What’s in a name? Borderline Personality Disorder

Those of us that have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness know all too well that the name of the illness has a dramatic effect on us. It is both assuring as well as frightening. The name blends into our self identity. It becomes a part of us whether we want it to or not. Because of this, it is important that the name not add to either the trauma or the stigma that of the sufferer.

Borderline Personality Disorder was a term coined in the 1930s. While it supposedly had some kind of descriptive meaning at the time, that meaning seems to have been consigned to the dustbin of history. In truth, I wouldn’t have known that there was any descriptiveness to the name – much less what it was describing – if I hadn’t read it myself. Yet the image that the name conjures can serve to add to the trauma.

As an exercise, take a moment to reflect on what the name might indicate about the person.

While I don’t know what you imagined, it probably isn’t flattering; and most likely, it isn’t helpful in understanding what the person is dealing with.

Because the name can actually add to the ostracism that the person is already dealing with, not only is the name unhelpful, it can actually be hurtful. This seems to be exactly the argument that Jayashri Kulkarni is arguing in her article entitled “Borderline personality disorder is a hurtful label for real suffering – time we changed it.”

Read the article. Give it a chance; if not for you, then for someone you know or love. Consider what it would be like to have this title attached to you. Imagine if you had to inherit something so potentially cruel from society with no way to defend yourself from it. Imagine if it was in your medical records for every doctor to see, every nurse to read, every hospital to judge you by.

Yes, I agree with Jayashri Kulkarni that the name needs changed. In this day and age, there is no reason for anyone to carry the disparaging name of a diagnosis – especially if the diagnosis only adds to the negativity under which the person is already suffering.


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I am a writer of words, a thinker of thoughts, a changer of genders, and a queerer of life. I am an antagonist of the ordinary; and while I do tolerate it, I also look at it with contempt.

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