Is borderline behaviour due to the “illness” of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)? Is it caused by the brain? Whose responsibility does this way of thinking make it? What happens to the concept of personal responsibility?

I wonder what I would have done, years ago, when I had Borderline Personality Disorder if I had been told and/or if I believed that it was a brain disorder? Would I have worked in therapy to come to not only know about and understand the concept of personal responsibility and then accept it and make a choice to take personal responsibility for my actions, my thoughts, my feelings  – my (then) borderline behaviour or would I simply have chalked it up to something that I couldn’t control, to something that my brain made me do?

Herein lies part of the largest part of the danger in the ways that some are now touting BPD as a “brain disorder”. Is this a way of saying, well, borderlines just can’t help it? They think what the think and they feel what they feel so unfortunately they do what they do that hurts themselves and others because, well, their brains make them do what they do?

I do not discount that there is as has always been thought and said by professionals a “biological component” to BPD. But this is much different than saying “it’s a brain disorder”. It is a thought disorder. So in my experience what I’ve come to realize seems to be the argument of late is whether or not the disordered thoughts are in the hard-wiring or whether they are caused by the experience and/or perception of abandonment and the devastating affect this has on a developing personality.

Of course, even if one wanted to say that the disordered thinking of those with BPD was a hard-wiring related thing, who is to say, moreover, who can prove, that what may have gone asunder in the brain hasn’t been caused by the experience of emotional and psychological trauma?

Just as the experience of abandonment and all that it encompasses can have an affect on one to the level of the biology and/or chemistry of the brain, many types of psychotherapy, can over time, make it possible for those with BPD to repair some of what may go awry in the brain.

I think that while it may seem that what I am saying here could be taken as semantics – it isn’t – there is quite a slippery slope to the detriment of those with BPD to be found in the language of “BPD is a brain disorder”.

In my own recovery from BPD I have experienced a tremendous amount of change in the way that I think, consequently the way that I feel, and subsequently the way that I act or behave. It was something that I learned in therapy I had all the freedom in the world to choose to learn, to enact, to consistently and congruently live from and through. What the process of my recovery largely involved wasn’t medication – I didn’t take any psychiatric drugs whatsoever. There was no pharmaceutical remedy to why I, as someone who had BPD, used to think, feel, and act the way that I did. It was finding my lost authentic self and re-parenting that self (first in therapy and then on my own) to a healthy developed and functional self. It was the process of growing From False Self to Authentic Self and getting in touch with, integrating with and developing a healthy attachment to and relationship with my inner child. It’s not rocket science. It’s not easy. It is a very painful process but it doesn’t involved brain surgery either.

Modern science is a wonderful thing in so many ways. Yet, here, when it comes to BPD, all the speculation, research, and “brain disorder” theorizing is not only unproven but it is also negating of the reality that not everything that impacts the brain has a biological cause and that not every brain impacted by the trauma of abandonment and the development of BPD – the personality disorder – must be medicated to produce positive change. In fact often much of the medication given to those with BPD is described by them as not being helpful and only really creating increasing problems over-all. The whole “brain disorder” speak is negating of the reality that human beings can and do change and heal the wounds that may well impact the brain in that it has some negative effect on how those with BPD tend to think in distorted and polarized ways that are self-defeating.

Forwarding the notion that Borderline Personality Disorder is a “brain disorder” short of a miracle pill that no one has (or in my opinion ever will invent) invented misleads everyone about the reality that BPD can be recovered from. It misleads those with BPD who may well come to not only feel hopeless in the face of this theory but who also may then not ever be able to clearly realize just how personally responsible they are for what they think, what they say, how they feel, what they perceive, and what they do with how they think, feel, and perceive.

I don’t see what is progressive or helpful about that.

When I had Borderline Personality Disorder I, and I alone, was responsible for the choices that I made. I, and I alone was responsible for the way that I behaved. I, and I alone was responsible for the way that I treated others poorly and the way that the relationships I had often ruptured.

When I had Borderline Personality Disorder the greatest challenge to change wasn’t any physical reality hard-wired into my brain it was the devastation that was all the emotional and psychological pain that I had experienced as a very young child as the result of being abandoned and the result of experiencing what Klein and Masterson and others describe as the loss of my self to the psychological trauma of this abandonment.

Psychological abandonment trauma that essentially psychologically kills the otherwise burgeoning self. It is this loss of self that is played out and re-played out when one has BPD that is the foundation of what Masterson calls “abandonment fear” that causes those with BPD to protect in many elaborate and unhealthy ways – protect that damaged, wounded, essentially lost authentic self – from anymore pain. This, in my experience, this trying to protect against this pain that I had experienced at such a young age and then dissociated from to survive at all and this avoidance of this pain is what perpetuates and often worsens the symptoms or traits of Borderline Personality Disorder.

I am not a professional. I am not a neurologist. I am not a researcher. I am just one person who had BPD, one person who has recovered. One person, who from my own experience knows that my brain didn’t make me do anything. It wasn’t my brain, it was my pain.

In my recovery I learned just how many choices I had made – subconscious choices, at a very young age, based upon the trauma of abandonment and abuse and a cornucopia of environmental factors, not the least of which was a tremendous lack of nurture – choices that can be un-learned. Choices that can be changed. Borderlines learn through psychological trauma of abandonment (actual or perceived) to abdicate personal responsibility – it sort of goes with the psychological death of the lost authentic self.

It is not lost to some “brain disorder”. It is not at the mercy of medication to bring it back or to find it. What pill could they ever invent to bridge the gap between the lost authentic self, the borderline absence of self and the borderline false self? There won’t ever be one.

If you have BPD please recognize the danger in attributing your thoughts, actions, feelings and/or behaviour to something that your brain is responsible for. Those with BPD are often dissociated from the way that they, in fact, make choices, but that doesn’t negate the reality that choices are being made. If you have BPD you need to know that taking personal responsibility needs to be your number one priority if you want to improve the quality of your life and get on and stay on the road to recovery.

Learning about, understanding, and accepting personal responsibility for how one thinks, feels, and acts, when one has BPD is the way to the road to recovery. Radical acceptance and mindfulness are both very important in the borderline journey to the kind of awareness that is needed to become more aware of the choices that you have been making – choices that once you understand them and the legacy of them in your life – you can change.

It’s not about the brain (hard-wiring) it’s about the psychological pain. Granted the pain is stored in memory imprints in the brain. But memory imprints and stored memories in the brain – even stored body memories do not a brain disorder make.

If I sound passionate about this – you bet I am! I may be but one small dissenting voice in a sea of “it’s a brain disorder” believing people – but I know what I know because I have lived it.

How can those forwarding Borderline Personality Disorder as a “brain disorder” expect them to believe in their own personal responsibility? What happens to the concept and need to accept personal responsibility in this theory of the origin of BPD?

If you have BPD I hope that you won’t think that it is your brain that makes you do what you do or think what you think and that means that you can’t help it – it is your pain – not your brain. And you can learn to help it – you can learn to change it. You can recover.

© A.J. Mahari July 7, 2008 – All rights reserved.


A.J. Mahari is a Life Coach who, among other things, specializes in working with those with BPD and non borderlines. A.J. has 5 years experience as a life coach and has worked with hundreds of clients from all over the world. A.J. works with those with BPD as an adjunct to their therapy (most often) through a methodology that supports the reality of the possibility for recovery if one makes the choice to recover and holds to it and takes personal responsibility for it.


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Is Borderline Behaviour Due To The “Illness” of Borderline Personality – The Brain Disorder?