There is a real lack of understanding among the public about people
described as having a “personality disorder”. My aim is to increase
understanding and do my part in helping both the public and those
who suffer from this condition.
We are generally made vulnerable to problems with mood, thought,
behaviour and interpersonal difficulties, usually as a result of
gross injustices in our early lives. We need our experiences to be
heard and validated, but are largely misunderstood.
I was physically and sexually abused by a powerful authority figure
during my childhood; this made me vulnerable in adulthood to
feelings of misplaced depression, hopelessness, guilt, shame, rage
and fear on a daily basis, to such a degree that I often had
feelings of violence toward myself and others.
The abuse also made me react with complete terror as well as rage
when faced with authority figures, while simultaneously craving
safe parenting as well as punishment from him or her, with
sexuality often becoming confused in all of this. This helped to
perpetuate the abuse from other men throughout my adult life,
compounding my problems. After a few years of intense therapy, I
now see that these things are totally understandable and follow on
directly from such childhood abuse, but for many years I thought I
was a freak and had no insight into why I was like I was.
The chronic sense of defectiveness that I experienced was
exacerbated by professionals who, lacking skills in the field of
personality disorder, expressed judgemental opinions about me – for
example that I was “a psychopath”. This kind of statement, which
was often made by nurses, GPs and others, was very damaging to me
and was also, at times, the source of distrust, fear and
The hatred that I had towards society in general, and the violent
behaviour that I exhibited both towards myself and others, came to
a stop when I was finally taken in by a therapeutic community ward
within a large secure hospital in York – an environment that was
both willing to help and had the skills to do so.
The pain I still experience will probably always be with me.
However, I find I can manage it much better when I have the support
of people who are sufficiently educated and willing to listen. At
my present treatment centre, an open therapeutic community within a
hospital called the Retreat, York, the professionals do not call it
personality disorder. They say, instead, that we are survivors of
Throughout my difficulties, I have experienced much intolerance.
People with this unfortunate label can be held in even more disdain
than those with a biological mental illness. The stigma is even
more damaging when it comes from health professionals.
Usually, if people see a child being hurt, their instinct is to
help. Yet when they see the adult child, they turn away. I am one
voice for adult survivors. Many of us were that child, but we were
largely unheard then. I ask that we are heard now.
Nina Roberts is a service user.