emotions might possess. For instance, they might feel excited going to a party, rejected when they see someone who was unkind, abandoned when the person they came with engages with someone else, and happy when they meet a new person with common interests. No matter what or how much they may feel in such a short span of time, they can usually identify that feeling and be aware of how it affects them.
- Intense passion. The ability to feel and express intense passion for a person, art, literature, music, sports, food, dance and other areas of interest comes naturally to a person with BPD. In fact, they know no other way of living other than to engage fully in their craft. The idea that they have to take initiative to follow their passion is foreign because, for them, life is not worth living without it. This makes for a driven and hard-working person.
- Exciting and alive. When a person with BPD is engaged in their passion, they are thrilled to be around. Their natural excitement for doing their craft is so intoxicating that others want to contagiously absorb some of their enthusiasm. It is exhilarating and inspiring to see an athlete break a new record, a musician playing their instrument in ways unheard before, or a dancer perform unashamedly.
- Ability to sense the emotions of others. Another gifting of BPD is a keen awareness of the emotions of others. Oftentimes a person with BPD will sense an emotion such as anger from someone else that the person is ignorant or in denial of feeling. When this talent is combined with an intense passion for painting, for instance, a picture can reveal a mood that is obvious to the observer but oblivious to the model.
- Strong empathetic side. Because a person with BPD possesses the ability to sense the emotions of others, they also tend to absorb said emotions. As such, not only are they “walking in another person’s shoes” quite naturally, but they also are able to strongly empathize with those people. Actors/actresses who have BPD use this ability to enhance their performance and connect with their character at a deep level.
- Powerful intimate connection. Two of the necessary ingredients to a deep intimate connection are an awareness of self and an ability to empathize with others. Without these, any attempt at intimacy is shallow and feels unsatisfactory to the recipient. Because a person with BPD has these two items in abundance, they tend to make powerful, whole-hearted, and unreserved connections very quickly, almost too quickly for other people’s level of comfort.
- A desire for the community. BPD is one of two personality disorders (the other is dependent) that fully appreciates and understands the need for others to be in their life. This is not a concept that needs any further explanation for them as they completely grasp the need for the community at a deep level. Their perpetual fear of abandonment propels them to engage in relationships whether new or old.
The bottom line is this: don’t dismiss anyone with BPD because of their disorder. Villainizing someone with any disorder is a mistake, but allowing the opinions of the media and other people to negatively alter your perception about those with BPD will only foster more misconceptions about them when there are already so many inaccurate descriptions circulating out there. Take the time to engage and learn from someone with BPD instead -they have so much to offer and can make life wonderful.
For more on this topic, you can watch the webinar The Gifting of Borderline Personality Disorder.