Borderline Personality Disorder: Impulsivity Versus 'Manipulation'

Borderline Personality Disorder: Impulsivity Versus ‘Manipulation’

Shelly’s family had long been accustomed to her intense reactions and what they saw as her attention-seeking behaviour. However, her friends, often transient in her life, were frequently taken aback. Even at 28, Shelly struggled with some fundamental aspects of friendship.

Acknowledging feelings is crucial — everyone has them, and sharing them is beneficial. Yet, expressing emotions in an overly dramatic way without the ability to empathise with others can lead to strained relationships.

Social media, which aids many in developing new friendships, increasingly contributed to her challenges. Whenever Shelly felt pleased about a new outfit or friend, she eagerly shared it on Facebook. However, if the response didn’t meet her expectations, her mood would swiftly darken, leading her to vent publicly.

One Friday, instead of working, Shelly aired her grievances about a falling out with a friend, tagging her in the post.

Christina thinks I’m ‘too sensitive’ and ‘too high-maintenance,’ and she can’t be friends with me right now! Why doesn’t anyone care about me? I don’t understand!


The ‘likes’ on this post confused her. Were people supporting the end of her friendship, or were they trying to be supportive? Shelly concluded it was the former and again used the platform to express her distress. She soon became so agitated that she posted a threat of self-harm, which, regrettably, garnered significant attention. Long-lost contacts reached out; her parents and sister were so concerned that they contacted her directly.

After calming down, Shelly reassured her Facebook friends she was alright and no one needed to worry. However, when an acquaintance accused her of being manipulative for threatening self-harm to gain attention, she spiralled back into distress, feeling unbearably overwhelmed.

Borderline Personality Disorder: Impulsivity Versus 'Manipulation'

Are Individuals with BPD Manipulative?

People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), like Shelly, often face accusations of manipulation. To outsiders, their intense emotional outbursts and threats may seem like calculated tactics to control situations for their own benefit. However, true manipulation involves deliberate strategies to achieve desired outcomes. In contrast, those with BPD typically exhibit high impulsivity; their emotions are fleeting, and their satisfaction is short-lived, leaving them tormented by their instability.

In Shelly’s case, her reaction to perceived social media slights sparked a series of impulsive actions — none were premeditated. While she might recognise that threatening self-harm could draw attention, it was not her intent to manipulate. She was overwhelmed by her condition, unable to manage her emotional turmoil.

The Risk of Dismissal

It’s common for people, including those of us with BPD, to exhibit manipulative behaviour occasionally. However, assuming that people with BPD are primarily manipulative, especially when they express extreme emotions or threaten self-harm, is detrimental. Invalidating their feelings only exacerbates their turmoil. Individuals with BPD are particularly sensitive to rejection and abandonment, often perceiving it even when it isn’t there. Recognising the seriousness of BPD is vital. Dismissing it as mere manipulation misunderstands the condition — a severe mental health issue that can lead to tragic outcomes. Responding to threats of harm with understanding and support could be the most crucial action one takes.

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