IN 2012, Mitt Romney spoke the following quote: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
I’ll leave it to someone else to fact check this quote. What I want to discuss here are those whom Mr. Romney is talking about, because I do know some.
A quick look around Facebook should reveal to almost anyone how many people are tired of “welfare queens” and don’t want our tax dollars to support these people.
I’ve lived for many years with someone with BPD and spent time in a support group for those living with people with BPD. I hate to say this, but the only people I know of with the attitude Romney describes, are people with BPD. (Sorry, if you have BPD, just bear with me and read to the end before getting upset.)
It isn’t only those with borderline personality disorder who have this mindset, but people with other personality disorders, too. Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door, describes this exact entitlement attitude among those with APD. And it also occurs in people with NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). Considering that about 9% of the population is estimated to have personality disorders (depending on the country sampled), I think there’s a good bet that an awful lot of folks who answer Romney’s description are those with PD’s.
PLEASE NOTE: In saying this, I am NOT referring to: Those who are elderly and now are receiving Social Security after a lifetime spent working; those who are desperately poor through no fault of their own—divorce, job loss, loss of a home due to the housing meltdown, too young to work, too physically ill to work, a member of our vast and growing population of working poor--and may these conditions be temporary for these people!
I’m talking about those who really do just want to lie back and let someone else pay the bills…those who for all intents and purposes really do appear to be what some like to call, “bone-lazy”. A fair number of PD people have this mindset. Sorry to say it, but they do.
Why do these people have this mindset?
Feelings of entitlement are a big factor for those with APD. They just don’t want to do anything hard or boring, and feel that they shouldn’t have to push on with the daily grind if they don’t like it, despite the fact that that is what everyone else has to do. APD’s have about the biggest entitlement mindset in the known galaxy. For narcissists, many times there is a deep feeling of inferiority there that they are covering up. A deep fear of failure, and of not turning out to be as good as they present themselves to be.
For borderlines, the situation is murkier. Many, many borderlines hate themselves and believe themselves to be stupid or otherwise less than competent. Think of Marilyn Monroe stumbling through a script. Even though her brilliant performances proved her talent time and time again during her career, she still couldn’t internalize that truth and begin to believe in herself. She was so worried about being perfect that she handicapped herself tremendously.
Borderlines often have such a hard time controlling their emotions that when they can’t, and they let loose with some inappropriate response in a workplace or a family environment, they suffer intense embarrassment and self-recrimination as a result. Other people are giving them the moral diagnosis. “Her worst enemy is herself.” “Why can’t he just get it together?” Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it? If this happened to you about ten million times during the course of your lifetime, believing in yourself enough to apply for and then perform at a job could seem very difficult indeed.
Not only may people with BPD, and sometimes people with NPD, feel incompetent to solve many life or work-related problems, they may actually be incompetent to solve them. The central feature of BPD is emotional reactions to just about anything that fly off the charts compared to those a person without BPD might have to the very same problem or situation. Someone with BPD has spent a good deal of their life terribly emotionally upset, and emotions interfere with the brain’s ability to learn and to think clearly. So when other kids were learning how to think and problem-solve in school and at home, the person with BP wasn’t. Now that person is an adult and finds him/herself confronted with situations that look easy when other people handle them, but that he himself doesn’t have a clue how to tackle.
In the case of BPD, many sufferers have never acquired some basic interpersonal skills. Picture this example: Two people who hate cigarette smoke are sitting in a restaurant when a third diner lights up. One of the non-smokers has BPD. The BP immediately begins flapping around like a chicken, saying very loudly, “Oh, my God, that person is smoking. I hate cigarette smoke, it ruins my dinner. What’s the matter with that idiot, he should be in the smoking section! This is horrible.” (Add a loud, stagy cough.)
What are the reactions of the other people in the scene? The smoker is probably angry and feels affronted. The third diner is probably embarrassed, and getting the message that she’s supposed to go confront the smoker and ask that person to stop, and she’s probably fuming about this unstated order from the BP.
How would you handle the situation? You would probably go over to the smoker and nicely ask them to stop. But this doesn’t even occur to the BP. Why not? The BP has spent her whole lifetime in a family where if she spoke up about what she wanted, she got yelled at, and, having BPD, she feels way worse getting yelled at than you or I would. This particular BP has had the experience of having family members and friends scurry off to solve the problem when she behaves this way, so many times that not even an inkling that the other people in the scene might want to be asked politely for their cooperation, or that this is how most people in this situation know to handle it, ever comes up for her. Put this person in a work situation, and what’s likely to happen?
Lastly, the phenomenon of apparent competence is common with BPD, meaning that a BP sufferer, knowing he or she doesn’t know how to handle a situation, pretends he or she does, and no one finds out until there is a crisis at hand. The BP is just too afraid of the interpersonal problems that will result if the BP just says, “I can’t figure this out. I don’t know what to do here.” What happens to this person in the workplace?
It’s not true that all of these people are unable to change. (In some cases, the biochemical abnormalities in the brain may be such that the person may never be able to function as well as a non-PD person can. But many, many PD people can at least improve.)
However, they need help to do it. And help isn’t free.
It is true that our desired endpoint, looking at this subgroup of “47 Percenters” from the outside and from the standpoint of a society that understandably wants its members functional, would be for those with PD to recognize that they have a problem, go for help, and comply with the help, becoming as functional as their particular biology will allow. But, as many family members of those with PD can readily attest, an awful lot of these folks never will. I personally have given up on mine after almost forty years and two attempts at therapy. How much of this aspect of a PD is biological? How much of it is cowardice?
I don’t think anyone is actually doing any research in this area at this time. I sure hope I’m wrong. But here’s the thing:
Much of the time, there really is an inborn biological problem in the brain of those with a PD. Do we really want to withdraw all means of support from those whose problem they did not ask for, and who really do have a diagnosable medical problem that prevents them from being self-supporting, regardless of what the dynamics of that are? What kind of society does that make us?
Before you answer, think about the children living at home with a parent with a PD. It’s true that some parents with a PD can reach within themselves and still be good parents through heroic effort. But many, many more are abusing their minor children behind closed doors.
Because such a parent can appear mentally healthy to other people, that child is left wondering why mommy or daddy is so nice to other people but so mean to him at home; and if the child should try to reach out to other adults for help, the child may not be believed. Children in the homes of PD parents may suffer emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and/or physical abuse.
Now take away all sources of household income for that non-self-supporting parent with a PD, because we’re tired of welfare queens, and that lady on Fox News waving a phone and saying, “Obama gave us a free phone and he’s gonna give us more stuff!” made us angry. We don’t want to support that woman or anybody else like her.
Say she’s like this because she has an undiagnosed PD. We take away all sources of income. She tries work and gets fired, because she isn’t able to interact with others in the work force. What happens to her child?
Well, for one thing, the stress level in that household is going to go up. Life is stressful enough with a personality disorder even if one does have enough money. Now there is none. There are no lights; there is no heat. Maybe there isn’t enough food. How is that mother going to treat that child at home, if she was abusing him or her before? What are that child’s chances for a productive life in society?
Let’s face it, PD’s are out there—about 9% of us--and they are one reason 100% of the people in any given society are not going to be self-supporting. When we look deeply at the reasons why some people have a victim or an entitlement mentality, we can see that simply cutting them off isn’t the answer, no matter how much some of us don’t like the idea of what they may see as paying taxes to support "dead weight."
Do you have ongoing, serious blow-ups with someone close? Possibly a significant other, maybe a family member, or perhaps a close friend?
Sometimes the relationship seems normal, healthy, supportive, and happy—and suddenly, they’re raging, crying, accusing you of saying things you don’t mean or doing things you never did. You’re struggling to deal with the same terrible scenes again and again, when you’re not sure what happened or why it keeps happening.
Other people are telling you to set limits with the person, and they’re annoyed with you when you can’t. Or they’re telling you to leave, and they can’t understand why you stay. What actually is wrong? Could you be with someone who’s mentally ill?
I’ll never forget the moment I finally connected the dots.
I had struggled through episode after horrible episode with my mother. One day I’d be the good daughter she was so proud of, and we could go out to lunch or shopping and have a great time. The next week we’d have an awful time, with her stuck in complaining about some disagreement she was having with someone else—and very angry if I didn’t agree with her about it. She could be sunny and fun one day, rageful the next time I saw her, or tip over into an episode of crying that lasted for hours. It could be tough to tell what had set her off. For years, I had been plowing through relationship and self-help books, trying desperately to figure out what to do during these volatile and depressing scenes.
My mom-episodes were bad enough and frequent enough to upset me for weeks. I cringed when I saw her name pop up in my email or when I saw she was calling me. They seriously disrupted my life. My friends heard about them whenever we went out.
My friend Eva had known my mom three years and had an advanced degree as a researcher trained to recognize signs of mental illness. One day, halfway through my latest mom story, she looked at me and said, “Well, you know, she’s mentally ill.” I said, “Huh?”
I was a Princess Diana fan. Diana biographies had led me to books about borderline personality disorder, from which Diana is said to have suffered. And, for a year or so, I had been plowing through those, thinking more and more that maybe this really did sound like my mom.
I said, “You mean you’ve been watching me read all these books, when you knew my mother was mentally ill three years ago and you never told me?”
When we’re having the same problems, over and over, with someone special in our lives, and we can’t seem to get them solved, the issue isn’t always that there’s mental illness in the picture.
But when it is, this, the “Ah-ha!” moment, can be elusive. For those of us who get there, it’s only the beginning of our journey. And for those who care about us, looking on and watching us struggle, it isn’t always clear why we are having such a problem making decisions about a troubled person in our lives. But the truth is, we need to be patient with ourselves, and others need to be patient with us.
Randi Kreger, author of Stop Walking On Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder, outlines five stages those of us with a relative or loved one with BPD go through as we try to understand what’s happening.
When people find they can work within the relationship while preserving their feeling of basic happiness and contentment in and with their lives, amazing and poignant journeys of love and friendship have happened, even with ongoing mental illness.
But that isn’t always possible, and when it isn’t, it’s okay to put yourself first. If you sacrifice your own well-being for a mentally ill person who’s continually showing you out-of-control behavior, it doesn’t help the person, and the problems in the relationship wreck you. Then you have two wrecked people instead of one.
Each relationship is as different as each person who suffers from BPD. No one solution will work for everyone. The important thing to realize when dealing with someone in your life with BPD is that you, and any children who might be involved, have the right to basic health and happiness in your life. Not only do you have that right, but it has to be your first priority. That’s the main thread running through all of the five stages; getting comfortable putting your own well-being on a par with that of your loved one’s.