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Close Encounters of the Borderline Kind

Looking back at my life, I am rethinking previous, fraught relationships in light of what I have learned about borderline personality disorder. I recall a very difficult friend who was diagnosed with depression and was always getting mad at me. Hence, I was constantly apologizing. I remember thinking, “Of course, I might be at fault and need to apologize. On the other hand, how come my other friends never get mad at me?” Now, I recognize the BPD symptoms she displayed – turbulent emotions, feelings of victimization, black-and-white thinking, and so on.

Janus, the two-faced god

A particular student has also been coming to mind. He was diagnosed with depression and had suicidal thoughts. He had great difficulties learning Latin, and I tutored him outside of class and made accommodations on quizzes and homework to help him through the material. I found a former student to tutor him, too. Near the end of the year, the tutor confessed to me that this student loved and valued her but resented me, he told her, because I hated him and was trying as hard as I could to fail him.

I’m remembering how hurt and angry I was to hear this. I was devoting my free time to tutoring him, even though I never saw substantial progress. I often visited his counselor, partly to commiserate over him, but also to discuss stratagems for passing him in the course and to find out more about his history and diagnosis. I tried to be kind and warm in person, and I bent over backwards to assist him. Whenever we met, he  told me I was the only teacher trying to help him. I took that with a grain of salt, but I believed he was grateful.

All this, just to be accused, behind my back, of being out to get him! At the time, I didn’t think about this betrayal as symptomatic of his illness. I thought he was two-faced and hypocritical. Worse, I felt odd dealing with my other students for awhile. They mostly seemed friendly and appreciative, but how could I tell they were sincere? Maybe they all harbored suspicions they weren’t revealing.

Now, at last, I understand. My student had developed a crude coping skill of flattery, hoping to ingratiate himself with the person he was with. He wasn’t hypocritical so much as desperate. He was inclined to see the world through dark-colored glasses. He was inclined to feel victimized. Moreover, since I was someone who corrected him and often wrote bad grades on his papers, in his dichotomous world, I had, therefore, to be the bad guy.

His depression, in other words, was something else, or, at least, something more. I believe now that he suffered from BPD. The unpleasantness I experienced was not him, but his illness. So challenging are these symptoms to deal with, however, that I can still dredge up anger over the hurt he caused. I understand it better, but can still feel the sting.

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