Maddi Crease writes that a pervasive misconception about people who have emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD) is that they easily manipulate those around them. Although, she argues manipulation is not unique to people with this condition, and in fact, it is more often those with EUPD who are the ones who are manipulated.
As someone with EUPD (emotionally unstable personality disorder, also known as borderline personality disorder), I am well acquainted with the myths about my diagnosis. There are many - in fact, EUPD to me is one of the most stigmatised illnesses.
One misconception is that people with EUPD are manipulative and cannot be trusted. I know many with this diagnosis, and none of those have ever been manipulative to me, or anyone I’m aware of. Of course, this isn’t true of everyone with EUPD. But any large group will be the same, some people will be manipulative. But this doesn’t mean the whole group is.
I don’t deny that those with EUPD can be difficult to be around sometimes. Can’t anyone?
Especially for those who experience emotional ‘swings’, or unstable relationships (two of the nine symptoms of EUPD), it can be challenging to maintain a rational, cool head around others. But we are not natural manipulators.
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This can be demonstrated by the definition of ‘manipulate’. For someone to be manipulative, they demonstrate a ‘skilful' influence. Now, when was the last time you heard of people with EUPD being described as skilful communicators?
I do not see people with EUPD as manipulative, but I agree that we can be inappropriate in our communication. We often lack the skills to communicate successfully - I know I do! Anyone who is hurtful for any reason should be held accountable for their behaviour. But EUPD is not an excuse - it is an explanation. Try using your skills to help me see when I’m being hurtful. I will apologise and try to do better. But never call me manipulative because I have this diagnosis.
When in therapy for EUPD, I learned what could be called ‘people skills’, and I noticed something. Where those with EUPD are frequently seen as manipulators, it is others that are genuinely manipulative.
People with emotionally unstable personality disorder are often vulnerable people
Take abusive behaviour. Many with EUPD have or will fall victim to abuse. This is often seen as a cause. Whilst yet to be proven, it seems to be a risk factor. When it comes to abuse, emotional abusers are likely to be manipulative. Whether it’s making victims believe they ‘deserved it’, or something else, abusers latch onto the vulnerable - such as those lacking social skills. Then, there is manipulation from a less abusive perspective.
We are often expected to disregard our emotions to 'fit in'. Yes, our emotions can be flawed in the reality of what is causing them. But I would rather trust my feelings than being silenced when trying to raise my own discomfort and need for help.
Perhaps a more sinister form of manipulation is medical gaslighting. This refers to medical professionals dismissing or disregarding a patient’s experience, saying it is untrue, or pinning it to another source. I have experienced this at multiple times in my seven-year experience of being treated for mental health problems.
One that comes to mind involves a psychiatrist I saw as a teenager. I was reporting suicidal thoughts and was trying to open up about risk. He called me a ‘typical attention-seeking teenage girl’ implying that my symptoms were false and could instead be attributed to my gender and age.
Not only did he have the skills to manipulate and silence me, but this doctor also left me feeling shame and self-doubt that I still experience years later. This is how I view manipulation. Many I have encountered without EUPD have manipulated and gaslit me into shame, disgust, self-loathing, and more. I have seen this happen many times to others, too.
Those with EUPD may sometimes make others feel this way, but we rarely have the skills to be manipulative. We often need support from others to recognise thinking errors, after sometimes believing them for years.
Being accused of acting manipulative is untrue, frustrating, and disempowering. There is no blanket rule. Not everyone with EUPD is innocent here, and most without it are not manipulative. But this is how I see things. This is my experience – denying that would be ridiculous. I am not manipulative, I’m tired of having to prove this.