What Is Borderline Personality Disorder And Importance Of Empathy Towards People Suffering?

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder And Importance Of Empathy Towards People Suffering?

The notion of today’s world has changed. I’ve often heard, “it’s important to be empathic than sympathetic for anyone.” But, the question remains, how many of us know what is empathy? Authors Konstantikaki and Ioannidou describe empathy, “is the "capacity" to share and understand another’s "state of mind" or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself.” It is not necessary to have experienced or lived a similar life of another person to empathize with them. However, do all of us understand the challenges of a person with a mental health condition to truly empathize with him or her? Imagine you are diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. It is a personality disorder from cluster B which is considered to be dramatic. The symptoms include perceived fear of abandonment from loved ones, chronic feelings of emptiness, frequent mood fluctuations, unstable relationships, a consistent discrepancy in the sense of self, indulging in self-harm, and have a history of childhood abuse or parental neglect. Now, think during the Pandemic 2020, despite staying with your family members for twenty hours and more, you still feel they will leave you or you are less wanted in their life. All of a sudden, you experience a depressed mood and feelings of anxiety. It gets worse when one of your parents tell you, stop being dramatic and deal with it. It becomes difficult for caregivers to reassure people with this disorder that they are not alone or to keep up with their mood swings.

Empathy is to think, imagine, and approximately attempt to understand the emotions of another person. Empathy could vary in the understanding state of mind, the reaction of others, and accepting emotions. Davis (1983) defined empathy as the way we react to one another. Recent research shows people with borderline personality disorder are more sensitive to the emotional experiences of self and others. Earlier, researchers believed that people with borderline personality disorder lacked cognitive empathy. However, psychologists now understand even though people with borderline personality disorder have a lower threshold for negative emotions, they scan their environment thoroughly. They notice facial expressions, change in tone of voice quality, the choice of words used by another person, and the social gestures (Besel and Yuille, 2010; Eisenberg and Miller, 1987). These tendencies decipher that people with borderline personality disorder are hypersensitive to the energy and emotions of other people and animals. A similar finding was recorded by Orloff (2011). Orloff states, “An empath is extremely sensitive to the emotions and energy of other people, animals, and places.” People with borderline personality disorder have a deficit in needs that have not been met, especially in childhood. In addition, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual -5, people with borderline personality disorder seem to have a history of experienced abuse. Imagine parents going out on a vacation for three days leaving behind a two-month infant. It sounds less dramatic. But, now logically let’s count the meals an infant missed. If the mother feeds her newly born six times in the day that is eighteen times the infant was rejected of food from his or her primary caregiver. Paediatricians and developmental psychologists find this to create an insecure attachment with the primary caregiver. A caregiver who deprived the child of love, care, safety, and nourishment.

Is it the deprived need for safety as a child or an innate quality that led to empathy in people with borderline personality disorder? They’re often termed as difficult patients for therapists and seen as toxic partners. Interestingly, no one speaks of their deprivation as a marker to their functioning. Family members and friends find them indulging in immature acts of seeking attention. A prejudiced way of seeing any person with a mental health condition is that they are disabled. Family members start making decisions on their behalf, and it is believed the person has very little insight. On the contrary, people with BPD find themselves problematic more than anyone else does. So, when will the world truly see them independent of their mental health condition? While the world stands on one end thinking they empathize with others, people with borderline personality disorder feel the pain of others like their own. They support and jump impulsively to help others in troubled times. This is usually observed as an act of unstable relationship and impulsivity but it could be an act of empathic sensitivity. The idea to create safety around one person might mean creating safety for himself or herself. This level of understanding of someone else’s emotion and state of mind is empathy. They are true empaths when it comes to empathizing with others. It is a level of empathy that we need to be able to empathize with people with mental health conditions. And for that, sensitization and acceptance are foremost. As a mental health survivor, there are physical injuries and marks that one wakes up with every day on the body. They exist to remind you what happened with you and creates a plethora of intolerable emotions. A person who has not experienced such a condition will never know that healing takes forever. It is well researched that empathy can cause empathy distress to such people, as borderline personality disorder for experiencing other is emotions (Chikovani, 2015). Yet, they truly empathize with normal members of society and with other labelled individuals.

About the Author

Sanjoni Sethi
Psychologist.

Sanjoni Sethi is a mental health scholar. She has completed her Master’s Programme in Clinical Psychology (M.Sc Clinical Psychology) from

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