So, how many times have you heard, “bipolar,” “multiple personality,” “antisocial personality,” “phobia,” and “borderline personality disorder.” They are often incorrectly used by the average person in an effort to mock or belittle someone who isn’t acting “normal.” First, I will say that I do believe in mental illnesses (it’s not a voodoo medical practice), and I find it deplorable that people use it as a means to degrade others. But, unfortunately, it’s the world we live in, and not much can be done to teach manners and awareness when it comes to dealing with people who do not act and think like you, and thus must be “mentally ill.”
But, as a public service, I would like to clearly explain what these disorders mean, so that they will at least be used correctly by those tempted to diagnosis girlfriends, mother-in-laws and ex-boyfriends.
Your girlfriend is affectionate, loving, and nearly smothering you with attention. She declares her love for you repeatedly to the point that it’s a little irritating. You politely point out that it’s guy’s night and that she should spend some time with her cat while you go out bowling. She flips out! She starts yelling at you, and you hang up the phone. She shows up at the bowling alley to stalk you. You are annoyed and you have a big argument. You both go home irritated and angry. The next day, she calls you to tell you she’s sorry, how much she loves you, and how you are the center of her universe. Whoa! She must be bipolar!
In this context, bipolar is supposed to mean that she rapidly changes from one mood to another rapidly, and the moods are often opposite (mad, joyful, sad, and happy). Well, this is partially true. Bipolarism is actually changes in mood that go from one extreme to the other (DSM-IV-criteria-for-bipolar-disorder-I-and-II). However, it is very unrealistic that it happens in a day, or a week, or even a month. Typically the moods last for 6 months or so. They have two main moods, mania and depression. The mania is severe. It is accompanied by delusions of grandeur (they can fly, they are God, etc.), insomnia that can last days, they don’t eat; they have rapid thoughts, and energy to burn! They make reckless decisions including drug use, alcohol, and random/frequent sexual encounters. But, then there’s the other side; the depressive state. They mope, cry, sleep for long periods of time, etc. These people are often on lithium (a mood stabilizer), Klonopin, and an assortment of other medications. Most bipolar people on medications are difficult to point out in a crowd. However, when they come off the medications, their behavior is obviously different and extreme. Your girlfriend might have mood swings, but doubtfully is she actually bipolar.
MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER
Sigh. Okay. First of all, this whole phrase is incorrect. The true diagnosis is called Dissociative Personality Disorder, and yes, it is real, but it is rare and its actual clinical diagnosis is under scrutiny. It is sort of a rule-out diagnosis, meaning they have to rule out chemical problems, other mental issues, and chemical dependency before they can arrive at this diagnosis. It’s not something a one-time visit to a good shrink will result in the diagnosis. So, just about every movie you see regarding this has about half of it right. The main personality that dominates is the one the patient was born with, and is passive, quiet, and often shy or depressed. Pretty much what you see in movies is what you get, except the diagnosis is worded incorrectly. It’s often started due to childhood neglect, abuse, and even PTSD.
ANTISOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDER
Okay, first of all, this is typically a male issue (though not exclusively). What are the characteristics? Often it’s used to describe someone who lacks social graces and is shy at parties. Ha. That’s just called being shy. Antisocial Personality actually has attributes like ego-centricity, lack of empathy, complete inability to maintain intimate relationships, self-gratification, lack of ability or desire to live by the law; they are incredibly manipulative, abusive, and impulsive. Basically, you know that guy that always gets aggressive, bullet proof and belligerent when he drinks? It’s kind of like that every day. So it’s not just the guy who is quiet, has no friends, or doesn’t have much to say – it’s actually quite the opposite.
Well, it’s not just being scared…a phobia causes tremendous changes in the body. Heart rates shoot up, blood pressure increases right along with epinephrine, adrenaline, and a host of other “fight or flight” chemicals. The fear is completely irrational, and the person KNOWS it’s irrational. They can verbalize what they dislike about their object of fear, but usually say, “I just don’t know why I am so scared of them!” Phobias can invoke panic attacks and even cause people to pass out. Making someone “face their fears” is truly a bad idea – particularly if you are not a professional. Don’t do it! Some people will change their entire lives to avoid the phobia (quit a job if their office moved to the top of a skyscraper and they are afraid of heights; move out of a house if they found a snake in the yard because they are afraid of snakes). If you shriek on a rollercoaster, you are not phobic. If you scream in the small space at the haunted house, you are not claustrophobic – you are simply having a scary good time. If you break out in a sweat, hyperventilate, claw at the doors, and scream, “We are all gonna die” while riding an elevator to the second floor, you might be phobic…maybe.
BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER
I seriously cannot think of a personality disorder that gets used more wrong than this one. I suppose it’s the word “borderline” that throws people off. It is often used to describe someone who is “borderline crazy” or someone who we view as usually normal, but only by a thread. Wrong.
Actually Borderline Personality Disorder is incredibly serious, sad, and scary. These individuals typically self-mutilate, poor self-image, self-critical, yet they have difficulty being empathetic to others. Their relationships fail all the time because they can’t trust and often become overly clingy, needy, and feel like they are being abandoned! They can also be hostile and impulsive, but later regret it, self-hate, and live in the dark recesses of their own mind. If there were a hell in our own mind, this is it. It requires incredibly intensive therapy, medication, and even then, there are no real guarantees. It’s not just depression…it makes depression look like Disney Land. Many have attempted suicide with true intentions, and many are cutters that self-loath.
So, before you go diagnosing those that irritate you in your life at least know the definitions and use them correctly. And who said you were qualified to make such judgment? Perhaps you should read a little about Narcissistic Personality Disorder . 😉