January 2, 2012

Penelope Trunk, Abuser

penelope trunk bruise.jpg

I am accustoming myself to the idea of regarding every sexual act as a process in which four persons are involved. We shall have a lot to discuss about that

Catchy title, no?  I put it there for the stupid people.  If you think I support domestic abuse-- if you think my not explicitly writing, ad nauseum, "NO TOLERANCE" or "IT'S NOT THE VICTIM'S FAULT" is evidence that I think that "sometimes the bitch deserves it," then I can tell you without error that 2012 is going to be way too complicated a year for you to endure, and you are seeing a psychiatrist, and it isn't helping.  Stop being you.  The world does not have to validate your prejudices.  Take a minute, you may learn from people you disagree with.

I tried my best to read through the comments on Trunk's blog relating to her domestic abuse post, written by people who don't keep diaries about their own abuse history.    "YOU NEED TO LEAVE!!!!!"  Assuming you had a similar experience, how long did it take you to leave that earns you the right to a caps lock? 

But the title is deadly correct, DEADLY-- see, I earned the right to a caps lock.  Here's why, and I expect almost no one to agree with it but hear it once in your life anyway, maybe you make a left instead of a right or you take two more seconds at the light. 


Penelope Trunk is a blogger/entrepreneur who is notorious for being "too much information" honest about her life.  She recently posted about (yet another) fight with her husband, and posted the pic you see above.

I'm pretty sure she doesn't want my advice, but in the spirit of putting herself out there,  I hope she won't mind my using her story to explain something that may help other people.  And if I end up being wrong about her specifically, or if it turns out she made the whole thing up, it won't have any effect on the message.

The adage in psychiatry is you can't make a diagnosis without evaluating someone.  That's fine, except that personality disorders aren't diagnoses, they are descriptions of behaviors.  So stand down.

Penelope Trunk has a history of sexual abuse by her father.  She has a pattern of intense, unstable relationships; a history of self-cutting, bulimia; is emotionally labile and reactive; and her primary defense mechanism is pretty obviously splitting, i.e. things are all good or they are all bad. 

Trunk says she has Asperger's, and maybe she does, but what I've described is "borderline personality disorder."  BPD is not a description of behavior exactly, it is a description of an adaptive coping strategy.  In other words, people persist with BPD because it works.

"Works" has a limited definition for borderline: prevention of abandonment.   Narcissism protects the identity at the expense of everything else, Borderline will do whatever it takes to avoid abandonment, including giving up one's identity.  Abandonment isn't loneliness or isolation, a person can run away to the woods for a year if it preserves the connection to the other person, even in a terrible way: "I'm hiding out because he's out there looking for me to kill me."

The currency of borderline is affect.  Energy.  The analogy is the kid who doesn't get enough attention, so acts out: he would rather have hugs and kisses, but he'll settle for the same amount of affect in any other form of attention, including anger and yelling.  Negative affect has long term consequences, duh, but short term no affect is completely intolerable.  Observe (start at 25s):

The temptation is to view the baby as upset, but in fact what he is doing is trying anything to get her attention, including screaming.  This is why what he is is frustrated, and why it is called acting out.

That plays out into adulthood.  Knock down fights and great make up sex is psychologically more fulfilling than a normal, calm, low-affect marriage.  Mind numbing jealousy is preferable to being 100% sure of their fidelity, to the point that the brain becomes paranoid to keep things interesting.   "Are you just looking for things to be upset about?"  The answer is yes.  You think Megan Fox's character in the Rihanna video is ever going to settle down with someone who doesn't wear a tank top to facilitate punching?

Why are borderlines attracted to broken men?  To alcoholics?  To rageful narcissists?  Affect.  "I never know what mood he'll be in."  The range, the energy means you are connected.  No abandonment is conceivable if the guy is beating you.  "But he cheats on her as well!"  He'll be back.  Right?

This is set up in childhood 100% of the time.  The kid learns what works, learns what gets him the affect he needs.  If the parents are loving all the time not much "work" is necessary.    But if Dad is distant, or interested in chasing skirts (such daughters grow up trying to look like the kind of girl Dad is attracted to), or mom's always drunk, then "work" happens, and the kid starts to try new ways of getting the affect, and unfortunately the easiest way to get sucky parents to give you affect is to enrage them.  That works awesomely.  The best is when the parent beats you mercilessly, and then does a 180 and apologizes profusely, hugs you, buys you gifts, "oh, baby, I am so sorry I did that, Daddy was just upset..."  Nothing in life will ever match up to that, except maybe a boyfriend who does that.  If you are doing that to your daughter, for god's sake join an infantry battalion or become a test pilot.

Remember: the goal of this strategy is not happiness, it is avoiding abandonment.  Hence a blog.

The thing is, BPD "works" when you are young, there are always people around to tolerate it.  Parents, boyfriend/girlfriend, employers, etc-- and being pretty, which Trunk obviously is, helps a lot.  This doesn't mean people are necessarily nice to her, or that she's happy; only that  "crazy" behavior is more tolerable to other people when you are young.

The problem for her is she's not getting any younger, and like it or not the only one who will put up with a 60 year old borderline is no one.  Except maybe the kids, which we will get back to.


Telling Trunk to leave her husband is just plain stupid, and if that was your recommendation you should stop making recommendations, you're stupid.  You can't reduce the complexity of a marriage to "he hit you, so you should leave."  I know stupid people, I know, domestic violence shouldn't be tolerated, god are you dumb.

If she chooses to leave, fine, but trying to convince her to leave pushes her towards her worst fear: abandonment.  She either decides to leave, or she doesn't, it must be 260% her decision or else it feels like it isn't all her decision, which means the split is felt like abandonment even though she "did" it.  She'll go insane.  You advising her to leave means she can't.

It also betrays a gigantic amount of arrogance.  This woman who may possibly be a nut has, at least, raised kids, managed businesses, and even survived moving to Wisconsin.  And you're going surprise her with "domestic violence is not okay?"  But the truth is you don't actually want her to leave, you just want a forum where you can take credit for telling her to do it.

She wants this relationship.  She's not a bad or good person for wanting it, it is what it is.   I can say I have my own opinions about what to do and blah blah blah, but the starting point has to be what she wants, not what you think is best for her; otherwise at best what will happen is she ignores your advice, and at worst is she takes it.

Nothing is to be gained by saying her husband abuses her, which he does.  The real story is that  she is abusing herself.  I'm not judging her, I'm not saying she is bad or that I don't understand it, but she's setting up, well, a pattern of intense, unstable relationships because she needs the intensity and will thus tolerate the unstability.  A relationship isn't one sided, or bi-directional, it's a dialectic.  They are very much in it together.

If you wanted to help (someone like) her, you have to take the focus away from her, put some objectivity into it.  So start with her strengths.  What is she good at?  Raising her kids, for one thing.  She may have doubts about her methods or her attention span, but ultimately she takes it all into account and creates an environment that is best for them.  Okay, so a good place to start is: how she runs her life, how she runs her relationship, will be inevitably mirrored by her kids.  She probably knows this.

What she may not know, however, is that the mirroring doesn't mean her boys will grow up likely to hit their women, but that it is more likely her boys will grow up falling for women like her. Or picking someone in reaction to her.

part 2 soon