Sunday, August 10, 2008

Like everybody only more so

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, psychology

A woman who has borderline personality disorder (BPD) writes, "...borderline behavior and feelings are just bizarre exaggerations of normal behavior and feelings." This statement closes Part 1 of Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger. I obtained the book because of a recommendation in Evil Genes (see my review), which presents a study of many Machiavellian monsters such as Stalin, Hitler, and Idi Amin, considering them some kind of combination of a Borderline personality and Psychopath.

Upon reading Eggshells I realized that, whatever you may say about Stalin et. al., BPD is not the main cause. The key element is this: People with BPD (often called BPs by Mason and Kreger) are driven by a sense of wrongness and fear of abandonment. Their more bizarre behaviors stem from frantic attempts to avoid loss. The striking thing about Machiavellian manipulators (MMs, not M&Ms!) is that they so often feel they are right, even that there is no possibility that they could be wrong. If someone accuses a MM of wrong, and the MM has the power, murder or estrangement follows swiftly. A BP might injure or kill another in the heat of a rage, but not as a policy measure.

Eggshells is a valuable self-help manual. The authors explain BP behavior to non-BPs so they can gain a positive empathy for them, and they offer practical advice, particularly about setting limits, to help a non-BP restore his or her own self-confidence and maintain a more appropriate relationship...or none at all if needed. The principal appendix restates the cause of BPD discussed in the text, imbalance of neurotransmitters, and outlines effective medications and therapies that have helped in many cases. BPD is not necessarily a life sentence to instability and agony.

The best weapon against being sucked into a mutually needy and agonizing relationship with a BP is to have a strong sense of self and to be able to set limits in a confident, matter-of-fact way. But if you are such a person, a BP won't likely be drawn to you anyway. They seem to have a strong social detector of just the right kind of victim. So for me, the value here is to be able to guide friends who might have a beloved BP to first help themselves, and then help their friend, spouse, child or parent.

BPs are one category of persons who tend to overreact. To anyone who overreacts to "hot button" stimuli, repeat this as your mantra: "Do only half". Should you succeed in reducing your reactions by half, keep the mantra up and reduce by half again. Really! Don't fear losing all your emotions. You can't ever become an unfeeling statue, but you can become a more likable person. Less is more.

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