Borderline personality disorder’ is one of those phrases that may say more about the people who invented it than it does about the patient it’s suppose to describe.” In Girl, Interrupted, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen (Winona Rider) is diagnosed with this personality disorder, when in fact, all she has done is made a hapless suicide attempt for no apparent reason, acted slack, mopey and is lost in her sober daydreams. The issue I would like to address that is relevant to my counseling education is misdiagnosis. In my opinion, I don’t believe that Susanna’s personality fits the criteria of a true borderline. I think she may be suffering more from self-pity, the indulgence allowed by an upper middle-class family in the 60’s and her egocentric immaturity. She is not a victim, but more like the original poster child for Prozac today, Valium in the 60’s. Susanna is a girl who’d rather interrupt her own life, even if it means going a little crazy, rather than grow up.
Most of the patients in the Claymoore psychiatric hospital are harmless, except for Lisa (Angelina Jolie) a heartless, charismatic sociopath, who delights in her destructive power. As Susanna and Lisa become comrades and then enemies, Susanna (heavily medicated) becomes like a space cadet fighting a secret war with herself, and through Lisa she plays out that war. Through Susanna’s gradual emergence from her “borderline” state she confronts the cruel truth of mental illness and in the process grows-up and discovers her own identity.
Girl, Interrupted is really more about the depravity of the human soul and a young woman’s struggle to leave childhood behind than the neurotic underside of a “borderline personality”. Susanna stops worshipping herself and Lisa, the creatures, and starts worshipping the creator and honoring herself and others. Rather than swimming around in her pool of self-pity and rebellion, she finds new passion and desire in her soul and bold purpose for her life. Her hope is restored. Susanna can now face herself and others with honesty, genuineness and unconditional love. Therefore, what may be diagnosed as a psychological neurosis or disorder (presenting problem) can be reframed into relational realities. All sin is relational. Therefore, all redemption is relational. It is not about getting rid of the conflict or the tension with the Other/other it is about redeeming the tension. And we can only do so by meeting the Other/other face-to-face, knowing and being known. It is all about our past (faith) being redeemed, so that our hope can be restored, and in so doing, we can love unconditionally.
copyright 2001 by Rebekah Johnston
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