Borderline Personality Disorder and Buddhism (II)

Borderline Personality Disorder and Buddhism (II) September 25, 2008

This is my second post on this topic, preparing for a couple talks. The first post is here. There I gave a brief overview of the disorder and some of the ways it has been understood by different professionals. This time I want to focus on the Borderline person directly.

Note that I am not a psychiatrist or therapist, just a Buddhist practitioner who has recently become interested in the disorder. Most of what I know comes from personal experience, websites, a few books, online support groups, and conversations with friends. One of the first things I read and should have mentioned before is that none of us should try to diagnose ourselves or others, that is the job of the professionals. If you strongly believe someone you care for has this, visit The best thing you can do to begin with is to get educated.

The first thing I would say to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is that there is hope. What is needed is an initial shot of self-love and the recognition that this not something you are stuck with forever. Underneith the pain and emptiness is a wonderful and stable and loving self, just waiting to be awakened.

Dwelling deep within our hearts and the hearts of all beings without exception, is an inexhaustible source of love and wisdom. And the ultimate purpose of all spiritual practices, whether they are called Buddhist or not, is to make contact with this essentially pure nature.” Lama Thubten Yeshe

The second thing I would say is that it is up to you. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t get help, because you should! Finding a therapist, preferably one well versed in DBT, can make a world of difference. What I would say is that happiness and health for you are not about finding the right partner, the person who can handle your mood swings, impulsiveness, and fear of abandonment. Many of the people who ‘make it work’ with a Borderline person are themselves mentally unhealthy. They may be co-dependent, severely depressed, or suffereing from a personality disorder themselves. So seeking a romantic partner to ‘get you’ and accept you while not working on yourself is a recipe for disaster. Even if you can make it work together, odds are that your kids (who REALLY NEED stable parenting) will suffer.

Joseph Campbell states, “…where we thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

To fine yourself with all the world, the first step you can take is to educate yourself. There are two websites I would heartilly recommend visiting. The first is This is a treasure-trove of information, books, resources, and so on. The second site is by A.J. Mahari, a recovered borderline. She was raised by borderline parents, went through it herself, and proceded into a relationship with a borderline! Needless to say, she knows the disorder well. I would highly recommend her interview with Tami Green (another recovered Borderline), on the right side under “Radio Shows” as a starter to reemphasise the twin aspects of hope and the hard work required to overcome BPD.

Speaking as a Buddhist practitioner, I would emphasise beginning with self-acceptance. Accepting that the process will be difficult, accepting that there is a “core wound of abandonment” (as Mahari puts it), and accepting that this wound came from without (people hurt you) and has likely spread without as well (you’ve hurt others). This is all part and parcel of samsara, the basic condition of all of our lives.

One of the commentors on my last post, Chet, rightly pointed out that much of what is online is for partners/children of borderlines and is largely negative. Speaking as one of those ‘non’s, I would suggest that the reason for this is three-fold. First, most people – in sheer numbers – affected by BPD are nons (the partners and children), so it would make sense that the majority of the information out there is directed at nons. Second, I can empathise with those who have ‘ripped’ on their BPD spouses/parents/exes/etc to some degree. The disorder causes a great deal of confusion and hurt in those around the Borderline. As most psychological texts state, the borderline person likely doesn’t even realize just how destructive his/her actions are to those around them. I can’t justify the cold or mean remarks – just as the outbursts of the borderline person cannot be justified – but both are understandable more when we see their causes. Thirdly, I am afraid that many (most?) borderlines do not realize their disorder and/or seek help. I’m still looking for statistics or guestimates on what percentage do seek and stick with therapy, but from the anecdotal stories I’ve heard, it’s not a lot.

Recovery from BPD takes immense courage. But my sense is that simply living with BPD takes great courage too – perhaps more courage and determination than those of us without it can really understand. But I think there is a call for courage on the parts of nons as well – to educate ourselves, to educate the public at large, and so on.

Right now there is a great stigma attached to BPD, partially due to ignorance and partially due to the pain and frustration that the disorder has caused many people (therapists included). But this is not much different from the past stigmas surrounding severe depression, schitzophrenia, and bi-polar disorders. As eduction on these has improved, and even more so: treatment of them has become more effective, the stigma has fallen away.

The Joseph Cambell quote above applies equally well to non-borderlines; there is no isolating ourselves from the world or any segment of its population. If we want healthy lives ourselves, healthy communities for our children and grandchildren, then we must act to bring health to all of the world in whatever way we can.

With metta, open-hearted loving kindness, to all beings.
This is part 2 of a series. Click here for, part 3part 4, and part 5.
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