One of the classic behaviors of a person suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder is the vilification campaign. The target is the person against whom the perpetrator Borderline conducts the vilification. The intent is to destroy the target’s reputation and thereby destroy the target’s relationships with family and friends, employers, co-workers, doctors, teachers, therapists, and others. The intent may even be to force the target to leave the community, put the target in prison, or even kill the target. As with so many things involving Borderlines and their typical inability to understand or respect boundaries, there really are no limits. They will use basically any means available to them to cause damage to their target, including denigration, endless disparaging remarks, fabrication, false accusations, and even teaching others (including their children!) to lie on their behalf as part of their vilification campaign.
Distortion Campaigns Not Limited to BPD VictimsPeople without BPD may practice vilification campaigns, also, but they are often tied to BPD or similar personality disorders, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). The classic BPD book Stop Walking on Eggshells refers to these as distortion campaigns. This choice of words emphasizes that the campaign employs lies, exaggerations, fictions, partial truths, and other reality distortion techiques. As it is unusual for a Borderline engaging in a vilification campaign to not use distortions, we shall refer to these as distortion campaigns just as the authors of Stop Walking on Eggshells have done.
It’s a myth that only women have BPD. Older research suggested that about 75% of BPD cases occur in women and that about 2% of the population is affected. Newer research shows that the ratio is probably closer still, possibly nearly evenly split, and that as much as 6% of the population may suffer from it.
It can be very difficult to distinguish BPD from similar personality disorders, particular from NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) as both tend to involve a lot of emotional abuse. Many believe that males are more likely to have NPD and females BPD. Other disagree. Psychology is a very subjective science. Gender bias in therapists and researchers often makes it even more subjective.
Please don’t assume if I use a gender-specific pronoun such as “he” or “she” that I mean the statement only applies to men or women. Writing in a gender-neutral manner in English can be awkward at times because the language lacks a truly gender-neutral third person pronoun for people that could replace the use of “he” and “she”. “It” just doesn’t sound right, and repetitively using “he or she” makes for some annoying reading.
Most of what I write here about distortion campaigns applies equally to men and women suffering from BPD or NPD or even a combination of the two as. Recent research shows that BPD and NPD are often present at the same time.
Distortion Campaign Does Not Intend to Help the TargetIt’s critical to differentiate between a real distortion campaign and something that may look like one but is not. For instance, Borderlines often have drug and substance abuse problems. If a family member or friend of a Borderline tries to get help for the Borderline by discussing the problems with other family members and friends, this is not a distortion campaign. It is based upon caring about the person and trying to discuss what is going wrong in order to get help. There is not intent to harm. But a Borderline may have a very hard time distinguishing the intent of helping and lack of intent to harm. Such a friend or family member may be accused by the Borderline of conducting a distortion campaign, even though this is not accurate.
Not All Borderlines Practice Distortion CampaignsIt’s important to note that not all Borderlines practice distortion campaigns. Some exhibit more “acting in” behaviors in which they hurt themselves, such as self-mutilation (often cutting), suicide attempts, and primarily self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse or binge eating. The Borderlines who practice distortion campaigns tend to exhibit “acting out” behaviors. They go after others with the intent of hurting them.
Typical Targets: Current or Former Family MembersDistortion campaigns are often done behind the scenes against people who are or were related or emotionally close to the perpetrator. They may start months or years before the target is even aware of the campaign. For instance, the breakup of a relationship is often connected to a distortion campaign against a former partner. The campaign may have started a long time before the breakup, to give the Borderline “justification” regarding what she or he has done or is about to do to the target, be it having an affairs(s), kicking them out of a home, filing false domestic violence charges, running away with the children, stealing large quantities of joint money and property, or some other hostile actions. By the time the target is aware of the distortions, people around the Borderline may have been hearing for a long time that the target is some evil, horrible, cruel person as part of the distortion campaign.
Borderline Recruits Others to Lie and DistortThe BP (short for “Borderline Personality” or “Borderline Person”) is likely to make extreme false allegations, distortions, and varied lies to defame and harm her or his former partner and other targets. The BP is also likely to involve many other people in the distortion campaign. Many are passive participants who will listen and believe the BP’s lies. Others become actively involved in spreading them further. The target may find that there are dozens of people, many whom have never met him or her, who believe and repeat the lies of the BP.
Common Lies and DistortionsWhat lies do BPs tell? Often they revolve around false claims of partner abuse, child abuse, perverse sexual behaviors, drug and substance abuse, mental illness, and criminal conduct. BPs tend to pick false accusations that are difficult to disprove. Although we supposedly live in a society in which people are “innocent until proven guilty”, the reality is, that is not how people are treated. This is especially the case when accusations of sexual abuse, child abuse, and spousal abuse are involved. The victims of the distortion campaign often are treated as pariahs or even criminals, assumed to be guilty without any evidence whatsoever.
The perhaps surprising aspect of many of these defamatory statements is that they are not about the target at all. Often BPs are aware at some level that they themselves are doing these bad behaviors. So instead of taking responsibility for their own problems, they blame them on others. This behavior is known as “projection.” (See Wikipedia: Psychological Projection)
For example, an emotionally and physically abusive BP female will falsely accuse her male partner of abuse. A typical example might be a distortion such as blaming him for an incident of physical abuse. She may tell others that her husband got mad at her, started yelling and screaming at her, and then slammed the door on her hand to break her finger. This might even be part of the truth. She’ll get a lot of sympathy, people will think bad things about her husband, and she gains allies. That is, so long as nobody hears the full truth before they’ve been effectively brainwashed by her.
The full truth might be that she was very angry at her husband. She came at her husband with a knife while berating him loudly. (Reputable studies indicate that females use weapons to commit domestic violence more than males do.) She might have been drunk, or maybe was just irate. (Borderlines often have substance abuse problems and nearly always have trouble controlling their emotions — it is sometimes called “Emotional Intensity Disorder.”) He may have then yelled “Stay away from me!”, fled the room, and slammed the door behind him as he tried to get away. He was acting in self-defense trying to escape a bad situation the BP wife created. But she will reliably tell everybody that he screamed at her, slammed the door on her hand and broke her finger. She will portray it as a pattern of abuse by him, even though the real abuser is her. This is lying by partial truth and distortion. BPs excel at this. They are believed and seldom questioned because of their emotional intensity and conviction they exhibit while they repeat their lies.
Related to projections is the behavior known as “gaslighting” in which the Borderline tries to confuse a person into believing things that are not true. Often this is to create self-doubt in the victim. The target for this abuse can end up questioning his or her own sanity as the Borderline matter-of-factly relates “events” or “things said” that the target does not recall because they never occurred. You can read more about this behavior in our article Borderlines Can Make You Feel Insane Via “Gaslighting”. If you realize that the Borderline in your life is engaging in gaslighting against you, this is often a good clue that he or she is probably also capable of running a distortion campaign. After all, if they have you confused about your own experiences, they will likely have a much easier time misleading others to believe inaccurate negative misinformation about you.
Borderlines Have Trouble Knowing the TruthBPs have trouble knowing what the truth is. This is due to a combination of problems. Sometimes they may experience cognitive dissociations in which they temporarily break from reality and may honestly experience reality completely differently from any observers, even video cameras will not agree with their version of reality.
Other times, it may simply be from their extensive pathological lying and avoidance of the truth. As a result, they may repeat their vilifying lies in varying inconsistent versions. The inconsistencies won’t be simply of opinions, they will be of even basic facts. They may have such trouble keeping their lies straight that they will come up with multiple versions of events, often growing in severity, over repeated tellings of their lies. Version one might be that somebody raised a hand to strike them, version two might be that somebody pushed them to the ground, version three might be that somebody tried to strangle them, and so forth. The reality might be that they slipped, fell and hurt themselves . But reality does not matter to Borderlines, what matters is the ability to convince other people to take their sides and to protect themselves from “threats” such as being alone or being held accountable for their actions.
Trouble Recognizing Borderline LiarsWhy don’t people see the BPs who conduct distortion campaigns as the liars they are? The reasons are many. Often BPs tell varying lies to different people who don’t “compare notes” and so don’t see what should be really obvious deception. Often the BP’s emotional intensity and ability to play on people’s emotions makes them master manipulators. People tend to “just believe” because the BP can come across as very charming, warm and friendly. Untrained, uncritical listeners are particularly susceptible at being duped by their lies. Eventually, they may believe the lies so completely that even when confronted with evidence such as writings, photographs, recordings, 3rd party versions of events, and other evidence, they will refuse to accept that they were duped into believing lies.
Even many mental health care professionals will fall for the distortion campaign for a while. They get sucked into false sympathy and emotional alignment with the BP rapidly. They fall for false stereotypes, such as “all men are abusers”, that BPs use to their advantage.
Many mental health care providers have not kept up to date on reliable psychological research that amply documents that “men are abusers, women are victims” is not the truth. (See Women commit more than 70% of single-partner DV) They may tend to be empathetic and take the statements of their patients at face value. Many of them also lack specialized training in recognizing and treating personality disorders. With the necessary training and skils, many of them can be easily suckered into believing the Borderline lies.
Adverse Impact on the TargetsWhat happens to people who are victims of BPD distortion campaigns? Here are some of the examples of the results:
- They are alienated from their family and friends.
- They lose contact with their children for months or even years.
- They lose their jobs.
- They spend tens of thousands of dollars or more fighting false accusations of the BP attacking them.
- They have restraining orders placed upon them based upon false accusations.
- They end up in jail or prison due to false accusations.
- They develop severe mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others.
- Some commit suicide.
The damage does not stop with the immediate family. It tends to spill over into all relationships around the target as the target is accused of crimes, immoral and unethical behaviors, embarassing incidents, and so forth. The siblings, parents, new spouse, friends, and employers of the target may all suffer serious damage from the distortion campaign. The target may be unable to function normally, have insomnia and other sleep disorders, not be able to work normal hours or focus on work, and even feel afraid to been seen in public. This may be a time during which those around the target have to band together to help the target in safe settings. However, by doing so, the target’s support system itself may become a new target for the BP. It is not unusual for the BP to proceed to attack people the BP sees as helping the target. They may endure distortion campaigns. As a way to protect everybody, it may be useful to minimize knowledge that the BP obtains about the people around the target. The target and those who support him or her may need to become very secretive about their lives in order to protect themselves from ever-widening and intensifying attack by the BP.
Borderlines Must Be Held Accountable
Borderlines did not chose to be mentally ill, but they must be held accountable for their actions. We must educate ourselves and others about Borderline Personality Disorder and act to keep people who suffer from BPD and similar mental health problems from harming others. It is in the best interests of everybody, victims of BPs, the BPs themselves, and all the people around them, for these people to be identified. Once identified, others can be protected from them and attempts can be made at getting them into effective treatment. Although today’s treatments may not cure many of them, they may learn to curb their destructive behaviors, hurt others less, and lead happier lives themselves. But that is not going to happen without awareness, identification, and willingness to tackle the problems posed by this mental illness.