First off, what is social exclusion? Broadly defined, social exclusion is the condition in which some group or sub-culture is not allowed to be apart of the mainstream due to the socio-economic standards, value systems, or interpersonal interactions of the majority population. Social exclusion can be described in many ways, including the struggle which smaller ethnic groups face as they assimilate into a larger society; the existence of a glass ceiling for women in the work place; or even as simply as the lone kid on the playground who doesn’t seem to fit in. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll consider social exclusion on a micro scale and how it might contribute to – or result from – Borderline Personality Disorder.
Chief among the causes of BPD is a constant fear of abandonment and rejection. In most cases, Boderlines experience some sort of rejection early on in life. This could take the form of being “different” than the rest of the crowd, being raised by an abusive parent, or feeling an overwhelming sense of dejection from what would otherwise be considered a “normal” course of social maturation.
In some cases, social exclusion is merely bad luck. For example, a guy approaches a girl for a date, only to learn that she is coming out of another relationship and needs time to herself. She’s not outwardly rejecting him, but instead making his romantic overtures null and void. Likewise, a child in middle school might be ostracized due to a socially embarrassing incident in which a bully pulls his pants down in the middle of a cafeteria. The victim was not necessarily a planned target, just at the wrong place at the wrong time. As a result, he might be labeled with a degrading nickname for the rest of his grammar school years.
There are also more serious forms of social exclusion. A child who experiences the death of a parent at an early age could feel extremely abandoned, worthless, and unwanted. What would otherwise be a happy childhood is destroyed by a loss which most children can’t even fathom. Similarly, a child with a handicap (mental or physical) might experience a constant distance and rejection from his or her peers. Despite all good intentions and efforts, the handicapped child can never seem to fit in with others, and this results in an underlying feeling of sadness, angst, and general frustration with other people. When a child finally becomes fully aware of the negative stigma he or she has, all sense of self esteem and self worth are devastated.
This is where BPD comes in. By definition, Borderlines are not “normal” like everyone else. They are burdened with damaged emotional cores and a view of the world that is skewed towards the negative. They can’t related well to others, and take any form of social rejection personally and severely.
Slowly but surely, this gives rise to pent up anger and sadness, which they either take out on themselves or others. A BPD “rage” episode is often the result of feeling an oncoming rejection, such as being dumped in a relationship, or not allowed to hang out with the popular crowd at school. The Borderline Personality may not “crack” on a day to day basis, but instead feel a longstanding sense of worthlessness that is continually deepened any time another sort of rejection is experienced. Borderlines don’t get over rejection, they simply sweep it under their emotional rugs and save it for a random moment when they suddenly explode.
So does social exclusion come before or after BPD? The answer is found in the middle of the road: it happens during both points of the gradual climb towards full blown Borderline Personality. Without a doubt, BPDs feel excluded from the get go, and once they start acting out and displaying their true colors, they are further excluded. Society doesn’t want angry, emotional ballistic missiles set to go off at any given moment. Furthermore, society doesn’t want social outcasts or constant “losers” who are incapable of dealing with rejection. Such behaviors are just unacceptable to the normal spectrum of people around the BPD.
All of this begs the question: what can be done about someone with BPD who was or continues to be excluded? Unfortunately, the answer to that question lies in the person with BPD and the support system around them. The “rest” of the world passes sufferers of BPD by almost instantaneously. As a result, in order to mitigate a perpetual feeling of rejection and abandonment, BPDs must be taught healthy coping skills and counseled by skilled mental health professionals.
Personally, I’d love to tell everyone else to go f*ck themselves; and to be truthful I have in my blinding moments of rage. Sadly, these moments don’t help me become anymore “well adjusted” or socially accepted. Instead, I am the one who has to do the work and find a way back towards the center.
This is, in essence, a large part of the treatment cycle for those with Borderline Personality Disorder. If someone with BPD can learn to adapt despite strong feelings of social exclusion, they are much better off. Further, if someone with BPD can find ways to diffuse the sense of anger and loss they harbor, they will be much happier, productive individuals. They will learn to find value in themselves, and in so doing, will once again find value in the world around them.