Portrayals of Borderline Personality Disorder on Law & Order: SVU

By: Rachel

Portrayals of Borderline on Law & Order: SVU

Who doesn’t love watching this 21-year-and-still-running-long crime show, Law & Order: SVU? Starring Mariska Harigitay as Olivia Benson, the show’s sympathetic, mysterious, and open-hearted star stands up for victims, arguably more than any other character on the show. Even when a victim’s actions are misunderstood by everyone else, Olivia resonates with him or her, no matter how long ago the abuse was. She takes time to learn about psychological impairments from Dr. Wong (BD Wong), who is the leading psychiatrist at the NYPD. 

There is at least one strain of mental illness that is misinterpreted and polarized as crazy, hopeless, manipulative, and pretty much anything negative: personality disorders. I will mainly show examples about Borderline Personality Disorder since that’s what I notice the most and probably what is mentioned the most (not only in SVU). 

The first example is actually a bit humerous.* 


The man describes his ex-wife as “nuts” because she talks to her animals and has tons of cats and bunnies. I actually do have cats and a bunny, and I’d have way more if I could, and I definitely talk to them.

But I bet you talk to your pets too. I don’t think you’re nuts. 

No one is allowed to laugh at a disability except the one who has it, and then we can laugh along.

Next examples: typical negative portrayals. I remember many more instances of this on SVU. I’ll try to find them and do another post. 



Don’t accept everything you watch or hear or see, please. It hurts people. One time a therapy professor said that “borderlines just want to ruin your day.” 

That’s categorically untrue–we’re very empathetic and are so scared of rejection that we’d do anything to please you. This does turn into manipulation, and it’s mostly out of fear. If you know someone with BPD who starts acting out, tell him that you’re not going anywhere, you’re not rejecting her, that you want to understand why the person is upset, just like in any relationship. It just takes extra effort with your friends who have BPD. But it’s worth it. 

*These Excerpts are from Law & Order, SVU, and my sole purpose in using these clips is social/educational.

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