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Borderline Personality Disorder: Joanie’s Story

In our continuing series on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), we will look today at the story of Joanie. Joanie began to display the initial symptoms of BPD when she was in her late teens but was not formally diagnosed with the disorder for several years.

As is typical of persons suffering BPD, Joanie’s personality is essentially unstable, with inexplicable mood swings and rapid changes in her view of her own self. Hence her “apparent” self esteem could range from being very outgoing and confident to being self absorbed and unsure of herself. In reality, Joanie has low self esteem but the image she presents to the world is governed by the company and situation she is in.

One of the first things one notices about Joanie is her friendliness. But after just five to ten minutes, the casual observer begins to realize that there is something unnatural about this friendliness. Because of pronounced boundary problems, which is also a typical attribute of those suffering from this disorder, Joanie comes on too strong too soon. There is a false closeness that she radiates, as though she has known you for years and yet you might only have met her just 15 minutes earlier.

Also typical of the condition, Joanie exhibits wild fluctuations in her affections for others. Joanie can meet a person and be really taken with them to the point where she talks of little else. In one instant, Joanie offered to help a sick friend of her mother’s who she had only just met. In typical BPD style, Joanie went overboard in her efforts to help this person, even promising to sleep overnight for a week so that the old lady concerned would get a restful night’s sleep as she was just out of hospital. The old lady was overcome with joy and thanked Joanie, which of course, fed right into Joanie’s profound low self esteem.

So what started out as a seemingly genuine offer to help, ended in Joanie pulling the plug after just one night. Naturally the old lady was devastated but she had no way of knowing that Joanie was actually sicker than she was. Moreover, Joanie seemed to exhibit no remorse or conscience about pulling out of her promise. What was really going on was that Joanie couldn’t handle the responsibility of caring for the woman but just liked the idea that she might be able to help her.

Another sign of the presence of this disorder is that although Joanie is a fully qualified teacher, she is now in her 50s and has only worked as a teacher for a year. She puts it down to having a family but her children are adults with jobs of their own and still Joanie does not work. In fact, she has never worked, flitting from one community program to another and never brought in a wage or undertaken stable employment.

Again it is the thought of constancy, of having to work, to care for, to look after, that frightens Joanie. She’s good at talking but she can’t commit to anything or anyone and needs to feel cared for her herself. Her fear of abandonment by her husband is profound and like most suffers of BPD is often preoccupied with sex, to the extent that it permeates even normal conversation. She even likened the shape of one particular brand of biscuits to that of a vagina.

Taken on an individual basis, none of these behaviors are particularly damning but looked at as a whole, they form a cluster of behaviors that is typical of BPD. At her age, there is little that Joanie can do to change her behavior since she suffers from a personality disorder, meaning that the behaviors she exhibits are pervasive, permanent and immutable.

Naturally it can be difficult to live with a person whose moods and interests change so rapidly. Nor is it hard to understand why the divorce relate for people suffering from BPD is quite high. Therapy can help in such cases but the person has to surrender to the advice of both the counselor and the immediate family who suffer the consequences of the person’s actions.


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