The first DSM symptom of borderline personality disorder which Cathy Wiseman examines is that of identity disturbance. The DSM-IV describes this as involving markedly and persistently unstable sense of self or self-image. The goal of the Christian who struggles with borderline personality disorder is to learn to live in their identity in Christ. She first emphasizes Paul’s exhortations to gentleness, as when he says to be “gentle just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children,” and to comfort and exhort them “as a father does his own children”(1 Thess. 2:7, 11). The individual with BPD tends to “test” others in order to find out whether or not these individuals really care for them, since those with BPD have a hard time trusting others. It is at this point that other members of the counseling team might want to be brought in to support the counselor and protect him from doing something imprudent.
It is hard for those with BDP to live out their identities in Christ because they have frequently been victimized severely and thus live out an identity as a victim. It is difficult to believe that others love them, especially God. It is therefore understandable that they have a hard time trusting God that they are what he says they are (children of God who are children of his by virtue of their legal union with Christ). Instead, their identities are based on however they happen to feel at any given moment.
It is at this point that it becomes important to be a Calvinist. For the Calvinist, regeneration is irreversible. To have become birthed anew as a child of God is a reality that cannot be reversed. Perseverance of the saints is thus also the perseverance of God in maintaining them as new creatures. They ought to never call unclean what God has determined is clean (Acts 10:15, cf. Jhn. 15:3). The individual with BPD instinctively wants to attach it to something or someone else and identify with such and such a person or concept. But the only relationship in terms of whom they are justified in identifying themselves is their identity as a child of God. God is the only person who gives us everything we need (2 Pet. 1:3-10), and therefore, to latch onto anyone else will leave the borderline individual drained.
Indeed, the borderline individual oftentimes does not feel like her identity in Christ. Cathy warns sternly against the definition of a hypocrite according to which it is one who acts contrary to how they feel. This is the devil’s definition, she says. We will oftentimes act in a way that is contrary to how we feel. Feelings are not the truth. Just because the borderline feels like she is not a child of God does not mean that she can allow these feelings to dictate her thought. Instead of acting differently from how we feel, a hypocrite is someone who acts differently from who they are, she notes (1 Jhn. 3:1). Indeed, the borderline individual is oftentimes tempted to conceive of their identity in terms of how someone in the past has made them feel. She ends with this quotation:
“The pain of child abuse extends far beyond physical or sexual damage; betrayal of trust sends shocking waves of anguish, fear, anger, rage, and temptations to react throughout the victim’s life. . . . Yet what is even more devastating than the abuse itself is the way some have allowed it to define their lives: nursing bitterness; committing to revenge; desperately searching—even demanding!—affirmation against deep-seated, stubborn insecurities; believing that “I must have deserved this,” carrying guilt that belongs to the abuser alone; believing that “victim is who I am at the core.” …[But we need to be able to talk about it, grieve it, and find grace and mercy in our time of need.”
The next struggle she deals with has to do with the chronic feelings of emptiness the borderline individual struggles with. Her biblical goal is to drive home the message that they now have a new purpose in life and need no longer rest in an empty, purposeless life. They oftentimes feel disconnected from others and utterly alone. It is important for them to remember that their lives are not empty and they have a new purpose in life, which is to bring glory to God. The danger of feeling empty involves trying to fill one’s life with continual sources of stimulation, and puts the borderline at risk of addiction. She warns, however, that just as manna (Num. 11:5) and physical bread (Jhn. 6:32-35) did not suffice for the Israelites, so also, it will not suffice for the individual with BPD. Instead, we must rest in the fact that nothing can empty us of the fullness we have received in Christ.
Next, the individual with BPD must deal with frantic attempts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Their goal, according to Wiseman, is to trust that God will never abandon them even though other humans will. Such an individual must continually remind herself of this so that she does not feel tempted to act out when they feel abandoned. This is another instance in which it is important for the individual with BPD to be a Calvinist. God will never abandon us even if we sometimes fall into disobedience. In the case of the Arminian, however, there is always the danger that our disobedience will estrange us from God. This is quite toxic for the borderline, and spiritually destructive for anyone. Instead, the individual with BPD must know that she will never be abandoned by God. Such an individual experiences abandonment as disastrous and they will do whatever they can to cling to or withdraw from such a person when there is perceived abandonment. They feel the need to punish those who abandon them by oscillating between rage and depression.
They must instead continually remember that Christ will never abandon them. It is therefore important for the friends and counselors of the Christian individual with BPD to always make sure to keep their word to the individual. The BPD individual must always keep in mind that their friends are human and sinful and that they can therefore only trust Christ to absolutely never abandon them. It is because of the sinfulness of humans and our tendency to let others down that it is best to counsel the individual with BPD as a team.
“BPD persons need to learn that God gives them the power to repent of the rage or despair they feel rather than being ruled by either, since God reassures them that they will never be abandoned. They must also learn that God’s forgiveness, presence, and comfort are available always.”
Those with BPD are quick to blame others for their problems. They may frequently bring charges against their pastors to the effect that they are not caring for sheep as they ought to. God wants pastors who serve “not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishoneset gain but eagerly nor as being lords over those entrusted to [them], but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Indeed, Ezekiel 34 contains severe warnings for those who abandon flocks.