I have recently become an active social media user. And in the countless hours a day that I spend online building an audience for these essays, I have realized something quite stark about the nature of the world today: the lack of emotional depth in our daily lives has left us with a borderline society.
That’s a grandiose statement. So let me briefly explain that with this essay I do not aim to prove that our society as a collective is borderline. In fact, the percentage of the population diagnosed with such a disorder is quite small. And yet, the amount of individuals experiencing symptoms of borderline personality disorder is significant, around 30%.[i] For this reason, I want to encourage us to question how society helps to foster mental illness (specifically BPD), as social ideology is something we all have the power to influence.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1.6 percent of the population has BPD (about four million individuals in the United States); yet it is believed that many individuals (especially male individuals) are misdiagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, or bipolar disorder. In fact, a Brown University study estimates that over forty percent of those with BDP were originally diagnosed as Bipolar.[ii] But regardless of whether the increasing[iii] diagnosis of this disorder is due to improvements in psychology and BPD awareness, I think it is important that we try to find the patterns in our thoughts, actions, and conditioning that could instigate such behaviors in individuals.
So, let’s look at the behavioral patterns of borderline personality disorder.
One of the defining traits of BPD is an individual’s propensity to see the world in black or white. Those with BPD experience difficulties in understanding the nuance of human behavior: a good person cannot realize a bad action, and vice versa. Therefore, they idealize and devaluate individuals constantly– and often within hours. Their loved one that was an exceptional partner for making them breakfast in the morning could turn into their worst enemy an hour later because they failed to compliment their outfit.
In essence, they love someone one moment, and hate them the next.
Unfortunately, the inability to understand the complexity and dualities of human nature is something that many of us experience today. Moreover, there are several other characteristics of BPD that manifest in our modern cultures. The DSM-5 gives these 9 criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder:
- Intense and uncontrollable mood swings.
- A fragile sense of identity that causes individuals to fulfill themselves with external stimulation (drugs, sex, shopping, etc.).
- Pervasive feelings of isolation, boredom, or emptiness.
- Strong feelings of anxiety, worry and depression.
- Frequent displays of hostility and anger towards others.
- A series of intense interpersonal relationships that start quick and end fast.
- A persistent fear of abandonment.
- Suicidal tendencies.
- Extreme paranoia under stress, which can sometimes be misconceived as dissociative identity disorder.[iv]
In reading this, I would venture to say that the majority of us have experienced the first four traits within ourselves or in a friend, colleague, family member, or partner. But again, this is not to say that most of us suffer from BDP. The major difference may lie in the fact that many of us have a solid enough foundation in our personal identity and emotional reactions that our external outbursts are not a detriment to our well-being and ability to function in society.
Nonetheless, such traits are pervasive in the modern age. And this may derive from two main reasons:
- We have a tenuous grasp on our emotions due to a lack of emotional education in schools, homes, and workplaces. Many of us cannot comprehend our feelings, the cause of our feelings, and the reactions that ensue from our feelings- let alone understand the emotional patterns of our loved ones, our community, or the society we are part of.
- From a young age, we are encouraged to develop our external selves at the expense of the internal. We learn how to shape the world with numbers, colors, equations, logic, language, and history, but we aren’t taught how to shape our internal world: our feelings, our intuition, our relationships, our fears, our anxieties. We are left to figure out such a crucial aspect of our lives (perhaps the most crucial, as our external reality is shaped by our internal perception of our external surroundings) on our own.
Now, to say that these two factors are what cause a complex disorder like BPD is beyond simplified. It’s merely a contribution to manifestations (however weak or strong) of uncontrollable mood swings, fragile identities, pervasive emptiness, and of anxiety and depression. Additionally, such causes are merely compounded by our emphasis on the external sources of connection and the detrimental side effects of the superficial, brand-like personification of individuals on social media. With a well-curated website and Instagram profile, we become unaware of not only the complex reality of who others are, but who we are. In our bios, we simply become a writer, a musician, a model, a mother, a blogger, an actress, a democrat, a republican: essentially a one-or-two-line string of words along with a slew of filtered photographs that do a poor job of representing the myriad things we experience, think, and do on a daily basis. Mix this with the fragile understanding we have of our emotions and internal self, and you create a society of individuals who see themselves and others in a black or white manner similar to those with BPD: as liberal or conservative, feminine or masculine, logical or emotional, Pisces or Virgo, pro-social justice or anti-social justice, good or bad, with me or against me.
Furthermore, due to our tenuous grip on human emotion and identity, we often rage at others, completing the fifth element of Borderline Personality Disorder: demonstrations of hostility or anger. Just look at the comment section of Twitter, Reddit, or major news articles and you can see this at full force. We blame others, condemn them, and call them hypocritical idiots because an action they take doesn’t line up with the persona they have created of themselves and- therefore- our image of them. Moreover, a lacking understanding of our biological and emotional proclivities (which aren’t always good or humanitarian) hinders us from acknowledging the contradictions within ourselves- making us excessively blame and at times hate ourselves for having thoughts and corresponding actions that don’t fit with the rigid identity and moral system we’ve taken on, which further encourages intense demonstrations of rage against others.
What follows is a society unable to reflect and reassess on their wrongdoings in order to bring forth positive change. We can’t look into the dark and light sides of us. The part that wants to idealize Beyoncé and Taylor Swift over the teacher and social worker. The side that wants to copulate with young, beautiful individuals over kind, caring ones. The side that wants to advocate peace and love for all, yet play an active part in destroying the entire ecosystem. The side that wants to label conservatives or liberals as bad or good without actually taking the time to evaluate the good and bad in both sides.
To reach into the dark of you and turn it into light can be a grueling process. But it doesn’t have to be. So I ask you, do it with me. Because it’s no longer an option not to if we want to give humanity and the earth as we know it a chance for survival. And maybe if support each other in the process, the desires within us won’t feel so isolating and terrifying after all. For together, I do believe we can use the dark (and light) inside of us to generate positive growth for our entire planet.
If you want to incite positive change, remember to reach into both the light and dark sides of your desires.