Borderline Personality Disorder and Cognitive Distortions

*Thank you to Adrianna Rangel for allowing us to share this piece. You can see more of her writing here and her book, ‘Book of Thoughts’ here.*

Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of borderline personality disorder, self-harm and suicidality.

Cognitive distortions are negative thought patterns that become exaggerated by continuous negative thinking. These negative thoughts perpetuate negative thinking and can cause an individual with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) to spiral. When someone experiences a situation that reminds them of a previous one, they can fall into cognitive distortions, which can be the cause of impulsivity, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, and other common BPD symptoms. The following distortions are common as these are fundamental symptoms of the disorder:

  • Dichotomous thinking 

  • Mental filtering

  • Personalisation

  • Emotional reasoning

  • Fallacy of fairness

  • Overgeneralisation

  • Catastrophising

Dichotomous thinking is also known as "all-or-nothing" and "black-and-white" thinking. This kind of thinking is at the core of BPD. Most people with BPD see things as one thing or another, but not both. Something either is or isn't.

Dichotomous thinking examples:

  • When a significant other goes from loving someone to hating them within seconds and student teling

  • A student receiving a ‘B’ in a class the student telling themselves they are a failure because they did not receive an ‘A’.

Mental filtering is when someone only sees the positives or only the negatives of a situation. This works in tandem with dichotomous thinking. When someone gets stuck in mental filtering, it's as if they have tunnel vision. They cannot see outside of this positive or negative lens. Regardless of what side an individual is looking through, this cognitive distortion ultimately only leads to negative feelings

Mental filtering example:

  • A parent coming home to see that their child cleaned the entire house except for the bathroom; however, only focuses on the fact that the bathroom isn't cleaned and the child gets in trouble because of this

Overgeneralisation is when an individual focuses on one event and its conclusion, and then comes to the conclusion that every similar situation going forward will have the exact same conclusion.

Overgeneralisation example:

  • A working professional goes to an interview but doesn't get the job. The working professional now assumes that he/she will never be chosen for a new job because he/she did not get this one.

  • A boyfriend noticed his girlfriend was only texting in the bathroom and came to find out he was being cheated on. The boyfriend now assumes every time a s/o brings their cell phone into the bathroom, he is being cheated on. 

Catastrophising is when an individual overexaggerates (magnification) or overminimises (minimisation) the importance of a situation

Magnification example:

  • A child waits for their parent to pick them up from school, but the parent is late, so the child becomes anxious and starts to assume the worst.

Minimization example:

  • A college graduate receives their diploma, but dismisses their achievements because a lot of adults have degrees.

Personalisation is when a person assumes that the things that happen around them, by the people around them, are done directly to them.

Personalisation example:

  • A person sends their friend a text saying "good morning," but their friend doesn't respond because they left their phone at home. The friend who texted assumes they are being deliberately ignored and is hated.

Emotional reasoning is when someone assumes the emotions they are feeling at a certain moment are true and therefore the negative thoughts are true

Emotional reasoning example:

  • A person may start to feel rejected or abandoned in the middle of the day and then tell themselves that they must be worthless. 

The fallacy of fairness is when a person believes that things should be equal and fair, and view the behaviours of others on a scale of "fairness." The perception of someone with BPD would view actions as either fair or unfair. There would be no spectrum of fairness because of their polarised thinking. 

Fallacy of fairness example:

  • An employee believing they are not valued at their company because they haven't received a promotion recently despite their additional efforts while another employee who has significantly less experience was promoted.

-Adrianna Rangel

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