A Borderline Woman’s Response to the Depp v. Heard Trial

Content/trigger warning: abuse discussion, anti-cluster B saneism (as you may have guessed), self-harm mention, suicide mention, saneist slurs (censored)

The Heard v. Depp trial is being treated like a spectator event by the mainstream media and by content creators, especially on TikTok. There is tons of speculation about who abused whom and whether or not the relationship was mutually abusive. Many people are forgetting that the trial is actually about whether or not it was defamation for Amber Heard to talk about being abused in an op-ed that didn’t mention Johnny Depp by name. Still other people are completely ignoring the pretty virulent misogyny inherent in the discourse around the trial.

This blog entry is not about any of that. Let me be very clear: I am protecting my mental health by not getting embroiled in the details of a trial about an abusive relationship, and I do not care about the verdict or even whether or not Amber Heard was abusive. (I’m starting to think that a lot of Depp’s accusations about her are false, especially since I saw a debunking of the story about Heard cutting Depp’s finger. But again, that isn’t what this blog entry is about.)

But while I am trying to ignore the trial and the surrounding circus, by the virtue of existing online, I have seen SO FUCKING MUCH anti-cluster B saneism, espcially specific anti-BPD bias. So that’s what I’m going to be discussing. I’ve written about anti-cluster B saneism before and to be honest, I’m not fully satisfied with that entry, so I will be revisiting some of the same points in this one as I try to improve on my old work. Also, I’m going to be focusing mostly on anti-BPD bias in this entry.

With that in mind, what is BPD, actually? BPD, or borderline personality disorder, is an extremely poorly named neurodivergent condition that is sometimes also called emotionally unstable personality disorder. It is characterized by nine traits:

  1. Fear of abandonment
  2. Unstable relationships (to be honest, I don’t like this one because it’s too reliant on external factors, not what’s in a person’s head, but it’s in the DSM, so…[sigh])
  3. Unclear or shifting self-image
  4. Impulsive and/or self-destructive behaviors
  5. Self-harm
  6. Extreme mood swings
  7. Explosive anger
  8. Feeling suspicious of or out of touch with reality
  9. Chronic feelings of emptiness

In order to receive a diagnosis of BPD under the latest DSM, a person has to have at least 5 of these traits. I personally have fear of abandonment, unclear self-image, self-harm, extreme mood swings, and chronic feelings of emptiness. I’m bad at math in general (yes, really; not all Autistic people are good at math) and even worse at calculating combinations, but I think it’s pretty obvious that there are a ton of different combinations of traits that could be found in a person with BPD. You could meet 10 people with BPD and they could all have extremely different experiences with the disorder. 

Considering how many different ways there are to have BPD, is it starting to seem like a bad idea to paint people with this disorder with such a broad brush as “all people with BPD are abusive,” especially since “abusive behavior” is not among the nine traits? Not to mention the fact that accusing a person of being abusive due to their diagnosis is ableist.

Yes, really.

“But Amaranthe,” you might say, “BPD can affect a person’s behavior! BPD-related behaviors need to be changed! Surely a disorder that affects a person’s behavior could make them abusive!” Well, you’re absolutely right that BPD can affect a person’s behavior, and that BPD-related behaviors often need to be changed. BPD is an illness that causes the people with it to suffer. Seriously, BPD is hell. And yeah, changing ourselves can help people with BPD be happier. A core tenet of dialectical behavioral therapy, which is a treatment that can help people with BPD suffer less, is “You are a person of great value and you need to change.” 

HOWEVER. No disorder causes a person to be abusive. I’ve talked about this before. I call it Amaranthe’s Theory of Neurodivergence and Suckitude. I will reiterate it here:

“Unfortunately, it seems to be a sad truth that people of all populations are capable of sucking; no matter how many (or how few) marginalized groups a person belongs to, it is still possible for them to be disrespectful, toxic, etc. Anyone can have character flaws that cause them to suck. Sometimes, people who suck are neurodivergent. Since neurodivergence (often) affects who a person is on a fundamental level, a sucky person’s neurodivergence may lead them to suck in a particular way. As such, sucky people who share a particular neurodivergent condition may show patterns in their suckitude. However, they do not suck because they are neurodivergent; they suck because they suck. Neurodivergence simply informs how they go about sucking.

A corollary (is that the right word? I haven’t done advanced math since college) to Amaranthe’s Theory of Neurodivergence and Suckitude is that if a neurodivergent person abuses someone, their neurodivergence may have informed what kind of abusive actions they took, but it did not make them abusive. My abuser, for instance, told me that I could not have depression because she had depression and she would have recognized it. If she hadn’t been depressed, she wouldn’t have said that, but she certainly would have said some other gaslighting bullshit. (In fact, she has, multiple times; my favorite is that I lied to all 20something of the psych professionals I have seen about having depression symptoms because I think being depressed is ~*~cool~*~.)”

Let’s look at the Theory of Suckitude through a BPD lens. Let’s say a person with BPD is afraid their romantic partner is going to abandon them. If they were to say “I’m scared you’ll abandon me. Please, reassure me that you’re not going to leave me,” to their partner, that’s not abusive. Sometimes we need reassurance that we won’t be abandoned, even if we’re working on that negative cognition in therapy. (It is helpful for our partners, though, if we can tack on “I know this is my brain being a douchebag” to the request for reassurance.) If the person with BPD were to say “I’m scared you’ll abandon me. I’m going to kill myself if you leave me,” as a manipulation tactic to get their partner to stay, then that would be abusive, because using the threat of suicide to coerce someone into doing something is abusive. However, the person didn’t threaten suicide as a manipulation technique because they have BPD. They’re afraid of abandonment because they have BPD, and there are ways to be afraid of abandonment without being abusive about it; they threatened suicide as a manipulation technique because, well, they suck. Manipulation isn’t one of the nine BPD traits. Hell, I planned to die by suicide after my first-ever partner left me and I didn’t tell her. I even planned to wait a few months after the breakup so she wouldn’t blame herself. So yeah, it’s even possible to have BPD and feel like you’d kill yourself if you were abandoned and not be abusive about it!

So what does any of this have to do with the Heard v. Depp trial? In case you haven’t heard, a psychologist named Dr. Shannon Curry, who was hired by Johnny Depp’s legal team to evaluate Amber Heard, revealed to the court that she had diagnosed Heard with BPD. Here’s something you may not know about BPD: it’s so fucking stigmatized that even some healthcare providers in psychology and psychiatry know it’s stigmatized. Do you have any idea how bad saneism has to be before a group of people who tend to perpetuate saneism agree that it’s bad? I mean, my current therapist won’t diagnose me with BPD even though it’s painfully obvious I’m borderline because “[BPD] is a fraught diagnosis,” i.e., she doesn’t want doctors to see BPD in my medical records and not take the various other medical problems I have seriously.

Where am I going with this?

I’m going here: I cannot emphasize enough that Depp’s legal team sought a BPD diagnosis for Heard as a way to weaponize anti-BPD saneism, specifically the lie that all borderline people are abusive. This is unethical as all fuck. Not to mention that psychological diagnoses are supposed to be used to help people understand themselves and work to improve their lives, and using a diagnosis for any reason besides this, especially if it’s a healthcare professional doing it, is also extremely unethical. (This is also why armchair diagnosis is unethical, for the record.) Also…well, you know how I’m always talking about how other people are more eloquent than I am? Tumblr user spectroscopes had this to say about Heard’s supposed BPD diagnosis: “…none of the people writing these threads about the importance of not letting this color your perception of people with BPD have stopped to question why his team even considers whether she has it or not of any relevance and how this relates to the way he could be trying to exercise power and privilege in order to silence her.” So yeah, Depp’s legal team is weaponizing saneism to smear Heard, and there’s probably also some misogyny in there too, seeing as BPD is stereotyped as a disorder that almost exclusively happens in women.

News of the “diagnosis” also brought anti-BPD saneists out of the woodwork like acemisic jackasses during Pride month. There have been so many threads and posts on social media, particularly Twitter, about how evil and abusive borderlines are and how the BPD diagnosis explains why Heard was (supposedly) abusive. Many of these posts come from abuse survivors, and I want to say this: look, I get it. I get the desire to explain why you were abused. Because when you’re an abuse survivor, it can take years to stop internalizing the idea that you were abused because you deserved it, and you want an explanation. So you glom onto the idea that your abuser was abusive to you because they had a particular mental illness. That way it wasn’t your fault, it was the mental illness’s fault.

I get the temptation. It’s still saneist. Don’t do it.

My only cluster B condition is BPD, but I want to point out something that was pointed out by several people with ASPD when #AmberHeardIsAPs*ch*p*th trended on Twitter. Said “something” is that many saneists don’t understand the differences between the different cluster B conditions, so when one is attacked, all are attacked. “Ps*ch*p*th” is an anti-ASPD slur, and Amber Heard hasn’t been diagnosed with ASPD, but misogynableists love to go after any woman they see as “cr*zy” and who has any cluster B condition.

I think that’s all I have for now. I’m just…I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired of saneism, especially when it comes coupled with misogyny. I hate it.

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Anti-Cluster B Saneism

Content/trigger warning: saneist slurs (censored), discussion of anti-cluster B saneism (as you might have guessed :P)

I’m browsing Facebook. I see a post in a group for writers who attended my alma mater; it’s a Medium piece that the writer is proud of. The Medium piece is about “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse syndrome.”

I’m on YouTube. I’m listening to a rock cover of a well-known pop song. The singer lambasts her ex for being “a g-ddamn s****path.”

I’m on songmeanings.net. I’m looking for the meaning of the lyrics of a punk song I like that sounds like it might be about a toxic relationship. One of the suggested meanings is that the singer suffered abuse at the hands of a borderline partner.

If you’re thinking I should just stay off the Internet, well, I probably do spend too much time watching cat rescue livestreams, but you’re missing the point. I’m talking about anti-cluster B saneism.

Cluster B personality disorders include borderline, histrionic, antisocial, and narcissistic personality disorders. (Note: I know more about BPD than the other 3 because I myself am borderline. Just to get my bias on the record.) All of these disorders are characterized by intense suffering, but most people–even some ND people–know them as ~scary mental illnesses that are untreatable, involve total lack of empathy, and cause people who have those illnesses to be abusers or worse.

So…whew. Lots to unpack here.

Let’s start with the “untreatable” myth. It’s true that medication is usually pretty ineffective at treating cluster B PDs (although borderlines like me often suffer from depression, and antidepressants can help with that). PDs are also lifelong illnesses because they’re ,well, personality disorders. However, there is a kind of therapy called DBT, or dialectical behavioral therapy, that can be effective at alleviating the suffering caused by cluster B PDs. If a cluster B person is prone to destructive behaviors due to their PD, DBT can also help with that. The core dialectic of DBT is “you are a person of great worth and you have to change.” (I once saw someone call this “victim-blaming.” I wonder what it’s like on their planet.) Some people with cluster B PDs do act in ways that should be changed due to their illness. DBT is effective at helping with those changes. (Note: I don’t believe for a damn second that PDs are the only illnesses that predispose people to behavior that needs changing. Just look at eating disorders, for example.)

Now on to the empathy…thing. I’ve talked about empathy here (https://thisisforyoucarrie.wordpress.com/2020/12/28/empathy/) and the lack of comprehension of what empathy actually is makes it hard to know what saneists actually mean when they say that people with cluster B disorders have no empathy. What it probably means to saneists is that people with cluster B disorders have no compassion or concept of human suffering. This is, of course, not what “empathy” even fucking means, but that’s not the key point here. The key point is that the idea that people with cluster B PDs have no compassion is totally false. Some cluster B people do have low or no empathy–and I do mean empathy, not compassion–and that’s okay. The ability to think or feel what somebody else is thinking or feeling is not required to be a moral person.

And now we get to my least favorite myth about people with cluster B disorders: that we’re all abusers or worse. Look, that’s just plain not true. As I’ve said before, no mental illness makes a person an abuser (although abusive people’s choice of shitty actions can be informed by a mental illness that they happen to have). So why are people with cluster B disorders considered automatically abusive? Sing along if you know the words: ABLEISM! 

Okay, specifically it’s saneism. But just look at the idea of “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse.” According to people who think that’s a thing, it consists of using language to manipulate, harm, and control people. This can take the form of gaslighting, lying, withholding, and/or emotional neglect. As you might have guessed, none of these actions are symptoms of NPD (or ASPD, which also gets blamed for “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse”). All of these things were also done to me by my abusive mother constantly, and she definitely does not have NPD or ASPD. I’ve talked more about how “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse” is not a thing here: https://thisisforyoucarrie.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/blaming-abuse-on-neurodivergence-and-why-not-to-do-that/, but in case you don’t feel like reading that whole thing and are thinking “Well, what do we call ‘n*rc*ss*st*c abuse,’ then?,” I suggest calling it “self-serving emotional abuse” or just “emotional abuse.” 

I also want to mention that it particularly pisses me off when other trauma survivors try to explain their abuse by claiming that their abuser had a cluster B PD, especially since cluster B PDs can be caused by–you guessed it–childhood trauma. Part of me gets it–you want to find an explanation for why you were treated like shit, especially any explanation besides “I deserved it”–but lateral ableism is never okay.

One more thing I wanted to mention briefly: anti-cluster B slurs. You’d honestly have to ask the NPD community when the use of “n*rc*ss*st*c” is considered a slur. I haven’t been able to find a consensus on when it is aside from when used in the phrase  “n*rc*ss*st*c abuse,” so I’m censoring it just to be safe. I also don’t know much about anti-HPD slurs (or HPD…I fail, sorry >.<), and there aren’t really any slurs specific to people with BPD, although the phrase “toxic borderline” can get fucked. What I do know is that “s****path” and “p****path” are both slurs used against people with ASPD, and they’re never appropriate to use. Okay, fine, some psych “experts” say that there’s a difference between one or both of those slurs and having ASPD. I don’t fucking care. They’re both slurs that imply that a mental illness makes a person a danger to society or others, and they’re never acceptable.

I think that’s all I have for now. I’m sorry I couldn’t say more about the PDs I don’t have, but I have to be really careful with what resources I can trust about cluster B PDs because of the hermeneutical injustice at play. If you’re interested in learning more about ASPD specifically, I can recommend the YouTuber Jessica Kent: https://www.youtube.com/c/JessicaKent  

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