Borderline Personality Criminals take Center Stage on Discovery Channel

Call it coincidence, call it serendipity, call it what you want: Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve seen two different crime shows on Discovery Channel that each featured borderline personality disorder. The portrait of BPD painted by each program was less than glamorous, and in general gave me the impression that people with Borderline Personality Disorder are either ticking time bombs waiting to explode, or people whose lives are a complete disaster. To be sure, these two characterizations aren’t necessarily wrong. It’s true that people with BPD are short fused, manipulative, and have chaotic existences. The thing I found troubling was the “take away” of each show was that people with BPD are dangerous to society.

The first show I saw was called “Wicked Attractions”, a mini-series about couples that either commit a heinous crime, or go on small time crime sprees. The show detailed the story of Elizabeth Haysom, daughter of a well-to-do couple who was attractive, intelligent, and also suffering BPD. Elizabeth’s frustrations with life revolved around her parents, who she viewed as responsible for her rocky upbringing, which included frequent moves to new places due to her father’s job. Things seemed to settle down when Elizabeth gained entry into a University in Virginia, and life began to take on some semblance of normalcy similar to that of any other college student.

Sadly, however, there was no story book ending to Elizabeth’s struggles with BPD. While at college, she met a naive and sexually inexperienced man named Jens Soering. They connected immediately because they both lived the jetsetter lifestyle as youths, and generally felt like outsiders around their peers. Elizabeth pounced on the opportunity to connect with someone, and ensnared Soering by seducing him. Once she had control (in part governed by sexual favors) Jens Soering fell under help spell and began to take on some of her fears, sadness, and general frustrations with life. Elizabeth used her manipulative abilities to convince Jens that her parents were the root cause of all her troubles, and that it was necessary to get even. Their level of angst as a couple was also increased when Elizabeth’s parents rejected Jens as an appropriate boyfriend, citing his naive personality, nerdiness, and odd behavior.

Ultimately, Elizabeth Haysom was able to manipulate Soering into murdering both her parents in a vicious stabbing incident, in which she was not actually physically present. Her grip on Soering was so strong that he would do almost anything for her, and this was evidenced when he slaughtered her parents in cold blood. Meanwhile, Elizabeth planned their future together, knowing that her evil and domineering parents were out of the picture.

As with most Discovery Channel shows, there was a brief digression into Elizabeth’s mental health and family history. The narrator gave a brief outline of Borderline Personality Disorder, summarizing some of the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV manual. Additionally, it was revealed that Elizabeth was a difficult child, who frequently had family relationship issues, and claimed that she was being abused. Before returning to the conclusion of the story, which was a life sentence for Soering and a short prison/psychiatric commitment for Elizabeth, the narrator concluded that those with BPD are menaces to society: unstable, angry, and manipulative people that lacked any sort of emotional regulation in their lives.

The next show featuring BPD was “Most Evil”, a running scientific investigation into the world of society’s most notable criminals. The show’s subject, Dr. Michael Stone of Columbia University, created a “scale of evil” for serious crimes, 1 being the least evil and 22 being the most. Other episodes of the program have featured the likes of Ted Bundy (serial killer), Gary Heidnik (serial killer, rapist, torturer), and Jim Jones (Reverend of “Jonestown”; presided over largest mass suicide in recent criminal history). In each case, Dr. Stone summarizes the circumstances of each crime, the lucidness of each perpetrator, and any mental health issues before placing them on his scale. It’s worth noting right away that Dr. Stone considers mental illness a mitigating factor in any criminal acts; that is, those with diagnosed or obvious diseases like Schizophrenia can not be considered as evil as someone who knowingly commits horrific crimes and understands the difference between right and wrong.

The episode I watched that focused on BPD was about spree killers and the increasing incidence of spree killing in America. In general, Dr. Stone characterized the perpetrators as troubled people that lived on the periphery of society, rejected by family and/or peers, abused, or otherwise excluded from a “normal” course of life.

One example was Charles Whitman, a bright but troubled individual who had a difficult childhood due to an abusive father. When Whitman left home in early adulthood, he took solace in joining the armed services and became an expert marksman. He also became obsessed with guns and killing. Whitman eventually married and had a constant battle with his demons. He was a voracious journal writer, and would often type out lists of things that he needed to do in order to appear civil to others, such as “Do not get angry…Do not hit wife” etc. Despite these efforts and sporadic counseling with psychiatrists, Whitman still lived a tortured existence, and eventually began to abuse his wife. The marriage ended in divorce.

During the course of his final years alive, Whitman had enrolled in the University of Texas At Austin, in hopes of pursuing a degree. Unfortunately, the social experience at school proved difficult for Whitman, and as a result he became increasingly isolated and reclusive. He began to have intense headaches and delusions. Finally, one day, at the end of his rope, Whitman packed a bag full of rifles and food. He climbed to the top of the Clock Tower of U-Texas Austin. Without warning, during the lunch hour of a pleasant day, he began shooting random people from the tower, killing more than 30 and injuring countless others before he was killed by law enforcement.

Upon autopsy, it was revealed that Whitman had a small tumor on his amygdala, a portion of the brain that regulates behavior. The presence of this tumor also explained Whitman’s headaches and general instability.

Like the “Wicked Attractions” show, “Most Evil” had a background segment about people with Borderline Personality Disorder. A doctor in Massachusetts explained a study she was conducting, which showed how people with BPD react differently to visual stimuli opposed to those with normal mental health. Another doctor focused on the “social exclusion” element of BPD. He created an experiment with college students and word association to prove that those who are left out of the crowd tend to have more evil and perverse thoughts compared to those who are accepted. Overall, the conclusion was that individuals with Borderline Personality live troubled, isolated lives; and more often than not are shunned or ignored by their peers. These environmental factors, plus the indications of BPD proved to create disastrous results for those afflicted by the condition and the victims of their crimes.

Although “Most Evil’s” conclusion that spree killers arise from a number of different circumstances, it was clear that the brief explanation of BPD was clearly apart of the mental diagnosis of some people who snap and suddenly take the lives of others.

How did I feel watching these shows? Well, a bit ashamed, embarrassed, and quite honestly fearful that one day I might commit some sort of mass killing. I fit most of the criteria of those profiled in each show, although the degrees to which I experience certain aspects of a “BPD life” were different from the murderers on the shows. In some ways I’ve been socially excluded, in other ways I haven’t. Further, while I wasn’t consistently “abused” as a child, I did suffer abusive incidents at the hands of family and peers. Finally, now, as an adult, I tend to isolate and have difficulty maintaining relationships. Does all this mean I’m going to be a killer one day?

NO. If you take anything away from this blog, please realize that not all sufferers of BPD are soon-to-be spree killers. We don’t need to be locked in prison as preventative law enforcement, nor confined to psychiatric hospitals for the rest of our lives. I was a bit angry that Discovery Channel chose to describe BPD in a very sensational manner, picking the most extreme examples of tragic BPD lives, opposed to showing the day-to-day struggles AND improvements that most BPD sufferers make.

Instead, please realize that the vast majority of those with Borderline Personality either improve in time, or at minimum have intensive counseling and medication regimens. People with mental illness are people, too. Perhaps if all you “normal” folks removed your heads from your asses and included us in society, this world would be a happier place. Excluding people with mental health problems is no different than racism, sexism, or discrimination based on creed. It really needs to stop and it’s time to focus on getting people better opposed to pushed to their breaking point.

17 Replies to “Borderline Personality Criminals take Center Stage on Discovery Channel”

  1. Hi,
    I have BPD too. I just started my own blog actually and then began looking for other blogs and was happy to see there are several out there. Many, actually. Anyway, I agree with your feelings. I have watched those shows but did not see the ones on BPD. I wish I had. Maybe I will look for them as sometimes they run repeats of shows.

    I understand the fears you have. I just told my husband this morning that my moods cycle so badly that I feared one day I would off myself. I don’t worry I’d hurt someone else, but I do worry about hurting myself.

    I also have great difficulty maintaining any close relationship for any period of time. In fact, I do not have a single close friend that I have had very long. I have some friends I have recently met, but I know it won’t last. I just know. It never does. I’ve been through 6 therapists. Some endly really badly. Even family members don’t speak to me. I had bad behavior as a child too. I feel I was emotionally abused by a BPD mother and intend to write about it on my blog some, and I was molested as a very young child. Generally speaking, the difficult thing with BPD is it’s so difficult to get control over. šŸ™ I just can’t seem to gain a positive momentum without getting thrown backwards into the abyss again.

  2. Yes, it is sad and naive and irresponsible for Disc Channel to show such a film. Not everyone with BPD end up murderers. Many live their lives as best they can and never commit a crime.

  3. No entiendo si eres de Costa Rica, no hablas espaƱol? es que tu articulo me aprece muy interesante pero mas de la mitad de las personas a quien quiero mostrarselo no hablan ingles y cuando le doy copy paste, a pesar de que aqui se ve en espaƱol me lo pasa mitad en ingles y mitad en espaƱol y no se que hacer =s. Me ayudas??? Grcias

  4. Being lonely in a crowded room. Feeling sad and not knowing why, not being able to sleep, waking up in the morning not being able to move, giving up your life out of no choice, crying for no reason, making a demon appear in your head. Listen to its horrid world making your life spin in circles not knowing what path to take. The dead end of a road. The coffee black peice in your soul, not resting till the end of time, never leting it forget you, eating your soul, mind and heart. Try to run as you will, you life will be taken. Draging you one foot at a time into hell. The suicide you wish you could have just to end the pain. Pity when you hate others sympathy. Self hatred, sadness, anger, darkness, deadly, lonely, sorrowing, regreting, perpetual, and killing. Giving up your dreams to be stuck in the enternal force of demonic gravity. It is a world. It is my life.

  5. “”Excluding people with mental health problems is no different than racism, sexism, or discrimination based on creed.””

    I take exception to this. I was briefly married to a BPD man. In a matter of months he wreaked havoc on every aspect of my life. A person’s race, sex, or creed don’t do that. But a mental illnes, especially BPD, does that to significant others.

  6. CORRECTION: Elizabeth Haysom did not receive “a short prison/psychiatric commitment” for pleading guilty as an accessory after the fact to her parents’ murders. She received two consecutive 45-year sentences in prison, with no time spent in a psychiatric unit or hospital. I am the only journalist to have interviewed her, so I speak as an expert on the case; I am also the only journalist to whom she granted permission to interview the psychiatrists who performed her psych eval for court.

  7. Borderline Personality Disorder looks different in everyone and one thing I have learned as a current psych major working toward a Master’s in Counseling, who grew up with bipolar disorder and ADHD is that there are probably multiple problems that result in a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, for the most part PTSD related problems or even a rough patch in life, bipolar related or addiction related issues or even as much as being “difficult” to some Doctors is seen as Borderline Personality Disorder…

    Legit Borderline Personality Disorder, a minority of those diagnosed with it are most often akin to sociopaths or narcissists, uncaring, manipulative, lacking empathy, except with the Borderline Personality (legit case), they rely on the other person in the relationship to define them as people and create hell to make sure they constantly abuse themselves or others to act out and manipulate the other one.

    The small things about the Borderline Personality that make it different than the other cluster B’s are that therapists and doctors can fill that void and dictate them enough to help them learn to be more effective and there is a risk of them accidentally committing suicide… plus the minor periods of guilt and shame can help some of them develop the insight to change slightly. The legit cases don’t often change all that much, they just learn how to make their traits work for them enough not to violate the rights of others…

  8. It is somewhat comforting to read these posts and see i am not the only one that is suffering. I was diagnosed with BPD in ’07 after i got married at 21 and shortly after got pregnant. Since that time i have been inpatient about 6 or 7 times in two different states. I have jusped to different therapists and psychiatrists over the years. I am pretty sure i have tried every SSRI medication there is currently.

    I have good days but when its bad, its really bad. I call them my episodes. It usually happens after my husband and i have some kind of altercation, which isn’t too often but like i said it spins out of control. I have attempted suicide countless times every since i was a pre-teen. Death is always on my mind. I pray for it.

    I am a part of a very religious upbringing and have been told coutless times how selfish i am for considering sucide but the don’t understand the depth of the darkness i am living in.

    I survive through the day, nothing more. I have read that BPD is linked to sociopathic behavior and that really scares me. I certainly have empathy and feel i am there for others but whats going to happen when the rage, the demons, the overwhelming sadness wash through me and i can’t see anything other than red. Even at my worst times i have some sense of rationality but what if that disappears?

    I am afraid of something happening and losing all control. I feel like i can’t talk with anyone about these things either. I don’t want to burden my husband and i don’t trust anyone. I have serious paranoia. I have tried reaching out to people before only for it to be worthless and embarrising.

    I don’t know that any of this can be helped at this point. I am crazy i guess. All the shame and guilt that comes along with understanding my mental disorders is a real killer as well. Not just for me but mainly my family.

  9. Maybe some of you need to learn to ignore other people’s reactions to you and just focus on dealing with practical issues – earning money, getting exercise, eating right, having a hobby, making friends as best you can. Nobody’s perfect and the world is full of jerks, but we need to forgive others as we would be forgiven. If there’s nobody you can talk to keep looking. Try to hang around healthy people, not other people with serious problems. It’s helpful to have a regular routine and simplify life a bit so you have time to cope with it. That’s my advice, which may not be any better than the next guy’s but it just seems to me that if you are young and in good health you should find a way to enjoy life. Lots of people are stuck in prison or have terminal illnesses or are paralyzed, but if you just have BPD you have options. It sounds corny but try to look on the bright side and make your life worthwhile for you and others. Best wishes, PH

  10. I think it is good that the Discovery Channel is trying to explain BDP and that a great number of our incarcerated population suffer from this disorder. If we could only recognize and treat this problem at an earlier age perhaps we could save the BDP’s lives and also the innocent lives they take. I also live with a BDP partner and now understand the disorder. My biggest problem now is getting her to treatment. I do know when she is having an episode she is capable of anything.

  11. I think it is good that the Discovery Channel is trying to explain BDP and that a great number of our incarcerated population suffer from this disorder. If we could only recognize and treat this problem at an earlier age perhaps we could save the BDP’s lives and also the innocent lives they take. I also live with a BDP partner and now understand the disorder. My biggest problem now is getting her to treatment. I do know when she is having an episode she is capable of anything.

  12. I must say this is beautifully written, the subtleties of your wording is most pleasing to the mind.

    I’m like most of these other posters, a BPD sufferer and I was wondering if you found it easy to read other people?
    I mean I seem to have an exceedingly good ability to read, and predict peoples moods/actions, how are you on this?

    1. Hi Naruto, Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, I believe I can (usually) read people, often noticing smaller cues in their mannerisms and verbal communication that others miss the first time.

      To be clear, I think this the result of hypersensitivity to rejection and relationships that people with BPD develop. I don’t think it’s necessarily a talent on par with a gifted psychoanalyst who figures someone out in 5 minutes or less.

      I’m usually correct 85% of the time, only if I’m in a fairly composed mindset. If my emotions are getting the better of me, my ability to read others is skewed and not productive.

      This sensitivity is helpful at times but also a burden. Sometimes people give off negative impressions simply because they’re having a bad day. I would interpret that to mean they don’t like me, or that they are assholes all the time. This isn’t always the case.

      Hypersensitivity is helpful if you can process your reactions internally while maintaining good composure on the outside. This type of behavior will sometimes exacerbate BPD, since it is essentially processing emotions on one level while bottling others up at another. Given time, I think people with BPD can separate the two and know the difference.

  13. Jen’s Soering is a brutal murdered who acted on his own free will when he drove 4 hrs to butchered his girlsfriend’s parents. He had a reputation for raging over the stupidest things and that is apparent in his violent letters to her. Just because He wears thick glasses it doesn’t make him harmless and naive. How sexist to imply that she f*cked him into committing brutal murder. Disgusting.

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