4th of July | Ruminating on Independence


The Failure of Independent Functioning

 

 

Years ago, when I was despondent over a failing relationship, I sought help from a licensed therapist. During our session, I couldn't help but notice that she had left a book on her desk, positioned just at the edge of my field of vision. It bore the title: I HATE YOU!—don't leave me. Understanding the Borderline Personality, by two doctor-types: Jerold Kreisman and Hal Straus. Curiously, I lacked the nerve, at that time, to ask the therapist about it. Did she want me to see it?

Maybe I was just too humiliated to think that my girlfriend and I hated each other but lacked the guts to simply break up. Grieving but also paranoid, I worried that drawing the therapist's attention to I HATE YOU—don't leave me could widen the discussion in ways that I didn't want. It was hairy enough to consult her in the first place.

But after the sesssion, I went straight to the bookstore and ordered it. My copy looks just like the therapist's—a sky-blue background with "I HATE YOU!" smeared across the front like blood-spatter, and "don't leave me" in timid yellow letters underneath it.

I still have that old dog-eared paperback. Yesterday, I thumbed idly through it, taking note of the features that had drawn me to it.

Kreisman and Straus wrote it primarily for therapists like the one I consulted, and for other professionals like themselves, who must get a quick read of a patient who may dissimulate. They did not intend it for the broader public. If my reader searches for the book on Amazon, he will find reviewers griping over the high-end language.

I HATE YOU—don't leave me attempts to inform readers on the aspects of a mental-illness, Borderline Personality Disorder. Since the authors did not write for the wider public, they did't bother with social niceties—the court of public opinion, or bloggers and on-line avatars with an ax to grind. They answered to nothing but the demands of their trade.

Mentally-ill people are crazy, right? They're not like the rest of us. So why should the symptoms of this particular mental illness sound so familiar, so un-crazy? See below a recap of the symptoms:

  1. patient "Jennifer" felt that she was "fooling" or tricking boys. She would sabotage the relationship by stirring up conflict.
  2. "Jennifer" hated solitude. She would feel abandoned, which she attributed to her own unworthiness.
  3. "Jennifer" felt like a child clad in the armor of an adult.
  4. patient "Elizabeth" carried on nine extra-marital affairs over six years. Most were relationships that she totally controlled.
  5. "Elizabeth" found it exciting that these men were puzzled by her advances, then sudden rejections.
  6. "Elizabeth" enjoyed the physical closeness but dreaded becoming emotionally involved.

The prominence of case studies involving female patients elicited a dozen scathing reviews of I HATE YOU—don't leave me on its Amazon home-page.

    1. from Breakfast Princess: "misogynist and racist;"
    2. from Jordan Waite: "outdated, stigmatising, impersonal;"
    3. from Alicen: "pretentious and condescending;"

But since women make up one-half of the species, why shouldn't there be case-studies on them? The symptoms or manifestations continues and gets close to home for both sexes:

     1. Central to the borderline syndrome is the lack of a core sense of identity.
     2. The borderline carries only a sketchy map of interpersonal relations.
     3. He caroms back and forth, from clinging dependence to angry manipulation.
     4. But whereas girls tend to become depressed, boys act out angrily against the world.
     5. The borderline functions as a parasite whose demanding dependence will eventually
         destroy the person to whom he so desperately clings.
     6. Reality for borderlines is, as Octavio Paz calls it, an "endless instant."
     7. The immediacy of the present exists in isolation.
     8. The borderline has limited patience and a need for instant gratification.
     9. His mood is often hyperactive and irrepressible.
     10. The borderline has a simultaneous intolerance of separation and a fear of intimacy.
     11. It leads to shifting, manipulative couplings.

Not even the high-end language and focus on the treatment of a mental illness should cause a perceptive reader to overlook the importance of I HATE YOU—don't leave me to the wider public, namely that human beings as social animals feel more secure attached to significant others, than going through life alone. When social dysfunction thwarts a person's intimate relationships, it causes a great deal of unhappiness.

Then I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. On page 75, Kreisman and Straus mention James Masterson, an important American social scientist who died in 2010:

   James Masterson notes that governments with extensive social welfare systems—such as the
   Scandanavian countries and increasingly the United States—promote a social dependency
   that discourages autonomy
and increases borderline and sociopathic behaviors among the
   citizenry. (italics mine)

The logic is sound here: disunity in sexual relationships, disunity in the nation's body politic—the one doesn't differ much, in principle, from the other: one party hates the other, but lacks the courage and character to leave—to live and let live; so they stay together and treat each other to the gamut of passive-aggressive mind-games. Look at the list to identify them. They work for both sexual relationships as well as political relationships:

    1. lack of a sense of identity—in other words, we don't know who we really are;
    2. parasitic demanding dependence;
    3. angry manipulation;
    4. acting out angrily at the world;
    5. desperately clingy;
    6. intolerable feeling of aloneness;

The list goes on and on. Kreisman and Straus describe Boderline Personality Disorder as the "Third World of mental illness—indistinct, massive, and vaguely threatening."

Their straight-talking words trod on many toes and brought them strident criticism from people who did not want the authors to challenge their world-view. They gave the authors hell for the forthrightness of their research, rather than for any inherent faults in the quality of it.

I thought about the phrase "borderline and sociopathic behaviors," and I wondered if someone talked the authors out of using harsher language, like "violent and criminal behaviors." We are talking, after all, about people who feel helpless and lost, and live in a permanent state of paranoia and frustration.

If Americans seriously want to deal with violent crime in this country, as well as the dirty secrets about its disunity, they should start with Kreisman and Straus's blood-spattered title, "I Hate You! Don't Leave me!!!"

Stick with the original, published in 1991, and avoid the re-write published in 2010. The toned-down re-write only shows how much Kreisman and Straus caved in to the loud criticism of their original.