When I received my borderline personality disorder diagnosis in late 2017, I was blissfully unaware of the harsh stigmas that some clinicians place on their borderline clients. In fact, I never dreamed that a therapist would make assumptions about a client based on their diagnosis, let alone hold a diagnosis against them. Unfortunately, it only took a year for me to understand why so many people who live with borderline personality disorder (BPD) struggle to find therapists who will work with them, and I don’t know that I’ll ever forget one specific incident I encountered during one of my therapy sessions.
Close to a year into my work with a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) therapist, I walked into what quickly became one of the most difficult therapy sessions I’ve ever had. Earlier that week, an incident happened with my then-husband in which I did not consent to sexual intercourse, but it happened anyway. Given my history of sexual trauma and my low self-esteem, I felt very conflicted and ashamed of the events that occurred that night.
I assumed I could bring all of my thoughts and feelings about the event to my therapy session, and my therapist would help me both process everything and recommend coping skills to help lower my emotional intensity. However, I soon learned that my assumption was very, very inaccurate.
The therapist not only dismissed the majority of my emotions, but she went on to say that I “probably consented without realizing it” and later decided to “ignore” that detail so that I could turn the event into “something more dramatic.” In fact, she said she even questioned if the event happened at all and accused me of making certain details up in order to “seek attention.” She continued by saying my tears and “cries for attention” wouldn’t help me in the long run, and I should focus on the work I need to do instead of focusing my attention on “ruining perfectly good relationships.”
In other words, the very therapist who touted herself as someone accepting and helpful to people with my diagnosis was actually using my diagnosis against me.
As you can imagine, I left the session feeling completely broken and more than a little confused. The narrative in my head of the night with my partner wasn’t at all matching up with this new perspective my therapist had provided, and the dissonance between them pushed me even further into the shame spiral I had already landed in days before. Instead of finding resolution or at least a safe haven from my own self-hatred, my therapist merely fueled the fire and made me hate myself even more.
Because of that day, it took me a long time to fully open up to anyone else about the events that happened with my former spouse. Even when I did finally confide in a few close friends and eventually a new therapist, I downplayed the situation and resorted to using language that placed all of the blame on myself. Even now, I still catch myself trying to mentally frame the event in a way where the ownership falls on me — even though I know deep down that I was merely the victim in both the incident with my ex-husband and the session with my former therapist.
Since that day, I’ve moved on to a new therapist and reframed my thoughts surrounding it all. However, I refuse to forgive the therapist who dismissed the entire credibility of my story just because of the label she’d given to me.
Most people say that forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for yourself, and I firmly believe that. In this specific situation, though, I’ve learned that forgiveness isn’t always needed. In fact, you can still find closure and move past troublesome events without forgiving anyone — you just need the courage and strength to accept what happened and close the door on that chapter in your life.