Borderline Personality and America’s Obsession with Perfectionism and Winning

Why is the average, middle class American unhappy right now? Is it because he is lazy? Is it because he wants a handout from the government? Is it because he’s too stupid to achieve financial and career success in his life?

While the above rhetorical questions might apply to a tiny group of people, the sad fact is that America is obsessed with perfectionism and winning. The only problem with this modus-operandi is that not everyone can be perfect and excel at their pursuits. Unlike the paltry lineup of celebrities, athletes, high-flying executives and politicians we glorify, most of us will never be billionaires, never have our own TV show, or never hold high political office. Yet, many of us with ambition and a desire to “get ahead” will doggedly pursue these types of dreams in hopes of making it big – the real American Dream – and living in infamy for the rest of our lives.

Right away, I’ve probably lost a few of you who are NOT narcissists. That’s a good thing. We narcissists are a troubled group of people. Some of us have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, some of us (particularly males) have Borderline Personality Disorder, and still others are just plain a$$holes. We are self serving jerks that only look out for our own interests hiding behind the guise of seeking to achieve perfection and victory in whatever path we have chosen for ourselves.

Today’s American society breeds narcissism in some people and amplifies it in people that already have it. We reward exceptional achievement unlike any other nation on the planet. If you’re the fastest runner in the country, a media crew follows you around to every race. You get interviewed and asked about what it takes to succeed. You get invited to state dinners and to schools to speak about not doing drugs. Pretty soon, all that attention goes to your head: you have your own groupies, action figure, and trading card. Suddenly your photo graces the cover of every sports magazine. You’re a household name.

Here’s the problem: NOT everyone can win. NOT everyone is “the best”. NOT everyone will be worshiped and followed around by a flock of clueless believers. Neither will everyone have the paparazzi on their door step every morning, nor will they feel the need to Tweet to their 1,000,000 followers that they’re having a difficult bowel movement. Life seems kind of sucky unless you’re the top dog.

This is the root problem with our culture. Even though “…it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game…” sort-of holds true, we still only hand out 1st place trophies to those who place first. Admission to Yale, Princeton, or Harvard only goes to those with the highest qualifications. In the athletics world someone who can throw a football like Peyton Manning will one day don an NFL uniform and make millions. If you’re a pianist, you’d better play that Rachmaninoff Prelude perfectly or else you’ll get a poor review in the New York Times and never be offered a gig again. If you long to be the focal point on the silver screen, you’d better brush up your acting skills, win every part you audition for and never let your guard down for a minute lest you get passed by the competition. Oh, and by the way, make sure you workout at least 4 hours a day, because God knows the acting world doesn’t need another fat person.

I’ve always wondered what happens to the gymnast who places 11th in the Olympics, the student that doesn’t get admitted to Stanford, or the play write who never gets published. They must feel kind of worthless because no one will ever remember their name. Who won the most gold medals at the 2008 Olympics? That’s easy, Michael Phelps. Who placed 23rd in the 2008 Olympic Marathon? If you know the answer you must either be Italian or an extreme fan of running. Otherwise, my guess is that you DID NOT KNOW that it was Ottaviano Andriani from Italy, who ran 2:16:10. If you’re a runner you know that this mark is nothing to shake a stick at: Andriani’s time is extremely fast. If you’re just another guy or gal on the street, however, you’d know Michael Phelps’ name in a heart beat and not have the foggiest idea about Andriani.

Now do you see what I’m talking about? Getting validated by those around you is just as impossible as being perfect 100% of the time. If you’re not the best at what you do, you gain little credibility other than what self worth you hold inside yourself. Now, that’s not to dismiss self worth because it is extremely important: what it does mean is that even if you value yourself greatly, chances are you may not be as valued by others unless you have a compelling story to convince them.

Therein is the essence of BPD. We don’t value ourselves unless others tell us we’re valued. This also holds true for most teenagers going through puberty. Unless you’re the hot guy at school or the Homecoming Queen, you feel rather worthless. The outside world isn’t kind unless you’ve got something amazing to offer. Otherwise, take your place at the back of the line.

Living with BPD in America would be much easier if we were more socialist and community oriented. Ut-oh, there go my Republican readers. Before you close the door, though, consider my thought. If a disease like BPD rules your life and so does a society that only values exceptional achievement, you feel utterly vacant of of value and no better than the dog sh*t on someone’s shoe.

Therein lies the lesson for sufferers of BPD: find ways to validate yourself. Find ways to encourage the betterment of your self worth; not to the point of conceit, but to a level where you can ignore everything happening around you and feel good about yourself.

Sadly, American culture DOES NOTHING for those with BPD. It’s an uphill slog until the very end. I struggle to find worth in myself on a daily basis. It would be much easier if society valued people by virtue of their existence opposed to what feat they can achieve.