In the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, the fan favorite character, Queen Danaerys, shocked and angered many by suddenly switching into a genocidal maniac, incinerating thousands of civilians. Critics saw this as an unrealistic reversal of character; I did not. To me, it was always crystal clear that Danaerys was a dangerous narcissist. After all, she felt entitled to rule, to conquer, to decide right and wrong, life and death, everywhere. She was happy to free slaves if it brought her some advantages (like an army of “freed” soldiers), and if it brought adulation and came with honorific titles like “Breaker of Chains.”
How could she suddenly switch from a warm-hearted liberator to an indiscriminate murderer? The truth is that an unstable personality can seem quite stable when things are going their way; they are stable until they’re not.
Now’s the part where I start talking about my ex. I knew her for nearly two years before we got married. In the beginning she was calm, pleasant, lovable. It was less than a year into our marriage the first time she said, “I want to set them on fire.” She was talking about her two best friends. The offense was something indecipherable or nonexistent. Over time, she intimated a widening list of people she wanted to incinerate. Their crimes could be minor insults, perceived slights, failed acknowledgements, or perhaps they merely smiled on a day that didn’t warrant smiles. Sometimes she hated a person because they were fat or thin or had a mild accent or made a grammar mistake or wore an outfit she didn’t like... anyone could be burn-worthy for anything.
These “hate waves” appeared suddenly, usually unprovoked. You could sense the switch; her voice lowered, her face twisted, her speech became rapid and uninterruptible. She would speak in epic run-on sentences, spontaneously rattling off vast lists of grievances. It would probably take me hours to compose a list that she could emit in seconds. Over time, I began to develop an internal barometer to sense these hate-waves as they approached. The lighting seemed to change, the temperature of the room chilled, and there would seem to be a background noise I can only describe as “anxiety” (or perhaps “most hated alarm clock sound”). These gave a few seconds of warning but no chance for escape.
I think it was during our second year that I first heard the words “Borderline Personality Disorder.” I had encouraged her to go to therapy. She came back with this diagnosis. It was spot-on, if incomplete. In retrospect I think she had major narcissistic features in addition to BPD. Her hate-waves seemed to be a manifestation of “splitting”, when a BPD person alternates between idealizing and demonizing a person. One minute we’re having a romantic stroll through the park, the next minute she’s screaming “I hate you! You bastard! I hate you!” — because we encountered more stairs than she wanted to climb. Other BPD attributes appeared as well: she threatened self-harm if I left her. She even threatened the dog once when I refused to come see her.
She was enraged at the diagnosis, and went shopping for a new therapist, one who would reinforce her narcissistic suspicions. She needed to overcome all the harm that others had done to her, and protect herself from the enemies that continually surround her. She wanted to be empowered. Therapy became just another tool to make me accommodate her “needs” — and her needs usually required me to prove that she was more important than other things in my life like work, hobbies, friends or family. The whole relationship revolved around her suffering. In our social circle she constantly developed her “victim” image, often with me portrayed as neglectful or even abusive, even though I was the one who attempted suicide. Many of my progressive friends refused to hear me talk about our problems. After all, for how many centuries have men been blaming women for the problems that men created? Perhaps it’s a symptom of over-education when you can’t look at a specific, real situation because it’s eclipsed by your abstract mental filter.
From time to time I browse BPD sites online, and apparently there’s a small activist movement to advocate for BPD as a “mental health issue” that can be accepted and accommodated. I suppose it’s predictable that BPD activists situate blame on everyone else, and demand accommodations from everyone else so that BPD people can be made to feel normal, regardless of the harm they may be doing to others. “Nobody is always rainbows and sunshine” — true, except normal people don’t spontaneously turn into Hitler on a regular basis.
Going back to Queen Danaerys: she’s a fictional character, so it would be meaningless to say that she has a narcissistic or borderline personality disorder. But I can say that she seems familiar, and her spontaneous Hitler-ification came as no surprise to me. I’ve seen it before.