Casual Diagnosing

Many years ago, when I was still single, I began chatting with a man online. His behavior, while initially charming and funny, quickly devolved into demands for my phone number so he could send me photographs of his penis. I had just met him online, and I honestly found that to be the least interesting thing about him, so I refused. He insisted. I told him I wasn’t comfortable giving him my number, but he didn’t care. His requests became demands coupled with graphic descriptions of his penis. (I feel like there’s a Freud joke to be found somewhere here, but after years I still haven’t found one).

I cut off communication, but he bypassed my security and sent me a long and angry screed. In it he diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). He wasn’t a psychiatrist or psychologist, in fact I think he was a bartender. But that didn’t stop him.

His behavior wasn’t that unusual. I see people everyday on social media referring to their ex-lovers or friends as narcissists and borderlines.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are a type of mental health condition that is characterized by a skewed self-image as well as difficulty in navigating intense emotions and distress, so much so that it interferes with their daily lives and relationships. These conditions are often the result of an individual feeling unsafe in their early development, although there is a genetic component as well. Only a trained psychiatrist or psychologist in a professional capacity can diagnose someone after a thorough evaluation. 

When people throw these terms around it treats mental health conditions and illnesses as simple adjectives. This erodes the inherent meaning of the terms. It also reinforces the stigma of mental illness while dismissing the actual lived experience of people that have these conditions.

I also see some mental health professionals capitalize on the popularity of BPD and NPD by making videos and writing articles about them, instructing their audience on how to spot someone with BPD or NPD, how to interact with them, or avoid them, but ultimately, how to diagnose them. This only reinforces the notion that we can diagnose and dismiss our failed relationships, placing the blame on the other party, and avoiding our own culpability. 

The work of psychotherapy is to heal from our past hurts so that we can become the best version of ourselves. Assigning a character flaw disguised as a diagnosis to the other party when a relationship breaks down interferes in our own ability to see and grow from our own shortcomings and to become better people.

So, let us leave the work of diagnosing others to the professionals, and take responsibility for our own shortcomings.

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