Darth-vader1 Does Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker meet the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder? This was a questions posed, for some reason, and for an even less understandable reason answered by Eric Bui and colleagues at Toulouse University Hospital in France in what has been described as “a brazen act of arm-chair diagnosis”. Who does this serve? Who does this help – anyone? What is the meaning of this? Does it matter? It might mislead loved ones of those with BPD in unhelpful ways.


How can this “diagnosis” of a fictional character help anyone understand Borderline Personality Disorder? Isn’t it likely really to muddy the waters and be more of a case of mis-information? Just what BPD needs right? More confusion? How can anyone who loves or cares about someone with Borderline Personality Disorder really come to understand the the mind of those who are diagnosed with BPD? This diagnosis of a fictional character who many don’t believe is an accurate diagnosis anyway will only mislead loved ones away from the facts about BPD that they need to know, want to know, and will benefit from knowing.


How are people who have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder supposed to feel about this? How can this possibly be viewed as helpful? How can anyone with BPD think that people who already don’t understand their pain and suffering can possibly learn anything from such an irresponsible “diagnosis” of a movie character that isn’t even real?


Talk about a lack of sensitivity. What a lack of respect, really. Stigmatizing BPD while potentially trivializing it as well.


Does this “diagnosis” of a fictional character with Borderline Personality Disorder have any up-side? Perhaps, only in that it brought some media attention to Borderline Personality Disorder. Or some pop-culture attention. However, I think the negatives of this far outweigh that potential positive. It seems that when pop-culture or media mention or in anyway portray Borderline Personality Disorder (as they often do without making that clear) it ends up really only succeeding in the furthering of negative, damaging, and hurtful stigma against people who are living with BPD.


The down-side that I believe is being over-looked and that matters most is the way in which this further stigmatizes not only the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, but, even more importantly, the people diagnosed with it? Why? Because of the connection between the inherent evil of Darth Vader and the stigma that has long been perpetuated toward those with BPD as being evil.








Dr. Bui, apparently came up with his “diagnosis” of Darth Vader while watching two of the three Star Wars prequel movies, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. He theorizes that young Anakin Skywalker was separated from his mother at an early age and his father was absent and that these are the factors that could have contributed to his mental illness.


Anakin-Jedi Apparently in his theorizing, Bui, also believes that also indicative of this character’s supposed Borderline Personality Disorder are his “infantile illusions of omnipotence” and “dysfunctional experiences of self and others.”  It is perceived and concluded that he often showed impulsive behavior and had difficulty controlling his anger. Anakin Skywalker’s eventual turn to the Dark Side and name change, to Darth Vader, could represent the ultimate sign of an identity disturbance is the apparent reasoning behind this entire exercise of “arm-chair diagnosis”.


It can be argued, though it’s hardly worth it, that “infantile illusions of omnipotence” would point more at Narcissistic Personality Disorder than BPD. As for “dysfunctional experiences of self and others” I think it reasonable to conclude that Walker/Vader’s transformation is not the experience of people who have Borderline Personality Disorder. Here’s where diagnosing a movie character makes it tricky doesn’t it? I mean, the archetypal nature of this shift in a character’s identity is a work of fiction that no doubt seeks to depict many epic human struggles and not just struggles or challenges that can be described as being the result of any mental illness, let alone Borderline Personality Disorder. The archetypal richness of this character speaks to many interpretations. However, ascribing this character’s experience or interal feelings, perceptions, and the like to BPD, let alone any mental illness is nothing short of ridiculous. It misses the entire point of the character really.

Anakin Skywalker’s eventual turn to the dark side and name change do not have anything to do with BPD specifically or exclusively at all. Where this conclusion comes from who knows. It doesn’t follow any type of logic. But then, how could it? This eventual turn to the dark side of Walker’s as he took on the identity of Darth Vader is not something that bears any resemblance to the experience of people with BPD. People diagnosed with BPD do not have a stable sense of identity. This, however, does not mean they go from who they are (or the not being sure about who they are) to being drastically different and turning to some dark side. This comparison is evidence of the equating of  BPD with evil which is irresponsibile and not accurate.



What is it in this world today, anyway, that everything has to be pathologized? Isn’t it ironic how black-and-white many people in the world are thinking – people who are not diagnosed with BPD? People who invoke the topic of BPD, diagnose fictional characters, like this psychatrist, Bui, or lay-people who are busy diagnosing anyone and everyone they know but themselves?


The dilemma here, in terms of understanding is hidden, perhaps for many, within the central and often over-looked definition of what Borderline Personality Disorder actually is. The way it is defined in the DSM-IV by psychiatrists outlines 9 traits. Out of these 9 traits a person must meet the criteria for 5 of them in order to be diagnosed as having BPD – by a professional.


The very traits that form the basis for what defines borderline personality disorder are human traits. They are human traits that are found more intensely and more often in those who meet the criteria for BPD. They are not some separate set of traits that just define BPD. My point here is that many others who may not meet the criteria for BPD will struggle with some of these traits. Why? Because they are human traits firstly and foremostly. Those with BPD and people who are not personality-disordered do not have different core traits. What is different is the way that these traits manifest themselves and are perceived and experienced – but not the traits themselves.


Is it any wonder then that people who love or care about someone with BPD may end up thinking they themselves have BPD? People are going around thinking this person or that person has BPD because he or she did or said this or that, or because he or she was angry or thought in a black-and-white way about something. In other words, there is this over-pathologizing going on. People pointing fingers at others and at each other. And, now, psychatrists at a fictional character for crying-out-loud – Vader – as having  Borderline Personality Disorder.


 




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Where has common sense gone? The traits that define BPD are human traits. Each and every one of us as human beings has these traits. It is not pathological to have these traits in reasonably balanced and paradoxical ways.

Bui, et al, diagnosing Darth Vader with Borderline Personality Disorder seems to give creedence to the many ways that people disparage people who have BPD. I don’t agree with this at all. I think the diagnosis of a fictional character – even if they get it right (let’s not forget there are many reasons to doubt Darth Vader would be a candidate for BPD if he were a real person) is in any way responsible or worth the time or effort given to it.


Why do I write about it here then? To say that the danger of this is the further stigmatizing of BPD and those who have BPD. It sensationalizes BPD and what it means to have BPD while at the same time trivializing it. It doesn’t serve anyone. I also have concern that this “arm-chair diagnosis” that equates BPD to this fictional character, who was a personification of evil, is highly irresponsibile and frankly, offensive.


Darth Vader has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Aside from the issues of that equating BPD with evil, so what, who cares?


Where’s the relevance? Where’s the significance? How can this be a worthwhile teaching tool for tomorrow’s psychiatrists? How can this benefit anyone with BPD? How can this really serve to help others understand BPD in balanced and compassionate ways?


The answer is – it can’t.


All this diagnosis of Darth Vader with Borderline Personality Disorder does is serve as a prime example of its being equated with evil. It serves as a prime example of the stigma of BPD. It may even give rise to more people with BPD distrusting the very body of professionals who are supposed to treat them, and I might add, with respect.


 


© A.J. Mahari, June 26, 2010 – All rights reserved.


 













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Stigmatizing Borderline Personality – Darth Vader Diagnosed with BPD