People with Cluster B personality disorders may have trouble in social situations — one of the hallmarks of Cluster B disorders is overdramatic behavior that doesn’t make sense to people who aren’t in our heads. It is important to note, however, that a lot of us in treatment (on our own or with the help of professionals) actively work to generate empathy within ourselves. Empathy can be learned — which is something I still have trouble grasping sometimes, even though I myself had to learn it and I repeat this fact to others on a daily basis.
The narrative in our culture tends this way: if you have a Cluster B personality disorder, you are going to be abusive, because it’s built into your makeup. (Even Googling for “Cluster B Personality Disorder and Abuse” leads me to myriad links about “How to avoid BPD people” and “Borderline Red Flags,” compared to a dearth of links on BPD people being abused.) It took me years after being diagnosed to realize that I could have BPD and NOT be an abuser. It’s a harmful narrative that “Cluster B personality disorders turn people into abusers” — I didn’t realize that I was capable of being anything else and resigned myself to my terrible behavior. It led to lots of self-doubt, low self-worth, and suicidal tendencies, because with this disorder, how could I ever be a worthwhile human?
As always, if people are using their Cluster B personality disorders as an excuse for abuse, that’s Not OK. I know people do it — I’ve been a victim of that behavior my entire life. But when it’s woven into the fabric of society that if you have a Cluster B disorder, you’re an abuser, it becomes distressingly much easier to throw your hands up and say, “Well, don’t blame me, I have a personality disorder” than to be held accountable for your actions.
The idea that people with Cluster B disorders are always going to be abusers, though, is not only harmful, it’s a whole lot of ableist gaslighting. It sets people up for failure. It took me so much unlearning to realize that I AM capable of empathy — empathy CAN be learned. I am NOT destined to be an abuser. This is a reality I and many, many other Cluster B sufferers fight for every day with the very core of our beings.
Breakdowns happen. They’re not pretty and they’re not easy. People with personality disorders are more prone to breakdowns and are going to need help and understanding getting through it. What’s become something of a mantra of mine lately is “it’s not about action, it’s about reaction” — if someone has a breakdown and is unwilling to take responsibility for their actions, that’s a problem. If they’re unwilling to say “I have a personality disorder, I was in a bad state and I will try to do better in the future” or simply “I apologise,” that is a problem. A personality disorder does not eliminate the need for accountability.
People with personality disorders will need more patience from neurotypicals, and neurotypicals need to check their privilege. Those of us struggling with personality disorders CAN choose to be cognizant of our actions — even if it’s after the fact. And we CAN choose to try and get better.
There WILL be backslides. People fuck up, and those of us with Cluster B disorders may fuck up more often. But it’s not an excuse for abuse.
(As an aside, minor Supergirl spoilers this paragraph: If you’ve ever seen Supergirl, I highly recommend Season 1, Episode 16, “Falling.” What happens to Kara in that episode is one of the best portrayals I have seen to explain what it’s like to be Borderline. She knows exactly how much damage she is doing but she’s unable to stop herself, and you can see the effect it has on her at the end of the episode.)
I will full well admit that I made some shitty choices in the past. Some were not as a result of my personality disorder, but as a result of what society told me I should be. Most were as a result of generally making poor decisions as a human who can think for myself. Very few were a result of my Borderline (although some were results of failed attempts of professionals to treat me).
Realizing that I am Borderline and finding my diagnosis came with relief — I finally had a name for all these things I’d been experiencing — but also fear — that I could never be better than the narcissist who raised me. The difference between us? I’m willing to be held accountable for my actions, and I recognize the distinction between an explanation and an excuse.