Borderline Personality Disorder,  Celebrities,  Other Disorders,  Shame,  Suicide

David Foster Wallace and Toxic Self-Consciousness

David Foster WallaceIt was extremely sad to see that David Foster Wallace killed himself last month. He was a talented writer and an excellent observer of the human condition. Apparently, he suffered from major depression and had ceased his medications. Really sad. I was reading an article about him in the current issue of Rolling Stone and found a quote that summarizes my attitudes toward people with BPD’s view of themselves. I’m not saying Wallace had BPD – I really don’t know enough about him to say – but this view of oneself encapsulates the deep feeling of shame that accompanies BPD:

There’s good self-consciousness, and then there’s toxic, paralyzing,
raped-by-Bedouins self-consciousness. I think being shy basically means
being self-absorbed to the point that it makes it difficult to be around
other people. For instance, if I’m hanging out with you, I can’t even
tell whether I like you or not because I’m too worried about whether or
not you like me. (David Foster Wallace)

You see, I often hear Non-BPs (the loved ones and family members of people with BPD) tell me that they feel that their loved one with BPD is extremely “selfish” or very “Narcissistic.” I always try to caution them on this statement because, when someone is in pain, yes, they will tend to look inward, but it’s not selfishness or Narcissism, in my opinion. It’s the ravages of deep shame and shyness that cause people with BPD to take such a view of the world. A person with BPD will dread the judgment, punishment and/or disapproval of other people. That is the kind of self-consciousness that is present in BPD.

To further follow up on this idea, here is a quote from me to a member of the ATSTP list from about two years ago. I was responding to the “lack of empathy” that his significant other (SO) was showing toward him:

It is frustrating and part of it seems very selfish on their part. My
wife actually showed sympathy for me this morning – I had a bit of an
upset stomach, so she said “I hope you feel better” a couple of times.
Of course, initially she thought I was mad at her or something (there
was still a lingering feeling that it was about her).

I also think there’s a step beyond empathy, and that’s compassion. I
think if you look at the spectrum of understanding for other people
you have something like self-centeredness (but not necessarily
positive) – pity – sympathy – empathy – compassion. (and there’s
probably a bunch of feelings in-between. The spectrum seems to run
from extreme self-interest to selflessness, of course, I could be
wrong on all of that – just an idea. It is easy to have compassion and
unconditional love for your kids, but for your SO it can be more
difficult because there are expectations on each side of the equation.
When your SO doesn’t live up to those expectations, even if they are
simple consideration, it is disappointing. I know it is difficult with
my wife as well – some of the time. Even my kids are wary of my wife’s
behavior at times.

I wonder if our SO’s don’t have much understanding of other people’s
pain because of the judgment factor. Perhaps they believe that
with “understanding” comes a level of judgment at least for
themselves. Or it could be that they believe no one actually
understands them, so the process of understanding others is pointless.

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