Eye contact is well-known social norm. It signals attention, and can communicate a feeling of understanding and honesty. Kristen, who has awoken in a mental health institute after a suicide attempt, misconstrues and abhors eye contact. In the novel Her, by Felicia Johnson, Kristen feels a heavy negative connotation when people look at her, and lashes out at them for “staring” at her. Through her interactions with facility staff and patients, and eventually family and friends, it is found that Kristen suffers from a condition known as Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD. Recommended for those with BPD or those living with them, Her is a perfect window into the mind of someone with a mood disorder.
Although it is eventually the actions of an abusive step father that send Kristen to the point of suicide, it is clear that cumulative damage has been done by her mother over the years. Although not technically seen as abuse, a child forced into responsibility in a single-parent household is trauma in its haziest form. Appeals to support the family, and the sensory odor of threatening coffee breath call up all-to-familiar a memory from my own past and make me sad to realize that the conditions facilitating a BPD diagnosis are all too prevalent and are prone to repeat themselves.
For instance, Kristen’s stepfather abused his son because he had himself been abused. The histrionic behavior of Kristen’s mother is exhibited in Kristen herself, but is exaggerated by abusive conditions. This book deals honestly and openly with these hard subjects, and can certainly help a survivor of abuse to come to terms with what happened in an easily digestible manner. Any person would benefit from the anger management and coping skills classes described in depth in the book, and if practiced widely, maybe less abuse would exist in the first place.
Regardless of the current preference to only diagnose those 18 or older, this book talks about the importance of mental health at even an early age, as it is the youth that is affected greatest by domestic violence, mental or physical. The greatest tool we have in safety of our children is education for prevention. In the end, hope prevails, and her doctor provides a motivation to her and to thousands of others. “Now that you are aware of what it is – your illness, which is Borderline Personality Disorder – you have to think about what you know and use it for your survival.”
– Lauren Stiles of Personality Disorder Awareness Network (PDAN)
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