One of my readers asked:
Do you have any suggestions how to function with one or more people in a Baha’i community who have Borderline Personality Disorder? People are avoiding Baha’i meetings now. Just wondering if you have any coping skills suggestions?
I often think that every Bahá’í community should be issued with a checklist of things that could go wrong, so that when it does, we can just see that’s it’s another “thing” we have to go through! 🙂
This is a really tough problem to deal with! And since we know we’ll never be given a test we can’t handle, your community surely has the capacity to handle this one!
The thing that makes Borderline so difficult is that the person’s symptoms of high conflict or destructive behaviors are at odds with the teachings of our Faith.
I would recommend a 3-pronged approach:
1. If they are at risk to themselves or others (e.g., suicidal ideation, domestic violence, or criminal) it makes sense to immediately seek help from agencies in your community who deal with these issues.
Articles which you might find helpful include:
2. Give them the space they need to be heard by listening to and validating their feelings. Remember, God gave us 2 ears and one mouth! J If someone in your community has got some training from the Virtues Project, they will know how to spiritually companion people; and affirm their virtues. This can be really helpful for helping someone with Borderline feel heard and validated.
And a readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception, will be invaluable in identifying obstacles…(Universal House of Justice, 28th of December 2010 to the Continental Board of Counsellors)
3. Step back from the conflict so you can start processing the hurt or resentment that you are feeling, either alone or with help from your Assembly – but not including the person with the disorder.
It can be very draining to interact with people with this disorder, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself so you have the energy available to deal with them.
The 19 Day Feast is a place of spiritual rejuvenation that can benefit both the person with borderline as well as the community around them:
Give ye great weight to the Nineteen Day gatherings, so that on these occasions the beloved of the Lord and the handmaids of the Merciful may turn their faces toward the Kingdom, chant the communes, beseech God’s help, become joyfully enamored each of the other, and grow in purity and holiness, and in the fear of God, and in the resistance to passion and self. Thus will they separate themselves from this elemental world, and immerse themselves in the ardors of the spirit.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities, Section 9.16)
When done properly, it gives us the spiritual rejuvenation we need to get through the next 19 days!
If this feast be held in the proper fashion,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “the friends will, once in nineteen days, find themselves spiritually restored, and endued with a power that is not of this world.” To ensure this glorious outcome the concept of the Feast must be adequately understood by all the friends. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 419)
This article might be helpful:
Know that many people with this disorder learn to adapt and control the worst of their behavior, except when stress pushes them past their ability to control and manage. Anything you can do to help them minimize their stress will be beneficial for everyone.
Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder
It’s important to understand the causes of Borderline. The person may be dealing with a broad range of things that look a lot like:
- short term mental illness (e.g., depression),
- substance induced illness (e.g., alcoholism),
- a mood disorder (e.g., bipolar),
- an anxiety disorder (e.g., PTSD),
- a personality disorder (e.g., BPD, NPD, 8 others),
- a neurodevelopmental disorder (e.g., ADHD, Aspergers), or
- any combination of the above.
This means you could be dealing with someone who is lying, ego driven, defensive, out of control or socially inept. Each of these will have a different set of solutions:
Immaturity: can be handled with deepening them in topics such as consultation; lying; ego, self and/or whatever seems to be causing problems in the moment.
This can be an issue for both you and the person with the illness:
One of the greatest problems in the Cause is the relation of the believers to each other; for their immaturity (shared with the rest of humanity) and imperfections retard the work, create complications, and discourage each other. And yet we must put up with these things and try and combat them through love, patience and forgiveness individually, and proper administrative action collectively. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 449)
Love, patience and forgiveness are called for but how do you do it? You might find this article helpful:
Depression: when we see it as self-pity or “poor me”, we see that there is a story in the person’s past which they need to work through. Understanding what their story is, and helping them problem solve, if necessary, or even just providing a listening ear, can be very helpful.
My book: Darkness into Light – Overcoming Depression might be really helpful. It’s a free download
As can these articles:
Substance abuse: often requires intervention and inpatient detoxification. If the person is not clean and sober, it will be almost impossible to talk with them rationally. You could encourage them to get help and invite them to attend gatherings when they are clean and sober.
You might find these articles helpful:
A mood disorder (e.g., bipolar): may be helped by a referral to a competent physician, and ensuring that prescribed medication is being taken.
You might find these helpful:
An anxiety disorder (e.g., PTSD): is also caused by a “story” which has produced a lot of fear. The person with an anxiety disorder is not living in the present, but in the future, in a constant state of “what if”. This can be their gift to the community, to consider all the “what if’s” – once they have gotten them all out on the table, and been validated for their contribution to the consultation; they can be encouraged to come back into the present and deal with “what is” in this moment.
My book: Fear into Faith: Overcoming Anxiety might be really helpful. It’s a free download
As will this article:
A personality disorder (e.g., BPD, NPD)
The Bahá’í Association of Mental Health Professionals have said that while some mental illnesses have a genetic and biological basis, it is well-known that the following situations compromise mental health:
- prolonged and severe stress
- violence, trauma, and abuse
- addictions and substance abuse
- family dissolution
- inequality between women and men
- racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice
- internalized oppression
- inadequate education
- materialism and its preoccupation with the acquisition of power, wealth, and celebrity
- inter-group conflict
- absence of moral leadership
Any or all of these things may be contributing factors which make the person’s symptoms more problematic.
A neurodevelopmental disorder (e.g., ADHD, Aspergers) means that the person may have a reduced ability to sit still for long meetings; and/or not have very good social skills. Understanding the person’s limitations will help your community look at ways to include them and meet their needs.
Spiritual Principles to Consider:
You don’t have to go through this alone! The Concourse on High stands ready to help, but they can’t intervene without being asked! Prevent unemployment in the next world, by calling on them for help.
These articles might be helpful;
Love and Forgive
As an individual, it’s our role to be loving and forgiving; and the Assembly’s role to take care of justice. When we learn how to interact spiritually with those who have mental illness, we develop our capacity to be more loving and forgiving.
It should be realized that there is a distinction drawn in the Faith between the attitudes which should characterize individuals in their relationship to other people, namely, loving forgiveness, forbearance, and concern with one’s own sins, not the sins of others, and those attitudes which should be shown by the Spiritual Assemblies, whose duty is to administer the law of God with Justice.
(Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 110)
Often our greatest tests come from other Bahá’ís, and when they do, the only remedy is love:
Often our severest tests come from each other. Certainly the believers should try to avert such things, and if they happen, remedy them through love. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
At the Feast, we develop the capacity to see everyone (especially those who challenge us!) as greater than ourselves; and to find ways to make them happy:
Each one of you must think how to make happy and pleased the other members of your Assembly, and each one must consider all those who are present as better and greater than himself, and each one must consider himself less than the rest. Know their station as high, and think of your own station as low. Should you act and live according to these behests, know verily, of a certainty, that that Feast is the Heavenly Food. That Supper is the “Lord’s Supper”! I am the Servant of that gathering. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 429)
Home visits are a way to get to know people in a neutral setting, without the pressure of Bahá’í activities. The more we know about people, the better able we are to be loving and forgiving.
We should all visit the sick. When they are in sorrow and suffering, it is a real help and benefit to have a friend come. Happiness is a great healer to those who are ill. In the East it is the custom to call upon the patient often and meet him individually. The people in the East show the utmost kindness and compassion to the sick and suffering. This has greater effect than the remedy itself. You must always have this thought of love and affection when you visit the ailing and afflicted. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 204).
Now is the time to cheer and refresh the down-cast through the invigorating breeze of love and fellowship, and the living waters of friendliness and charity. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 7)
Indeed the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to fully draw on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 8)
Let go of ego:
When interacting with those who have a mental illness, it’s easy to feel condemning, superior and judgemental; and to take offence at behaviours which we feel are inappropriate. Learning how to let go is part of our spiritual growth!
You might find my book “Letting Go of Fault-Finding, Blame and Accusation” to be of assistance. It’s a free download.
Our Bahá’í communities were never meant to be so small! In a larger community there will be more people with more skills and patience to deal with those who have mental illness.
Forsake every commemoration and thought in the cell of oblivion (i.e., forget everything) and confine thy days and time in preaching the Kingdom of God, spreading the teachings of God and igniting the lights of guidance in the hearts which are awaiting the Kingdom of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 607-609)
As hard as it is to interact with someone with a mental illness, it’s even more difficult for the individual.
Guidelines for Assemblies
Avoid suggesting that there might be a mental problem:
If the Assembly becomes aware of a problem that might be an indicator of mental illness or other disorder it should avoid suggesting that there might be a mental problem, as it is not qualified to make such a determination. Depending on the circumstances, it may wish to suggest that the person undergo a medical evaluation through his or her primary care physician or other health care practitioner. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Appoint a liaison with a capacity to listen, to interact with the individual:
If individuals with mental disorders are repeatedly writing letters or making phone calls to the Assembly, it may wish to appoint a liaison with a capacity to listen to interact with the individual. It may be helpful to assist people to clarify and focus their thinking by asking, “Why are you telling me that?” It is also possible to politely interrupt a flow of monologue that is unproductive. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Consider the welfare of the whole community first, when making decisions; and then find resources for the individual:
In cases of mental disorders, the Assembly should make its decisions first in consideration of the benefit and welfare of the whole community and then in finding resources for the individual. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Safeguard the rights of the individual provided they do not seriously affect the welfare of the group as a whole:
It is the responsibility of Baha’i Assemblies to decide when individual interests should be subordinated to those affecting the collective welfare of the community. But, as already stated, the interest of the individual should always be safeguarded within certain limits, and provided they do not seriously affect the welfare of the group as a whole. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, no. 411)
Seek advice from local mental health professionals:
Assemblies are encouraged to seek advice from local mental health professionals, including social service agencies, and qualified non-profit organizations concerning specific situations and to draw upon these resources in deciding upon any course of action. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Establish clear boundaries with the individual regarding their behavior, with explicit consequences for violating the boundaries:
If the person’s problems are affecting the community, the Assembly may wish to establish clear boundaries regarding his or her behavior in relation to itself, the community and, if necessary, to particular individuals within the community, with explicit consequences for violating the boundaries. If that approach is used: Care should be taken to establish boundaries that are reasonable and consequences that are appropriate. If possible, this should be done in consultation and cooperation with the individual involved. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Put the boundaries and consequences in the form of a written contract:
The Assembly may find it helpful to put the boundaries and consequences for violating them in the form of a written contract at the time of the agreement so that both the individual and the Assembly will have a copy. If possible, the actual wording should be agreed upon by both the individual and the Assembly. This will help to reduce confusion and minimize individual differences of perception in recalling what was decided when referring to the agreement in the future. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
If the predetermined boundaries are violated, the Assembly must act to impose the consequences:
Once consequences are specified, if the predetermined boundaries are violated, the Assembly must act to impose the consequences. If need for a therapist is indicated, the Assembly may wish to suggest that the person get a referral from his or her primary physician, if they do not already have someone they are seeing or would like to see. If the individual’s behavior seems to be so extreme that immediate assistance is required, the Assembly or its liaison may wish to contact a mental health crisis intervention unit or the police, as seems appropriate to the situation. (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.12)
Limited sanctions (i.e., restrictions on one’s eligibility to serve on institutions or participate in community events) are usually imposed in cases where the individual disrupts the unity of the community, or is mentally unfit and unable to exercise judgment or behave responsibly:
Limited sanctions (i.e., restrictions on one’s eligibility to serve on institutions or participate in community events) are usually imposed in cases where the individual disrupts the unity of the community, or is mentally unfit and unable to exercise judgment or behave responsibly. The Universal House of Justice has clearly indicated that a National Spiritual Assembly may debar an individual from serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly without removing his administrative rights. (Universal House of Justice, USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 11, p.32)
Withdrawal of administrative rights is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer’s condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights:
The withdrawal of administrative rights from a person who is suffering from a mental illness is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer’s condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights. From this you will see that the mental incapacity must be very serious for this step to be taken, and would normally be dependent upon a certification of insanity by medical authorities or confinement in a mental hospital. Again, depending upon the kind of mental illness, such suspension of voting rights may or may not involve non-receipt of Baha’i newsletters, inability to attend Nineteen Day Feasts, etc. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, no. 195)
Additional advice and insight may be found in:
Some Guidance for Spiritual Assemblies Related to Mental Illness and Its Treatment
Available through the Bahá’í Distribution Service at (800) 999-9019
For more information on Mental Illness from a Baha’i Perspective:
Further References on Borderline Personality Disorder
Additional articles which will help you better understand someone with Borderline Personality Disorder:
With particular assistance when helping couples with a year of patience, when one partner has Borderline:
Those are some of my thoughts. I’m not someone who has borderline; nor have I lived with someone. I’d love to hear from those who have! How has this been helpful? What would you add? Post your comments below!