In my previous post on ableism I wrote: "There is a substantial minority of people who are not reasonable." BPD falls into that segment of the population. Case in point:
Amber Heard defecated on Johnny Depp's side of the bed after an argument. Then denied it and blamed their tiny dogs. She gaslighted him repeatedly, abused him physically and emotionally — and then publicly accused him of doing all the things she had demonstrably done to him. I watched highlights from the trial above as it happened, and even my jaw dropped at times. Heard's behavior was audacious. It defied common sense.
In Political Ponerology, the disorder closest to the modern description of BPD is what Lobaczewski refers to as "frontal characteropathy," which he ascribes to dysfunction in the prefrontal lobes as a result of physical trauma — most often during childbirth or in infancy, but there are cases of adult damage leading to significant personality changes. Here are the main features he mentions:
- reduced capacity for internal projection (i.e. visualization, holding and manipulating data in one's mind) — I presume this has implications for one's ability to anticipate future consequences of one's actions
- overdevelopment of instinctive and emotional reactions to compensate for the above deficiency, resulting in impulsive decision making (e.g. Heard's audacious, self-defeating life choices)
- low aversion to risk
- tendency to hysteria (just wait for the video below)
- little self-doubt or reflection (nothing is their fault, and they're never wrong)
- aggressive and manipulative
- pathological egotism and vindictiveness
- charismatic and traumatizing effect on others
- tendency to create scapegoats (e.g. among their children)
As a refresher, Lobaczewski writes about three pathways to personality or character disorder: innate personality structures (which he calls "psychopathies"), organic brain tissue damage (which he calls "characteropathies"), and the traumatic influence of the former two on others, most often in childhood (which he calls "sociopathies").
This way of looking at personality dysfunction overlaps with the more recent "biopsychosocial" approach, which posits three overall types of risk factors that may have additive or multiplicative effects when they combine: biological, psychological, and social. Any one type on its own results in a relatively low risk; all three together bear the greatest. Among the biological factors are things like genetics, neurodevelopmental issues, brain dysfunction, low resting heart rate, and things like that. Psychological risk factors have to do with temperament, personality, intelligence, and childhood pathological traits. Social risk factors include poor parenting, poor nutrition, and low SES, among others.
Of course, there is overlap between these divisions. Biological factors will express themselves psychologically, social factors will affect brain functions, etc. But it's still a handy way of looking at things. For instance, a person can receive a brain injury, but lack any significant psychological or social risk factors. Or, they may be exposed to strong social risk factors, but escape relatively unscathed due to their resilient biology.
I suspect BPD is the result of a combination of factors: the raw material provided by a certain underlying personality structure and biological disposition, combined with a traumatic childhood (often at the hands of parents who are themselves personality disordered), associated with certain brain dysfunction (particularly in the prefrontal regions). I'd even guess that without the traumatic upbringing — associated with later emotional dysregulation and antisociality, as mentioned above — they might just end up having a more basic narcissistic personality. Or, alternately, without the underlying personality structure, they might fall under the "internalizing/neurotic, responsive to treatment" subset of BPD.
For the last few years I've found it helpful to think of the Cluster B's in this way. For example, "dangerous personality disorder with borderline features" or "with antisocial features" or "with histrionic features." I suspect the underlying structure may be very similar, the expression of which will depend on various other factors, like personality and childhood environment. Histrionics have a high degree of extraversion, for instance. Borderlines have higher than normal levels of negative emotion (neuroticism). Antisocials are pathologically disagreeable and unconscientious.1
Like with my previous glossary post on schizoid PD, I spent a bit of time browsing YouTube for some relevant videos of ordinary people. Since BPD is more female-typical (while antisocial PD is more male-typical), I appreciated this guy's warning. Guys need to be aware of this:
One thing that stood out for me was his remark about borderlines making "very bold decisions." This is one of the features Lobaczewski highlights. Call it "Stalin-esque" decision-making — making impulsive decisions and egotistically standing by them no matter how much they end up deviating from reality. (Mao was also a master in this regard.)2
And here's an example of what he's talking about:
(For something interesting, check out her Unicult website.)
I'm not a clinician, but I think filming your breakdowns for social media might also be a symptom of BPD. And blue hair (I'm half-serious, maybe more).
This next one is less dramatic, but captures the dynamics of pathological egotism, projection, and audacity, with a pinch of histrionics:
There's probably a word for the manipulation tactic she uses, but I don't know it, so I'll just call it situationally inappropriate moralizing, a variety of what Lobaczewski calls paramoralism. When caught shoplifting, she tells the woman to calm down. Her words and her tone of voice imply that the woman is overreacting, that this is not a serious situation, and that it's the woman confronting her who is being unreasonable. Then she plays the innocent victim — she was "assaulted." That's chutzpah.
For fictional representations of BPD, there's Girl Interrupted ("Susanna Kaysen" played by Winona Ryder, 1999) and Mommie Dearest (Joan Crawford, as played by Faye Dunaway, 1981). See Josh Slocum's take on the latter here.
As Lobaczewski tells it, borderlines play their most prominent role in the early stages of pathocracy. Not so coincidentally, everything about our politics today screams borderline: from the blue hair to the BPD social media meltdowns, the audacious social policies and ideological gaslighting, the crybully hysteria and cancel culture.
First came the schizoids, infecting the universities for decades with doctrinaire ideologies (critical theory, queer theory, CRT, feminism and gender studies). Then came the borderline activists who weaponized these ideologies, deploying them in schools, on social media, in corporations and government, and pretty much everywhere else.
If Lobaczewski was right in his analysis of the phases of pathocracy, we'll increasingly see the psychopaths take center stage from this point on. This will include an even further perversion of these very ideologies. Many of their current proponents will be targeted in the process. The Woke movement will be purged, leaving only the most ruthless and mendacious.
1I'm not including psychopathy proper in this scheme. Borderlines and antisocials, as I'm conceiving of them, are what I consider emotionally hotheaded. Psychopaths are emotionally cold-blooded. See my piece from last year, The Six Degrees of Evil Kevin Bacon, for more on this way of looking at things.
2Barbara Oakley categorized Mao as a "borderpath" — a kind of borderline/sociopath mix. This is an apt description of Stalin too, whom Lobaczewski categorized as a frontal characteropath.