The Attention-Seeking Theory of BPD

There is lots of stigma surrouding mental illness. Borderline personality disorder is no exception. In fact, it is among the more stigmatized illnesses. Particularly, people believe borderlines act out to gain attention, while there’s evidence they do it out of a need to regulate emotions.

I am very thankful that I didn’t have the BPD diagnosis when I was first hospitalized in 2007. I had done something that can with good reason be seen as attention-seeking – made a suicidal threat in public -, but I was realy not thinking of the attention I’d get with this. Besides, the kind of attention I got, did matter quite a bit. It is not purely for attention, even though my threat had a signaling function.

In like 2006, before any mental condition had been diagnosed, I was talking to my named support worker at an idependence training facility about my recurrent meltdowns. At one point she concluded that I did it for attention. “So we won’t give you attention anymore. Don’t think you can do this for attention.” In reality, the majority of my meltdowns and acting-out behaviors have the function of either regulating emotions or overwhelming stimuli.

Another thing with the attention-seeking theory is that nothing really is wrong with attention-seeking. Of course, having a meltdown for attention is not appropriate, but it is not like ignoring the person is going to make them better. It will just lead to them giving up and developing learned helplessness. Rather, professionals and others need to help the borderline by providing the right kind of attention before behavior escalates. I strongly disagree with the ida that borderlines need to be left to solve their own problems. We lack skills in emotion regulation, and need to actually be taught these skills. When other conditions, like autism, come into the equation, it gets more complicated, because we truly do not have the ability to process ordinaryy stimuli. I, for one, have a hard time communicating when overwhelmed, so I can’t get across my needs in an appropriate manner. It is further reinforcing learned helplnessness to just ignore me in such a state.

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