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Pride and Prejudice and BPD

My book group just discussed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and since then I’ve been pondering what seems to me to be one of its themes.

Austen intends for us, by the end of the book, to like Elizabeth and Darcy, the protagonists, very much. In part, they’re so likeable because they can reflect on their own mistakes and then rectify them. Both characters misjudge each other (hence the title) and feel chagrined when they realize their error. Darcy redeems himself by secretly helping the Bennet family, and Elizabeth makes amends by apologizing to Darcy and trying to correct everyone else’s impression of him.

In contrast, the other characters remained mired in hypocrisy and insensitivity. The cad Wickham and clueless sister Lydia have no sense of their brazenly offensive behavior. Mrs. Bennet continues to annoy. Mr. Bennet feels sorry for a minute or two about his bad fathering skills, but then returns to his cynical mode. Mr. Collins has no idea what a priggish snob he is.

So, Kathy, you might ask, how are you going to relate this novel to borderline personality disorder, as is your wont?

Healthy people can examine their own behavior and attitudes, see where they went wrong, and try to change themselves. It’s not easy, of course. Even the healthiest people have some blind spots. They may be too forgiving of themselves at times and way too hard on themselves at others. But we generally admire people who can honestly acknowledge a fault or mistake and then try to do better. Often such people, like Elizabeth and Darcy, have a good sense of humor and can laugh at their own foibles.

Mrs. Bennet, in contrast, has no such self-awareness. She’s concerned only with her own feelings on any matter. Things are either going swimmingly (i.e., one of her daughter is getting married!) or horrendously. (Elizabeth has turned down a wealthy suitor! I’m taking to my bed!) Similarly, a person with BPD, lacking therapy or other help, remains locked in her own head most of the time. If she tries to evaluate her own behavior, she sees only culpability or only victimization. Like Mrs. Bennet, her default position is too often “Poor me.”

Elizabeth and Darcy can kick themselves, experience genuine remorse, and then move on, trying to do better. People with BPD, it seems to me, often do well with kicking themselves but have trouble with the rest.

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