So much has been written today about Borderline Personality Disorder. These individuals, often very abused in their childhoods, can wreak havoc in organizational settings and close relationships. They are known for their impulsivity, self-destructive nature, moodiness, anger, and, perhaps most importantly, their tendency to have very intense and stormy relationships. Think Glenn Close in the movie Fatal Attraction. Moreover, they often have additional life problems, often the result of their impulsive nature, on top of this disorder such as substance abuse, eating disorders, financial difficulties, promiscuity, etc.
But not all these individuals are alike. In his stellar book, Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond (1995, Wiley). Theodore Millon identifies four different subtypes of Borderline Personality Disorder. Incidentally, Millon is one of the leading experts in the field of personality disorders and Borderline Personality Disorder so he knows what he's talking about. His book is one of the best books out there for any serious student of personality disorders and I recommend it highly to those who are a little more advanced in their study of psychology.
The Discouraged Borderline in many ways can look very much like an individual with Dependent Personality Disorder, or what is commonly known in today's jargon as codependent. They tend to be clingy, go along with the crowd, and walk around feeling somber and somewhat dejected. Deep inside however, there are often angry and disappointed with the actions of those around them. Scratch the surface, and that anger could explode, but they are much more likely to do harm to themselves by self-mutilating or even suicide.
The Impulsive Borderline seems to be a first cousin to the Histrionic Personality Disorder. These individuals tend to be flirtatious, captivating, elusive and superficial. They are highly energetic and seek out thrill after thrill. They are easily bored and seem to have a never-ending appetite for attention and excitement. As their name implies, they will often act without thinking, getting themselves into all sorts of trouble. Such individuals can often be very charismatic and it's easy to get caught in their spell. Beware! You can be the moth drawn to their flame.
Millon’s third subtype is what he calls the Petulant Borderline. He describes them as being "unpredictable, irritable, impatient, and complaining" as well as "defiant, disgruntled, stubborn, pessimistic and resentful." They are torn between relying upon people and at the same time keeping their distance for fear of disappointment. They vacillate between feelings of unworthiness and anger. This anger can be quite explosive. Better not get in their line of fire.
Finally, there is the Self-Destructive Borderline. This type is marked by his constant sense of bitterness which they turn inward. They will often engage in self-destructive behaviors whether it is conscious or unconscious. Their levels of self-hatred can often reach monumental proportions leading them into all types of self-destructive behaviors, ranging from poor healthcare to reckless driving to performing humiliating sexual acts.
These people are not your run-of-the-mill "toxic coworker." Though they might often seem okay on the surface, these are deeply troubled individuals in need of help. Even the most experienced of therapists can be challenged by them.
Individuals with BPD need to be understood and treated with compassion. But they are in need of psychological help. There is a tendency to be drawn to them; they give off a lot of energy and can be very charismatic, but there is a price to be paid for being involved: Perpetual arguments, dramas, makeups and breakups, suicidal gestures and an almost exquisite sensitivity to rejection whether real or imagined
If you are not prepared to pay this price, it's probably best just to keep your distance.
Already involved with a person with BPD? I highly recommend Paul Mason and Randi Kreger's book Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking your life back when someone you care about has Borderline Personality Disorder. Or our own book, Toxic Coworkers.
More next time!