Johnny Depp's trial put a spotlight on personality disorders and we need to talk about it
By now, everyone has become intimately familiar with the details surrounding Johnny Depp and Amber Heard's trial and relationship. Opinions have been shared in support of one star or the other, but since the testimony of Dr. Shannon Curry, a clinical and forensic psychologist who completed a 12 hour evaluation of Heard over the course of two days, people have been talking about personality disorders.
Dr. Curry diagnosed Amber Heard with two separate personality disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder. Both disorders have symptoms of exaggeration and volatile mood changes and some believe with BPD that can sometimes turn violent but having BPD isn't itself an indicator of violence. Curry testified to this in court and set the internet ablaze with further speculation, which unfortunately casts more stigma onto people living with these personality disorders.
Borderline Personality Disorder already has such a deep stigma, even within the mental health community among therapists that either don’t fully understand the disorder, or prefer not to treat the disorder. To be clear, therapists have specialties and every therapist is not qualified to treat all disorders to the degree that certain disorders may require. Personality disorders in general are often treated by people that specialize in personality disorders, but the stigma attached to BPD specifically is difficult to overlook.
People living with BPD are often stigmatized as difficult, volatile, manipulative, and unpleasant to be around for long periods of time. Symptoms of the disorder can make this true for some people that live with it, but Borderline Personality Disorder is also a symptom in and of itself, which isn’t talked about much. People that have BPD are often people that have experienced abuse and trauma, or were neglected, mistreated or abandoned by a parent but genetic and environmental factors can also determine predisposition to the disorder. It’s important to look at what people call “manipulation” from a different perspective. In most instances of BPD and other personality disorders such as Histrionic Personality Disorder, people aren’t necessarily attempting to manipulate, they’re trying to get a need met in a way that has worked in the past.
One of the common symptoms of BPD is fear of abandonment, and this fear may cause people to behave in ways that damage relationships in order to make people stay. While the intention is to get people to stay, maladaptive behaviors actually do the opposite, which in turn increases insecurity in relationships because another person has left. This can lead to more feelings of abandonment and symptoms of depression. These behaviors are often not done out of spite, but an attempt at keeping their loved ones close. It can feel like a push pull dynamic, and the person living with the disorder is just as internally conflicted, if not more so than the people in their lives. They want and deserve to be loved, respected and valued just as everyone else.
While violence is not unheard of in people that experience personality disorders like BPD, it doesn’t mean everyone with BPD is violent, or prone to violent tenancies. Oftentimes when we can take a step back and look at the person, where they’ve come from and what they’ve been through instead of the disorder, we can better learn how that particular person seeks validation and do our best to honor that within reason.
Abuse is never OK under any circumstances, and having a mental health condition such as the two Heard was diagnosed with is not an excuse to inflict physical or emotional pain on someone. Personality disorders are treatable with therapy, sometimes intensive therapy and medication to treat accompanying symptoms. There are areas of coping that need to be relearned and thoughts that have to be challenged by a professional, but as a society we also need to relearn a few things about these disorders to stop the shame and rejection that can come along with them.
Like many other mental health conditions, personality disorders need to be destigmatized. No one asks to have these disorders, just as no one wakes up and decides they’re going to have an asthma attack. So it’s on us as a society to increase our understanding of these disorders so we can increase our empathy and allow people to talk openly about their healing journeys. As long as there’s a deep stigma the less likely that the people that need the help the most will seek it. We have to do better.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233 or plan for safety online at thehotline.org.
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