10 Practical Rules for Dealing with the Borderline Personality

I get to deal with a whole lot of crazy at work. The following rules are applicable to lots of flavors of crazy, but I've had a heavy dose of borderline personalities lately. So here are my ten rules for dealing with borderline personalities and other crazy people:

  1. If you don't have to deal with a crazy person, don't.
  2. You can't outsmart crazy. [Thanks to Lisa J] You also can't fix crazy. (You could outcrazy it, but that makes you crazy too.)
  3. When you get in a contest of wills with a crazy person, you've already lost.
  4. The crazy person doesn't have as much to lose as you.
  5. Your desired outcome is to get away from the crazy person.
  6. You have no idea what the crazy person's desired outcome is.
  7. The crazy person sees anything you have done as justification for what she's about to do.
  8. Anything nice you do for the crazy person, she will use as ammunition later.
  9. The crazy person sees any outcome as vindication.
  10. When you start caring what the crazy person thinks, you're joining her in her craziness.


48 responses to “10 Practical Rules for Dealing with the Borderline Personality”

  1. Isn’t that the Zen Moment?? The “crazy person” is still looking for truth, albeit through layers of fear and denial. “Assertiveness” is not usually taught in school, and less often at home. So, some have a problem with expressing and meeting their goals, if they fear it will conflict with the relationship, when they are so dependent on someone in Power & Authority to defend them. Emotionally and Intellectually they come to be a train-wreck about to happen, as the inner turmoil feeds back in an endless loop.

    So, “being crazy” is a judgment by someone of another perspective. Being borderline “crazy” myself, I side with the crazies who wish to find legal relief from the supposed “non-crazies” who enact some pretty crazy, mean and spiteful legislation. We are not as far from the Dark Ages, as a society, as we’d like to be. But, I suspect I’m preaching to the choir here. You guys are on the front line of the craziness of the supposed “normals”.

    So Mark, I think it’s breathe in through the right nostril and out through the left. Take that magical moment to take the perspective of your crazy client. Maybe they aren’t so crazy, just frightened to the point of hysteria. If you took your favorite pet, threw him into a pit and tossed tennis balls at him all day, he’ll come out snapping and snarling. He was MADE crazy. He didn’t start out that way. To come to that understanding, with compassion and understanding, IS the Zen Moment where God is within you.

    Namaskar, Ric

      • Oh, you wrote this:
        “I get to deal with a whole lot of crazy at work.” so I ASSUMED you meant crazy clients. Well, I bet you do deal with more than a few. I was sure as heck a handful for my attorney. When I got hauled off in the jewelry, I suspect he might have felt a sense of relief. But, later on the “prison attorneys” showed me the black and white in the statutes where he could have done a far better job. Which left me wondering just how I would deal with him afterwards.

        I think I achieved my greatest amount of growth in my last couple of years, so whether or not he meant to, his lousy job of lawyering became a favor. Maybe being crazy finally works for a person, so you never know. I do know that doing kirtan (Yoga chanting and singing) in the prison library, on a Sunday afternoon, sure looks crazy. But it feels great!

  2. Oh yes, the Prosecutor knows all of this and wishes for your client to remain crazy. It’s to his/her benefit. Then they can get an easy conviction when the “crazy” acts out on the stand. Then, of course, you become crazy too.

    I wish I had an easy answer for you, Mark. But, your client can learn life-skills, such as “Anger Management” and “Assertiveness Training”, in prison. Or, you can cheaply hire some ex-cons to hang out at your office and give the “crazy” the sobering news of how much being crazy can cost them in the long run. Just picture Mister T sitting on one of these folks and grin about it!

    • Ric that’s an interesting take on the post. I read it and thought Mark was talking about prosecutors. (OK, OK, just joking, not really.)

      • It’s not about clients (sometimes we have to deal with the crazies, because they need our help and that’s what we were put on the planet to do), nor about prosecutors. Rather, I had this in mind.

        • I don’t know if you’ll believe this, but, yes, I suspected that might be the source for the post. Well, the most recent source at any rate.

  3. Good Advice! Reminds me a feud I had with one of my Book reviewer on Amazon. I was “crazy” enough to comment on his vicious review! And nr. 2 and 3 was right on! Now I know better. Nr. 1 is my motto now.

  4. Mark,

    The email was sent to the organization, not to you. You may be a member of the organization (which is how I presume you saw the post), but you were not a member of the intended audience such that you would be allowed to use the email seeing as how it was meant for a private organization of 550 attorneys. Of course, you are in the wrong here. When someone sends a private email to an organization of 550 attorneys, he/she expect it remain private.

    By the way, couldn’t you have made the crazy person male??? I’m just sayin’.

  5. Wow. What a subtle comment–I had to read it twice before I was pretty sure I knew what you meant!

    I try to use “he” sometimes and “she” sometimes. Defendants are always “he” and lawyers almost always “she.” Here, though, don’t blame me for making the crazy person female. Blame genetics.

  6. Sorry. I tend to be quietly sarcastic. I was agreeing with you though that her expectations are unrealistic considering her actions.

  7. I noticed that you used the word “she”. This wouldn’t have to do with a woman, would it? If so, just let it go…

  8. Thanks for that post on borderlines. There are so many of them, it can be overwhelming. From recent events, it is clear I have attracted my own Mel-Gibson-like detractors — yes, they can be men. There are lots of crazy people out there waiting to be your victim — “your” in the generic sense — and no slight is too small to be blown up into an epic battle for the soul of the slightee, desperately scanning the horizon, if not the periphery, for the event that allows them to triumphantly claim victim status. Facts are unimportant. Logic fails. Reconciliation is impossible. The only way out is to let them have the last word as you tiptoe backwards away from the fray, hit the gym or the pool, and cleanse the icky remnants of crazy-goo splattered onto your own being. But it is scary to think about the amount of space you must be occupying in his/her head to warrant that kind of relentless negative attention, which is all a big dodge from having to look at themselves in the mirror in any kind of honest or realistic way.

    Is it just me, or did anyone else notice as to the TCDLA listserve recently that, while some people were po’d about the criminal appellate specialization discussion (there is just no nice way to say someone is not being truthful with you), Lindsay Lohan and her never-ending addiction/legal issues just slid right by there? Any why doesn’t Mel just walk away from Oksana or whatever her name is?

  9. Great post, Mark. You make me proud. I’ve passed the ten rules on to others who might appreciate them.

  10. For a long while I have had this theory that roughly 10% of the population are actually high functioning (meaning that they interact in society in a generally normal fashion) paranoid schizophrenics. And just when I think I might abandon this theory, someone goes and reminds me exactly why I thought that way in the first place!

    • I don’t know about paranoid-schizophrenia in particular — they may just be easier to spot — but I agree that a higher-than-one-might-suspect percentage of the population is clinically insane, or has some sort of personality disorder that is so out-of-control as to be dangerously toxic to the spirits if not the lives of others. That is why there are books out there like, “The Sociopath Next Door” and “The Borderline Mother.” Borderlines come in a lot of flavors, with narcissistic, histrionic, or infantile features, just to name a few. A borderline with narcissistic features is almost indistinguishable at times from a sociopath. Borderlines have an inner emptiness or fear of abandonment that has to be externalized to others, because looking inward is impossibly threatening to the average borderline — the terror of facing what is not there in a weak personality really could result in the collapse of an already fragile ego structure, so unfortunately they avoid therapy like the plague. They imagine they are being abandoned in any number of ways, and always pin the blame on someone else, with an endless capacity to carry grudges forever, causing the very abandonment they fear the most. Shrinks refer to them as “the forever patients.” They are simply incapable of honest reflection. The term “borderline” itself it very interesting, as it was originally thought that these people were psychotic, but they have enough of a grasp of reality that they have one foot in both worlds — thus they were originally described as borderline psychotic. But they are less psychotic than they are in a constant state of denial about their own inner emptiness and its origins/causes. At least with schizophrenics they really believe that “they” (those unassigned pronouns are always a dead giveaway) are out to get them, and they seem to lack that element of active deception and manipulation that is typical of borderlines. I find schizophrenics somewhat charming by comparison because they lack the guile to put together a sustained narrative that some sane person might fall for for very long. Borderlines are clever enough to do things like lead groups and run for office, as they can be very charming until they turn on you. One of their favorite tricks, besides saying whatever they think they have to say to get their insatiable needs met, is to take their own worst traits/faults and project them onto a handy target, even if you think they have been your friend for years.

      I have been thinking for a while now that the next big societal problem we are going to have to address is the very high numbers of personality disordered individuals who are being encouraged by people in high places to let their imagined terrors, resentments, hurts, and fears be externalized and treated as though they are on an equal footing with what everybody else might recognize as reality. Who knew the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine would unleash mass psychosis?

  11. Wow, Mark. This is excellent. It’s so simply laid out, so clear, and so right. The more aware I am of the crazy in the world, the more I find in the (my) workplace. Some of it’s subtle, but much of it is not, and you see people perform these bizarre work-around dances to get through the work day.

    Me, I wish I’d had this list about five years ago, when I entered the Internet dating circus, although truthfully, back then, I couldn’t recognize the crazy until it was extreme. In personal circumstances, I’d add you can’t fix the crazy – but really, if you’re starting at the top of this list, and it’s a personal situation, following rule #1 gets you where you need to be. From my current vantage point, what I’d tell my five-years-ago self over and over would be: RUN.

  12. And I promise I’m not going to start leaving 54 comments an hour on your blog, but I am seriously going to print this list out and look at it in spare moments and memorize it. Because family? There’s no running. I conveniently forgot that part.

  13. For someone who has been dealing with the “drama cycle” of a BPD in my life this week, this post gave me a mantra of sorts (#1 in particular.) I just wanted to let you know that you helped me escape the cycle merely by showing me how to give myself permission to step out of it. This can be exceedingly difficult for a “rescuer” like me, who feverently believes that no one is beyond redemption. The problem is that I have been cursed by being confined within the mental prison of reason and can’t escape long enough to help those on the outside. Woe is me! Woe is we! For our only real option is to choose to share our lives with those who share our captivity.

    I am reminded of Plato’s Cave and it strikes me that the mission of the defender is to show the
    sunlight to those who can only see the world lit by fire. In either example, we should be careful who our friends are.

    To ramble further, the comment regarding the Borderline Victimocracy is spot on. One of the great characteristics of BPD is its convincing mask of sanity and incomparable capacity for manipulation. When combined with a perpetual victim mentality and an out of control system that turns “victims” into martyrs, this is becoming a perfect storm.

    It strikes me that a lying BPD should be exposed at the Intake or Grand Jury level, but that would be like saying that the Astros deserve to win the World Series this year just because they play baseball. However, I wouldn’t think that a BPD would hold up well under competent and aggressive cross examination. While a jury is prone to respond to emotion, an inappropriate display of intense emotion should set off the “bullshit alarm.” BPDs are reptiles that can easily explode if their lies are called into question or exposed.

    Just the two cents of a first year lawyer.

  14. This post has saved by sanity more than once these last couple months, including yesterday. Got a crazy text from the Crazy, and was about to respond, but remembered Rules 1, 5 and 6, and just put the phone down. Your list is now hanging on my wall.
    Thanks again.

  15. My friends, if you think the “crazy” people are operating from a place of fear or hurt, or you think that therapists must meet a lot of crazy people, then YOU DON’T KNOW CRAZY!!! My f___ing husband, very simply, is a reptile with no awareness of other people, even his own child, except for when he can use other people as his audience or manipulate them to do things for his benefit. There’s NO fear or hurt; he’s a crocodile in the swamp and he wants to be, and feel like he is, the biggest crocodile and he wants all the food, and all the space, and he wants every other living creature (unless they’re admiring him or providing him with a service) to get out of his way. As for therapists meeting these people: NO, they do not go for therapy! They know they’re trampling everyone and getting away with murder, and they like that, and they’re not going to pay someone to tell them that they have no empathy, or are acting unfairly, etc. blah, blah, blah. I actually did manage to drag my husband to therapy and guess what? He didn’t hear anything that was said. LITERALLY, IN ONE EAR AND INSTANTLY OUT THE OTHER, AS IF THE 3 OF US SAT THERE IN SILENCE FOR THE HOUR. THE ONLY SOLUTION IS TO KNOW THEM, SPEND NO ENERGY ON THEM WHATSOEVER, AND CHANT THE FACT OF WHAT THEY ARE (a reptile) CONSTANTLY, TO AVOID BEING BLIND SIDED. That’s the most we can do. They won’t change, and you are an idiot and masochist (I was for 20 years, until June 2009) if you expect or even hope for normal behavior from them. THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR “THE RULES” Mark.

  16. Thanks, Mark. I’m late to the party but the main course is still fresh!

    It’s amazing how well these rules work when faced with Political Crazies and Fundamentalist Religious Crazies too.

    If you’re unsure of my meaning, may I suggest that you watch anyone from the Westboro Baptist Church talk to…well, pretty much anyone. Unless the subject is religion (and the subject _always_ becomes religion, sooner or later!), they seem almost normal. But the longer you listen to them, the more cracks appear in the façade, and pretty soon you’re thinking nothing but “Back away slowly. Avoid eye contact. Find a weapon, just in case…”

    Of course, that’s the full-blown crazy, and of course that’s on a spectrum. We’re all a *little* crazy, in our own way. But some of us are aware of that fact, and take appropriate steps. Most folks don’t.

  17. I work in User Experience and Customer Service Best Practices. I was going to share this with my peers for a laugh until I realized that only women are crazy in your world.

    • Not so. As you will have noticed from my other writing, I sometimes use “he” and sometimes use “she” for the gender-nonspecific pronoun. Because “they” is stupid. Here I used “she” because my brother’s experiences with crazy women inspired the post.

  18. Thank you, it’s been many years since you posted this, but it was still quite helpful to me, as basic truths generally don’t change over the years. I have come to the conclusion that my sister doesn’t suffer from insanity, she enjoys it very much, and for my own sanity, I have to walk away from her as quickly as possible no matter what my many well-meaning relatives insist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.