In reading about Borderline Personality Disorder recently, I’m noticing a fair amount of conversation about a sort of lament for the loss of aspects of culture which have never really meant anything to me, personally. The shifts in social structure, changes in the definitions and practices of family, and the contradictions of life, some apparently think, are contributing to behaviors consistent with Borderline Personality Disorder. I hesitate to label it as conservative, but it’s certainly more traditional than I like.
Take the following as an example:
For many, American culture has lost contact with the past and remains unconnected to the future.
…texting, blogging, posting, and tweeting all avoid eye contact. Increasing divorce rates, expanding use of day care, and greater geographical mobility have all contributed to a society that lacks consistency and reliability. Personal, intimate, lasting relationships become difficult or even impossible to achieve, and deep-seated loneliness, self-absorption, emptiness, anxiety, depression, and loss of self-esteem ensue.
(I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me, page 79)
The overwhelming experience, for me, in reading about BPD is one of a nodding recognition. Out of the 9 criteria for diagnosis, 7 are strongly consistent with my experience. But when I read this, I’m left shaking my head and confused. Is this a generational interpretation? I don’t know, but this does not resonate with me at all. I will leave any conclusion about how I think about this view until I have read the rest of the book, but right now I’m feeling skeptical about this aspect of the analysis.
The sense of anxiety, loneliness, etc are things I feel but I don’t think the modern digital age, with technology creating some barrier to intimacy, is the cause. I think I would feel the same way even with eye-contact. You know why I think that? Because I do, in fact, feel that way when I have eye contact with people. Being at a party with people I don’t know well is often cause for similar feelings. An unhealthy environment with people unable or unwilling to understand or consider the complicated emotional landscape within me is as alienating as anything else could be. A person who demonstrates indifference, aggression, and lack of consideration is always worse than mere lack of direct eye contact.
Physical closeness is not the solution, because the problem is one of perceived emotional distance. I can feel emotionally close to someone through texting, blogging, etc, but there are some times when i cannot feel close to someone when they are holding me, trying to comfort me. The issue is not physical distance, the problem is that I don’t, often, believe, that anyone could possibly love me, or that I deserve it if they claim to.
The world can often be invalidating and cold, whether through a screen or in the face of human fears played out in little private rooms and public spaces everywhere. I’m not yet convinced that modernity is exacerbating the problem.
Then there’s this.
Like the world of the borderline, ours in many ways is a world of massive contradictions. We presume to believe in peace, yet our streets, movies, television, and sports are filled with aggression and violence. We are a nation virtually founded on the principle of “help thy neighbor,” yet we have become one of the most politically conservative, self-absorbed, and materialistic societies in the history of humankind. Assertiveness and action are encouraged; reflection and introspection are equated with weakness and incompetency.
This is more like how I feel; like a ball of contradiction. I yearn for intimacy, but appear cold and indifferent to people who don’t know me well. I don’t want to hurt the people that I love, but there are obvious examples of where I have. I’m intelligent, educated, and often feel I can do anything I put my mind to, and yet quite often I find myself in a funk of inaction, depression, and I feel inadequate (yesterday was one of those days).
One of the most resonant aspects of this disorder is what is called “splitting.” Essentially, it’s the kind of black and white thinking which occurs, especially during periods of intense anxiety (part of the physiology of BPD seems to be a hair-trigger for the fight/flight response, leading to times of sudden extreme anxiety and decreased activity in the Pre-frontal cortex, leading to less ability for nuanced thinking).
Splitting, for me, takes the form of seeing myself, others, or the whole world as either wonderful or fundamentally broken. The name of the book I’m reading, I Hate You, Don’t leave Me, encapsulates this nicely. Sometimes I hate myself and think myself worthless (which is not helped when I receive abuse, dismissal, or rejection from people I was or want to be close to). Sometimes I demonize another person who has hurt me, and sometimes I try very hard to empathize and understand why they did so in an attempt to give the very consideration and empathy I did not receive from them. Sometimes I think the world is ugly and not worth fighting for, and sometimes I want to see it all, warts and all.
Because even the imperfections can be beautiful.
I much prefer when I can see myself, and others, that way.
But I’m not quite ready to throw modern culture, technology, and the shifts in our social structures away. The lack of consistent identity within myself, as well as the shifting identities of our culture, are (perhaps) not necessarily bad. Perhaps the solution, for myself and for us all, is not to seek an identity, but to recognize and accept the flux of the many parts of ourselves, good, bad, and nuanced.
Sure, structure is helpful and (at least for me) comfortable. But perhaps one of the problems with traditional American culture, as well as who we are as people, is the reliance of singular identity, tradition, and consistency. We all need a revolution now and then, after all.