BPD: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide

A.J. Mahari

September 24, 2001

Borderline behaviour is often compared to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide by those who aren't Borderline and experience Borderline Personality Disorder behaviour from the outside. Whether or not you think the borderline in your life, or you yourself as a borderline, are acting from a base of purely good or purely bad, or evil is a gross over-simplification of what is actually going on.

I have often heard people refer to those with Borderline Personality Disorder as being Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hides. I agree that often borderline behaviour or actions can appear to be this split. I do not, however, agree that this is really the case in the authentic reality of each borderline.

In Robert Louis Stevenson's classic book "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide" Jekyll believed that the soul is made up of two separate distinctions: evil and the good.

These two separate beings live in on-going and inherent conflict with each other. Slowly, Jekyll begins an experiment where he makes two potions and changes himself into Edward Hyde. Not long after becoming Hyde, he drinks a second potion and once returns to being Henry Jekyll. This experiment begins Jekyll's exploration of his other self, a side that he freely explores and feels no remorse for the negative and evil actions of Mr. Hyde.

From the outside it may often appear to others that there are two distinct aspects to each borderline, and that one is good and the other is evil. What is going on inside, however, is quite different. The evil actions or behaviour manifested outwardly is not any true indication of the true nature or character of the borderline. It is rather the false nature of the borderline. That is to say that it stems from defense mechanisms designed to protect the wounded, scared and hurt "true self".

Borderlines are not experimenting in the way that Jekyll was. They are trying to reconcile the defenses and triggered reactions of their past with reality as it is unfolding in the here and now.

One can either live his/her life open to learning and growing or one will live his/her life closed, fearful and protectively. This is the dilemma of the borderline. Borderline due to circumstances from childhood (most often) involving abuse and or neglect and rejection/invalidation the Mr. Hyde aspect of each borderline exists to help them survive what would otherwise be just too over-powering, overwhelming and annihilating to survive otherwise.

The notion that compares borderlines to Mr. Hyde is in the vast majority of cases an undeserved slur. Borderlines are not without remorse. Most borderlines feel great remorse for the pain and suffering that they cause others. Some may be more aware of these feelings than others. But clearly, if one has no conscience Borderline Personality Disorder is not the diagnosis.

What is observed in the vast changes in mood, attitude and behaviour of borderlines is the shifting between the here and now and the past. The past being totally unsafe and very frightening to re-live it brings out very regressed child-like and at times, violent raging behaviour in borderlines. This is not to say that they are evil. They are not evil. They have been deeply wounded and left to emotionally fend for themselves in stages of development that require parenting and caretaking.

To compare borderlines to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide is not only stereotypically simplistic but it is also suggestive that somehow the difference in behaviour and presentation is some kind of experiment or something merely that is being inflicted on those around the borderline, almost as if just for the heck of it. Borderline behaviour in all of its complexity stems from very deep and very real intra-psychic pain.

While this pain is the kind of pain that interferes with identity it is not about two distinct aspects of soul in competition with each other. It is not about two souls engaging in on-going and inherent conflict with each other. It is about the borderline trying to integrate, in the big picture, the here and now with their past. Such behaviour is trauma based with its roots in protective dissociation.

I think it impractical and unkind to compare borderlines or their behaviour to this character in a book. Each of us, borderline or not, has inherently good and bad within him/herself. Life is not lived in black and white and this is the struggle for most borderlines, trying to find balance, the centre, the grey that mixes the reality of both the black and the white. To refer to borderlines or their behaviour in this black and white way is a disservice and unproductive for those around the borderline and the borderline.

Whether or not you think the borderline in your life, or you yourself as a borderline, are acting from a base of purely good or purely bad, or evil is a gross over-simplification of what is actually going on. Rather than two aspects of self at war or in competition with each other borderlines are at war with a self that they do not yet know. The battle is between the false self and the authentic self. Neither aspect of self is all good or all bad.

There is nothing evil about having a personality disorder. If someone is unable to accept personal responsibility for him/herself and his/her behaviour than you have to ask yourself what you are doing allowing them to be in your life. If you are not happy with a relationship or you are borderline and not happy with your life rather than try to simplify things in a derogatory manner it is much more helpful for all concerned if you realize what is truly going on for the borderline inside.

The reality that most borderlines are in a great deal of pain is not an excuse for poor or inappropriate behaviour. However, labels like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are not going to help anyone shed light on the conflicts that each borderline must resolve in order to reclaim his/her life.

The character, Dr. Jekyll, made a conscious choice to try some far-fetched experiment. Borderlines do not choose to be borderline and their pain and experience are not experiments.

© A.J. Mahari, September 24, 2001

Borderline Personality Disorder - From the Inside Out features the writing of Ms. A.J. Mahari, a recovered borderline, email lists, the experiences of Borderlines, Parents of Borderlines, and Non-Borderlines and much more.