The use of social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace are increasing problematic for many users. The nature of the sites, our access to them via many devices (PC’s, laptops, iPads, cellphone browsers, text messaging and email) are conducive to obsessiveness and compulsive use. Additionally, these sites offer a theoretically unlimited social access to an unlimited number of people. For individuals who have conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder, social media site use may pose particular challenges.
Borderline Personality Disorder and Interpersonal Vulnerability
Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by difficulties within relationships and with regard to the social environment. Generally, these issues are considered to originate in deeply held fears of abandonment, frantic efforts to avoid abandonment and an unstable sense of self. Typically, those with this disorder tend to enter into relationships quickly and intensely. Involvements are frequently impulsive with intimacy achieved rapidly and often without much information about the partner. For these reasons, individuals with this disorder are vulnerable to interpersonal victimization such as domestic violence, sexual assault and other types of exploitation.
The tendency to impulsively enter relationships can lead to disclosure of personal information that jeopardizes physical safety, but also emotional and psychological safety can be jeopardized with quick involvements. The deeply felt need for love and approval can foster a fantasy of ‘rescue’ from loneliness and lead to an unfounded belief, for example, that ‘true love’ has been found. Judgment about relationships and intimacy can be further compromised by the anonymity of social media sites and the ability of others to manipulate interactions. Long distance ‘love affairs’ are not uncommon for those with Borderline Personality Disorders and can result in ill-founded and premature commitments and life disruptions such as relocation, engagements and allowing another to move in. Disappointments, mental and emotional instability and even safety risks can be acutely disorganizing when the reality of such involvements become clear.
Distorted Perceptions of Relationship Dynamics
The deeply held and often desperate need for companionship, relationship, approval and acceptance can lead to equally desperate, or at times frantic, behavior on social media sites. One of the characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder is that abandonment or rejection does not have to actually occur in order to trigger feelings of panic and desperation. Even the perception of abandonment or rejection can trigger an increase in symptoms for those with this disorder. For example, a usual ‘friend’ on Facebook may not respond promptly to a comment or message. An individual with this condition may perceive this as evidence of abandonment or rejection when none of this was intended. This tendency to perceive abandonment and rejection leads to scrutinizing the behaviors of others and projecting one’s own fears and fantasies into the situation and other person. This makes a clear understanding of another’s intentions, motives and behaviors difficult to achieve. This is further complicated by the difficulty of discerning these things in interactions on the Internet and often, over long distances, as well.
Black and White Thinking
Another characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder is the tendency to have ‘black and white’ thinking in relationships or to either idealize or disparage another person—to see someone as either good or bad and nothing in between. This type of thinking is problematic in many ways. It impairs an accurate assessment of another and a relationship because both pro’s and con’s cannot be weighed together for analysis. In such a thinking pattern one fluctuates between seeing the pro’s or positives at one time and seeing the con’s or negatives at another. It is very difficult to consider both extremes at the same time in order to make a realistic appraisal of the situation, person or relationship. Consequently, for example, judgment is impaired by a tendency to dismiss negative characteristics and warning signs and to idealize another person as if no negatives or warning signs existed. This type of thinking makes those with Borderline Personality Disorder susceptible to manipulation, deception and the predatory behavior of others.
Another characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder is the tendency to act out in impulsive and self-sabotaging ways when feeling distressed. Many with this disorder will even engage in self-harming behavior such as self-injuries caused by cutting or burning themselves when there is a high level of anxiety or emotional pain.
Mood swings are also common in this disorder and there can be periods of intense anger that lead to aggression. When perceiving rejection by others, or when actually rejected due to inappropriate behavior, for example, social media sites can be used to express anger, engage in conflict, shaming and attempts to ‘rally’ support for the bullying and rejection of another in retaliation.
The nature of social media sites which allow unlimited postings is conducive to outbursts of anger and social aggression that are fueled by intensified negative perceptions and emotions about another. These outbursts can be followed by periods of deep shame, guilt and remorse which further reinforce negative feelings about the self, unstable emotions and the likelihood that more acting out will occur. Such a cycle of intensified negative emotions and emotional behavior can trigger the impulse to self-harm and even suicidal thoughts and impulses.
Emotional Disclosure and Solicitation of Assistance
Akin to angry acting out is the tendency for those with Borderline Personality Disorder to over disclose about negative emotional states and thoughts. When symptoms are intensified some use social media sites to state their self-destructive thoughts and tendencies and attempt to solicit support and intimacy from their online “friends”. Such an episode can be distressing to others involved, even alarming, and amount to a form of emotional and psychological abuse and manipulation of the others involved. Statements about self-harm or suicide to online “friends” can divert successful efforts to gain support from appropriate sources and lead to increase instability. The consequences of a public online display of such symptoms can be actual rejection which further complicates the negative emotional reaction and poor self-image already had by someone with this disorder.