The “Demons” of Borderline Personality Disorder

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”  Sometimes religious people can fall into the latter category, seeing demons behind every coffee cup–especially when it comes to mental illness in general and borderline personality disorder (BPD) in particular.

Lessons from a “possessed” house

My pastor, Ryan Ahlgrim, was one asked to perform an exorcism. The woman making the request had a daughter who had just moved. The daughter reported feeling an evil presence at times, and a range of bizarre experiences.  My pastor spoke to the daughter, and asked several questions. He learned that she would also feel the evil presence in her car. He asked if she had any particular thoughts before feeling the evil presence, and she replied that she had memories of child abuse shortly before the presence would come. He asked if she saw a connection, and the light came on.

After realizing the connection, the evil presence never bothered her again.

We can learn a lot from this. When we sense evil, what is going on inside ourselves? What are we thinking or feeling? The evil we sense may not be an external demon, but an internal emotion. There just might be a logical explanation for our spiritual experiences.

My failed exorcisms

I attended an abusive church for about two years when I was in college. One traumatic incident marked my severance with that church and almost with Christianity–three people, who saw my illness as “Satanic oppression”, pinned me to the floor of my apartment while yelling “Satan, stop!” in an attempt to rid me of the demons.

It didn’t work.

On another occasion, I was told “I think you need to go off your meds and trust God for your healing.” Thankfully, I knew that was a bad idea and stayed on them–for me, the meds were God’s healing.

I was also told “If you just had enough faith and truly wanted to be healed, you would be.” I countered that God does not always heal–Exhibit A being the fact that every person dies, regardless of the amount of faith he/she has.

My fellow churchgoers even showed me a book which identified “eating disorders or cutting on yourself” as so evil that they gave Satan a legal claim to torment you, which could only be defeated by renouncing it in Jesus’ name. While the book acknowledged that some people have a chemical imbalance causing their mental illness, that part was conveniently forgotten by both the author and his devotees.

To this day, I get nauseated when I hear talk about demons causing mental illness. In a metaphorical sense that may be true, and symptoms like self-injurious behavior (SIB) and substance abuse may be considered sin in some religious circles, but rarely if ever is it true in a literal sense.

The other side of the coin

Contrast my experience with this quote from Pastor Ryan:

“It is my understanding that mental illness and spirituality are two different things, just as a broken leg and spirituality are two different things. One can have a deep and enriching relationship with God and still be mentally ill, just as one can have a deep and enriching relationship with God and still have a broken leg. Our faith in God and relationship to Jesus Christ puts all of life into a different perspective—including our mental illnesses, but it does not change the fact of mental illness any more than it changes the fact of one’s eye color. Does faith bring healing to our bodies and minds? Yes, but ‘healing’ needs to be defined. Healing, in its most crucial sense, means experiencing grace, knowing that one is loved by God and reconciled to God even as one journeys through the darkest shadows of depression or confusion.”

As Psalm 23 observes, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.”

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3 Responses to The “Demons” of Borderline Personality Disorder

  1. Jeanne M. says:

    Becky. I appreciate your time in writing your article. However, I find it difficult to follow as it appears to be inter-mixing terminology, specifically diagnoses. BPD is not a mental illness, yet it is a mental disorder. It is coded on Axis II, the axis of personality disorders, developmental disorders and pervasive disorders. Certainly, one with BPD may experience mental illness, coded on Axis I. Perhaps I am too focused on the terminology and specifics of coding. If so, my apologies. My feeling is that it is so critical to distinguish between Axis I and Axis II as they are very different in their etiologies and treatment methodologies. And, unfortunately, also very fiscally important in relation to whether or not insurance companies will reimburse.

    Help me out as I feel I am not grasping your effort and voice.

    Best regards. Again, thank you for your article.
    Jeanne Morrow

  2. Becky Oberg says:

    Thank you for your reply. I am not a mental health professional, just a consumer, so I’m not up on the terminology. But you’re right–terminology often determines if treatment will be covered. For example, most of my medicine is covered, but one is not, so I use that one as a PRN (as needed). It’s an unfortunate situation, but not that uncommon. I wish insurance companies would cover more of the Axis II diagnoses–I knew one NP who would never diagnose anyone with Asperger’s syndrome (she would use “pervasive developmental disorder”) because “they’ll never get insurance with that”. We need health care reform in this country, especially when it comes to mental illnesses and mental disorders. I’m lucky that my treatment is covered, but I’m not sure if it’s billed as “BPD” or something else–I have more than one diagnosis.

  3. shiela says:

    I have been fascinated by this subject for some time, particularly as I believe that I have been miraculously cured from BPD myself. Granted not everyone is healed without Grace but with regards to personality disorders there are clear biblical guidlines to restore order from the disorder. Gods order is to love him first, then your wife or partner, then your children, then your parents and finally your neighbour. Many people cannot abide by this as they do not place God first and then the house of cards built on sand topples over. My personal journey to a healthy mind and spirit is directly related to my commitment to taking God’s advice in all things. I frequently get it wrong but he knows that my desire to overcome my natural state of disordered thinking is a proof of putting God first.

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