Analysis of Girl Interrupted: Living with Borderline Personality Disorder “Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash? Have you ever been blue? Or thought your train moving while sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was the 60s. Or maybe I was just a girl, interrupted” (Wick & Mangold, 1999).
Girl Interrupted is about an eighteen-year-old girl, Susanna Kaysen, in the 1960’s. She graduated high school and planed to be a writer. Many people looked down on her for not planning to go to college. She had uncertainty of her goals, instability of her self-image and relationships, and often engaged in impulsive self-damaging activities. These are all symptoms of borderline personality disorder. One night, Susanna ingested a whole bottle of aspirin with vodka and ended up in the hospital. After being accused of attempting suicide, when she claimed she was just trying to get rid of a headache, she ended up at a mental institution. Susanna spent the next year and nine months at Claymore, a psychiatric institution. During her stay at Claymore, she befriended some of the other patients.
The patients were all women and had psychological disorders ranging from anorexia to psychopaths. Susanna was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and stress triggered her symptoms. She felt helpless due to being labeled with a psychological disorder while she was at Claymore and her mental status declined and she acted out with various behaviors. Her treatment consisted of medications and psychotherapy during her stay. She eventually recovered and left Claymore to live a normal life. Three psychological concepts that are portrayed in the movie relating to mental illness, Girl Interrupted, are the diathesis-stress model, labeling, and psychological treatment. Diathesis-Stress Model
The diathesis-stress model occurs when a person is predisposed to a certain psychological disorder, which is expressed once triggered by an environmental factor (Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner, 2013). In the movie, a psychologist mentions that borderline personality disorder is more likely in a child if one of the parents has the disorder. Although we are unsure if either parent has the disorder, we know that there is a biological factor linked to the disorder. This means that Susanna is predisposed to the disorder. She is a teenager in high school and is beginning to feel the pressure of the real world. Adults continuously ask her what she plans to do with her life and give her displeased responses when she tells them she has no plans for college. Susanna dreams to be a writer but no one supports her. Counselors and family friends judge her when she tells them her plans to be a writer. The movie took place in the 1960’s when women were beginning to have more rights in the work place, so they expect Susanna to take advantage of this (Wick & Mangold, 1999). The stress Susanna is feeling with high school ending and becoming an adult causes her to have symptoms of the predisposed disorder.
Another environmental factor that caused stress for Susanna is how her mother reacts to her mental illness. Susanna’s mother is does not know how to deal with her daughter’s illness. Susanna took a cab to the Claymore rather than going with her mother. When the institution’s psychologist discusses Susanna’s diagnoses, her mother became upset and she was not present for Susanna. Also, she was more concerned with what people at the family Christmas party would think if Susanna were not there, rather than having her daughter home for the holiday (Wick & Mangold, 1999). According to the article; Affective behavior during mother–daughter conflict and borderline personality disorder severity across adolescence, adolescent girls show improvement with symptoms of borderline personality disorder when their mother supplies commutative, supportive behavior to the daughter.
Borderline personality disorder was triggered in Susanna due to her mother’s inability to be supportive. Her mother’s behavior negatively influences her, which is supported by the information in this article. The articles purpose is to record how an adolescent’s borderline personality disorder is shaped and maintained with certain parent-child interactions. For three consecutive years, 15-17 year old adolescent girls report their symptoms of borderline personality disorder. Mothers and daughters complete questioners that are designed to produce conflict and negative emotion. The Revised Interactional Dimensions Coding System was used to interpret the interaction between mother and daughter.
“Results indicate that positive maternal affective behaviors were associated with a faster rate of decline in BPD [borderline personality disorder] severity scores across time” (Whalen, Scott, Jakubowski, McMakin, Hipwell, Silk, & Stepp, 2014). The results show that the daughters, with mothers who present affective behavior, such as be supportive, symptoms of borderline personality disorder decline. Susanna’s mother displays negative behaviors, which may have cause stress on Susanna and worsen her symptoms. External environments have an impact on the progress or decline of a person’s mental illness. Positive support may make it easier to recover from mental illnesses (Whalen, Scott, Jakubowski, McMakin, Hipwell, Silk, & Stepp, 2014). Affects of Labeling
Susanna showed symptoms of borderline personality disorder and ended up at a mental institution after a suicide attempt where she was labeled to have a mental illness. There can be harmful affects to patients once they are labeled with a psychological disorder (Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner, 2013). Once she was at the mental institution her behavior worsened. She met people with real psychological disorders and some cases were much more severe than her own. Being in the institution and being labeled with a psychological disorder caused her to act out. Susanna would not get out of bed for a while, so one of the nurses, Valerie, picked her up and dropped her in a cold bathtub. Susanna started to act out, and Valerie said “you are not crazy” (Wick & Mangold, 1999) and Susanna questioned her.
Valerie told her she is just a young girl, driving herself crazy. This upset Susanna and she began to say hurtful words and purposely acted ‘crazy’ since that is what she thought she was. Valerie sees potential in Susanna to live a normal, happy life outside of the mental institution but feels she is just throwing it away (Wick & Mangold, 1999). Susanna was acting this way because her label affected her. She has been labeled with a psychological disorder, put in an institution, and all of her new friends have severe disorders. She feels no one understands her and feels hopeless, so she succumbs to what she thinks people expect of her as a ‘crazy’ person. Treatment
In order for Susanna to overcome her mental illness, she needed to go through treatment. During Susanna’s stay at the mental institution, she was supplied with different forms of treatment, including medication therapy. Susanna was unaware that she would be receiving medication. When she told the nurses she did not want them, they insisted. Susanna was taking the medication prescribed to her, even though she was unaware of what they were. During the time that she was acting out, she would hide the pills and trade them with other patients (Wick & Mangold, 1999).
Once Susanna accepted the treatment from Claymore, she started to gain the benefits. She began to take her recovery seriously and accepted help. Another type of treatment Susanna received was psychoanalysis, which is a part of clinical psychology, developed by Sigmund Freud. Susanna sat on a couch while telling a psychologist her feelings and thoughts. These psychologists recorded her progress and determined if she was fit to leave Claymore. Once Susanna was sincere about getting help, the treatment worked and she was able to recover and leave Claymore. Although Susanna did recover, the more effective approach for therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy because it is problem solving and action oriented (Schacter, Gilbert, & Wegner, 2013).
Susanna Kaysen was a young girl experiencing symptoms of mental illness. She was predisposed to borderline personality disorder and the stress of school and her mother’s negativity brought out the symptoms. After a stay in a mental institution and being labeled with a disorder, Susanna’s behavior declined. Susanna eventually accepted treatment and recovered. Mental illness affects many people but does not have to be something that overtakes peoples lives forever. Susanna Kaysen’s case is an example of someone who has had to deal with mental illness, its effects and treatment, but did not let the illness take over their life, and still come out on the other side able to lead a ‘normal life’.
Schacter, D. L., Gilbert, D. T., & Wegner, D. M. (2013). Introducing psychology, 2nd edition. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Whalen, D. J., Scott, L. N., Jakubowski, K. P., McMakin, D. L., Hipwell, A.
E., Silk, J.S., & Stepp, S. D. (2014). Affective behavior during mother–daughter conflict and borderline personality disorder severity across adolescence. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, And Treatment, 5(1), 88-96. doi:10.1037/per0000059 Wick, D. Konrad, C. (Producer) & Mangold, J. (Director). (December 21, 1999). Girl Interrupted. [Motion Picture]. United States. Columbia Pictures.