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BPD And The Media ‒ Reinforcing Stigma Vs. Portraying The Truth

Written by: Ryan Light, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial is the most recent scenario where the already highly negative stigma of Borderline Personality Disorder was reinforced through the media. Depictions of BPD in television, movies and social media have mostly been portrayed by someone who is shown to be overly dramatic, violent, untreatable and all too often associated with criminal activity.

The sad part about all this is that what the media describes as a typical "borderline" is how so many views those diagnosed with this disorder.

"Run for the hills" and "Get out as fast as you can" are just a few phrases I've heard others say when faced with meeting and/or dating what many terms as a pwBPD (person with Borderline Personality Disorder).

Unfortunately, these depictions are taken at face value and then viewed as truths. Labels are assigned like mugshot numbers, branding these individuals for life.

The fact is those struggling with BPD are some of the most caring, creative, intelligent individuals I've ever met. They have also lived through and had to deal with more trauma, hurt and pain than any human being should ever have to face.

The Truths About BPD

Those who struggle with BPD are often ostracized, shunned, ridiculed, and left to fend for themselves. Time and time again, media resources fall short on the truths about what Borderline Personality Disorder truly is.

They focus on an individual's behavior, yet how often do you see them dive into the backstory of "why?"

Yes, individuals diagnosed with BPD tend to self-harm, attempt suicide, seem over the top in their reactions, but when does anyone dig deeper into the root causes of that behavior?

Face value is where the media's depiction seems to end.

Yet that doesn't even scratch the surface of what BPD is all about.

Most diagnosed with BPD lived out a childhood steeped in trauma. Some of it was physical abuse, some were sexual abuse, but what is often overlooked is the trauma of abandonment and neglect.

Even with that, people's grasp of those words falls short ‒ as in understanding the meanings of emotional abandonment and neglect.

A few examples of these might include:

  • A child being separated from their parent(s) at birth due to medical complications.

  • A mother or father being physically present, but emotionally unavailable.

  • One or both adults who involve their child in parentification, emotional incest or enmeshment.

  • A parent who is an alcoholic, addict or ends up in jail.

  • A caregiver whose love is given conditionally rather than unconditionally.

The behaviors seen in those struggling with BPD are just the manifestations of unresolved trauma, abuse, abandonment, and neglect.

Yet as a society, we often base our judgment off what we visually see, when the real problem lies in the unresolved trauma which is invisible and resides well below the surface.

Unrealistic Depictions of BPD

In movies and television, characters who are violent or involved in criminal activity are the ones seemingly labeled with BPD.

The truth is the opposite.

Those diagnosed with BPD are more susceptible to finding themselves the victim of violence versus perpetrating the event themselves.

Characters are depicted as hostile, crazy and untreatable ‒ which are also misrepresentations of BPD.

Yes, those struggling may come across as reactionary and take longer to decompress from those reactions.

But again, we should be looking past that and asking ourselves, "why?"

Those dealing with BPD most often had their emotional intelligence stunted in childhood at the time their trauma began.

When we describe them as "throwing a tantrum", think about what a 5-year-old would do in that exact same situation. Kind of makes sense now doesn't it?

  • Individuals diagnosed with BPD either express their anger externally through rage or internally (Quiet BPD). Those who externally rage do this most likely because that was the only way they could get their parents attention as a child. While those who were taught that showing emotions was taboo or not allowed are usually the ones who lean towards people pleasing and find themselves in the role of perfectionists.

  • Self-harm is looked upon as an act of attention seeking. The fact is self-harm marks are mostly hidden because they are ashamed of them. This form of coping is done out of a need to either let out their bottled up, overwhelming emotions, or to actually feel something when they are completely numb on the inside.

  • As far as suicide, up to 10% of those living with BPD will successfully take their own life ‒ not out of a way to punish anyone or as a "selfish" act, but because the pain, stigma and feelings of complete worthlessness are more than they can bear anymore. Quite often, they view suicide as a blessing FOR YOU because they think your life would be much better off without them in it.

BPD and Stigma

The Depp/Heard trial did absolutely NOTHING to help bring about the truths of BPD, but only stigmatized the disorder and the individuals diagnosed even further.

I know several people dealing with BPD who during this trial were seen spiraling down that rabbit hole of feeling unlovable, unwanted, and completely and utterly alone.

I am all for bringing awareness to any mental health issue, but the media still has a very long way to go when it comes to the depiction and portrayal of the whole truth.

When they are just relaying bits and pieces out there to hook an audience, they need to remember how their incomplete depiction affects those who struggle with these diagnoses on a 24/7 basis.

Though they may be inflating their ratings, they are deflating the hope of many who are fighting day in and day out to heal, by ostracizing them from friends, family, health professionals and society in general.

The reality of BPD lies in this:

  • Borderline Personality Disorder IS treatable.

  • Those dealing with BPD are NOT crazy.

  • They are individuals with the emotional skin of a third degree burn victim, are often highly sensitive and live in a black and white world filled with doubt, a lack of identity and an insane amount of fear.

  • Yet they are also extremely empathetic, highly intelligent, massively creative and love deeper than most of us will ever know the likes of.

The bottom line is that stigma serves only one purpose ‒ and that is to destroy.

Not only does it tear apart the lives and families of those diagnosed with BPD, but it also destroys the truth of who these individuals really are.

Follow Ryan on his Facebook, Instagram and website for more info!


Ryan Light, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ryan Light is a mental health coach, author, thought leader, and influencer in the mental health space. Having spent 20 years of his life attempting to run, avoid and hide from the pain of his childhood and adolescence. He struggled with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and panic disorder. After contemplating suicide, Ryan decided to finally confront his traumas through what he now coins “Feeling Work” and heal the real issues plaguing him with various mental health disorders. Today, his passion lies in guiding others through their struggles with anxiety, depression, and/or trauma through such avenues as social media, public speaking, self-paced courses, e-books, live workshops, and 1:1 coaching.



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