The Sadder Face

Borderline personality disorder is a variable, hard-to-pin-down phenomenon. “These patients…are a heterogeneous group…Even the same patient will present with a wide variety of problems at different times,” says Arthur Freeman, editor of Comparative Treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder. Another specialist, Robert G. Harper, describes patients as sometimes relatively pleasant, engaging, and responsive, while at other times depressed, sullen, confused, disorganized, angry, demanding, drug-seeking, or manipulative.

Sometimes people who know a little about the disorder (sometimes experts, too) sum it all up in simplistic terms — addiction, rage, childhood abuse, cutting — when not all (not even most) sufferers show all these symptoms. And no one shows them most of the time. It’s elusive, this disease, and often people with BPD don’t exhibit the symptoms much at all outside the home, outside of their closest relationships. It’s the significant others, along with the patient, who bear the brunt of this relationship disease.

Augusten Burroughs in his memoir A Wolf at the Table writes this about his dad: “I remembered thinking how, in the light of day out in the world, my father was just like anybody’s father. But as soon as I was alone with him again, Dad was gone and dead was there in his place. … I realized my father was two men – one he presented to the outside world, and one, far darker, that was always there, behind the face everybody else saw.” 

I always noted that my mother seemed cheerful around other people. When neighbors visited, she smiled and conversed and never betrayed her bitterness. At church, she was cordial, if distant, and in the nursing homes, the staff always told me and my sisters how pleasant and cooperative my mother was. We would exchange knowing and frustrated looks. Why did she save all of her bitterness and cutting remarks for us?

She behaved pleasantly and normally to outsiders and showed us her darker, sadder face.

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