Clinical psychologists may dread treating the patient who is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, often referred to as a “Borderline”. Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder are among the most difficult, provocative, unstable and, in fact, professionally dangerous patients a psychologist will ever treat. They are professionally dangerous because they are likely to take offense to something the psychologist does and to then file a licensing complaint or a civil suit. They are litigious, and this is what makes the Borderline of interest to attorneys. An attorney who accepts a Borderline client in a sexual harassment or other employment case, for example, may initially believe he or she has an excellent case. By the time trial approaches, that same attorney realizes the client is unstable, unpredictable, contradictory and potentially offensive to jurors. The case that appeared to be a sure win is now in doubt.
Borderlines appear to occupy a place on the border between neurosis and psychosis and, in a strange way, are stable in his or her instability. They have also been termed “pseudo neurotic schizophrenic.” They are not exactly psychotic, yet they could experience psychotic-like states lasting from a few hours to a few days. The rest of the time, these people could be highly functioning, highly intelligent and give the appearance of normality.
One of the hallmarks of “Borderlines” is their rage. Between episodes, a Borderline might be the nicest, kindest, most empathic individual you might ever know. During an episode, that same individual may display a degree of rage (far out of proportion to what provoked it) that is shocking in its extent. Along with the rage, the Borderline will transition from viewing the individual who is the target of the rage as “all good” to viewing that same individual as “all bad.” Borderlines are all or nothing. When a Borderline’s rage gets triggered it is all consuming, and the individual who is the target of the anger is absolutely and totally despised. No degree of venomous words, no amount of violence is sufficient to convey the absolute hatred felt by the Borderline.
Given this personality structure, one can readily grasp why Borderlines file lawsuits and why they make problematic plaintiffs. One often finds Borderline women in employment cases. Approximately 2% of the general population and about 10% of individuals in outpatient psychotherapy are Borderline women.
For example; a woman was initially quite attracted to her work manager. She found him to be the most perfect, kind and caring person for whom she had ever worked. As Borderlines often do, she experienced her fondness for this man in terms of extraordinarily compelling, sexual impulses. He was married, but Borderlines, with their lack of inhibition and absolute loving and uninhibited demeanor, can seem irresistible. They became sexually involved. The manager, aware of company policies, believed the status difference in the relationship would not be a problem because he had been completely non-coercive, and she had been the instigator. She was the most sexually exciting woman he had ever known. Moreover, she stated she knew he was married and created the impression that their sexual liaison was acceptable, given that he had no plans to leave his wife. Ultimately, when the manager made clear that he needed to end the affair to protect his professional and marital statuses, she became furious, quit her job, and filed a sexual harassment lawsuit.
As a plaintiff, she would recast what had occurred in shockingly different terms. Her memory was that her manager had seduced her, and she had no awareness of her own role in precipitating the sexual encounter. Her memory was that he had promised to leave his wife and be with her forever; that she had tried to end the affair numerous times, but he had refused. Her memory was that he had all but raped her—at the workplace—and that she only failed to call the police because she felt sorry for him, recognizing that he had a wife and family.
If each and every element in her testimony were accurate, her case would be perfect. The problem, when your client is a Borderline, is that her testimony is only accurate to her. In reality, events occurred much differently. Obviously, the problem for the plaintiff’s attorney is that witnesses and other evidence will fail to corroborate the plaintiff’s own very compelling view of the facts. Indeed, without intentionally doing so, the plaintiff’s reliance on her emotionally tinged memories, completely distorts what had occurred. Her case, in sum, is perfect in her own mind and in her own telling, but is not supported by reality, witnesses, evidence or facts. As the matter proceeds to discovery, deponents will support the manager’s account of what transpired, not the plaintiff’s.
Thus, the attorney who unwittingly picks up a Borderline client may be in for a wild ride. The preventative for this scenario is for attorneys to seek a psychological evaluation, early on, of all clients who are claiming to have been adult victims of non-consenting sex in matters that are termed “he said, she said.” The attorney should seek a confidential, objective evaluation of his client. Borderlines can have legitimate grievances and winnable cases, but caution is in order if the attorney wishes to avoid unpleasant and costly surprises.