Borderline Personality Disorder,  Celebrities,  DBT,  Impulsiveness,  Parenting,  Substance Abuse

Fox News Mental Health Guy Gets It Wrong on Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan and BPD?

I read an article today about Lindsay Lohan from Fox News’ Dr. Keith Albow entitled “What Lindsay Lohan’s Parents Stole From Her”. While I can certainly understand Dr. Albow’s point at some level (although mostly I believe it was to attract readers to Fox with a catchy title about Lindsay Lohan’s situation), I have a problem with Dr. Albow’s analysis of Ms. Lohan’s parents. My problem has several facets to it, so you’ll have to bear with me as I go through them. The first part of my problem has to do with the “blaming the parents” aspect of mental health care and the attitude of mental health care professionals. When you take a child with possible BPD or with behavioral issues like Ms. Lohan has reportedly experienced (those include possible theft, substance abuse, sexual orientation confusion, impulsive actions, self-injury, depression, anxiety and the like), the first thing that is assumed about you is that the child has experienced trauma, neglect or abuse by the parents (that is, YOU). Oftentimes this is NOT the case. I have two daughters (fraternal twins) and one of them has emotional regulation issues, the other does not. The environment in which they were raised was essential the same. The thing is, the children are not the same. I know of another individual who has two daughters, two years apart in age, one of which is a drug addict who never attended college and the other has a ph. d. They were also seemingly raised in the same environment. Granted, neither my children nor the daughters of my friend are child stars as Ms. Lohan was. Yet, my problem #1 is blaming the parents. It doesn’t do anything to help Ms. Lohan. In DBT there’s a couple of rules that you learn at the beginning. One of these “rules” (or guidelines) goes something like this: Even though I didn’t cause some of my problems, I still have to be responsible for solving those problems. In other words, even if you lay the cause and responsibly solely at the feet of Ms. Lohan’s parents and what they “stole” from her, it doesn’t function to make Ms. Lohan behave more effectively or feel any better. Instead, now that she is an adult, she will be required to take responsibility for her behavior and learn the skills necessary to function in a more effective manner, regardless of who caused her problems. I want you all to understand though, if she DOES indeed have a mental illness, these problems might be more difficult for her to overcome. That is because IMO (and in the recent opinions of many scientists) there is a biological component to most mental illnesses (including BPD) and, whereas many people with BPD also have comorbid PTSD from trauma and/or abuse/neglect, many do not. I believe that in order to have BPD the biological component must be present. Dr. Marsha Linehan’s bio-social model seems to reflect this. In other words, in the case of my twins and my friend’s daughters, what is different about each of them is their biological system, not the environment. The kids are different biologically. In the case of Ms. Lohan, perhaps she also has a biological feature that would increase the likelihood of impulsive behavior (among other features).

Now this brings me to point #2 which has to do with boundaries and the fuzzy understanding of what boundaries are. Dr. Albow says:

If she’s guilty, she did it for the same reason she illegally used drugs and drove under the influence and—maybe—assaulted an employee at The Betty Ford Center: She had so much stolen from her as a young person, had her boundaries violated so feloniously, that she considers the boundaries of others irrelevant.

Ahh, boundaries! Anytime I mention BPD to anyone who is not steeped in the world of BPD/non-BPD, including and especially therapists, one of the first things out of their mouths is boundaries (after trauma/abuse). This doctor doesn’t understand boundaries and the way that they function. A person like Lindsay Lohan doesn’t have a boundary problem, she has an emotional problem. You could rewrite the first sentence like this:

If she’s guilty, she did it for the same reason she illegally used drugs and drove under the influence and—maybe—assaulted an employee at The Betty Ford Center: she is in a great deal of emotional pain, has issues regulating her emotions, is impulsive and will behave in an “anything to stop the pain” manner. She acts on her emotions and action impulses before she thinks of the consequences.

Her problem is dysphoria and a poor sense of well-being, which in turn leads to impulsive behavior like shoplifting a necklace when you could just afford to buy one.

I don’t want to go into a long discussion of boundaries here. I‘ve talk about boundaries so many times, it gets old. If you understand my view of boundaries and rules and consequences and intent and the differentiation between these important behavioral and mental concepts, you’ll immediately see why I object to the “boundary violation” explanation of  Ms. Lohan’s make-up and behavior. No, the problem with Lindsay Lohan is (IMO) dysphoria, poor impulse control, emotional dysregulation and a large amount of emotional pain. That is why she does the drugs, steals things (allegedly), engages in risky behavior, cuts herself, etc. It’s not because she “considers the boundaries of others irrelevant”. That statement just shows me that you, doctor, don’t understand boundaries, despite your status as a mental health professional and a Fox News guy. In fact, it has NOTHING to do with the other’s boundaries or feelings at all. It’s all about her feelings.

My last problem with the article has to do with this statement:

Assault and theft. Lindsay Lohan, I would venture, knows all about those things, very deep inside. And not just because of what she did. No, no. Don’t believe that for a moment. Mostly, this is a story about what was done to her.

No, it’s not a story about what was done to her. I’m sorry, but the problem for Ms. Lohan is two-fold. Firstly, if she does indeed have mental health issues, emotional issues, substance abuse issues, and behavioral issues, it is her responsibility as an adult to address those effectively. The question is not “what was done to her by whom?” – it’s “what does she do about it now?” She’s no longer a child. She must address her behavioral issues with the help of a mental health, substance abuse and/or behavioral health specialist. If she continues to play out the approach that Dr. Albow espouses here – the “I had a f*cked up childhood” approach, she’s going to continue to behave ineffectively. What she’s doing is anything to stop the pain, yet, ironically, it is causing MORE pain for her because she’s behaving in an ineffective manner.

Secondly, like everyone in society, Ms. Lohan has to learn that her behavior has consequences, even unintended ones. Sure, she might have a disorder like BPD in which she would find it difficult NOT to behave impulsively and in a pain-killing way, yet when all that is done, she has to face the consequences of her behavior like everyone else. As I have said in the past, just because you didn’t mean to burn down the house while playing with matches, doesn’t mean the house magically comes back from the ashes. No, the house is still in ashes whether your parents abused/neglected you or you were just trying to stop the pain inside your head. Ms. Lohan’s behavior has consequences and sometimes those consequences are going to jail. The judge is not going to accept the argument, “my parents made me do this by taking away my childhood.”

And all of that brings me back to the serenity prayer, which (as I have said in “When Hope is Not Enough”) I always thought was a stupid cliche, yet, Lindsay Lohan is an excellent example of those words at work. (And BTW, I am not a support of A.A., despite my reference to the prayer). Ms. Lohan has no ability to change what her parents did to her. That is something she must accept. Trying to change those things will  cause frustration and, in her case, maybe incarceration. What she CAN change is her future by learning to behave more effectively and manage her emotions more effectively. If she doesn’t do that, she’s going to end up helpless (“my parents made me this way and there’s nothing I can do about it”), in jail or on the wrong side of the grass.

One Comment

  • Kalina Fisher

    I think that the most traumatic event that often happens to kids (under the age of 18) who develop BPD later is simply the replacement of unconditional love/regard by others with a performance-based “love”. Kids raised in a healthy way (i.e. not child prodigies or child superstars) are taught to love themselves in a more internal way. They have intrinsic value to their family and friends, and to themselves. Problems happen when the external validation is more importantant than the intrinsic value of the child. Obviously, BPD develops in non-superstars too, but perhaps this is often in families that place a high value on achievement to obtain love. This was the case in my family. It would be nice if I could just “be a grown up and consider the consequences of my actions” instead of blaming my parents, but you know what? The acting out and temper tantrums of BPD adults make a lot of sense if you consider that the emotional development of that person has been arrested at a child’s level. You are witnessing a bizarre sight: a grown-up body acting like a child. But that is exactly what it is.

    DBT is nice. It is nice to learn to find the gray area between the black and white. But after all that is accomplished, the pain, the rage, and the feelings of injustice done are still there. I don’t believe that BPD can ever be cured or resolved in a lot of cases until the afflicted person experiences a very close, long-term, non-judgemental, unconditionally supportive, love-you-and-all-your-troublesomeness, consequences-be-damned type of relationship with a professional counsellor. I know that a lot of parents don’t set out to do psychological harm to their kids, but the up-bringing styles of the past, the “teach your child the right way to act” , the kid has to be proper and do the right thing, etc. have been over-emphasized at the expense of just “hold your child, and love them”.

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