Paper on Borderline Personality Disorder I wrote for Abnormal Psych class
Disorder Paper: Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder is a complicated disorder characterized by black and white thinking also known as all or nothing thinking. Most borderlines are manipulative and insecure. They have low self-esteem and nearly no self-confidence. They have not learned effective coping mechanisms and are unable to distinguish between themselves and the world that they grew up in. Most borderlines have issues with boundaries and limits. They do not have their own and have a hard time allowing others to have boundaries. They tend to be impulsive in their actions and unable to think before acting for the most part. The diagnostic statistical manual for mental health disorders states, Diagnostic criteria for 301.83 Borderline Personality Disorder- A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.
A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
Impulsivity in atleast two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.
Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
Chronic feelings of emptiness
Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms. (DSM IV-TR)
Dr. Corelli describes Borderline Personality Disorder as, “There is a deep-seated feeling that one is flawed, defective, damaged, or bad in some way, with a tendency to go to extremes in thinking, feeling, or behavior. Under extreme stress or in severe cases there can be brief psychotic episodes with loss of contact with reality or bizarre behavior or symptoms” (Corelli). “Sometimes people with BPD view themselves as fundamentally bad, or unworthy. They may feel unfairly misunderstood or mistreated, bored, empty, and have little idea who they are. Such symptoms are most acute when people with BPD feel isolated and lacking in social support, and may result in frantic efforts to avoid being alone” (NIMH 2008). “A person with this disorder can often be bright and intelligent, and appear warm, friendly, and competent. They sometimes can maintain this appearance for a number of years until their defense structure crumbles, usually around a stressful situation like the breakup of a romantic relationship or the death of a parent” (Corelli). Symptoms appear to minimize as the Borderline ages. This may be due to life experience as they grow; they seem to manage their symptoms better. Their lives seem to settle down and become more stable. They commence to be able to function and manage better as they age.
There is an influential connection between child abuse, neglect, and Borderline Personality Disorder. More women than men are identified as having BPD. According to an article, “Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a common and severe condition with substantial morbidity and mortality. BPD has a point prevalence of 1% to 2% in the general population, but the rate climbs to 10% to 20% in the mental health treatment settings. BPD is manifested by a wide array of symptoms and is associated with significant functional impairment and mortality rates approaching 10% in long-range naturalistic studies” (Gregory, Remen 2008). The DSM IV-TR states, “Physical and sexual abuse, neglect, hostile conflict, and early parental loss or separation are more common in the child-hood histories of those with Borderline Personality Disorder” (DSM IV-TR, pg.708). It also states, Borderline Personality Disorder is about five times more common among first-degree biological relatives of those with the disorder than in the general population” (DSM IV-TR, pg.709). There is some evidence of biological connection although studies have not shown clear evidence of what genetic links there are in BPD.
During recent years, there have been many studies done and treatment for BPD is more widespread now than a decade ago. There is still a stigma against people diagnosed with BPD in the world and the mental health system itself. One article advises, “Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder are often unfairly discriminated against within the broad range of mental health professionals because they are seen as ‘trouble-makers'” While they may indeed need more care than many other patients, their behavior is caused by their disorder” (Levin 2001). It also states, “Many professionals are turned-off by working with people with this disorder, because it draws many negative feelings from the clinician” (Levin 2001). An article on the web says, “People with borderline personality disorder are among the most difficult to treat with psychotherapy, in part because their relationship with their therapist may become as intense and unstable as their other personal relationships” (Personality Disorders). Treatment providers need to set and stick with clear limits. They need to be able to provide support to the borderline but not allow the borderlines manipulative behavior to interfere in the treatment they are providing.
Over the past decade or so there have been many treatments suggested for treating borderlines but not many have shown to be effective in the long-term treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. An article reads, “Treatment includes psychotherapy which allows the patient to talk about both present difficulties and past experiences in the presence of an empathetic, accepting, and non-judgemental therapist. The therapy needs to be structured, consistent and regular, with the patient encouraged to talk about his or her feelings rather than to discharge them in his or her usual self-defeating ways” (Corelli). The most effective treatment that has shown to be effective is DBT. Dialectical behavioral therapy first introduced by Marsha Linehan has shown to be the most effective in helping the borderline learn to live their life to the fullest they are capable of. An article states, “Therapy should help to alleviate psychotic or mood-disturbance symptoms and generally integrate the whole personality. With this increased awareness and capacity for self-observation and introspection, it is hoped the patient will be able to change the rigid patterns tragically set earlier in life and prevent the pattern from repeating itself in the next generational cycle” (Corelli). Treatment of the borderline client and its effectiveness depends on the investment of the client. They borderline needs to want to change to effectively benefit from any treatment that is provided including but not limited to; DBT, psychotherapy, medications, or other methods that has not been mentioned but may help. Borderline Personality Disorder needs to be studied more to find more beneficial treatments.
You’ve been in psychotherapyfor a while and feel your therapist just isn’t meeting your needs anymore, so you decide it’s time for a change. Or perhaps it is your therapist who is moving on–leaving town, going on maternity leave, retiring because of age or illness.Whatever the reason for bidding adieu, when the two of you part company, you’re not just breaking off with a mental-health professional. Therapy involves transference, in which you transfer feelings about important figures in your life onto the therapist. So you’re also saying sayonara to your mother, your father, significant others past and present, best friend, maybe a sibling or two–so many people it’s a wonder you can all fit into one office.
That period of wrapping up therapy and saying goodbye is known as “termination,” a word that evokes images of being fired from a job or being stalked by Arnold Schwarzenegger. But mental-health experts consider termination a crucial stage in therapy.
If handled properly, it provides an opportunity to re-examine the issues that led the client to seek help in the first place, to evaluate the therapy itself and to deal with feelings that might bubble up in the face of bidding farewell.
A so-called natural termination, in which the two of you agree to end treatment because your goals have been met, is difficult enough. Who, after all, likes to say goodbye, especially to someone who has helped you so profoundly and so intimately? But a premature termination, where a dissatisfied client leaves without much notice or a therapist departs before the patient is ready, can be downright traumatic.
“It’s always best if people can have time to pay attention to the process of saying goodbye,” says Carl Shubs, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills. “If people leave too abruptly, it interferes with the process–they’re not able to deal with the sadness or anger, the mourning that occurs.”
Adds Sylvia Martin, a licensed marriage, family and child therapist in private practice in Sherman Oaks: “Termination is a time when people start to deal with all their losses. It can trigger feelings about old issues, or issues about the relationship between the therapist and client.
“If there is an old loss they have not grieved, they will tap in and experience the same feelings,” she says. “Maybe they had a feeling of abandonment when they were young and did not understand it. Or maybe they have not had the luxury before now of dealing with a loss–for example, going through a divorce with two kids.”
If it is the patient who says so long, a good therapist will try to determine if he or she wants out because the topics being discussed are becoming too painful. In those cases, the therapist will encourage the patient to remain, so as to work through the discomfort and resolve those issues.
Many times, though, the client is willing to slog through the hard stuff, but feels this particular therapist is less than able. Such was the case last year for Laura, 41, who works in the travel industry in Orange County and sought counseling for marital problems.
“I was therapy illiterate,” she recalls. “I had no basis for comparison. But I never felt I was getting help. I would drive home and think, ‘Why did I just go there?’ I didn’t expect a magic cure, but I was just begging my therapist, ‘Give me some tools to help me.’
“All she said was, I had to divorce my husband, which I wasn’t ready to do. I felt her attitude was, ‘You won’t take my advice, so I don’t know what to tell you.’ ”
Laura–who is still married and on better terms with her husband–found another therapist to her liking. But she stuck with her first counselor longer than she preferred to because, she says, “The last thing I wanted was to look for someone new to spill my guts to, to start over again.”
“It’s a bit like finding a lover, or best friend, or a parent. You don’t just go out and find a new best friend. You have to find a real emotional fit, on top of basic competence.”
Lisa Moore, 34, a West Los Angeles advertising account executive, discovered that last year when she left the marriage and family counselor she had been seeing for 15 months because she thought the therapist had crossed the professional line and was becoming too friendly. After six weeks with a new therapist recommended by her physician, she decided to return to her former counselor.
Maybe you don’t like your therapist. Maybe you do, but you’ve resolved the
issues that drove you to seek counseling in the first place. Or maybe those
issues remain unresolved, with few signs of progress. Maybe your sessions feel
as if they’ve morphed into very expensive chats with a friend.
For myriad reasons, people come to a point when they wonder if they should
break up with their therapist. And “break up” is the right term for it, because
quitting therapy can spur emotions as painful and complicated as ending a
How do you know if you’re ready to stop therapy? And how should you go about
it? First, any therapy that is abusive or destructive should be stopped
immediately, said Dr. Kenneth Settel, clinical instructor in psychiatry at
Harvard Medical School. Examples of abusive therapists are those who are
disrespectful or insensitive to certain issues; those who violate boundaries;
those who reveal too much about their own problems; and those who insist on
focusing on areas the patient didn’t come in for.
But assuming you’re not dealing with that, patients should approach ending
therapy as a chance to grow, Settel said. Rather than cut and run or avoid the
topic altogether — tempting routes for the confrontation-avoidant — it’s
important that patients, well, talk to their therapist about it.
In therapy, the relationship between the patient and the therapist is a
vehicle for understanding the patient’s issues, Settel said. So the way you end
therapy can be a way of examining how you say goodbye to people, and the
feelings involved in leaving and loss.
Ask yourself why you want to move on. When did you start feeling that the
therapy was no longer helpful or productive? What happened that made it
different? Was there a change in you, in the topics being discussed, in the
therapist? Confronting that tension can be a turning point because it forces you
to work through obstacles, Settel said.
“Ending therapy can be very therapeutic,” Settel said.
Though the patient-therapist relationship can have a weird power dynamic —
you’re paying, but the therapist is the expert and knows your every demon —
patients should feel they have control of the process, said Lynn Bufka, a
psychologist and head of the department of practice, research and policy at the
American Psychological Association. Patients should feel empowered to ask
questions, steer the sessions to focus on particular issues and let the
therapist know what’s not working.
The tricky part is making sure you’re not leaving therapy just because it’s
unpleasant or difficult, which oftentimes it has to be, Bufka said. More than
make you feel better, therapy is supposed to help you understand yourself
On the flip side, therapy shouldn’t be some indefinite appointment you keep
as part of your routine. There should be regular discussions about what you’re
trying to accomplish and whether you’re meeting those goals.
“I hope that I’m going to work myself out of a job,” Bufka said.
There is such a thing as staying in therapy for too long. One warning sign is
if a patient has to run all decisions by his or her therapist, which can signal
dependency, Bufka said. Another concern is if the therapist relationship is
taking the place of building other relationships.
Another downside of staying in therapy for too long is that you don’t have
the opportunity to practice the skills you’re developing independently, Settel
said. If the therapy was aiming to help you build internal skills of
self-observation, stopping therapy can encourage growth because it forces you to
internalize the process.
If you think it’s hard to end a relationship with a lover or spouse, try breaking up with your psychotherapist.
A writer friend of mine recently tried and found it surprisingly difficult. Several months after landing a book contract, she realized she was in trouble.
“I was completely paralyzed and couldn’t write,” she said, as I recall. “I had to do something right away, so I decided to get myself into psychotherapy.”
What began with a simple case of writer’s block turned into seven years of intensive therapy.
Over all, she found the therapy very helpful. She finished a second novel and felt that her relationship with her husband was stronger. When she broached the topic of ending treatment, her therapist strongly resisted, which upset the patient. “Why do I need therapy,” she wanted to know, “if I’m feeling good?”
Millions of Americans are in psychotherapy, and my friend’s experience brings up two related, perplexing questions. How do you know when you are healthy enough to say goodbye to your therapist? And how should a therapist handle it?
With rare exceptions, the ultimate aim of all good psychotherapists is, well, to make themselves obsolete. After all, whatever drove you to therapy in the first place — depression, anxiety, relationship problems, you name it — the common goal of treatment is to feel and function better independent of your therapist.
To put it bluntly, good therapy is supposed to come to an end.
But when? And how is the patient to know? Is the criterion for termination “cure” or is it just feeling well enough to be able to call it a day and live with the inevitable limitations and problems we all have?
The term “cure,” I think, is illusory — even undesirable — because there will always be problems to repair. Having no problems is an unrealistic goal. It’s more important for patients to be able to deal with their problems and to handle adversity when it inevitably arises.
Still, even when patients feel that they have accomplished something important in therapy and feel “good enough,” it is not always easy to say goodbye to a therapist.
Not long ago, I evaluated a successful lawyer who had been in psychotherapy for nine years. He had entered therapy, he told me, because he lacked a sense of direction and had no intimate relationships. But for six or seven years, he had felt that he and his therapist were just wasting their time. Therapy had become a routine, like going to the gym.
“It’s not that anything bad has happened,” he said. “It’s that nothing is happening.”
This was no longer psychotherapy, but an expensive form of chatting. So why did he stay with it? In part, I think, because therapy is essentially an unequal relationship. Patients tend to be dependent on their therapists. Even if the therapy is problematic or unsatisfying, that might be preferable to giving it up altogether or starting all over again with an unknown therapist.
Beyond that, patients often become stuck in therapy for the very reason that they started it. For example, a dependent patient cannot leave his therapist; a masochistic patient suffers silently in treatment with a withholding therapist; a narcissistic patient eager to be liked fears challenging his therapist, and so on.
Of course, you may ask why therapists in such cases do not call a timeout and question whether the treatment is stalled or isn’t working. I can think of several reasons.
To start with, therapists are generally an enthusiastic bunch who can always identify new issues for you to work on. Then, of course, there is an unspoken motive: therapists have an inherent financial interest in keeping their patients in treatment.
And therapists have unmet emotional needs just like everyone else, which certain patients satisfy. Therapists may find some patients so interesting, exciting or fun that they have a hard time letting go of them.
So the best way to answer the question, “Am I done with therapy?” is to confront it head on. Periodically take stock of your progress and ask your therapist for direct feedback.
How close are you to reaching your goals? How much better do you feel? Are your relationships and work more satisfying? You can even ask close friends or your partner whether they see any change.
If you think you are better and are contemplating ending treatment but the therapist disagrees, it is time for an independent consultation. Indeed, after a consultation, my writer friend terminated her therapy and has no regrets about it.
The lawyer finally mustered the courage to tell his therapist that although he enjoyed talking with her, he really felt that the time had come to stop. To his surprise, she agreed.
If, unlike those two, you still cannot decide to stay or leave, consider an experiment. Take a break from therapy for a few months and see what life is like without it.
That way, you’ll have a chance to gauge the effects of therapy without actually being in it (and paying for it). Remember, you can always go back.
Open our eyes and the world can seem a scary place. Open our minds and the choices can overwhelm. Open our hearts, and we may feel a need to lessen the pain. Look to our souls to choose a path. Remember the joy, remember the discovery, Remember all we h…ave learned, Remember the friendship, remember the love… With feeling. Remember the pain, for what it taught us About ourselves, about our world. But, remember with mindfulness, And let the hurt go. In the darkest and coldest of nights, Our fearful or angery expectations will not serve us. But our dreams of a brighter warmer day Will illuminate a path to that dawn. Hope heals, hope sustains, Hope can warm cold hearts and open closed minds. To forgive ourselves, to forgive others, To dream of a better world that yet may be, This is love. To act on love, To be willing to strive and sacrifice For the growth and healing, Of ourselves and others, Is to be responsibly human. With such humans I have fought alongside for what I believes is just and fair, With such humans, I have wept, With such humans I have laughed, With such humans I have even vented and stormed. I have seen more than my fair share of bright warm days. Now, not by choice I must go. Without expectation that I will see days as bright or warm, Or coworkers as responsibly human. But with hope that I may be able to appreciate, How bright those tomorrows may be, And how responsibly human those future coworkers may be, Or, may yet become. When we look to the future, We create paths of energy That draws those futures to us. Always dream of brighter days… Especially in the dark cold nights. See More
Each day that passes I create more misery in my world. I try to fit in with others and be accepted but i really am not. They are just wanting me around to be as miserable as they are. I have never had a problem with people liking me but it has always been people who don’t have anything to offer me as far as happiness and stability. it has always been drug addicts or people just as unstable as I am. I have always fit in well with these people and do whatever they do. I have now had a friend for about 8 months who has been good to me and helped me do some positive things in my life and now have completely almost pushed her out of my life because of my using drugs and inability to stabilize for any period of time because when I am not using drugs I am trying to kill myself or using self harm to cope with my feelings and thoughts about myself, my current and past life, and all that has happened in my very long 29 years of life. this all began with me as a little girl taken from my home and ripped from my family only for the foster home to not want me and for me to end up in a residential for troubled children where i was very angry little girl and learned to hurt others when i was angry. after several years of that i went home to my mom only for her to abuse me in many ways and for her boyfriend to sexually abuse me after 4 years of this and six weeks after my son was born i tried to kill myself and ended up in a psychiatric hospital ever since i then my coping has been to hurt myself but avoid hurting others physically because i am so angry at the world and myself especially for allowing my life to get this way and being unable to do anything about it and when i try to do something i end up in a worse mess than i was in before i tried stabilizing. now over the past 2 years drugs has become an alternative to cutting myself but yet i still yearn for the cutting since it is the only things that has truly relieved my emotional suffering. when i am using drugs with these people it is because they are or want to even when i don’t want to or i feel i should not be i do it anyways. i continue to do this and try to move away from these people that i involve myself with but yet when i do i just get involved with others who are deeper into it. I have tried to kill myself more than a dozen times in the past 2 almost 3 years and have done nothing except end up in ICU a few times and end up in the psychiatric hospital or a crisis stabilization program for a few days to a couple weeks. Nothing is changing. nothing is getting better it pretty much as increasingly gotten worse. I increasingly try to get my life together and then fall flat on my face deeper in the ground than before i tried to get out of the trenches i have dug. my family hardly even calls me unless they or someone else needs something from me money or food and so on and so forth. although my life is at its stablest it has been in so long. i have a place to live. I pay my utilities. I have food in my house. I am in school and have been taking classes with straight A’s for 2 semesters now and everyone wants me to get a hold of this and pull through all right i am not sure that is what I want. I want to just end it all. I am debating on pulling my ceiling apart to expose the framing and test my weight upon it. Since I have tried the overdose thing several times and gotten nowhere with it and at one time I tried drinking cleaner it that never worked either I guess I need to find something foolproof. Eventually I will succeed at killing myself and ending my misery so why don’t someone just help me do it instead of prolonging the inevitable. I do live by the train tracks pretty much like a hundred feet from my back door and I have timed the trains coming by and though about it seriously but have not been able to got through with it. I have just to afraid. i guess I want a painless method that does not take much thought. i got my check today and have entertained the idea of purchasing a gun but do not want others around me to know and I can not purchase it legally. and all the peeps I know that could get one from the streets for me will do anything to stop me from doing it and sure will not help me get the means to do it. they enjoy me being miserable and giving into there wants needs and desires. they like everyone around them being in a hopeless situation in life because they are all older than I am and don’t seem to want anything different and seem to enjoy their lives being miserable and smoking crack and not paying rent and having to live with their parents and friends who they can bring down with them they sure will help bring me down but yet wont help bring me up or out of this miserable world. I have tried to create the life i want with no amount of measurable progress so why keep failing at trying why not succeed at escaping. Someday soon I will submit and gain the courage and means to commit suicide without being able to be saved. I am setting my date and got to start saying my goodbyes without really saying goodbye so something is not suspected. I wont cry I will feel relief over the next few weeks since I know that after I die there will be no more pain and although others may suffer emotionally for a few days and cry most will not even be effected and some will feel relief that it is over and finally they no longer need to worry about me doing it or how they can save me because its too late my life is just waiting for me to give up and give into my suicide..
every week I go through so much in my mind and want to let it out and talk about it but it seems when I get to therapy I just cant…sometimes i have a hard time even looking at my therapist…it is like she already knows too much about me and I am ashamed to be face to face with her…I wish I could just let it all out and not keep holding it inside…when I do let it out it is by writing but it doesn’t seem to go away…I write to my therapist more easily than I do talking to her and yes my writing is an outlet but yet i cant face talking bout the pain only writing…maybe I let her know too much and can’t face her after she knows who I really am…she don’t understand that even though I was 12 that i knew the difference between right and wrong because I had already gone through it once before when I was a child from 4-6 years old…so I knew what was happening should not have happened but yet I allowed it and became a whore instead…I went out searching for grown men to fuck me even though I didn’t know them and didn’t even know their names at times…I would be seductive as I was walking down the street or in the park just wanting someone to have sex with me…I was a 12 or 13-year-old whore who just looked for someone to love me…I never have found love…I was married and still am even though we have been separated for a year and I allowed him to treat me how he wanted most of the time…he did what he wanted even when I didn’t want to…most of the time I laid there and couldn’t even remember some of it as if I was somewhere else…I did this as a teenager also…my moms boyfriend constantly reminded me that I couldn’t say anything or he would get into trouble so I didn’t until 4 years of it had gone on…but even then there are only few memories of it…I remember the first time and the very last time but not much about in between those 4 years just brief memories here and there about it…i try to get my therapist to understand that i knew it was wrong and allowed it to go on for years so in a way i am at fault…yes he was a 40-year-old man and i was just 12 but i should have said no and not protected him all those years even though he protected me from my mothers physical and emotional abuse alot…i want her to understand how at fault;t i am for my daughters abuse…my daughter was an innocent child who my husband had no right to steal her innocence and i had no right to be blinded and not see her pain but instead I believe him and not my inner feelings that something was wrong and happening to her by him…everytime he did something that I caught and felt very uncomfortable about I flipped out on him and was told by him that I was over reacting and I was sick in my fucking head and that just because I was sexually abused as a child by family doesn’t mean that he was doing anything to our daughter…and this was drilled in my head several times over her short life that we had her…i ignored her cries for help i was too wrapped up in the other kids and their issues to see her pain…my mother was just too wrapped up in herself her jobs and her men to see my pain…but i was constantly on the run trying to care for the other 3 that had eating issues behavior issues physical issues back and forth to the doctor’s and shit with the other three that when she missed behaved i spent a little time with her by taking her shopping with me or something but she never trusted me I guess to let me know how he was hurting her I never allowed her to trust me as much as I talked with her and tried to show her I loved her and that she was beautiful and my world I really didn’t spend alot of time with her to allow her to trust me and see how much I loved her and what she meant to me…my therapist tries to get me to see that my child hood was so fucked up that all I knew was chaos and instability and this is why I couldn’t give my kids stability but no matter what I did to try to provide stability it was never enough and all I did was run from everything whenever there was a fear in me I could not bear…my therapist wants me to let her in and what happenings is I let her in just a bit and then put up 3 more walls to keep her out once I feel vulnerable and like she just likes to her about everyone’s misery and it really don’t matter to her who you are or what u have been through or how you became who you became she always just wants you to talk about shit and let her in only for her to leave you stranded with that pain once it is brought up…I feel like she wants me to just let it all out and get over it but there is no getting over losing my kids because of my inability to protect them…my therapist don’t see what a low life I really am she don’t understand that I allowed my kids to experience the abuse they endured…there were many times I watched my husband smash our son upside his head and all I did was scream yell and hit him but yet stayed…even when i did try to leave on a few occasions I allowed my fear and insecurities to rule me instead and came back…i feel guilty for my children’s pain I feel I caused it even if I didn’t physically hurt them I feel like I hurt them even worse than he ever could have…I want my therapist to see what a fucking inadequate mother I was and how I don’t deserve to be happy because I allowed so many lives to be destroyed…want her to understand that I deserve to be punished I don’t deserve to get anywhere in life I deserve to be tortured and killed…I want her to understand how much a bad terrible person I am I want her to look at all the bad shit I have done and do do instead of trying to look at and search for positive shit that really will never compare to the awful shit i have done in life…she will never understand how much I don’t deserve a life she don’t know the real me the me that has hurt so many people and allowed them to be repeatedly hurt and ignoring the feelings that boiled inside and protected the scum who did this..she dont know how much I am at fault for ruining lives and how much i am at fault for what has happened in my life even as a teenager she dont want to see that i am at fault for what has happened in my life…i just wish someone would hunt me down and torture and murder me…I deserve to be tortured and killed slowly a painful death
Can the label “brain disease” be applied to a cluster of willful, irritating, often manipulative behaviors—from aggressiveness to roller-coaster emotional attachments—that may cause even psychiatrists to dismiss a patient as simply “impossible”? Impossible or not, these behaviors are part of a syndrome that psychiatry has consigned to the borderland between neurosis and psychosis, a gray area where more than one in ten psychiatric outpatients may be wandering, often without appropriate professional care—and where thousands will commit suicide.
Psychiatrists Larry J. Siever and Harold W. Koenigsberg argue that the complexity of borderline personality disorder may stem from the interaction among genetic vulnerabilities (such as extremes of temperament), early experiences, and vast differences in patients’ coping patterns. Patients must be held responsible, they argue, but so must the mental health professionals whose role is to understand and help them.
For the young psychiatrist in training, the term “borderline personality disorder” conjures up images of that angry young woman who regularly calls the emergency room at midnight, telling him that she has swallowed rat poison but refusing to reveal her name or whereabouts.
For the boyfriend of the young woman who reacts to their arguments by slashing her arms, the term sums up a series of perplexing, profoundly disturbing behaviors.
For the wife of the real estate developer, it evokes images of her husband’s angry tirades after an evening of heavy drinking with his cronies.
For the person suffering from the disorder, the term may epitomize the bewilderment, bitterness, and sense of helplessness at the swirl of shifting emotions and insistent impulses that roil daily life.
Ask even the experts about borderline personality disorder and you will get an array of theories and interpretations different enough to remind you of the proverbial blind men examining the elephant, each convinced that a part is the whole. The psychoanalyst will talk of “splitting” and distorted “object relations,” the cognitive behaviorist of “faulty schema” and “an invalidating environment.” The psychopharmacologist may refer to imbalances of brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, and the sociologist to “identity diffusion” promoted by a culture rapidly losing its cohesive social norms. Probably they will agree only on certain observations of behavior: that the person with borderline personality disorder experiences rapidly shifting emotions, is highly reactive to surrounding events, and has a short fuse for irritability, anger, and impulsive behavior.
At a time when psychiatry is grounding one severe mental disorder after another in brain biology, borderline personality disorder confronts us with an enigma—and a clinical dilemma. We have little trouble understanding how a man with a tumor impinging on his frontal lobes may become irascible and display poor judgment, or how someone with an abnormal organization of her brain may hear voices and act out of touch with reality. But we resist seeing the moody, irritable, apparently manipulative and willful behavior of “borderlines” in terms of the biology of the brain; it seems to absolve them of responsibility for their aggressive, antisocial, or even outright criminal acts. Thus we may dismiss them as “impossible” without comprehending the extent of their inner turmoil and pain.
Partly for these reasons, many people, among them many mental health professionals, think borderline personality disorder is far less common than it really is. Primarily manifested in irritating behaviors rather than signs more commonly associated with mental illness, the disorder frequently goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. The prevalence of borderline personality disorder has not been established systematically, but estimates are on the order of 2 to 3 percent of the general population and more than 10 percent of psychiatric outpatients. One in ten people with the disorder commits suicide. People with borderline personality disorder are frequently treated for conditions—such as major depression, anorexia or bulimia, or substance abuse—that can coexist with it. Also, many people with the disorder are in nonclinical settings, such as prison. The disorder is implicated in other public health problems, such as domestic abuse and compulsive gambling, in addition to suicide and substance abuse.
THINKING IN TERMS OF VULNERABILITIES
One way to think about psychiatric disorders of this kind is as neurobiologic vulnerabilities. Just as each of us differs in hair color, height, or eye color, we differ in subtleties of brain structure and function. These differences are genetic in origin, but they are elaborated by early biologic inﬂuences (starting in the womb) and all the experiences that mold us as infants and children. The end result is our own particular disposition, ways of behaving, and patterns of coping that are called our personality.
Sometimes, however, these individual differences are extreme enough to lead to signiﬁcant psychological and social problems. Then we begin to think of them as potential vulnerabilities. A person’s consistently extreme emotional reactions to simple daily disappointments and frustrations may make rational coping seem impossible. Where differences in temperament are modest, they can be either an asset—for example, the sensibilities and emotional reactions of an artist or writer—or a liability, such as a tendency toward “emotional storms” that disrupt relationships or even the continuity of sense of self. For example, it is counterproductive consistently to react to frustration with aggression rather than reﬂection on how to respond. The person who speeds, gets intoxicated, plunges into a promiscuous relationship, or recklessly gambles to drown out painful, desperate feelings of abandonment following the loss of a relationship may ﬁnd temporary relief but is getting into some serious long-term problems. What in a milder form was a propensity for assertive action has become, in these extreme forms, a serious vulnerability.
Before we examine the evidence for the origins of these dispositions in the biology of the brain, how brain biology may shape an individual’s development (and be shaped by it), and the resulting complexities of treating the patient with borderline personality disorder, let us share a clinical vignette to illustrate the complexity that clinicians face in drawing the line between willful behavior and biologically determined vulnerability.
Two friends had to carry Melanie into the emergency room. She kept dozing off from the overdose of sleeping pills she had taken. The psychiatrist on call noticed bandages on her left arm that barely concealed dried blood. Her eyes were baggy, the lids droopy, her complexion pale.
Her friends had found her in her apartment, unconscious but able to be aroused, and ﬁgured out that she had overdosed several hours earlier. They said Melanie had broken up with her boyfriend, a man often abusive to her, the previous night. She had called each of them in tears, feeling desperate and abandoned; they made plans to meet for coffee the next morning. Her friends became alarmed when she did not show up and went to her apartment. Melanie was admitted to the hospital for observation and a brief stay.
She was often moody and had had several episodes of depression, but more prominent was her emotional volatility, rapidly shifting from feelings of abandonment to rage. Her outbursts of temper made her personal relationships stormy.
The resident physician who admitted her heard her story the next day, when she was more alert. She looked rested. She was fully made up and even cheerful. He elicited a long history of self-destructive behaviors that included drugs and alcohol, suicide attempts, cutting herself, and outbursts of temper, particularly with boyfriends. Her father was an alcoholic; her mother had been depressed. Growing up, Melanie had been sexually abused by an uncle and verbally abused by her father. As an adult, she had had a series of relationships with men she initially idealized, but who inevitably abused her. She was often moody and had had several episodes of depression, but more prominent was her emotional volatility, rapidly shifting from feelings of abandonment to rage. Her outbursts of temper made her personal relationships stormy and interfered with her effectiveness as a public relations consultant, although she showed a ﬂair for her work when she was not irritable and easily offended by colleagues or clients.
In her episodes of despair, usually after a relationship broke up, she would abuse sedatives and alcohol or behave promiscuously. She often ended up unconscious, sleeping off drug-induced somnolence until she had to get up the next day for work. On some of these occasions, overwhelmed with rage and self-hatred, she cut her arms with a razor blade until she felt a sense of relief. This was not the ﬁrst time such behaviors had led to admission to the hospital.
Melanie had pursued many treatment options, but would inevitably become disillusioned and abruptly end treatment. She had seen several psychotherapists and, at one time, a psychiatrist who met with her twice a week. She explored her feelings about her parents and childhood experiences and examined her rage, which frequently was directed at her psychiatrist. Her feeling of being exploited and abused by the psychiatrist (for example, when he went away on his planned vacation at times she felt she needed him) seemed to echo her feelings about her father’s abuse and neglect. While at times she could see that anger at her psychiatrist was a distortion, based on her past experiences, rage ultimately overwhelmed her and she left treatment.
She then sought the advice of a psychopharmacologist, who suggested she might have a rapid-cycling affective disorder because her intense emotions changed so frequently. He prescribed mood stabilizers, which she abandoned because of the weight gain they caused. Next she sought treatment in a day program that offered cognitive/ behavioral therapy, but she soon found daily attendance too demanding and also disliked being in the company of people who had “serious mental illnesses.” She tried outpatient psychotherapy again, but abandoned it when her therapist showed up ﬁve minutes late for a session. The next counselor felt that her problems arose from repressed memories of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, and spent sessions talking about her childhood traumas.
During this odyssey of treatments sampled and abandoned, Melanie heard seemingly discrepant explanations of her condition. Although the psychiatrist did not offer a direct explanation, his comments seemed to suggest that she had difﬁculty separating from her mother, whom she experienced as being inconsistently available to her, leaving her feeling furious. He suggested that much of her behavior was intended to make other people experience the rage that she found unbearable. The psychopharmacologist explained that low serotonin levels might underlie her propensity to anger and aggression; he prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), an antidepressant that made more serotonin available in the brain. He later prescribed a mood stabilizer that he explained might help with her irritability. The cognitive/behavioral therapist emphasized that her parents had not validated her feelings, contributing to her difﬁculty in regulating her emotions and developing interpersonal skills that might temper her impulses. The last counselor traced her problems to her early abuse and suggested that she talk through those experiences. This catalog of explanations left her depressed and disillusioned.
SEEKING A WHOLE ELEPHANT
How do we make sense of Melanie’s symptoms? Does she have a brain disorder to be treated with medications? A disorder arising from faulty learning? Are its symptoms a direct consequence of the trauma or abuse many people with borderline personality disorder have experienced? Are these explanations mutually exclusive, or do they all contribute to a full understanding of her problem?
Although the propensity to act without foresight in an irritable or aggressive way is not unique to borderline personality disorder, it is integral to it.
The circuitous history of the concept of borderline personality disorder reﬂects these complexities. In the 1940s and 1950s, the earliest diagnosis that employed the term “borderline” was “borderline schizophrenia,” a diagnosis that located the patient’s problem somewhere between chronic schizophrenia and normality. (Today people with these mild psychotic-like symptoms and the social withdrawal characteristic of schizophrenia are diagnosed with “schizotypal personality disorder.”) The psychiatrist Roy Grinker referred to a “borderline syndrome,” which included the emotional turmoil and impulsiveness that we associate with borderline personality disorder, but also the psychotic-like symptoms associated with schizotypal personality disorders. Otto Kernberg used the term “borderline organization” to describe a psychological organization somewhere between psychotic, with fundamental alterations in reality testing, and neurotic, characterized by conﬂict and anxiety more than the tendency to behave impulsively. John Gunderson and Margaret Singer tried to deﬁne “borderline personality disorder” more precisely in terms of speciﬁc interpersonal characteristics such as unstable relationships and behavior such as suicide attempts and self-injuring. Their deﬁnition eventually was adopted by the American Psychiatric Association, with some modiﬁcations, for their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-III (DSM-III), the handbook of psychiatric diagnoses, in 1980. While the term “borderline” has been criticized for not clearly reﬂecting the actual speciﬁc behaviors associated with the disorder, it remains in wide clinical use.
The complex personalities of people with borderline personality disorder cannot be reduced to a single, simple formula. It is more useful to parse the disorder into its components. When we do so, we see vulnerabilities of temperament that may well be rooted in the variations being discovered in key brain systems that regulate emotions and aggression. These individual differences, underlying and inﬂuencing a person’s development, go a long way toward explaining the disturbed behavior and altered psychology associated with borderline personality disorder. Here we will examine the neurobiology of the two essential components of the disorder: impulsive aggression and affective (emotional) instability.
THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF IMPULSIVE AGGRESSION
Although the propensity to act without foresight in an irritable or aggressive way is not unique to borderline personality disorder, it is integral to it. Studies of identical and fraternal twins and adopted children show that this propensity may be inherited. The genetic potential may be triggered by parents or peers who act aggressively; conversely, it may fade in a more supportive, caring environment. The threshold for aggressive acts is more easily crossed in a person of highly changeable emotions and moods—the other essential characteristic of the borderline patient.
Brain systems that suppress aggressive or socially inappropriate behaviors may be less effective in people with borderline personality disorder. The level of serotonin in their brains is a good place to begin an investigation because serotonin is a “modulatory neurotransmitter”: a brain messenger-chemical that regulates emotion, feeding, temperature, and appetite and can suppress aggressive or antisocial behaviors. The analogue of these human behaviors in animals, such as rats’ aggression toward mice, makes these animals promising models for testing the modulatory effects of serotonin. Rats with lesions of the serotonin system display markedly increased aggression in behavior such as killing mice, compared to rats without the lesions. Furthermore these rats have a hard time suppressing behavior once it has been punished. They continue pressing a bar that had been associated with a reward (food pellets) even after the pressing produces a shock instead of a reward. Their problem is not with discriminating between the reward and the shock but rather with suppressing behavior that previously led to reward. It is tempting to extrapolate from animals to humans, but the vast differences between them precludes direct comparisons. What we need are clinical studies of impulsive, aggressive people.
One method of studying the function of serotonin in humans involves measuring a breakdown product (or metabolite) of serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5HIAA), in the cerebrospinal ﬂuid (CSF) that bathes the brain. The concentrations of this waste product of serotonin give us an idea of the activity of the serotonin system in the brain. Concentrations have been found to be low in patients who are depressed, particularly those who seriously attempt suicide. Concentrations have also been found to be low in violent criminal offenders and armed services personnel (and others) with histories of aggression. All this suggests the possibility that low serotonin activity may be associated more with aggression, whether directed against oneself or others, than with depression or suicide per se.
Both suicide attempts involving direct physical violence toward oneself and self-destructive acts, such as cutting oneself or burning oneself, represent self-directed aggression.
Measurements of CSF 5-HIAA, the serotonin breakdown product, cannot tell us the responsiveness of brain cells that are affected by serotonin, but another study uses chemical agents that release serotonin near its targets of action—the receptors— and then measures responses by these receptors, such as the blood levels of hormones whose secretion they control. For example, the chemical fenﬂuramine causes release of the hormone prolactin, and the degree of prolactin release following administration of fenﬂuramine may give us an index of the responsiveness or capacity of the person’s serotonergic system. Studies using this strategy suggest that the serotonin system’s activity has been blunted in patients with borderline personality disorder compared to normal controls, or even patients with other personality disorders.
This blunting is associated with angry outbursts, impulsive behaviors, and self-destructive behaviors—that is, impulsive aggressive symptoms—rather than with emotional instability. Blunted prolactin responses to fenﬂuramine also correlated with suicide attempts (particularly serious ones, involving injury) in both personality disorder patients and depressed patients. Personality disorder patients who had attempted suicide and engaged in self-destructive behaviors showed the most blunted responses. This is consistent with the hypothesis that both suicide attempts involving direct physical violence toward oneself and self-destructive acts, such as cutting oneself or burning oneself, represent self-directed aggression. Blunted prolactin responses to fenﬂuramine were also associated with high irritability and aggressiveness, as reported directly by the people affected. This result has been replicated several times and observed with other chemical agents that test serotonin system activity.
Measuring hormone responses, however, cannot help identify the speciﬁc brain circuits modulated by serotonin that are involved in inhibiting or releasing aggression. Imaging techniques such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning offer the possibility of studying the serotonin response of brain regions believed to be involved in controlling impulsive behavior. PET measures the activity of radioactively tagged glucose molecules, producing a picture of metabolic activity throughout the brain. Thus changes in brain activity can be seen directly following administration of chemical agents that enhance serotonin activity. Two such agents, fenﬂuramine and chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP), the latter acting directly on serotonin receptors, cause increases in metabolism in the cortex— the part of the brain responsible for higher cognitive function, including modulating or inhibiting more primitive aggressive and sexual urges. The front of the brain behind the forehead and just above the eyes (called the orbital frontal cortex) is of particular interest. Lesions here can result in less inhibition of aggression.
A perfect example was found in Phineas Gage, a mild-mannered 19th century railroad worker who was injured in a miraculously speciﬁc way that destroyed much of his orbital frontal cortex but left him otherwise functioning. After the injury, Gage underwent a marked personality change, becoming irascible and impulsive and displaying poor social judgment. This famous historical case is consistent with other reports of people with injuries or lesions in this area who develop poor social judgment and antisocial traits. It appears that the orbital frontal cortex plays an inhibitory role, serving as the “brakes” for limbic regions involved in generating aggression. Since this region is heavily modulated by serotonin, one might think of serotonin as the ﬂuid that keeps these brakes working properly. When the ﬂuid is low, the brakes malfunction and impulses toward aggression are not inhibited. Indeed, people with borderline personality disorder who are notably impulsive in their aggression do not show the normal increases in metabolism following serotonin agents that normal volunteers do.
People with borderline personality disorder are often very sensitive to the side effects of these medications. This sensitivity, or the likelihood of their not complying with the requirements, has meant that they often do not give the medication an adequate chance to work.
We do not know what is responsible for individual differences in serotonin system activity, but the differences are likely to be partly genetic. (Remember, there is good evidence for heritability playing a role in impulsive aggression.) One approach to identifying genetic factors involved in a trait or disorder is to select candidate genes: that is, genes that are likely, based on other evidence, to be associated with that disorder. For example, genes that modulate the breakdown or synthesis of serotonin might be logical candidate genes. Thus we ﬁnd that the gene controlling the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, which is responsible for the rate at which serotonin is produced, has been associated with suicide attempts in criminal offenders and impulsive behavior in personality disorder patients. Another candidate is a variant of a gene that controls the serotonin transporter, which inactivates serotonin by taking it back from the cleft between the neurons (the synapse), where it does its job, to the inside of the neuron, where it is broken down. Genes coding for other receptors that act like thermostats in modulating serotonin release have also been associated with suicide attempts in personality disorder patients.
There is evidence that trauma or abuse may modify serotonin system activity. People with borderline personality disorder often have histories of sexual or physical abuse. While this experience is not unique to them, it may help shape their personalities and leave its imprint on the brain. The serotonin system itself may be modiﬁed by these traumas and, of course, this plays a critical role in developing brain systems related to habits and coping skills. Complex relationships have been found among responses to serotonergic agents, cortisol (a major stress hormone), and a history of trauma.
The relationship between serotonin activity and impulsive aggression raises the possibility that drugs enhancing the activity of the serotonin system could alleviate impulsive aggression. The SSRIs, such as ﬂuoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft), increase concentrations of serotonin at the juncture between nerve cells. These medications have helped in depression, and there is increasing evidence that they may help in impulsive aggression as well. Studies suggest that they reduce irritability and anger in patients with borderline personality disorder. Indeed, the effects on anger are more pronounced than the effects on depression itself. Unfortunately, people with borderline personality disorder are often very sensitive to the side effects of these medications. This sensitivity, or the likelihood of their not complying with the requirements, has meant that they often do not give the medication an adequate chance to work. This is particularly problematic because people who have reduced serotonergic capacity appear to require more SSRIs than others to achieve therapeutic affects. If used carefully, however, with incremental increases in dose, SSRIs can be brought to levels that reduce impulsive aggression.
THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF AFFECTIVE INSTABILITY
In addition to vulnerability to impulsive aggression, people with borderline personality disorder are unusually emotionally reactive. They may be content for a while, then become intensely angry or hopelessly depressed or unbearably anxious—each state, although intense, lasting only a few hours or a day. Contrast this with classic mood disorders like depression, in which the emotion, although it may wax and wane during the day, endures for weeks or months. Even in bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness, which is deﬁned by the often-rapid succession of depression and mania or euphoria, the different mood states typically last weeks or longer.
To those who are close to them, borderline patients appear to have random and unpredictable emotions. On closer investigation, those emotions often seem to involve heightened emotional reactions to other people. Borderline patients may become distraught at ordinary criticism, which they experience as a blow to self-esteem; may react with rage to a disappointment or minor slight; or may feel terror at a separation that they experience as virtual abandonment. Their emotional, or affective, instability may contribute to their turbulent, often unstable relationships and the inconstancy in their experience of themselves that leads to a confused sense of identity.
Less is known about the brain biology of this instability than about the basis of impulsive aggression, but the borderline person’s overreaction to frustration and disappointment seem to be part of a heightened reaction to almost everything. A particular chemical system of the brain, the norepinephrine system, appears to be involved in regulating our level of arousal and vigilance in reaction to the environment. Neurons that release norepinephrine arise from a structure deep in the brain stem called the locus coeruleus, which acts as the brain’s alarm center, and spread out widely throughout out the brain. Substances that stimulate norepinephrine activity increase alertness and attention to the environment.
To ﬁgure out whether the norepinephrine system is involved in the emotional ups and downs, scientists administered amphetamine, a stimulant that causes extra norepinephrine to be released from the neurons, to people with differing degrees of emotional instability. They found that those least emotionally stable were most sensitive to amphetamine-induced shifts in emotion.
A second chemical system in the brain, the acetylcholine system, also appears to play a role in emotional reactivity. When substances that enhance acetylcholine are given to patients with depressive illness, they become more depressed; when these agents are given to patients in the euphoric phase of bipolar illness, they become depressed, as well. Patients with borderline personality disorder who receive physostigmine, a substance that activates the acetylcholine system, swing to depression; those borderlines with a history of extreme affective instability show the strongest reaction. Procaine, the local anesthetic dentists use to diminish pain, also stimulates the acetylcholine system. When borderline patients receive procaine intravenously, they show marked and variable emotional reactions, especially swings to depression and other unpleasant feelings.
The brain has receptors that might almost have been tailored to ﬁt minor tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium) or lorazepam (Ativan), like a lock ﬁts its key. Since the brain could not have evolved a receptor in anticipation of a drug product, this intriguing discovery suggests that the brain has its own natural Valium-like substance. We have not yet found the natural Valium, but researchers have identiﬁed a natural brain substance called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which enhances operation of these receptors almost like oil lubricating the lock. GABA receptors are found extensively in those parts of the brain most involved in processing emotion, particularly the amygdala— an almond-shaped structure located deep behind the temples on each side of the head. Because GABA may play a role in tranquilizing or damping down sudden surges of emotion, it seems possible that impairments in the GABA system may be involved in affective instability. One conﬁrmation is that three medicines that act as mood stabilizers in borderline patients—lithium, depakote, and carbamezepine—all enhance GABA activity.
We can use brain scanning to observe the activity of brain structures that may be involved in emotional instability. When volunteers get shots of procaine, the substance that evokes intense emotional reactions in borderline patients, their brain activity increases in certain regions of the amygdala, suggesting that those regions may play a role in emotional instability.
BRAIN, PERSONALITY, AND BEHAVIOR
We have seen considerable evidence that improperly regulated brain systems may give rise to impulsive aggression and affective instability in borderline personality disorder. But because these traits are crucial in setting the tone and quality of human relationships, they inevitably become entwined with a person’s psychology and social functioning.
In this way, a predisposition created by the brain becomes an important inﬂuence in the developing personality and contributes to the characteristics of borderline personality disorder.
Infants who are very emotionally sensitive may respond more intensely to the comings and goings of their mother or caretakers and show much greater distress at separating. This may lead to a more insecure attachment between infant and mother. If the infant is more impulsive and aggressive— that is, likely to express emotions forcefully— he may have crying spells and, later, temper tantrums when frustrated or left alone, which can wear down even the most supportive parents and overwhelm those who are depressed or who themselves have trouble with emotional reactivity and impulsiveness. Parents may become frustrated at their inability to soothe such a child and decide not to respond to its distress; at other times they may try everything to indulge the child to appease its upset and rage. These inconsistent (and, to the infant, unpredictable) responses may make it likely that the child will learn to deal with unpredictability by means of emotional storms or tantrums.
Only by looking at the behaviors of someone with borderline personality disorder in that person’s social milieu do we fully understand their meaning.
As the child matures, he may draw on these interpersonal strategies in order to regain emotional equilibrium. For example, when an upsurge of depression follows a blow to self-esteem, the borderline person may try to bolster her self-esteem by devaluing someone else. When feeling alone and abandoned, she may behave recklessly to stimulate the worry and involvement of others. To onlookers, these behaviors may appear manipulative because their purpose is to bring another person to attend to the borderline’s needs. But because of their heightened sensitivity to the availability of others, people with borderline personality disorder often feel that they are not in charge of their own emotions—their emotions depend on the behavior of those around them. Attempting to control their own feelings, they ﬁnd themselves trying to control the behavior of people they depend upon and care about. Repeated again and again, these patterns of behavior become ingrained. The borderline person experiences these styles of relating as the only way to survive emotional ups and downs and the feeling that others cannot be trusted to support her.
People with borderline personality disorder translate their anger or disappointment into impulsive action that they have difﬁculty reﬂecting upon or delaying. Their sense of abandonment by the ending of a relationship may make them feel desperate and enraged. To make themselves feel better, they act in ultimately counterproductive ways, using drugs or alcohol to soothe upset feelings, plunging promiscuously into sexual activity, turning their anger at themselves in self-destructive acts like cutting their arms or wrists, or indulging in impulsive gambling or binge eating. These measures may temporarily alleviate their distress, but they will bring destructive long-term consequences. The same behaviors often lead mental health professionals to “rescue” them by intervening with hospitalization, giving borderline people the attention they crave.
THE TIGHTROPE ACT OF TREATMENT
Only by looking at the behaviors of someone with borderline personality disorder in that person’s social milieu do we fully understand their meaning. For although temperamental vulnerabilities of impulsiveness and affective instability may drive these behaviors, the interpersonal environment can buffer or provoke them. Some of the most effective treatment approaches address the interpersonal and the temperamental domains in tandem.
Early in treatment, the person with borderline personality disorder must be helped to recognize his tendency to become disillusioned with people, drawing others into intense involvements only to push them away when they disappoint even slightly. This recognition is a crucial ﬁrst step, because the pattern inevitably will develop in the relationship with the therapist, threatening to end it before it starts. Unless the person with borderline personality disorder can examine this pattern, he will be unable to sustain a treatment relationship and will not be open to efforts, through either medication or learning new strategies to diminish his temperamental vulnerabilities.
Once a treatment alliance is established, the individual can begin to take responsibility for his behavior. Medications may then help reduce impulsiveness and emotional instability. Behavioral therapies may also help, teaching skills that reduce vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, the maladaptive interpersonal patterns that the borderline develops to cope with temperamental vulnerabilities become ingrained and typically do not lessen when impulsiveness or emotional overreactivity begin to diminish. He must learn what his characteristic maladaptive patterns are, when they are likely to be brought into play, what purpose they serve, and how to substitute more adaptive coping strategies.
This is the domain of psychotherapy. Some people learn how to identify and modify their behavior patterns in cognitive-behavioral therapy, which uses a step-by-step analysis of the triggers of their maladaptive behaviors and provides training in new coping skills. Others learn how their behavior patterns emerge, what purposes they serve, and how to defuse them by searching for and exploring how they show up in their ongoing relationship with their psychotherapist (called a transference-based psychotherapy). Researchers are seeking to learn what forms of therapy best serve which individuals with borderline personality disorder and are developing new medicating strategies to address the underlying vulnerabilities.
For example, Melanie was ﬁnally able to ﬁnd a therapist who treated her with a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy and introduced her to skills training as part of a special approach called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Melanie was started on a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (like Prozac) and a mood stabilizer by a psychopharmacologist. While her life is still somewhat unsettled, Melanie has not overdosed again and has started a relationship with someone who seems to respect her.
Some of the most effective therapies may be interpersonal, while medications may raise the threshold beyond which aggressive behavior or upsetting emotions erupt, making psychotherapy more effective. To ignore differences in the biology of the brain that make the person with borderline personality disorder susceptible to emotional and interpersonal turmoil is to repeat the lack of validation that they experienced growing up. To absolve people with borderline personality disorder from responsibility for managing these vulnerabilities, however, is to license them to indulge their maladaptive predispositions because “they can’t help it.”
We can look at the notion of vulnerabilities in the biology of the brain as being similar to the vulnerabilities predisposing a person to hypertension or diabetes. Diabetic or hypertensive patients are responsible for managing these vulnerabilities, just as people with borderline personality disorder can take responsibility for their behavior while acknowledging the struggles they will face in managing their turbulent emotions and precipitate actions. The power of the mind can be brought to bear on managing the brain.