The affirmation that borderlines pursue so desperately from others turns out to be the Achilles’ heel of their lives. Their interpersonal intensity—emotional outbursts, heated middle-of-the-night exchanges—often jeopardizes their most important relationships. Calling a friend at four in the morning after a fight, pleading “I have to see you right now. I have to know that things are OK between us,” is seldom endearing. Says Gunderson: “Borderlines engineer the ending of the very relationships they covet” by wearing out friends and loved ones.
And their behavior is so predictably unpredictable that it can be captured empirically. In a recent study, healthy subjects were partnered with borderline patients in an online game of strategy that required players to cooperate in order to succeed. But the borderline patients so frequently acted erratically and broke alliances that the healthy players stopped collaborating—even though it meant sacrificing potential “earnings.”
“People with borderline personality disorder are characterized by their unstable relationships, and when they play this game, they tend to break cooperation,” says Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Virginia Tech, who reported the findings in PLoS Computational Biology.
The chaos of everyday life can turn mundane events like completing a work project or submitting a tax return into Sisyphean tasks. “I’ve had a hard time keeping a job my entire life,” reports Corso, who has worked as a preschool teacher, advertising assistant, telephone operator, makeup artist, and cashier, among other things. “When a crisis hit, I’d make a dramatic exit—never realizing that I could slow down, call in sick, and pull myself together. So my career path has been quite a struggle.”