Some time ago I wrote a post about the “myth of the high-functioning BPD.” The point of the post was to facilitate a conversation about whether the categories of high-functioning and low-functioning apply to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). My theory was that there was no fixed state in BPD, and a sufferer can swing from high-functioning to low-functioning at the whim of their emotions. Now that I am learning about mentalization, I have a new appreciation for the “high-functioning” state (and it is a temporary state, not a fixed one). It appears to me now to be contextual. Have you ever wondered how a person you love with BPD can be a raging nightmare with you yet perfectly fine in his/her job? Ever wonder how they can “fake it” with others and never show their Mr. Hyde side?
DBT calls this “apparent competence,” which makes sense with respect to the dialectical model (the dialectic side of apparent competence is “active passivity” BTW). The one thing that never made a whole lot of sense to me was how the behavior can generally be “reined in” when with certain people. Most non-borderlines think, “Well, if she can control her behavior with [whomever], this must be completely under her control. So, she needs to start behaving better with me.” Sometimes, it seems as though a person with BPD can turn it on and off at will. However, this is not really the case.
Instead, mentalization explains this through attachment relationships: The closer the attachment, the more at stake for a person with BPD. This is why there is a fear of abandonment in BPD. When it comes to close relationships (such as partner or parent), the attachment is more important to the person with BPD and the fear of losing that attachment, the fear that the other person will judge him/her as wrong or bad (shame), is much larger. Unfortunately, the method of coping with this fear is usually maladaptive and functions to push the other person further away. Sadly, that can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy of abandonment.