Those with borderline personality disorder tend to struggle with symptoms having to do with disturbed mood. Cathy Wiseman attempts to deal with these issues from a biblical perspective. Such an individual, according to the DSM-IV, struggles with emotional instability related to notable reactivity of mood. This involves intense oscillation between extreme negative mood, irritability and anxiety. It can last only a few hours or can last a few days. In order to battle this, the BPD individual can rest in the biblical truth that they do not have to live in chaos and can instead experience the peace that passes all understanding. In the words of Cathy Wiseman:
“Lack of peace and feeling irritable, anxious, and fearful generally happen when BPD persons’ feelings (regardless of why) are not pleasing to them. Chaos and panic follow quickly as they desperately pursue someone to make them feel better.” She notes that biblically, peace refers to the absence of sin, not the absence of conflict. This is quite different from the understanding of peace according to which there is the absence of painful feelings. When we know that God has forgiven us after we have confessed our sin, we experience peace with God. This does not, however, we mean that we necessarily feel good. Paul prays in Philippians 4:9:
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”We come to experience this peace gradually and increasingly as we live out the grace given us to obey God.
Next, the individual with BPD tends to struggle with unstable and intense interpersonal relationships which are characterized by extreme oscillations from idealization to devaluation. The BPD individual should rest with the biblical truth that, although she knows that others will inevitably disappoint her, God is worthy of trust and is perfect satisfying. The tendency to alternate between idealization and devaluation is known in psychiatric literature as splitting. The BPD individual has a hard time seeing the gray areas. Instead, they see things in black and white. Humans are either all-good or all-bad rather than mixed. The helper may be wonderful and amazing at one point and rejected as worthless trash at the next. This makes it hard to carry on the relationship with the individual. Helpers must therefore be sure not to base things on their feelings, just like the BPD individual must make sure to not commit the same errors.
Those with BPD also tend to succumb to something known in psychiatric literature as projective identification. Projection refers to a tendency to attribute unacceptable thoughts or emotions to someone else. In projective identification, however, the BPD individual projects his or her emotions and thoughts to the other person and that person then experiences them as their own. Thus, when the BPD individual projects her feelings and impulses to others, the helpers actually begin to experience these destructive feelings as their own and feel the need to act on those feelings. This may have its root in the BPD individual’s original family when others in the family projected their own feelings onto them. Likewise, helpers whose families made them feel on guard all the time will be more susceptible to projective identification. It is therefore important for a helper who eels an intense need to care for the BPD person to know that when they experience anger that is unusually intense for the situation, they may be experiencing projective identification.
It is because of this vulnerability of helpers that BPD individuals are best helped in teams. This helps keep the helpers grounded and rooted in reality. This is because the BPD individual may “split” or idealize helpers in such a way that the BPD individual will only share helpful information with that individual. In any case, the BPD individual must be taught that humans will never respond perfectly and that they must trust in God instead. It is only God who will never disappoint or abandon them. Indeed, God himself provides resources for suffering individuals who feel abandoned by others, and helps keep us from abandoning others ourselves.
Next, Cathy Wiseman deals with the DSM-IV symptom according to which the BPD individual experiences intense anger and difficulty controlling anger. She must learn to rest in the truth that their anger, in the words of James, does not produce the righteousness of God and that such an individual has no right to take vengeance. The BPD individual frequency experiences anger as a kind of knee-jerk reaction. Cathy Wiseman compares this to the anger experienced by St. Augustine as an infant:
“was indignant with my elders for not submitting to me, with those owing me no service, for not serving me, and avenged myself on them by tears. . . . “Or bitterly to resent that . . . the very authors of my birth did not serve me . . . [and even though] wiser than me, did not obey the nod of my good pleasure. . . .”
Indeed, as Augustine himself noted, the infant is anything but “innocent”:
““The weakness then of an infant’s limbs, not its will, is its innocence.” What makes us call an infant “innocent?” It is his inability to rise up and punch the person who doesn’t feed him on demand, not his innocent heart. An infant’s heart would throw a right hook if his arms were strong enough. . . . Why make such a big thing over all this? . . . [Because] childhood “innocence” soon yields to riper adolescent and adult selfishness. When a child’s formerly “innocent” limbs become as developed as his always-demanding heart, be ready for fully developed displays of rage!”
It is tempting to consider the BPD individual “innocent” when we hear of the oftentimes harrowing stories of trauma they have experienced. We can never, however, blame others for our own sinful tendencies, even though there may be extenuating circumstances at times. We must own and take responsibility for our own sinful behavior. John MacArthur comments on Galatians 5:19-21:
“ ‘Hatred’ results in ‘contentions’ (strife); ‘jealousies’ (hateful resentment) result in ‘outbursts of wrath’ (sudden unrestrained expressions of hostility). ‘Envy, murder, drunkenness, orgies, and the like’ represent animosity between individuals and groups.”
Cathy Wiseman summarizes:
“All these descriptions of anger and rage are part of the BPD person’s lifestyle. But no matter the provocation, God does not give any Christian the right to take revenge (or throw a temper tantrum) because vengeance belongs only to him. We know that anger yields more anger.”