Borderline personality disorder carries more stigma than any other — especially among mental health professionals. In graduate school we were taught to pay attention to our initial reactions to clients. Immediately wanting to go out of your way to take care of a client or feeling unaccountably irritable, resentful, and rejecting were indications that we had a borderline client.
Most literature about borderline personality disorder (BPD) tends to blame the BPD client’s behavior, attitude, and emotional reactivity for causing these initial reactions in others. However, ‘initial reactions’ occur long before behavior, attitude, and emotional reactivity can be demonstrated.
‘Initial reactions’ occur long before behavior, attitude, and emotional reactivity can be demonstrated.
Initial reactions are not about behavior. This suggests that a BPD diagnosis based on the therapist’s initial, subjective experience is either: 1) an excuse for the therapist’s countertransference or; 2) there is something about the client’s ‘being’ or physical presence that causes the uncharacteristic reaction in the therapist.
If therapists — who are trained to cope calmly with extreme emotions — have exaggerated reactions to BPD clients, what happens to untrained, ordinary people? And a more important question, one that is rarely if ever asked is: What happens to someone who consistently experiences exaggerated reactions from others?
What happens to someone who consistently experiences exaggerated reactions from others?
Such people could easily:
- Have stormy, conflictual relationships
- Find it difficult to trust
- Feel misunderstood
- Experience the help given to them as not what they need
- Feel isolated, alienated, and abandoned
- Feel hopeless
- Initially value someone who appears to understand them, and then reject the person when there is evidence that the understanding is an illusion
- Fear intimacy as a precursor to rejection (and provoke the rejection to end the fear)
- Feel intense shame and self-doubt
- Have difficulty trusting their own judgment and making decisions
- Develop physical illnesses
- Become emotionally reactive, frustrated, and rageful
- Act out to express the rage
- Use manipulation to get what they want/need
- Come to believe that there is something wrong with what they are rather than what they do.
The causes of BPD have usually been attributed to perceived wounds from early childhood that were experienced as abandonment and/or double bind messages from a parent/caregiver. The wounds may have been the result of living in a dysfunctional family; the reaction to a major trauma; or long term physical and/or sexual abuse.
What if there is another cause? At least for some with BPD. What if there is the sort of physical component that I described in the section, Fish Scales & Hummingbird Wings (MEDIAL PERSONALITY – Part 5: Metaphors & Strategies for a Subtle Medial)? What if those with BPD and those with medial personalities have that same component?
What if there is something about the physical being of a person that from birth sets up some kind of interference in the perceptions or subjective experiences of others? Others could be drawn to or rejecting of such a person based more on illusion than on reality. This ‘something’ could be brain waves; aura; pheromones; oscillations in molecular and atomic structures that are out of sync with the world, or something else currently unknown to us.
Perhaps this ‘physical component’ causes the person to be like a mirror or a movie screen that reflects the projections of others — either positive or negative. Others would treat the projections as if they are real and become frustrated, resentful, and rejecting when the person did not react in accordance with the projection.
There are examples of the reflection of illusion in nature. The beauty of rainbow trout and hummingbird wings is due to the way the scales and the feathers influence light. The feathers and scales are themselves colorless. What if a person has similar properties reflecting something that is illusion rather than reality — or a truth about the observer rather than the observed?
There is precedent for a change in the attribution of a cause for a mental illness. In earlier times, schizophrenia was attributed to overprotective mothering which led to the development of family therapy. Since then, we have learned that schizophrenia is a biologically based mental illness with a genetic component. The disorder may be triggered by stress — which may or may not have to do with parenting style. A parent whose child shows symptoms of schizophrenia could reasonably be expected to be protective of that child.
Another mental health professional has used Jungian archetypes in regard to borderline personality disorder. Lorena Williams, LCSW, addressed this in her workshop, “Of Vampires and Goddesses: Archetypal Considerations in Borderline Personality Disorder.”
At the workshop, Ms. Williams told of working with a clinic that specialized in treating clients with BPD. She was feeling hopeless about treatment for BPD until she began questioning what was happening. Her questioning led her to explore archetypes and symbolic language and to view BPD in terms of “the journey of the soul of the client” and “the accompanying journey of their practitioners.” Ms. Williams used the archetypes of ‘vampires’ and ‘goddesses’ to explain the experiences of those diagnosed with BPD and the people involved in treating them.
(Note: The quotes attributed to Ms. Williams are from my own transcription of a DVD of her presentation. One of the participants gave me the DVD because of my interest in alternative theories of borderline personality disorder. I am responsible for any errors in transcription.)
According to Ms. Williams, the symbolic language of archetypes:
“…moves us into the collective unconscious in that place where all things are known, and with that we enter the language of the soul. That goes beyond personality. It is an entrée to mysticism and the sacred. And it is very much alive.”
Ms. Williams’ description of ‘vampires’ is very much like the ‘brownouts’ I wrote about in Medial Personality – Part 5. She suggests that these clients draw forth the therapist’s own shadow so that the therapist experiences his or her own inner darkness — not just that of the client. The therapist is unaware of this and is under a ‘spell.’
“Our (the therapists’) first spell is that we don’t have a shadow — or much of one. And our second spell is that the patient is the problem — not me. And it is only after we have rigorously done the work in spell breaking for ourselves that we are in a position to do spell breaking with these patients.”
She goes to talk about the BPD client’s spell:
“…And here is their spell. Their spell is that fulfillment is found externally.”
Then Ms. Williams goes into a lengthy discussion of ‘goddesses’ — especially the dark feminine.
“…The Dark Feminine, the Black Madonna, and Kali, these are goddess energies that speak to us of the very qualities that we are taught to repress and suppress. These are the very aspects of ourselves that we push aside, hide, deny and bury. Whatever; just get them out of the way! Since they are bursting through our collective psyche, it’s time to get them out and parade them around. And in taking a good look at them, what I have seen is that they are the constellation of qualities attributed to borderlines.
“…Now all of these dark goddesses are also goddesses of primordial gardens. This is about the ultimate mystery. This is about things that are forever knowable and that there’s something about going into the darkness that lets us see secrets of the soul that we just cannot see in the light. It is said that if one of these goddesses is visiting you, that you are truly blessed. And that when you are in the company of the divine feminine, she represents currents of living that we must have in order to thrive and continue as a species.
So as such, these borderlines — as representatives of the dark feminine — are agents for our own refinement. These patients are reflecting back to us the darkness of the collective that we refuse to acknowledge. And I want to say that again. These patients are reflecting back to us the darkness of the collective that we refuse to acknowledge.”
“These patients are reflecting back to us the darkness of the collective that we refuse to acknowledge.”
I agree with Ms. Williams that a spiritual approach to borderline personality disorder is necessary, and I agree with her assertion that the therapist’s own shadow contributes to the problems involved in treating BPD clients. I suspect the success of Marsha Linehan’s dialectical behavior therapy is due as much to its spiritual practice of mindfulness as to any of the other interventions involved. Dialectical behavior therapy has become the standard of treatment for borderline personality disorder.
Many years ago I qualified for the diagnostic label of borderline personality disorder. I have been careful not to disclose that until now. The label has such a powerful stigma! When I’ve told others that the label had once applied to me, I’ve seen a veil of suspicion cover their faces while mental wheels reinterpreted every experience they ever had with me. They no longer trusted their experiences, and I was discredited.
I prefer the medial archetype and the medial personality as explanations for my experiences in life. I consider the medial archetype as a meta-archetype that incorporates all the other archetypes that are associated with nonordinary reality. ‘Vampires’ and ‘goddesses’ fit well within the umbrella of the medial archetype.
The medial archetype: A meta-archetype that incorporates all the other archetypes that are associated with nonordinary reality.
‘Vampires’ and ‘goddesses’ fit well within the umbrella of the medial archetype.
Beattie, Melody. (1987) Codependent No More. Center City: Hazelden
Corson, Roberta Bassett. (1998). Wounds of the Medial Woman in Contemporary Western Culture. Santa Barbara: Pacifica Graduate Institute
de Castillejo, Irene Claremont. (1973). Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology. New York: Harper & Row.
Progoff, Ira. (1975). At a Journal Workshop: The Basic Text and Guide for Using the Intensive Journal Process. New York: Dialogue House Library.
Williams, Lorena. (July 30 – August 3. 2007) Of Vampires and Goddesses: Archetypal Considerations in Borderline Personality Disorder. Creativity & Madness Workshop, Santa Fe, New Mexico.