We usually think of bullies as big, scary men. We don’t imagine that they could take the form of small, spiteful women. Most of us have observed that in grade school and high school, bullies come in both sexes, but we still tend to think of them as physically intimidating, physically threatening males.
In reality, there’s a type of emotional bully who is far more dangerous and destructive than any physical one. The physical bully is usually a person who was bullied themselves as a child by someone bigger and stronger. They take out their hurt and angry feelings on peers who appear smaller and weaker than them. There are various effective ways of dealing with these types which I won’t get into, here.
The emotional bully is a different creature. This person usually has a condition known as Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, which is characterized by a number of different signs and symptoms. Those with milder cases have terrible fears of abandonment, chronic feelings of emptiness and a habit of pushing away those who’d love or help them.
Those with a more severe and destructive form of the condition suffer from wide swings of mood, self-destructive behaviors, various addictions, excessive, uncontrollable anger and extreme touchiness. These people take offense at things which normal people would never consider to be a slight, and they are quick to exact vengeance.
Anyone who has had the misfortune of dealing with someone from the latter group knows how far this type of person will go in satisfying their need for revenge. Paradoxically, in their quest for so-called “justice” these Borderline individuals are the real ones causing damage, as opposed to the person who supposedly “wronged” them.
The word “Borderline” was originally used to describe this condition because some of the ideas these people entertain are so irrational and some of their beliefs are so unrealistic and rigidly fixed that they seem nearly psychotic. This condition, when severe, is considered to be on the borderline of insanity.
Individuals who have a milder version of the disorder can do very well in therapy. They can function fairly well in their lives and they tend not to make too much trouble for themselves or others. More severely affected individuals tend to be “trouble-makers” who engage in self-mutilation and/or interfere destructively in other people’s lives.
They pit people against each-other, which is technically known as “splitting,” and they cause a lot of suffering in the people they live and work with. They are manipulative, passive-aggressive, unreasonable, stubborn, erratic and highly impulsive. They get under people’s skin. If you frequently find yourself talking with your co-workers about a colleague or supervisor who makes many of you incredibly angry and frustrated, this person most likely has Borderline Personality Disorder.
BPD individuals can be so full of rage that they go to extreme lengths to “punish” those who they feel have caused them some sort of offense. This can take the form of legal threats, attempts at blackmail, stalking and other types of harassment. The so-called offenses they are reacting to are virtually always imagined, but the angry, vengeful feelings of these disturbed individuals are very real.
Unfortunately, people with severe BPD are prone to keep escalating a situation if the other person tries to stand up for themselves. In their troubled mind, they perceive the person’s self-defense as an offense against them. Sometimes, the best way of dealing with such an individual is to end all contact with them. This might mean changing jobs, moving to a new home or giving up certain hobbies or activities. It seems like a drastic response, but “Hell hath no fury like a Borderline scorned.”
Our courts are burdened enough these days, and in reality, are vastly deficient when it comes to understanding and addressing the legal ramifications of mental disorders. Until such time as there are legal protections for the type of bullying and harassment that is so typical of the very ill BPD person, it’s up to us to become less of a target to these people by withdrawing ourselves from contact with them and hoping that they don’t keep pursuing their disturbed and destructive agenda.
Obviously, this is not to say that we shouldn’t try to defend and protect ourselves from attacks to our safety and welfare, but that it’s important to understand that individuals with BPD tend to be expert at using the legal system to their nefarious advantage. In their over-arching sense of vengeful entitlement they manipulate the legal system and use whatever legitimate and illegitimate means necessary to get back at those against whom they hold a grudge.
One consolation to their victims might be to recognize that people with severe BPD are deeply unhappy. They are incapable of forming normal, healthy attachments with others and their relationships are characterized by chronic conflict and frustration. They are constantly irritable and agitated but unable to soothe this malaise. They are as self-destructive as they are hurtful to others and they live lives of loneliness, alienation and meaninglessness.
If we are unfortunate enough to have had dealings with someone with a severe case of BPD, we can remind ourselves that however much they might have made us suffer, it was only temporary, whereas their unhappiness is never-ending. They are plagued by their paranoia, rage and vindictiveness. As much as I am wary of such individuals, I can’t help but feel compassion for them, as one of the worst places to be in the universe is inside the troubled mind of someone with severe BPD.
(C) Marcia Sirota MD 2010
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