Borderline Personality Disorder

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Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness

Borderline Personality Disorder is a disorder I have been blessed not to have, though I’ve known individuals, some close to me, who were borderline. BPD is essentially a problem of emotional control. Borderline people have wild mood swings, though they are not usually bipolar. They can love you and think you are the most wonderful person in the world one moment, then turn on you, demonize you, and hate you. Those shifts can be unpredictable and can happen quickly, leaving family members hurt and wondering how to react. Borderline individuals tend to put people they know into lose-lose situations. If the borderline person is angry with you, whatever you say will be the wrong thing. You will, as one bestselling book on BPD alludes to, be “walking on eggshells.”

Borderline people can be manipulative, just like narcissists, but unlike sociopaths or psychopaths, they do have a conscience and are capable of love. Often, however, their love is twisted, oriented more to feeding their egos (like narcissists receiving “supply”) than truly focusing on the other person. They are good at making themselves look “too good to be true,” seeming to be interesting in everything you are. Some borderline individuals will lie about their accomplishments in order to impress others; other borderline individuals find it difficult to tell the difference between appearance and reality. The latter group can go into a dissociative state and not remember what they did during that state. If you quote the borderline’s statements to you to his family and friends, often they will stare at you as if you are crazy–because the BPD person told you that something happened that, in truth, did not happen.

BPD individuals, like narcissists, psychopaths, and sociopaths, often have a great deal of charm, which they use to their advantage. But the advantage is only temporary as people pick up on the fact that the BPD person “ain’t quite right” as we say in the South. Instability in jobs and instability in relationships may lead to the BPD going through multiple jobs quickly, moving many times, and going through multiple marriages. All relationships are unstable. The borderline person is afraid to lose anyone in his life, yet does not realize that his behavior drives people away. Sadly, the BPD individual is usually miserable inside and lonely, desperately wanting a friend. Most BPD persons do not recognize that their behaviors drive away other people; others may recognize that fact, but believe that their traits are essential for their emotional survival. That points to the greatest problem borderline individuals have in overcoming their disorder: a failure to take responsibility.

So many mental problems are due, in part, to someone believing they are the slave of fate, that given one’s background, one cannot help the way he is. For that reason, he refuses to take responsibility for his actions and blames others for bad things that happen to him. The most difficult obstacle psychologists and psychiatrists have dealing with borderline people is the borderline’s refusal to take responsibility. The borderline often tries to manipulate the therapist. Sadly, many affairs with therapists occur that way. One psychologist told me that of his fellow therapists who fell into affairs, probably over 95% of the lovers were borderline individuals. Since flirtation gains the borderline attention and helps with low self esteem (which only masquerades as high self esteem), many borderlines are extremely flirtatious. Not all will go to the point of a full-fledged affair, but many do.

BPD usually has its origins in childhood. Oftentimes, childhood sexual abuse by a parent or stepparent is the cause–though this is not the only cause. BPD usually manifests in a person’s teens. Some borderline individuals spontaneously recover in their forties; others never recover. Therapy is notoriously ineffective, although newer cognitive methods work better than previous therapies. It is a joke among psychologists that the way to harm an enemy psychologist is to refer a borderline patient to him. If the psychologist can get the borderline person to admit that he is not the slave of forces beyond his control and that he is able to change, the major step toward recovery has occurred.

Are borderline individuals sick or evil? Some borderline behavior seems to be evil: the lying, the manipulation, the willingness to say or do almost anything to get what one wants, the sudden turns toward absolute hatred. I know of one therapist (not my therapist) and one person who works in the criminal justice system who consider borderline people to be evil. In my opinion, most of them do not begin as evil, though, like any human being, they may become evil due to habituation. They are trying to survive something that hurt them so much as a child that they believe that their behaviors are the only way they can survive in the world. They may believe that if they did not behave the way they do that they would fall apart–indeed, their personalities seem to be fragmented. These sad, frightened people need to be guided toward healing–but they must be willing to get help and be serious about it. To anyone who may have this disorder: I pray for them to get help, to engage in positive behaviors that support solid relationships with others, and to find peace in their lives.

The Boundary Between Mental Illness and Evil

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"Satan Sowing Seeds" by Felicien Rop...

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Was Jared Lee Loughner, who allegedly murdered six people in Tuscon and wounded 13 others, including Congressman Gabrielle Giffords, insane or evil or both? Leonard Pitts and other columnists and bloggers have openly wondered whether “evil” is a more appropriate description of Mr. Loughner than “insane.” Psychiatry and psychology tend to medicalize deviances in human behavior, sometimes to the point that they tone down the role of human responsibility. For example, classifying alcoholism as a disease alleviates the moral responsibility a person may have for engaging in the heavy drinking that made him dependent on alcohol.  Classifying mass murderers as “psychopaths” may be accurate as a descriptive label for their condition (no empathy, no conscience), but such classification does not address the issue of whether psychopaths are evil. There are several bad arguments that someone who medicalizes terrible human actions may use. For example:

1. If person x has a mental illness, and that mental illness contributes to x’s destructive behavior, then x is not morally responsible for x’s actions.

2. Person x has a mental illness.

3. That mental illness contributes to x’s destructive behavior.

4. Therefore, x is not morally responsible for x’s actions.

The weakness of this argument is premise 1. Just because a person is mentally ill, and that mental illness causally contributes to his behavior, does not imply that the person is not morally responsible for his actions. The reason is that the mental illness may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for x’s destructive behavior. X’s evil moral character may still play a causal role as well. Or x’s evil moral character may have causally contributed to his mental illness.

Another bad argument goes as follows:

1. Deviations from normal brain structure are correlated with psychopathy and other personality disorders.

2. If deviations from normal brain structure are correlated with psychopathy and other personality disorders, then the individual with such deviations is not morally responsible for his actions.

3. Psychopathic [mass murderer, swindler–take you pick of crime) individual x has deviations from normal brain structure.

4. Therefore psychopathic individual x is not responsible for actions that are due to his psychopathy.

One problem with this argument is that correlation is not causation. Even if a causal relation could be established, this does not answer the question of which direction the causation goes (the “chicken-egg problem”). Do the deviations from normal brain structure cause psychopathy or does psychopathic behavior cause deviations from normal brain structure? Unless one accepts reductive or eliminative materialism, then one cannot automatically claim that a twisted mind and behavior are caused by an abnormal brain. To make such a claim would be to beg the question on the complex metaphysical issues surrounding the mind-body problem.

I do not know where the exact boundary between evil and mental illness. A rough answer that seems reasonable to me is that if a person’s mind is utterly divorced from reality, then he is not as responsible for his actions as someone who has a firm or even partial grip on reality. Where should that line be drawn? This is the difficulty. It seems to me that psychopaths are evil people. Borderline personality disorder is (and I’m not trying to be “facile”) is a borderline case–but if a person suffering from borderline personality disorder destroys another person’s life, emotional health, and/or reputation due to manipulation and lies, then the person seems as much evil as having a medical disorder. The refusal of many borderlines to get help or take responsibility for their actions are basic elements of an evil character. Munchausen’s Syndrome and Munchausen’s by Proxy fall in the same category–the drive for attention is twisted to the point of doing evil and manipulative actions. I know that many professional psychologists and psychiatrists would disagree. But they do not know everything any more than I as a philosopher know everything. I know there is a level of mental illness that totally removes a person’s moral responsibility for heinous actions.  But since evil is by nature a distortion of the personality, there may be some individuals who are considered to be mentally ill but who are actually evil, or some individuals who suffer from mental illness and have an evil character.  Human beings are a mixture of good and evil, and that battle, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, is fought in every human heart.

Living with Asperger’s Syndrome

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Autism spectrum

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My name is Michael and I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. I was formally diagnosed about five years ago by my psychologist–and I knew that the diagnosis fit. “Aspies,” as we are sometimes called, often feel like aliens around other people. Rather than go through a list of characteristics of Asperger’s, in this post I will focus on what it has been like growing up Asperger’s.

As a child, I was different. Unlike other children, I preferred to be around adults, especially older people, more than I preferred to be around people my own age. I talked much like an adult, and imitated their words, expressions, and intonations. Things had to be accurate; I thought I was being helpful when I informed my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Christman, that “You forgot to change your calendar!” She did not find that statement as helpful as I thought.

Change was frightening; I hated change. When, in second grade, I was moved up from Mrs. McNeal’s class to Mrs. Lowry’s, I cried because I was in an unfamiliar environment. I would get attached to toys or objects–when I lost a golf ball I’d found, it felt like the world had ended. When I forgot the title of a song my dad had played on the harmonica, somehow that forgetting was traumatic. If my parents put me in a new bed, I hated it since I wanted my old bed back.

I loved to rock in rocking chairs. Unlike many children with full-blown autism, I did not spin around on the floor. But I could rock for hours, and I still can. At an academic conference, if there is a chair that rocks, I probably drive my fellow academics mad, since I will rock for hours.

As an Asperger’s child, I focused on interests to the point of obsession. I did not care for conversation that was not over a serious topic, and that hurt the process of making friends with other children. But I had friends: Melvin in the first three grades; I was sad when he had to move to another state; Paul, who used to talk with me during play period about becoming an astronaut. My interested then was in space, and I obsessed over it, checking out every book on space and astronomy from the public library in Smyrna.

Aspies tend to live in their own little world, and for that reason it is easy for us to talk a lot–to ourselves. I remember in my high school days stopping at the drive through at a Wendy’s (which is still at the same location–some things don’t change!). I was calculating whether I had enough change so I would get only bills back, but I did so out loud. The woman at the counter gave me a look like I was stark raving mad. I can laugh about it now, but at the time it really hurt–and on a bad day if I have this memory it still hurts.

The ultimate change in life is death, and it is no surprise that this became my ultimate obsessive interest. My fraternal twin brother, Jeffrey, died two hours after birth from a bilateral pulmonary hemorrhage. I heard about his death as a child, and at that time thought of death as sheer nothingness. In 1967, when I was only five-years-old, I watched the Easter episode of the show, “Davy and Goliath.” In the episode, Davy plays with his grandmother in the attic, and later, outside. But the next day, after coming home from a ball game, Davy’s father told him, “Grandmother died this morning.” I fell apart, ran to my grandparent’s kitchen, and cried, asking “When will I died,” and thinking of death as a black hole, as absolute nothingness. This fear continues despite my Christian faith–that religion is wrong and that death will mark the total end. My interest in philosophy ultimately arose out of this focus on death, and my recent interest in parapsychology also arose from this obsession.

A related interest/obsession is with the heart–the physical organ. As the organ which best symbolizes life–and death–I became fascinated, especially after my dad brought a stethoscope home from work. That interest continues–to the point that at times I force myself to focus on other interests or on boring projects at school to get away from it. I read everything I could, from anatomy textbooks to my dad’s notes from work when he took his EKG course. I read about causes of death, not to be morbid, but out of pure curiosity–how does this disease or this injury cause the heart to stop? And I would listen to my own hearts and others’ hearts to hear the precious life within, the life that is God’s gift to us, that ends all too soon. (Having lost my best friend to cancer this past May, the reality of how soon life ends hit me full-force). To most people, my obsession is bizarre; to me, it is a way of controlling and coping with a deep fear of death. Of course my faith is the most important way–but like the Apostle Thomas, I have to say, “Lord, I believe; pardon my unbelief!”

I suppose my interest in paranormal investigation and ghosts arises from this fear/fascination with death. I have always loved horror movies, to the classic “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” movies I saw on “The Big Show” on Channel 5 in Nashville as a child to the Japanese “Ringu” and “Ju-on” horror series today. And in my own paranormal investigations, I get lots of electronic voice phenomena (EVP)–more than other group members. I leave the source of those voices a mystery; I just don’t know. I wish they were unambiguous evidence of life after death, but I could be causing them with my own mind–or someone else living could be. Oh, to be certain about what is intrinsically uncertain!

Asperger’s Syndrome has a few advantages. I can focus on a project obsessively, so that I have an impressive number of academic publications given a heavy teaching load at a church-related university. I love learning and love to read, especially sitting in my rocking chair beside the book case I built in Mr. Sims’ ninth-grade shop class, the case that holds my books I obtained from early childhood on through high school. Again, it’s a familiar space.

There is a painful social awkwardness that arises from Asperger’s Syndrome–I often do not know the right things to say in a social situation, though I have improved over time. Even in e-mails, which I read over before I send it, it is easy for me to be misunderstood, something that is always painful. It’s a risk to be social, scary as hec, but to refuse being social is to refuse all love and human companionship–and that is hell. Sartre said, “Hell is other people,” but I would say, “Hell is being totally alone.”

What would be heaven for an Asperger’s individual? In my case, it would start with something as familiar as tying my shoes in the morning. I spend the night at my late grandparents’ house. They are alive again. I wake up to the aroma of bacon frying on the kitchen stove. A breeze cools my skin. Dappled sunlight shifts as branches sway. Today, I will pick a watermelon from Granddaddy’s garden. I will ride my bicycle around the driveway and underneath a tree full of pears. My Spitz, Fuzzy, is barking, and I release him from his chain and hug him. He thinks he can lick me to death, but I love it. Later, I will run to the swing chained to one of two large maples in the front yard and swing back and forth across the drive in the cool shade. Granddaddy and I will bring out chairs and sit by the Old Nashville Highway, guessing which color the next passing car will be. Granny will call us inside for supper and iced tea. I’ll read one of Patrick Moore’s books on astronomy, watch “To Tell the Truth” at 6:30 that night with Garry Moore as host. I lie on the tile floor next to the fan, feel the late summer heat stream from my back. Above is a schoolhouse light; I stare at it, close my eyes, face the fan, feel its air on my face, and go to sleep–the next day will be a new, but also an old, adventure–and God willing, after seeing the face of Jesus in my loved ones and in familiar places, one day I will have the strength to see Jesus Christ face to face.