It’s been 2 days already since I keep seeing on nearly all TV channels the following story: She – beautiful & sexy, He – handsome, successful & rich. She has a tumultuous past, many relationships, covered in many newspaper articles and magazines. They meet, they marry, including religiously, in the church. Six months later, He finds out that She cheated him with her ex-boyfriend while in a trip to a distant country. He is loving and caring. The Ex is brutal and passionate, physically abusing her on every occasion they have sex. Yet, She is much more attracted to the violent Ex than to her loving husband. In an interview, She says that He deserves someone better than her. He fills divorce, saying that he still loves her but enough is enough. The TV channels are happy to have something to broadcast. End of story.
In my native country, a woman with this behavior is considered a whore. Period. In the West and in psychiatry worldwide, some of the persons exhibiting this behavior are labeled with another word: borderline.
There are several descriptions on the Internet, easily found with a simple search for “borderline personality disorder”. What is essential in borderline personality is the pattern of impulsivity plus the instability of affects, interpersonal relationships and self-image. And another aspect: the borderline personality is one of the most difficult conditions both in psychiatry and in therapy. In the story above is pretty easy to see the impulsivity and the emotional unbalance, the chaotic behavior patterns (a complicated past) and the instability of the self-image (suggested by that idea that He deserves someone better than me, this implying that I’m not worthy of some aspects, while 6 months ago I went to the church and got married, feeling adequate enough).
Now, if you’re a normal guy, you’re judgmental, you label her a whore and move on. But if you’re in the psy field, you don’t take everything so easily: she is a human being with a problem of which she might not even be aware of. But she will, eventually, become aware, and sooner or later, she will come to your office.
Typically, in the borderline person there are, simultaneously, 5 persons. Each of them has a certain way of behaving, certain emotions and certain texts. They blend very well together and it requires skill and dedication to differentiate them. I’m going to use the Schema Therapy framework for describing them.
Deep inside the borderline person there is the Abandoned Child. This is the core aspect, and it exists because of the fact that some of the (emotional) needs of that person weren’t met. Despair. Void. Painful Sadness. Rejection. Feeling of Inadequacy. You get the picture? A vulnerable little bird that needs protection and love…
All is well until you do or don’t do something that triggers the feeling of abandonment. The borderline person has to face 2 options: experience the “nice” feelings from above or… act-out. And we’re talking here about Revenge. Yes, the 2nd personality emerges: the Angry & Impulsive Child. The Rebel. Definitely, it’s better than feeling sad and empty. The borderline person is finally strong, has a power beyond measure. Drives a car at 200km per hour. Goes shopping impulsively. Eats excessively. Has sex frequently and for lengthy periods of time. And the risky behavior goes on and on.
At some moment, fairly every person remembers about things like ethics and morality. And about what parents said you can and you can’t. Suddenly, the borderline person becomes critical and feels there must be a price for all this. Feels guilt. And, when you’re guilty, you have to be punished. The 3rd person emerges: the Punitive Parent. Vomiting follows binge eating. Self-harm of many kinds follows pleasure. Imagination is rich in both rebelliousness and punitiveness…
After all this, the moment comes when the borderline personality decides that she had enough. It’s nasty to feel abandoned, it’s nasty to be impulsive and then pay the consequences. Maybe hibernate? Maybe indulge in a comfortable numbness? And here comes on the front stage the Detached Protector. The champion of the unfortunate ones. The Saviour of the poor. The Enlightened one. Yet, if you look carefully, this Protector is not emotionally flexible. She doesn’t have natural emotional reactions. She is anesthetized. Chances are you won’t see this, but a trained and aware psy will.
Ok, so where is the 5th personality? For some borderline persons, this 5th personality doesn’t exist. Yet. It has not been created, because the borderline person never experienced the adult ego-state. But, with the help of a therapist, the Healthy Adult will slowly emerge, through a process of re-parenting, emotional regulation, and through maintaining a secure attachment, setting limits and a good therapeutic alliance. And this takes time. Years.
Therapy with the borderline personality is a challenge and a fight to strengthen the Adult and maintain control over the other 4 personalities. Untreated, the person goes through cycles and cycles and cycles, making the same mistakes over and over again, and activating chaotically the 4 inner dysfunctional personalities. It’s painful to witness this. It’s hard to fight each of the 4. It’s hard to set limits. And it’s hard to remain focused on the abandoned child at the core and not be defocused by the outer displays of anger, criticalness or numbness. It’s hard not to be fooled by the Detached Protector acting like a Healthy Adult. It’s hard…
In a Western society advertising freedom of expression and in an acute crisis of values, more and more persons develop borderline traits. And the disorder is passed from generation to generation, by bad attachments, maladaptive models or coping styles. There isn’t a pill for this disorder, there isn’t a medical cure. The healing involves re-building the entire personality over the years, witnessing ups and downs, relapses and improvements. And suicidality.