Ask almost any psychiatrist about patients with Borderline Personality Disorder and expect to gather a great sense of frustration from them. Most psychiatrists really hate working with Borderlines because there just isn’t much they can do. It’s not a medical issue but a personality problem, and there isn’t much a physician can do about it.
What is BPD? It’s the state of mind of a person who things are either perfect or awful. The person is either in bliss or in fury. Picture a person who is by all appearances and accounts wonderful, sweet, kind and generous. But then something happens that is not consistent with expectations.
Perhaps the best perspective of a person who is dealing with a person with BPD is the song, “Time to Pray” by the Reverend Horton Heat:
So gently poised at the table with me
Some little thing happens. Someone she sees
The eyes get glassy and she begins to squint
She’s about to blow, man. Better get the hint.
Some Characteristics of the Borderline
Where the song gets it is “some little thing happens.” While we all have those occasional moments where the littlest thing sets us off, with a BPD it’s consistent. This is characterized in a couple of different ways. The first is the sudden snap over something that doesn’t match expectations. Things go from “great” to “crisis” and result in a blast of temper that is far in excess of the triggering event.
The other presentation is known as the “walking on eggshells.” The person who is around the borderline can and does sense a black cloud upon being near the person. The air is thick with tension and it’s known that the person is gonna blow. The walking on eggshells can last from minutes to a few days until the Borderline erupts. Then it’s back to bliss for the Borderline, who wonders why everyone is so on edge.
The Borderline also operates on a cycle. Every few weeks, it seems, things are going well and something needs to shake things up. The Borderline will then look for a problem and find it. The irritation over something will start, the tension will be palpable, and the eruption will then happen.
Thus maintaining a crisis. Things are either wonderful or a crisis. There isn’t good or bad: there is perfect or intolerable. There isn’t hungry or full: there is staving or stuffed. And once a Borderline decides there is something he/she doesn’t like about somebody, that person becomes hated.
Few Things Today are Good, Bad, or Indifferent: They are Crises
Think of the the overuse of the term “crisis.” One can see it argued constantly about a crisis. Example: the President argued today that there is a humanitarian crisis at the Southern US Border. Others argue that there is a Constitutional crisis when a person in the Trump administration is fired or resigns. The Earth is in a climate change crisis.
Okay. Time out. Crises don’t last decades. A crisis that lasts some significant amount of time is a baseline. Consider, for example, a diabetic. Diabetes is not a crisis or a medical emergency. It’s a chronic condition and certainly something that is not desirable. It is not a crisis. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a crisis. It marks a significant downward departure from the standard condition. Gangrene is a crisis.
Outrage is Addictive and Borderlines Will Get Their Fix
When the baseline is a crisis, then an actual crisis does not get adequate attention. Outrage is similar, only there is a short-term quality to it. Outrage does release adrenaline and dopamine. If a person is feeling a bit bored, that person need only get pissed off to get an emotional boost.
It’s easy to get mad at something. Rather than deal with the lack of physical or emotional drudgery of being indifferent, satisfied or disappointed, large portions of society seek their fix with outrage. And they go beyond being outraged at things that bother them – they will seek proxies so they can be outraged at something.
And when a Borderline doesn’t like someone, everything that person does or doesn’t do is wrong. If you don’t like Trump, for example, you’ll be outraged that he is poking North Korea and escalating tensions. This will be the case, right until you are outraged that Trump would dare seek detente with a monster like Kim.
Trump is the easiest example. There is a large portion of the population that views him with such contempt that there has been lost the ability or desire to independently view and assess whatever policy he announces. And presently we are seeing that those on the right are starting to view Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the same level of contempt. If she says it then it will be ridiculed.
Could there be some Unifier or Healer?
The ironic part of this high degree of contempt and hatred is the stated desire of many for a person who can unite the country. Many of these same people point to President Obama as a person who brought unity to the country. Of course, this belief is itself based upon some flawed image of Obama that does not acknowledge the partisan divisiveness of his Presidency that I believe led to a Trump backlash. Sure, Obama had the charisma to bring in some voting blocs while offending others and still win. Hillary Clinton could not attract voters.
The closest thing, sadly, to national unity I’ve seen was in the days following the 9/11 attacks. There was a sense of togetherness and of collective loss that nearly everyone could feel and identify.
We in America have things too good at this point. We are in such good condition that petty squabbles can take on the character of crisis.
The solution is difficult. It requires people to wean themselves off of outrage. We all know from personal experience that we don’t act with full sensibility when we are angry. Adrenaline causes people to do some pretty silly things, and we we have crowds of people who are providing positive feedback from emotional outbursts we end up making it worse.