What are the most successful personality disorders?
Different personality disorders develop as a symbiosis between nature and nurture as the brain works out the best way of helping a small child cope in a dangerous situation.
This situation might occur when your father comes home to find you as a toddler playing just inside the door. He trips over you and angrily orders you outside, slamming the door on you. Forever? How are you to know? All you do know is that from then on, survival depends on you becoming very alert to the sound of his footstep on the drive.
When your parents keep ignoring and punishing you, when they fail to listen or respond to you, you quickly learn that compared to grown-ups you are worthless. And you carry this belief into adulthood, just like your parents did. Insecurity breeds insecurity.
So, let’s say Billy, Milly, Tilly and Lily all have the same upbringing with an overbearing angry father and a submissive mother who possibly escapes into drink.
Billy is quite feisty. His fear and insecurity cause him to develop a Narcissistic defence - like his Dad. Billy’s a little soldier and decides to build a protective wall of denial around his feelings of worthlessness. With each brick he tells himself he is special, wonderful and worthy of admiration. Billy completely believes this lie, so he doesn’t quite understand the niggling sense of emptiness he feels. He gets depressed if he doesn’t have people around him patting his wall admiringly - and angry if anyone dares to criticize it. Billy needs to find a partner who wants to be protected by his wall and tell him what he wants to hear. He’s incapable of real love, which is a drawback, but on the plus side for him, he feels no empathy for others and couldn’t care less about their feelings. He tends to despise other people because their walls are pathetic and bullies them. He bullies his partner too, just to make sure she doesn’t slip up and start criticising him. Being a narcissist has its’ disadvantages as he’s angry a lot of the time, but on the whole he feels good about himself and so his wall is a pretty good defence. 3/5
Milly is a sensitive little poppet, and her innate fear and insecurity develops into a Borderline defence where she does everything in her power to get people to love her. Unlike brother Billy, she’s filled with the knowledge of not being good enough and is always tiptoeing around on a cliff edge trying to please people. Now, pleasing people is really hard work because she’s forever thinking ‘what if they don’t like me?’ Milly gets so nervous about teetering on a cliff-edge like this, that she gets incredibly sad or angry when she thinks someone doesn’t like her and then is incredibly elated when someone does. But mostly she’s sad or angry. Milly eventually finds a man like Billy to prevent her from falling over the cliff with his solid wall. To start off with that seems perfect because she does admire him and his handsome bricks, but as time goes on, she starts to think the overbearing wall might crush her. This makes Milly very depressed again and it gets to the stage where she thinks falling off a cliff would be better than being crushed. Pleasing people turns out to not be such a good defence after all. 1/5
Tilly is sweet and intuitive and understands very early on that her Mummy is busy with the other two and hasn’t got time for her unless she can make herself useful. Daddy trips over her and locks her out too, so what Tilly does is bury her fear and insecurity away in a squishy cocoon. She doesn’t come to feel she’s wonderful like Billy, or that she’s worthless like Milly - she doesn’t feel much at all. Her Schizoid defence is to muffle her emotions in order not to feel any pain. The problem with this is that she can’t truly love anyone. She may marry out of duty because she’s expected to and will be a good enough wife and mother and that’s fine by her. She’s never known true love, so she won’t really miss it. She’s never blissfully happy but then she doesn’t get overly anxious or angry either. She just glides around, oblivious to the disconnection she feels with her nature and content with life. This is a pretty good defence. 4/5
Lily is the sensible one. Like her siblings she’s left to cry at night and knows she’s not being heard. Like them she has to find some way to make sure she’s not abandoned and left to starve. She also has to find a way to avoid the pain of not being unconditionally loved. Lily graduates towards an Obsessive-Compulsive adaptation. She becomes obsessed with controlling his environment. She builds a neat little fortress around herself where everything is ordered and in the right place. She closes herself away in this comforting work-station and believes her way is the right way. This is very frustrating for her partner and their relationship is bumpy. She sometimes gets depressed but like her siblings she’s unaware that this deep sadness comes from her elemental disconnection with her parents. Her pain makes her angry. When that happens, she busies himself with getting on with her work and her rigid exercise regime and is fairly good at forgetting all about it for a while. All in all, a fairly good defence. 3/5
Punchline: While schizoids, narcissists and obsessive-compulsives appear to have it better than the volatile borderline, it is the latter who is the most aware of the condition and is therefore able to step back, assess the situation and begin to heal. Borderlines are the ones most likely to build up a new, deep sense of self-worth and find true love and real joy in being in the world.
Lesson: Validate your children. (Personality disorders are no fun.)