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**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a condition that has great destructive power and hard-to-ignore symptoms (e.g., extreme anger, self-harm, suicidal thinking and threats, and dangerous impulsivity), and this is why people take note and sometimes work on making improvements. That being said, BPD is a disorder that does not have to happen to anyone. It is not predetermined genetically. It comes about only because of natural human variation, a severe lack of understanding of natural human variation, and a combination of societal factors that are not recognized as destructive to humans and strongly influential to mental illness.
I have learned a great deal about BPD since becoming a psychologist, realizing that I suffered from the condition, and taking every step possible to work through it. I have reflected and studied at great length about the various ways BPD becomes a health issue and what can be done about it. In all of this effort and process, I have developed firm opinions about the ways that society and culture influence the onset and persistence of BPD. My basic conclusion has become that if we didn’t live in a such a retarded (meaning mental health ignorant) society that has its priorities all messed up, then BPD might not happen at all.
Of course, with having such strong opinions comes the insistence to make an argument to support the opinions, and so in this article, I will expand a little bit upon what I mean when I say “Mental Health Retardation.” My arguments are based on my clinical learning, supporting others in mental health, and living with mental illness. My ideas come from the reality of my story. I believe my first-hand experience is plenty enough to count as valuable and has some inherent legitimacy; nonetheless, I do always acknowledge that my insights are limited to the realm of opinion.
For the susceptible type of human (those who are more naturally emotionally sensitive) to grow up free from Borderline Personality Disorder requires that a stable childhood with stable and available parents takes place, and therefore, that the brain of the developing individual can fully blossom and function optimally. Freedom from disorder furthermore requires living mostly (if not entirely) free from abuse, neglect, and trauma. It also requires receiving helpful guidance from caregivers and learning skills to work together and effectively manage emotions as they may arise.
The problem in modern society seems to be that many of these essential ingredients are not available or offered to many children who desperately need them. And what exactly is modern society you may ask? In the opinion of this writer, it is the pattern of human life that emerged since the industrial revolution – when humans started making attempts to turn other humans into machines and commodities, and now more and more attempting to replace humans with machines.
The long-term result of living this type of reality is unrealized delays in emotional development and mental health disorder that quite often takes the form of BPD. And since society remains so “mental health retarded,” it tends to punish those who have illnesses (like BPD) that are hard to understand instead of shining the light of accountability in the right direction (on itself). Even so, punishment does nothing to rehabilitate or support, rather it only prolongs the suffering of those who acquired the unnecessary illness in the first place.
*Please note: The following paragraphs are meant to tentatively propose a very general and apparently persisting pattern among those living in modern society (myself included) and faced with mental health issues. It is not intended in any way to demean, discourage, stigmatize, or disrespect.
One of the first things that come to mind for me when considering “Mental Health Retardation” in society is how many people accessing therapy services admit that “they don’t know how to take care of their mental health.” This admission typically happens after some initial inquiry into what’s happening in their lives and how the emotions they experience are being managed (or not). Most people admit that they have little understanding of what I am referring to when I ask about “emotional management,” that they are not in touch with the more delicate details of their emotional experience, and that they wouldn’t know what to do with their emotions if they were more in touch with them.
The next thing that comes to mind is what happens when couples demonstrate their method of communication in therapy, which typically becomes a demonstration of how to mismanage emotions and create toxicity/conflict, over and over again. Indeed, meeting with couples can be like having a front row seat at the spectacle of blaming and fighting over “facts” – a pattern that no doubt gets repeated outside of therapy. From their demonstration, I usually deduce that healthy communication was never taught or demonstrated in their respective families of origin during their childhood development. Most people in these situations will usually admit that they don’t know what healthy communication actually entails.
My general take on modern society as a whole is that we are all mostly consumed with activities of producing, consuming, and being entertained. The general mindset seems to be one of “getting ahead” and getting more and more of what has been marketed to us as being “good to have and do.” To live in this way perpetually induces a pattern of LOW OR NO INTEREST in matters of mental health. The competitors for dollars incessantly do everything in their power to capture our attention and take our time and money, and when the whole of society becomes competitive in like manner, then, of course, many important matters will lose their significance. Modern technology, in my view, works very well to amplify the competition between humans and the associated consequences of ignorance and illness.
It makes perfect sense to me that children with hard-to-detect emotional vulnerabilities would develop emotional disorders (like BPD) in societies that prioritize competition over health, that prioritize money making over health, and that are obsessed with economic growth. How can there ever be sufficient time and attention to emotional health when the competition for time and attention remains so intense, and the culture convinces it’s members to hypervigilantly focus on financial independence? Modern societies have chosen to encourage free markets and large-scale capitalism, but the apparent cost is trading in mental health for empires, endless toys, luxuries, entertainments and services.
In my view, to escape Borderline Personality Disorder requires that a person fully realize the cultural context in which his disorder takes shape. The importance of making this realization is why I make such a big deal about connections between free markets, capitalism, and mental health. To continue taking for granted that the very system you belong to is creating illness is to continue down the path of illness, especially if you may be vulnerable to illness. To recognize the truth of these things creates the possibility of defiantly taking the steps necessary to regain your sanity.