Although its symptoms are obviously severe, the borderline personality can nevertheless be viewed as existing on a continuum with normality. The mercurial style (Oldham & Morris, 1995) is described as living a roller coaster life. Frequent ups and downs are the rule, and attachment is the central theme in all relationships. Echoing the borderline's frantic attempts to avoid abandonment is a desire always to be involved in a passionate romantic relationship. Such individuals, these authors state, process experience emotionally rather than logically, showing their feelings with spontaneity and creativity. Socially, they are lively and engaging, with an open mind toward experimenting with various roles and value systems. Exhibiting aspects of the dependent and histrionic personalities, they urgently seek closeness with their partners, like a merging of souls but even more intensely. They expect the same from others and quickly become hurt whenever the same desire is not forthcoming. Anger and resentment follow. Most of the preceding applies to Jenny but is not sufficiently severe to capture her level of pathology.
Another way of developing a normal variant of the borderline is by creating more adaptable parallels to the borderline personality disorder criteria listed in DSM-IV (see Sperry, 1995). Whereas the disordered individual will do almost anything to avoid perceived abandonment, those with the borderline style simply are sensitive to anything that might impact the quality of attachment in their relationships. Whereas the borderline personality disorder exhibits unstable relationships that alternate rapidly between idealization and devaluation, those with the style may read more into behaviors and events than is warranted but can take a more realistic and complex perspective on their relationships. Whereas the disordered feature a disturbance of identity and an unstable self-image, those with the style diminish self-uncertainty by being more experimental and curious about alternative lifestyles, roles, and value systems. Whereas the disordered tend to be impulsive in self-damaging ways, those with the style are simply somewhat sensation-seeking, but in ways that primarily add to the richness of experience rather than subtract from it.
For each of the preceding applicable contrasts, Jenny, our angry stepdaughter, falls convincingly toward the pathological side. Far from being simply concerned with the quality of her attachments, her behavior reflects intense, pervasive abandonment themes focused especially on the connection between her father and her stepmother. Jenny obviously feels replaced and probably fears that her stepmother is more important to her father than is she. Far from reading more into events than is warranted, Jenny's feelings about others, especially Vera, swing from loving to hating. Far from being simply experimental and curious in a way that builds self-identity, Jenny seems too consumed with emotional upheavals to allow for life goals or real values to develop. Finally, Jenny is not simply sensation-seeking in ways that add to the richness of life; instead, she is impulsive in harmful ways, including substance abuse and leaping from her boyfriend's Jeep.
Other diagnostic criteria for the borderline personality can be placed on a continuum with normality (see Sperry, 1995). Whereas the disordered tend to be affectively unstable and make suicidal gestures or engage in self-mutilation, the borderline style tends to be spontaneous and emotionally intense and only occasionally overreacts or over-dramatizes. Chronic feelings of emptiness plague those with the disorder, yet those with the style actively pursue social venues and creative pursuits that help make life entertaining. Whereas the disordered exhibit intense displays of anger that are difficult to control, those with the style tend to be more emotionally intense but nevertheless able to step back and see the effects of their moods on others. Whereas the disordered exhibit temporary paranoid ideation or dissociative symptoms under stressful conditions, those with the style are not vulnerable to such symptoms.
The aforementioned characteristics of a borderline are presented in Jenny's case, though hers are more toward the pathological side of the applicable contrasts. Far from being merely more emotionally intense or spontaneous than average, she is emotionally labile, as seen most readily at the beginning of the clinical interview and again in the intense argument with her boyfriend. Moreover, her emotions are so intense that they contribute to a dissociative dysphoria that Jenny "treats" by cutting herself with a razor blade. Finally, she experiences periods of intense anger that she controls only with great difficulty, as evidenced by a rapid erosion of decorum that gives way to an erratic stream of hatred and accusation directed at Vera near the beginning of the interview. As Bockian (2002) succinctly explains, people with the disorder may struggle throughout their lives to gain a sense of identity while managing feelings of inadequacy, impulsiveness, self-destructive behavior, and even suicidal ideations.
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