Borderline Human Being Disorder

Jenny Diski

Big news from the Institute of Mental Health and the West London Mental Health Trust suggesting not only that grandmas don't know how to suck eggs but that there’s much less of it – mental health – around than we imagined. Perhaps imagined isn’t the right word. One thing people with Personality Disorder don’t have is delusion. It’s practically the sole defining characteristic – at least the only symptom not mentioned. At least 4 per cent, or possibly 13 per cent of us suffer from it. In fact, the definition is so broad that it may be we all suffer from it, all of us who don’t actually see things that aren’t there when we’re awake and not drunk or drugged.

A personality disorder is defined as a pattern of behaviour that deviates markedly from the individual's culture... Those with personality disorders repeatedly behave in a way that is not acceptable to the community that they live in and cause distress to themselves, or others.

The rest of the world, I'm told by a sceptical friend in the psyching business, can be assumed to be schizophrenic, bipolar or schizoaffective.

Personality disorder was the diagnosis that troublesome girls and women received in the 1950s and 60s – anyway, I did. Mine was borderline, but you can also have it in paranoid, anti-social and narcissistic flavours. I’ve never been quite sure whether it was my personality that was borderline, or if the disorder itself was only mild and therefore borderline.

Why, when it's such old hat, does the BBC find this to be news: as in new, real or to be seriously considered by people who want to know what is going on in the world? Because new categories have been elaborated: you can now divide the types into Odd/Eccentric, Dramatic and Anxious. Symptoms include ‘having an unusual appearance’, fearing ‘negative evaluation’, having ‘unstable moods’ and feeling ‘inadequate in social situations’. Anyone without the symptoms, you might suppose, has no personality at all, but there doesn’t seem to be a No Personality Disorder, a condition I’ve spent very much more time worrying about, both in myself and quite often in some of those I come across in print.


  • 9 February 2011 at 1:10pm
    outofdate says:
    It's only partly a question of numbers -- when I wake up screaming in the small hours overcome by the howling madness of everything I ever said or did, society has little to do with it -- but here, really just to illustrate the point, is a tale of a nutter who broke dramatically from a bunch of nutters because he disapproved of one small aspect of their utter lunacy, which one is forced to conclude is indeed humanity's natural state.

    • 11 February 2011 at 3:23pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ outofdate
      O.K. he questioned the given doctrine, good for him. Whenever anybody does that their state of mind comes up for review in the press. It's not much different in politics of course, where any unconventional ideas are binned quickly by the party bosses.

    • 14 February 2011 at 1:44am
      outofdate says: @ Geoff Roberts
      Maybe I should have added that an 'Operating Thetan VII' is in principle no more absurd than a cardinal or a black belt. This is where numbers come in; not enough scientologists around to make it a lofty social position or marker of accomplishment, just arrant poppycock. The fun of the article is the po-faced way it treats these things, but the consensus seems to be that Paul Haggis is now sane, also a question of numbers.

      Not sure whether you can just export your prejudices to la-la land -- doctrine: bad, questioning: good -- since everything there is so ripely bananas that even a respectfully dissenting member would have to be by any reasonable definition mad. And yet the point is that Scientology is really every organisation, just a bit more lurid. It's really the world, or a world that didn't quite take, a sort of miscarriage, but essentially no different to Spain, North Korea or the BBC.

  • 9 February 2011 at 1:51pm
    Joe Morison says:
    I'm reminded of an advert that used to be on the tubes the slogan of which was 'You don't have to suffer from a mental illness to be mentally ill', underneath it on one someone had written 'but it helps'.

    • 9 February 2011 at 2:01pm
      outofdate says: @ Joe Morison
      Remember the one on the bus stops that said 'TIRED ALL THE TIME?' That certainly convinced me I had diabetes or whatever it was.

    • 9 February 2011 at 4:13pm
      Joe Morison says: @ outofdate
      Never put your symptoms into google, it'll either tell you that you are going to die, or that you should be sectioned, or, possibly, both.

  • 10 February 2011 at 9:59am
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Those with personality disorders repeatedly behave in a way that is not acceptable to the community that they live in and cause distress to themselves, or others.

    So would that include the whole cabinet, then, or just the PM? If it's the cabinet, the number's probably higher than 13%.

  • 10 February 2011 at 5:01pm
    Bungaroosh says:
    The narcissistic flavour is on the way out:

  • 11 February 2011 at 4:07pm
    gerald says:
    I've always thought that Borderline Personality Disorder was such a casual diagnosis for those that don't think hard enough about, or want to understand the individual in front of them. It reminds me of Charles Lasegue's definition of Hysteria: 'the waste paper basket of medicine where one throws otherwise unemployed symptoms.'

  • 13 February 2011 at 9:27am
    philip proust says:
    I suppose one has to consider the possibility that there really are people whose personality is systematically destructive to others and themselves, and who suffer acutely as a consequence. Do we want to say that these people should be left to suffer - with no help in sight? Or could therapy, by focusing on those who fit this category, find ways of helping the sufferers - when that help is requested? Given that many of us will go through phases of such behaviour in our lives, as Jenny Diski rightly points out, a suitably sensitive and effective coping strategy may come in handy.

    One must also consider the likelihood that this label will occasionally be applied to people whom the clinician can't stand, for whom the 'diagnosis' is a medically-veiled kind of abuse. All categorisations in this sphere pose the risk of misuse; everything that has utility can be used destructively, but while there is intense subjective suffering do we want to jettison what may be helpful?

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