“Gone Girl” and the Borderline Personality Disorder

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The book “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn was a hit as soon as it came off the presses in 2012, and for good reason.  It’s a razor-sharp dissection of human behavior, iced with the deliciously sadistic machinations of the main characters.  Part of its success has to do with the skin-crawlingly accurate portrayals of the deceptively mundane psychological injuries we inflict on those we love.

But most of all, I loved the slowly-unfolding portrayal of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder.  Most of the media deconstruction of the novel and film reflects on the main character’s Antisocial Personality Disorder, and most certainly she meets criteria for that diagnosis, especially as the story plays out: her deceitfulness, irritability, lack of remorse, etc.

But the borderline portrayal is sublime…….WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! (Although I am pretty sure I am the last person in the US to read the book, so there you are).

A quick primer on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  A personality disorder is a pervasive and inflexible pattern of behavior that leads to significant repercussions, distress or impairment emotionally, interpersonally, occupationally, etc. (DSM-V).  That doesn’t mean the person with personality disorder thinks there’s a problem: he or she may feel everyone ELSE is out of their minds for complaining so much.  There are a number of different categories of personality disorder (Antisocial and Narcissistic are the two most infamous; see Magnolia [1999] for an example).

LOVE the psychopathology in Magnolia!
LOVE the psychopathology in Magnolia!

BPD is different from the former two.  It’s  marked by intense and unstable  interpersonal relationships, often with initial idealization of a new person, followed inevitably by bitter  disillusionment.  People with BPD, according to the DSM-V, “make frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.”  I include this quote because it really is a superb description of borderline behavior, a classic.  Persons with BPD also may have a shifting, ever-changing self-identity, marked by constant change in values, goals, vocational plans, even sexual identity. You can also see emotional instability, suicidal gestures, and impulsivity.

Good portrayals of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder in media are hard to find.  I have been disappointed by many of the so-called realistic portrayals of the condition: they emphasize lurid  sociopathic or psychotic behavior over the more subtle–but just as destructive–characteristics of BPD.   While you can see bad behavior and psychotic like symptoms in BPD, more typically the behaviors are less obvious: the chronic feelings of emptiness and loneliness, the rage, the demands.

RachelGettingMarriedmargot

 

 

 

Margot at the Wedding and Rachel Getting Married (something about weddings….) are two great portrayals of the fallout from BPD.

 

 

 

So in Gone Girl, most of the book is dedicated to progressively more ominous depictions of just this sort of behavior.  I recommend the book for an enthralling mystery read, but even more strongly recommend it as for students of Psychology as a great portrayal of this particular diagnosis.

A bonus: part of the book’s appeal is the He Said-She Said presentation of events.  If you live long enough, you’ll have at least one “Ah-Ha” moment where you realize that events did not occur just as you remember them, maybe even replay the events from another’s perspective. And then near-forgotten details take on new meaning, new significance.  A la “The Sixth Sense.”   It’s disorienting but also humbling. From a neuropsychological perspective, it is fascinating because it reminds one how personality can color and even distort perception and reality–in the healthy!  The characters in Gone Girl don’t have that moment of clarity until it’s far too late.

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