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A Case of Borderline Personality Disorder in 'Girl, Interrupted'

By Edited May 22, 2016 0 0

The movie "Girl, Interrupted" takes place in the late 60's, starring Wynonna Ryder playing the role of Susanna. As a young girl just out of high school, Susanna gets put into a mental institution with the help of a psychologist that is a friend of her parents. After being in the hospital ward for a couple of months, she finally starts talking to her psychiatrist and gets a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Borderline Personality Disorder is one of the most frequently treated personality disorders for in-patients. This disorder is characterized by a constant recurrent cycle of being unstable. This instability is seen in mood, self-image, and interpersonal relationships. These symptoms normally begin in early adulthood and the disorder is more common in females. People that suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder are very impulsive and this is shown in many different contexts. In order for a person to be diagnosed with this disorder, he or she must display at least five of the following symptoms, according to the DSM-IV-TR criteria in Table 9-4 of Oltmanns Abnormal Psychology textbook,

1.) Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

2.) A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

3.) Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

4.) Impulsiveness in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (…spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).

5.) Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.

6.) Affective instability due to a marked reactivity to mood (such as intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).

7.) Chronic feelings of emptiness.

8.) Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (…frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).

9.) Transient, stress related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

Many people with Borderline Personality Disorder also have a fear of being alone. Some possible causes of this are based on things that happened in the person's childhood, such as bad parenting, being neglected, low amounts of supervision, witnessing or being a victim of domestic violence and abuse, and any other type of traumatic event that occurred during childhood.

Susanna's diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is based off of a few different symptoms that she displays in the movie. To being with, Susanna never had any friends before she was placed in the mental institution, with the exception of a few men, majority of which she has slept with a time or two. Her unstable interpersonal relationships continued after being placed in the institution when she becomes friends with Angelina Jolie's character, Lisa.

Just like DMS-IV-TR criteria number two states, Susanna goes from thinking that Lisa is the perfect friend to hating everything about her. Also, Susanna is very impulsive, as criteria number four states. She had sex with her professor in high school and then had sex with two people in the same day while in the mental institution, one of them being an orderly. Her impulsivity goes on to drinking, which is one of the reasons that she was put into the hospital in the first place. The main occurrence that got Susanna placed into a mental institution is that she took a bottle of aspirin chased with a bottle of vodka just because she had a headache. She also banged her wrist up, making it completely bruised because she said that she had no bones in it. That occurrence qualifies for DSM criteria number five as a suicidal gesture and self-mutilating behavior because she says that she does not want to die. Susanna has a hard time being who she is, mainly because she does not really know who she is. This, being DSM criteria number three, is Susanna's form of identity disturbance. Backing up this criteria are examples of her not being able to fit in while in high school, kissing Lisa because she is not sure how she is supposed to like her, and trying to stand up for herself but quickly backing down because of her lack of self-esteem. Susanna also has problems with her moods and emotions. She will suddenly change her mood and then it will become intensified. Being DSM criteria number six, Susanna is sometimes extremely depressed, such as when Lisa leaves and Susanna will not get out of bed at all. Also, she gets angry very quickly and thinks that everyone is attacking her, especially when she starts yelling at Valerie when she forces her to get out of bed. The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is supported by all of these symptoms, with Susanna qualifying for five of the DSM-IV-TR criteria.

The movie "Girl, Interrupted" has some inaccuracies of how it portrays Borderline Personality Disorder though. For instance, Susanna says that it is hard for her to stay in one place. She has beliefs of time moving backwards and feels that life has a mystical undertow, along with quicksand and shadows. She also has problems differentiating dreams from reality. Susanna says that the reason she took a bottle of aspirin and vodka is "to make the shit stop." This suggests that she could be slightly delusional and schizophrenic, instead of just Borderline.



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