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Kurt Cobain and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Kurt CobainAfter learning about BPD and reading a biography of Kurt Cobain, I suspect that, if he was not a borderline, he suffered from a similar disorder. So, here is a detailed analysis of the case for Kurt Cobain having Borderline Personality Disorder.

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Substance Abuse

I don’t think I have to cite any references on this one. The bio I read makes it clear that Cobain was a junkie and used consistently. Also, despite his slim frame (5’7″, 130 pounds), he used far more heroin than others in his final days and his body was, for the most part, able to take it. He did overdose numerous times. Abuse of pain killers (of which heroin is one), is not uncommon with BPD (sometimes called “Bellman’s Syndrome”).

His heroin use eventually began affecting the band’s support of Nevermind, with Cobain passing out during photo shoots. One memorable example came the day of the band’s 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live, where Nirvana had a shoot with photographer Michael Levine. Having shot up beforehand, Cobain nodded off several times during the shoot. Regarding the shoot, Cobain related to biographer Michael Azerrad, “I mean, what are they supposed to do? They’re not going to be able to tell me to stop. So I really didn’t care. Obviously to them it was like practicing witchcraft or something. They didn’t know anything about it so they thought that any second, I was going to die.”

Eating Disorder (or chronic pain leading to one)

Kurt Cobain had a chronic, undiagnosed stomach disorder from which he developed an eating disorder, being unable to keep down food.

Throughout most of his life, Cobain battled chronic bronchitis and intense physical pain due to an undiagnosed chronic stomach condition. This last condition was especially debilitating to him emotionally, and he spent years trying to find its cause. However, none of the doctors he consulted were able to pinpoint the specific cause, guessing that it was either a result of Cobain’s childhood scoliosis or related to the stresses of performing.

Volatile Relationships

His relationship with Courtney Love was volatile. He also had volatile relationships with others in his band and with managers and ex-girlfriends.

Love arranged an intervention concerning Cobain’s drug use that took place on March 25. The ten people involved included musician friends, record company executives, and one of Cobain’s closest friends, Dylan Carlson. But Bassist Krist Novoselic tipped him off as he considered the idea to be “stupid”. However, by the end of the day, Cobain had agreed to undergo a detox program. Krist Novoselic drove him to the airport to catch his flight, but Cobain was far from wanting to go, in a fit of panic, Cobain drew violence and the two fought at the airport, eventually Cobain freed himself and ran through the airport lobby screaming “fuck you”, this would be the last time Krist would see Kurt alive.


Shame and Unstable Self Image

His lyrics probably do the best for this…

All Apologies:
I wish I was like you
Easily amused
Find my nest of salt
Everything is my fault
I’ll take all the blame
Aqua seafoam shame
Sunburn, freezeburn
Choking on the ashes of her enemy

Dumb:
I’m not like them
But I can pretend
The sun is gone
But I have a light
The day is done
But I’m having funI think I’m dumb
Or maybe just happy

Radio Friendly Unit Shifter:
What is wrong with me?
What is what I need
What do I think I think?

This had nothing to do with what you think
If you ever think at all
Bi-polar opposites attract
All of a sudden my water broke
I love you for what I am not
Did not want what I have got
Blanket acne’d with cigarette burns
Speak at once while taking turns

And of course, there are probably twenty more examples in his various lyrics. The only other musician that I can think of off the top of my head who consistently used the words “shame” and “I’ll take the blame” is Ian Curtis (Joy Division’s lead singer who also committed suicide).

Suicide Attempts

I think these go without saying, considering his eventual actual suicide. But we know of at least one other:

Following a tour stop at Terminal Eins in Munich, Germany, on March 1, 1994, Cobain was diagnosed with bronchitis and severe laryngitis. He flew to Rome the next day for medical treatment, and was joined there by his wife on March 3. The next morning, Love awoke to find that Cobain had overdosed on a combination of champagne and Rohypnol (Love had a prescription for Rohypnol filled after arriving in Rome). Cobain was immediately rushed to the hospital, and spent the rest of the day unconscious. After five days in the hospital, Cobain was released and returned to Seattle. Love later stated that the incident was Cobain’s first suicide attempt.

26 comments to Kurt Cobain and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

  • DP

    My daughter idolized Kurt Cobain, and we were actually living in Seattle for a year when Cobain was found dead. It really upset her and almost made her become obsessed with him. It was right around that time when she began showing the first signs of mental illness. I miss the little girl she used to be.

    I miss Cobain, too. Thankfully we still have his music, but he was a rare talent.

    Peace – D

  • I loved his music as well. I’m certainly not criticizing him at all for all he gave to the world… I think it’s fantastic and tragic too.

  • beataddiction

    I thought it was a welL known fact, Cobain being bipolar that is. That was my assumption. N welL, I would assume the same knowing that. It would b my lil more than an educated guess n my personal experience would confirm. Even thou I c it as a textbook case n find it too obvious for ANYONE to miss. Wouldve n shouldve even been predicted n prevented by any licensed healthprovider that couldve taken required action. 50% of bp (bi-polar, not borderline personality) people try to take their own life. Even a bigger percentage is or has been abusing substances, relations, themselves and anything else u can use effecting the rewardsystem n mood regulation.
    Even the blind would c that the borderline personality disorder that perhaps ultimately nailed his cauffin was Cortneys. As a bipolar one has enough to deal with as it is to add alL that to it one has to deal with in a relation to a borderline. Emotional instability disorder, as it is correctly reffered as. Have myself been triggered in episodes by EID bf after long periods off ‘normality’. Made sure he understood that if I alL of a sudden turn psycho bitch on him. Slicing his clothes, throwing his things out the window n selLing his car on ebay as I break up with him for no reason, he had it coming. Somehow that was more effective than trying to make him aware of how destructive his behaviour could b for ME.
    I have milLion thoughts n opinions in the issue. But only one more regarding Cobain. How come he hadnt gotten to an insight of his ilLness, in his ilLness. Damned! We alL have responsability of our own head here. Over our head. Do u think I would b alive n welL today if i had left it in the hands of the ones with the degrees. We alL have our demons, we alL have to fight.

  • Zephyr

    I’ve no time to go into it now, but affective disorders run rampant in Borderline Personality Disorder – which has an innate hypersensitivity to others linked to it most definitely. This wonderful and terrible hypersensitivity to the world is most clearly reflected in Cobain’s lyrics. Whether or not he was bipolar does not rule out BPD. On the contrary Cobain for me was without a doubt on the internalizing-dysphoric spectrum of the BPD – probably one of the most painful subtypes of all.
    BPD is not an insult. It’s an acknowledgment of the incredible pain and suffering that Cobain had to deal with (bipolars at least have their moments of euphoria) and we should admire and respect how he triumphed over it through being creative – if only for awhile.

  • Jenah

    I love Kurt. He was truly talented and turned his insecurities and struggles into wonderful, heartfelt music. I’m a Borderline Personality and a Bipolar as well so my heart (still) goes out to him….

  • Marie

    Zephyr’s words do more justice to Kurt and BPD than any I have ever read.

  • Dave

    Somebody should’ve gotten an Emergency Petition to evaluate Kurt Cobain, because he would’ve surely been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward like he desperately needed. His cousin confirmed Kurt was, indeed, diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and that he exhibited frighteningly self-destructive behavior (he was mainlining $500 worth of heroin per day, he purposely engaged in self-harm by extinguishing cigarette butts on his body, particularly his forehead, etc.). It’s disgusting to see interviews with people like Michael Stipe (who planned to collaborate with Cobain in a last-ditch effort to “save” him) say there was no way to prevent his suicide. Kurt Cobain was an immature, mentally-imbalanced man, and he’s dead because people allowed him to rum amok without consequence like the spoiled brat he was. Once you take away control from an addict, especially a mentally-ill one such as Cobain, you can then reprogram them to not hate life, and when they don’t comply, you hospitalize them again and again until you break their will to destroy themselves.

  • cole

    ok so i was so obsessed with Cobain. I find it so strange how i have a bpd and also i was a heroin addict.
    I feel that the patterns of addiction and bpd are so similar self harm, impulsive behavior, strange relationships, immature and suicidal behavior its all so the same and also since I stopped using heroin about a year ago. I don’t feel this way anymore but yet I’ve been diagnosed with this disorder twice both while using. so its a question i keep asking myself BPD or addiction.
    Also a little reply to Dave I live in the uk and here we don’t have things called interventions
    thank god but i have been to rehab about five times and it never worked why because I was unsure about recovery and i had to hit my own rock bottom but yet I kept putting myself through rehab and if someone else had try to put me in there i would walk out just to spite them and if someone tried to section me i would hate them even more.

  • billy

    I have BPD, and I also battle with heroin addiction. I’d also like to note that although sometimes I feel like committing suicide, I would never do it for the simple reason that it would destroy my family. Also, I know that life can always get better, and it isn’t worth throwing your life away to escape temporary problems.

  • cwhall

    I have AvPD, and I think that Kurt may have also had it, along with his other problems. He lived in a fantasy world of becoming a famous rock star, and when it happened, he realized he didn’t want it. He longed for love, but was quite a misanthrope. He preferred being alone, taking drugs and hated being the center of attention. He was insecure and thought he was worthless.

    There is not much information available on AvPD, but he seems to fit the description. Especially the living in a fantasy world. Unfortunately, his fantasy came true and he just could not handle it.

  • Xander

    Kirk Cobain was an amazing man,But i think without the problems he had he wouldn’t have liked his life even more.

  • Christian Alexander Tietgen

    Wikipedia says bipolar disorder. But the lyrics are an amazing example.

  • Wikipedia says bipolar because he was on lithium at one point, I believe (hey, he even wrote a song with the title). It is impossible to tell if it’s bipolar or BPD. Some of his lyrics and behavior seem to suggest BPD though.

  • im 15 and i started listining to nirvana when i was 12 and his music was, is, and will forever be amazing! he puts so much emotion into his music thats one of the things i really admire about him and man.. i started listening to nirvana when i was 12 and ill still be listening to nirvana when im 25! RIP KURT COBAIN

  • Charlotte Kenny

    I am a huge Kurt Cobain fan. I have read everything I could get my hands on, to learn what I could about Kurt. I have alot in common with him. For many years I was diagnosed as Bipolar. In the first half of this year that was changed to bpd. My moods change to fast and don’t last long. At the most,they can last a couple of days. From what I’ve read, Kurt’s moods where the same. He would be happy one moment then sad the next. I believe he suffered from bpd not bipolar. This very common. Alot of bpd’s are first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Regardless, he is gone and there is nothing that will bring him back. Maybe if he had been diagnosed with the right disorder, he could have gotten the help he needed and he would still be here. We miss you Kurt! xo

  • I’m still not sure he had Bipolar, with the combination of drugs he would of had/demonstrated greater signs and symptoms as the drugs exacerbate them. He was from my knowledge admitted to a psychiatric ward. As an acute psychiatric nurse it is very very apparently when someone is experiencing mania, illness is unquestionable. You would not need to decipher lyrics for clues, & lyrics are subjective & not accurate data as lyrics are an expression of all types of creative thought, he could be referring to someone else,. ..its too inconclusive. I would suggest he was more likely to be if anything BPD and possibly not without the full diagnosis of this but only displaying certain traits, with a depressive mood disorder. And as aforementioned, with the combination of drug use (common of BPD) lead to his successful suicide. Suicidal ideation is common with BPD & Bipolar during a depressive episode, this is well documented and was apparent, well obvious for Kurt, but not any manic, euphoric episodes, elevated energy levels? Where was the psychosis? Irritability is common for people with drug problems… There again drug problem, drug problem. Take away the drugs and I believe the chances of Kurt being alive today would be very high, add intervention and even higher.

  • I wanted to note on the above Kurt, from my knowledge “NOT” admitted to any psych ward.

  • Ariel

    It’s unfortunately very obvious that he had BPD. And apparently so does Courtney too, probably exactly why they felt so drawn to each other. Borderline people are SUPER sensitive and often very creative and imaginative. When you feel emotions and feelings SO much stronger than “ordinary” people life can become very difficult and for many I guess numbing yourself with drugs,alcohol or other self harm seems like the only way to cope. Kurt had basically ALL the signs and symptoms of BPD. He was very self destructive, self harmed in many different ways NOT just drugs, had really low self esteem,felt lots of shame and guilt, was often paranoid etc.
    You know the saddest thing about all this is that most of the time BPD is a result of childhood abuse and neglect, or just childhood and youth problems in general. Family problems and traumatic childhood events. Just imagine, you have a highly sensitive, imaginative and creative child in a terrible situation at home with sexual, physical or psychological abuse, neglect, physical illness etc.
    All that intense trauma would be difficult or impossible to cope for anyone nevermind a super sensitive child…BPD is actually most similar to Dissociative Identity Disorder and PTSD. They all have their root causes in TRAUMA and abuse, usually starting in early childhood before the person has even begun to develop and grow into their own personality. That’s why people who have BPD and DID have so many of the same problems and so severe! That’s why people with BPD seem so immature and most of the time don’t know who they even are or what they really want. Their self image is all messed up and confused because they don’t even HAVE a real sense of self! They haven’t really had a chance to ever grow up and develop normally. They are damaged and wounded people/children. Abused, used and betrayed usually by the very adults who were supposed to take care of them.
    So before anyone judges Kurt or anyone else with BPD and/or similar problems, you have to understand that these things do NOT happen without a reason. Kurt could see and understand that darker side of life and humanity very well, he lived through it many times. I am absolutely sure that if his life had been better at the start he would have seen the brighter and better side of life and people a lot more too…And would still be around now.

  • GEORG

    i think your claims are bs. Your trying to gain notoriety for a case to enhance your popularity as a person with a specific angle on him. He was on lithium, hence the song title. Had bi-polar, anything else is purely speculation not medical fact

  • Ariel

    People who have BPD often have other disorders as well. Bipolar disorder is probably the most common mood disorder for people who are Borderline. Kurt probably had both, as well as other problems. Besides Bipolar is not really associated with self harm but borderline personality disorder IS always. Kurt is notorious for his self destructive and self harming behaviour. Most of the time he didn’t seem to really care about his physical well being at all basically. His problems and behaviour clearly shows he had BPD and possibly PTSD and DID as well. He was a VERY troubled young man who suffered abuse and neglect in childhood and adolesence. BPD is mostly a result of trauma and abuse in childhood, especially sexual abuse, bipolar is not.

    From wikipedia :

    “There is a strong correlation between child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, and development of BPD.Many individuals with BPD report a history of abuse and neglect as young children.Patients with BPD have been found to be significantly more likely to report having been verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually abused by caregivers of either gender. They also report a high incidence of incest and loss of caregivers in early childhood.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borderline_personality_disorder

  • tk

    Ariel, your description of BPD is perhaps the most clear and touching I have ever read. BPD is HARD, and the shame it brings everyday in my life is maddeningly painful.

    But reading posts like yours helps a LOT. Thanks for having taken the time to write them.

  • wr

    Oh yes, Kurt was Borderline. I am Borderline too, and it takes one to one to know one.

  • wr

    I knew a fair bit about Cobain before I was diagnosed Borderline. As with the writer of this insightful piece, knowing about this disorder makes seeing it in others more sensical. What some might view as being an ass adds up in a whole new way.

  • Whoever wrote this article is an idiot. BPD is still a wrong and false abel and is no longer used anyways. By your standard every single edgy artist, maladjusted teenager, and crazy punk or hard rock band member suffers from a form of BPD.

    Every single BDP is a fucking joke. Literally half the world’s population is BDP by these standards.

  • Just like homosexuality, any traces of the “label” BDP will one day by erased from the post-fascist DSM book and will we read about this in history and laugh.

    What people don’t realize is that the combination, unlike other disorders, of these factors that determine BDP don’t really mean anything whatsoever.

    As I mention according to bullshit false labels like BDP almost every great free thinker, artist, musician past and present could be labeled this or even schizotypal, bi-poplar, neurotic for any trivial and superficial reason. And literally every single kind of outcast or even regular well-adjusted person with a different attitude, phase or lifestyle can be BDP according to these these stupid superficial factors.

  • People confuse extreme maladaptive personality issues that can fit under the false label BDP, as a kind of clear cut collective disorder called BDP. This brainwashes people to think that the label is just as sound as things like bipolar disorder or Narcissistic PD. It’s too bad BDP hasn’t been fought enough.

    Having something like a combination of unstable relationships/self-image, addictive or leechy personality and a rage problem makes you have a personality disorder?LOL. What a good way to confuse, bully and justify actions that people have the ability to be responsibility for.

    Every person that has diagnosed, or perpetuated bullshit about BDP and countless other fake personality/mental “disorders” should be taken to boycotted, taken down, court, jailed as much as they already have for med abuse, ADD, partialism/homosexuality in the past.

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